`The Prophet' falls foul of Egyptian thought police

WHAT IS it about the Egyptians? They have censored 94 books from the American University Bookshop in Cairo - from Children of the Alley by Egypt's own Nobel literature laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. But now they have done the impossible and banned one of the most inspirational works to come from any modern poet in the Arab world: Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.

Gibran, a Lebanese Maronite who emigrated to America and died in New York in 1931, has been compared to William Blake, not only for his mystical poetry but for his allegorical drawings and paintings. The Prophet is a 20,000- word exploration of religion and philosophy, a combination of Christianity and the Sufi Islam. It is about hope and inspiration, and the prophet of the title - if he can be identified - is Christ rather than Mohamed, although Islamic teaching frames part of the poem.

But it's now on the Egyptian censor's list. And the Lebanese, some of whom appear to worship Gibran as much as admire him - his sarcophagus is chained to the stone floor of the hermit's cave in which he is buried in northern Lebanon lest enthusiasts steal his bones - are enraged. There have been sit-ins by The Group of Friends of Kahlil Gibran outside the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and a demand from Imad Chamoun, a professor of Islamic studies here, that the Beirut government should respond to Egypt's censorship by banning all Egyptian books and films from Lebanon. "The diktat of obscurantists" is how Mr Chamoun described the Egyptian Ministry of Information.

Inquiries to the American University in Cairo suggest that the banning of The Prophet is even more silly than it would at first appear. Egyptian censors have been allowed to review 500 books at the bookshop of the university - an interesting reflection on the relationship between the Cairo government and an institution that is chartered in Washington DC - and decided to ban The Prophet not for its words but for its illustrations, all of them Blakean sketches of human forms and, in the case of the frontispiece, a sketch of a man, eyes slightly dipped, a broad forehead and a small moustache.

It may be a symbol of Christ or of the unity of human and divine spirit. The Egyptian censorship board had no doubt, however: it was a portrait of Mohamed himself, the prophet whose image must never be drawn or painted in Islam.

Mr Mark Linz, the press director at the American University in Cairo, condemned what he called a "bureaucratic onslaught". It was easy, he said, "for the controllers to be out of control". The Egyptian minister for higher education, Mufid Shihab, disagrees. Egypt allows free thinking, he claims, "but rejects violations of its values and traditions".

Another book on the banned list is French scholar Maxime Rodinson's Mohamed - censored because the Egyptians claimed it was trying to prove the Koran was the literary effort of the Prophet Mohamed rather than the word of God.

Some pretty stupid things have been done in the name of religion - crusades, executions, suppression of free speech and free thought - but Egypt now seems to qualify as a special case. Gibran, who wrote The Prophet in English in 1921 - it is said to be the most widely read book of the 20th century - once said that he "kept Jesus in one half of his bosom and Mohamed in the other".

He proposed an opera house in Beirut with two domes symbolising the reconciliation of Christianity and Islam. It would be difficult to think of an artist who has done more to bring two of the Middle East's great religions together. And it's a wonder those chains around his sarcophagus are not breaking as the old man tries to get out.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker