“A Paradox that Shaped My Identity: Being Both Christian and a Native Arabic Speaker” Amin Maalouf Is an Author Worth Knowing

Millions of pens have written millions of pieces, but today’s interest is towards a pen that belongs to the famous award-winning Lebanese-born French author, Amin Maalouf.

Life of Amin Maalouf before and after the Lebanese Civil war of 1975:

Amin Maalouf was born on the 25th of February in 1949, in Beirut, Lebanon. He was raised by parents coming from different cultures. Odette Maalouf, his mother, was an Egyptian of Turkish origin and his father, Ruchdi Maalouf, was from the Melkite Greek Catholic community.

Amin Maalouf studied sociology at the Francophone Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. He was also appointed as the director of the Beirut-based daily newspaper called “An-Nahar” and worked there until the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, which forced him to leave Lebanon and reside in Paris, France, which is now his permanent  residency. While being the director at An-Nahar, he traveled the world to cover major topics. After settling down in Paris, he resumed his journalism and started traveling again from Mozambique to Iran and from Argentina to the Balkans, to cover the emerging stories. In Paris, Maalouf was appointed as editor of the international edition of An-Nahar and was later appointed as the editor-in-chief of the weekly Jeune Afrique.

Giving up journalism in pursuit of literature:

Amin Maalouf gave up journalism to dedicate himself to literature. Even though most of his work is fictional, some of his most prominent work is non-fictional and brought him a fair share of popularity. Amin’s native language is Arabic, but almost all of his literary work is written in French.

His work has been translated in over 40 languages so that the masses belonging to different countries and languages can read what this man has to say.

Leo Africanus

Leo Africanus, is a fictional historical autobiographic novel based on the life of Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan, who was born in born in Granada in the fifteenth century.  Al-Wazzan travelled on a diplomatic mission across Africa and Near East, where he was captured by a corsair who then took him to Rome. While being in Rome, Pope Leo X baptized him and gave him his own name. In 1526 Leo Africanus, formally known as al-Wazzan, completed “Africa, the guide of the places he has visited as Hasan”. Leo Africanus reverted back to Islam when he returned to North Africa, where he eventually passed away.

While writing this fictional autobiography, Maalouf was inspired by the great culture, food, baths, customs and architecture of Fez.

Amin Maalouf on spirituality, identity and roots

According to Amin Maalouf, our roots are often the reason we condemn immobility to a certain culture or to a certain way to look at the world. In his book “Origins” (French title: Origenes), he discusses his distaste for the word “roots” and how in his opinion, this word is nothing but a very narrow label on human identity.

In another book titled, “In the name of identity: Violence and the Need to Belong”, he discusses the idea of how religious affiliation shouldn’t be given primacy of any kind. In his opinion, identity is more than just religious, cultural or national affiliation. He isn’t anti-religion per se, but he condemns the idea of shrinking down one’s identity entirely to a religious affiliation. However, in the same book, he talks about how the reemergence of religion lies in its power to provide a structure for two of the most fundamental human needs: belonging and spirituality.

“What makes me myself rather than anyone else, is the very fact that I am poised between two countries, two or three languages and several cultural traditions. It is precisely this that defines my identity. Would I exist more authentically if I cut off a part of myself?”

— Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, 1996

Awards and Achievements

Amin Maalouf was awarded the “Prix Goncourt” for his novel called “The rock of Tanios”(French title: “Le rocher de Tanios”) in 2010He was also the first Libanese elected as a member of the Académie française. Maalouf has also been awarded a number of honorary doctorates by the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), the American University of Beirut (Lebanon), the Rovira i Virgili University (Spain), and the University of Évora (Portugal).  He also won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for “Cultural Personality of the Year”.

This article was written by Soniya Shah Noor

http://www.aminmaalouf.net/en/about/ – Duke University