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What You Need to Know about Gibran Kahlil Gibran

posted on: May 22, 2019

By: Meriam Helal/ Arab America Contributing Writer

Gibran Khalil Gibran was a revolutionary writer who has written many books that are politically and socially groundbreaking until today. He is considered the world’s best poet and his poems have been used in songs, speeches, and movies. Here are some facts about him that you might not have known about Gibran.

1. Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet, is the third best selling book after Shakespeare.

The Prophet was published in 1923 and it is one of the most popular books of all time. Millions of copies have been sold around the world and have inspired millions of readers. Since then, the book has never been out of print and is consistently on international best-seller lists.

2. The Prophet has been translated into 49 languages.

Originally written in English, The Prophet has been translated into 49 languages and sold in many countries around the world.

3. Elvis Presley and many other celebrities are fans of The Prophet.

Elvis Presley was a huge fan of The Prophet and reportedly read passages to his mother as well as gifted it to his friends. Other celebrities who are fans of The Prophet and who have incorporated it into their work are John Lennon, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, and Theodore Roosevelt. In addition, Salma Hayek made an animated movie of The Prophet, recalling that her grandfather kept a copy of the book on his nightstand, and read it when she was young.  Hayek said, “when you read this book, something strange happens; you should realize that it’s true.”

4. He lived in Cairo, Egypt?

After leaving Lebanon at the age of 12, Gibran traveled to the United States. In fear of losing his Arab roots, his mother sent him to Beirut to finish high school. After which, Gibran traveled to Europe and then to Cairo, Egypt where he started writing in Arabic.

5. He wrote in Arabic.

While living in Cairo, Gibran started writing in Arabic. He published his first book, al Musiqa which was a short book of his collected work, inspired by concerts. He compares music and language of love as well as analyzes the four types of Middle Eastern Music. He also has written columns in al-Mohajer, titled “Dam’a wa’btisama”. These articles were different from conventional Arabic literature. Gibran’s Arabic writing was inspired by Roman writing from the late nineteenth century Europe. Gibran was the modernizer of the Arabic language. It is said that through Arabic he conquered our minds and through English, he conquered our hearts.

6. He was an advocate for women’s rights.

Gibran was never married but still had a very high concept of women. He fused his admiration in paintings and advocacy during the time of fight for women to vote; although, he was raised in a patriarchal society.

7. His political quotes apply till today.

Gibran’s language in his books and work about exile, oppression and loneliness spoke to Syrian immigrants and still speaks to many immigrants today. Gibran has exceeded relevance to our times; he has been a spiritual guide for our times. His approach touches so many of our current problems.

8. Gibran was the first to say ask not what this country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.

Contrary to popular belief, JFK was not the first to say that quote; he was actually quoting Gibran who wrote it in a letter titled, “The New Frontier”.  It was written in Arabic to Lebanese parliamentarians in 1925 in such a context:  ”Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?”  Gibran continued saying ”If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.”

9. He was critical of the church.

He questioned the paradoxes in the church and pointed out how modernization had disfigured the image of Jesus Christ from a Middle Eastern and made him more westernized. He focused on separating the Jesus of history from the history of humans by portraying a story where Jesus of history meets Jesus of Christians and they talk and one says: “my friend I am afraid we will never agree.”

10. He was an advocate of all religions.

Although Gibran was raised Christian during a time of oppression against Christians, he was a supporter of all religions. He could not confine himself to one of the monotheistic religions. When he was asked “what is religions?” he said “what is it? I only know life, The church is within you.”