Gamila, the land of cupid, poetry and jasmine

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 13 Sep 2020

In the fourth of a book series titled From the Memory of Land and River, we fall under the spell of Syria and Lebanon, the land of cupid, poetry and jasmine

poetry and jasmine
Gamila is the fourth of the book series titled From the Memory of Land and River (Al-Balsam Publishing House) by Dr Ibrahim Shalaby, a renowned Egyptian physician who started his writing career in 2013.

The land of Cupid, poetry and jasmine, Ibrahim Shalaby, From the Memory of Land and River, Al-Balsam Publishing House, Cairo, 2017, pp.197

“Seeking revenge from Apollo (the god of sun), Cupid (the god of love) aimed his golden arrow at Apollo’s heart and his lead arrow at Daphne’s, the fairy. Smitten with love, Apollo kept chasing her until she sought the aid of her father, the god of the river, who transformed her into a Laurel tree. Desperately in love, Apollo proclaimed her his holy tree, keeping her forever green and making the laurel wreath a symbol to honour the heroes,” reads the book that delves into the myths and tales along the banks of Al-Asi (Orontes) river.

From the Memory of Land and River (Al-Balsam Publishing House) was written by Ibrahim Shalaby, a renowned Egyptian physician who started his writing career in 2013. With the aim of revealing Egyptian and world heritage to the younger generation, Shalaby is inspired by fruits and how they carry the collective memory of the places in which they are planted.

In his first book he traced the origins of the Nile civilisation through the life cycle of a guava, named Aziza, and in his second he chose dates that he gave the name Nagham (Tunes) telling the history of Iraq. His third book delves into the land of wonder, India and Pakistan, from the perspective of mango (Soresh) and pomegranate (Rakshanda). His fourth is told through the Apricot fruit.

In this book, Shalaby waltzes between the cultural lace tableau of Syria and Lebanon, reflecting their richness and variety which are as enchanting as the art of shadow puppets that flourished in the area back then.

poetry and jasmine

Damascus, the city of jasmine, was the capital of the Umayyad state, the biggest in Islamic history. It was ruled by the fifth Caliph Omar Ibn Abdel-Aziz whose reign was known to be the most prosperous and charitable. Damascus has the oldest wall in the world, which was built by Noah after the flood. The Temple of Damascus (currently the umayyad mosque), though claimed by numerous religions, has never seen prayers disrupted in over 3,500 years.

“My religion is that of love,” echoed the famous poetry of great Sufi poet Ibn Arabi, who was buried in Salheia. Adopting the same line of thought that promoted love and respect to all religions is Prince Abdel-Qader Al-Gazaeri, founder of modern Algeria and an icon of resistance against French occupation, who was exiled to Damascus, taught in the Umayyad mosque and combated sectarian violence that started in Lebanon and reached Damascus in 1860.

The Umayyad mosque housed the tomb of Prophet Yehia (John the Baptist) whose life was that of an inspiring pious man. The book shares a rare quote of Prophet Yehia: “If you are strong, then be splendidly honest... like a king who dons the crown on his head and raises his sword in the face of evil… if you are not this strong, then be an honest supporter like a productive farmer who extracts the yield from the soil to provide strength to the splendidly honest.”

In Lebanon, Baalbek enchanted people with the poetry of Khalil Motran, and the mountains recalled the mystical origins of Cedar trees that date back 3,000 years. The book highlights the iconic Rahbani brothers, the legendary Fairouz and great Lebanese poet Jubran Khalil Jubran.

In Qadesh we witness the first peace treaty documented in the history of mankind. The treaty between the Egyptians and Hittites was concluded in 1258 BC and its replica is hung at the premises of the United Nations headquarters in New York.

From Maryamein, a Sufi icon in the 10th century, heads of Beni Helal tribe migrated from the Arab Peninsula before they arrived in Upper Egypt. “From this spot started their famous Helaly Epic that has over a million stanzas," reads the book.

Many more historic gems are revealed in this book briefly telling the history of the Levantine. The book contains an annex of the ancient art of shadow puppets, compiled by artist Ahmed Soliman.

poetry and jasmine

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