USING FICTION AS A VEHICLE FOR POPULARIZING HISTORY: JURJY ZAIDAN’S HISTORICAL NOVELS
Jurji Zaydan was born in Beirut, Lebanon on Dec. 14, 1861, into a Greek Orthodox family. Many of his works focused on the Arab Awakening. The journal that he founded, al-Hilal, is still published today. His writings have been translated from Arabic into Persian, Turkish and Urdu as well as English, French and German. By the time he died unexpectedly in Cairo on July 21, 1914, at the age of fifty three, he had already established himself, in a little over twenty years, as one of the most prolific and influential thinkers and writers of the Arab Nahda (Awakening), but also as an educator and intellectual innovator, whose education was not based on traditional or religious learning. Philip Thomas called Zaydan, “the archetypical member of the Arab Nahda at the end of nineteenth century.” Zaydan transformed his society by helping build the Arab media, but he was also an important literary figure, a pioneer of the Arabic novel, and a historian of Islamic civilization. Zaydan was an intellectual who proposed new world view, a new social order, and new political power. Zaydan was the author of twenty-two historical novels covering the entirety of Arab/Islamic history. In these novels Zaydan did not attempt to deal with the history in chronological order, nor did he cover the whole of Islamic history; rather, his purpose was to popularize Islamic history through the medium of fiction. This paper will offer a brief analytical outline of Zaydan’s historical novels and how his critics viewed them.