What ‘Isa ibn Hisham told us
by Muhammad al-Muwaylihi
What ‘Isa ibn Hisham Told Us is a masterpiece of early 20th-century Arabic prose. Penned by the Egyptian journalist Muhammad al-Muwaylihi, this highly original work was first introduced in serialized form in his family’s pioneering newspaper Misbah al-Sharq (Light of the East) and later published in book form in 1907. Widely hailed for its erudition and mordant wit, What ‘Isa ibn Hisham Told Us was embraced by Egypt’s burgeoning reading public and soon became required reading for generations of school students.
Bridging classical genres and modern Arabic Fiction, What ‘Isa ibn Hisham Told Us is divided into two parts. Sarcastic in tone and critical in outlook, Volume One relates the excursions of its narrator, ‘Isa ibn Hisham, and his companion, the Pasha, through a rapidly westernized Cairo at the height of British occupation, providing vivid commentary on a society negotiating – however imperfectly – the clash between traditional norms and imported cultural values.
Paving the way for the modern Arabic novel, What ‘Isa ibn Hisham Told Us is invaluable both for its insight into colonial Egypt and its pioneering role in Arabic literary history.