Muhammad Mftah Al-Fituri: The Arab-African Poet Of African Renewal
BY: Habeeb Salloum/Contributing Writer
“How can a white man enslave my land?
How can he enslave my yesterday and tomorrow?
I am black and Africa is for me, not the intruding foreigner.”
So wrote the poet, Muhammad Al-Fituri in his book, Aghani Ifriqiya (The Songs of Africa), published in 1956, urging his fellow Africans to rise from their sleep and defend their homeland. Like many of the new educated Africans of this century, in his poetry, he calls on his brethren to awake and throw off the chains of colonialism and be proud of their continent.
Al-Fituri, in verse, tries to arouse his people from their slumber in the same fashion as the Africans who work in the political field, striving to free their fellowmen not only from the shackles of Western oppression, but also from archaic traditions. However, unlike the majority of intellectuals in Africa, his words are carried not in a European language, but in Arabic – considered by a good number of scholars as an indigenous African tongue.
Many in the West are familiar with books and articles written by Africans who use English, French, Portuguese or Spanish in their writings, but there are very few who have ever heard of the innumerable Africans who use Arabic to express their feelings. Yet, Arabic was for centuries the written idiom in which the majority of educated Africans communicated and wrote their literature. Unlike the European languages, Arabic is not the vernacular of masters from another continent, but a tongue of Africa itself.
In fact, Arabic is one of the important languages which binds a good number of Africans together. About half of Africans today are Muslims and almost all of them are familiar with the language of the Qur’an. A good number of these would like to see Arabic as the Language of Africa. Even some who have no connection with Islam, like the first leader of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba – murdered by Western-paid mercenaries – have called for Arabic to become the vernacular of that continent.
Hence, it is important that the outside world should be familiar with the works of African intellectuals, like Al-Fituri, who use Arabic to express their ideas and emotions.
A true example of most of the Africans living in West and Central Africa, Al-Fituri carries the blood of the Arab north and non-Arab south. His father was from the region of the Upper Bahr al-Ghazel in southern Sudan while his mother was an Egyptian.
Growing up in Egypt, he came to feel that Black Africa was his real home – not the Africa of Alexandria, where he spent his youth. In this northern Egyptian city which counted among its inhabitants a good many who were European, he felt that he was a stranger.
The feeling that Black Africa, his land, must be unshackled and free is a cry which runs throughout his poetry. He imbues this ardour for the freedom of his continent to the reader when he writes:
Awake from your black dreams”,
or in an even stronger tone with these words:
Africa, a land asleep!
Oh! My nation. Oh! Land of my fathers.
I am calling you.
Do you not hear the peoples’ cry of bitterness?
I am calling you,
I am calling my blood in you.
I am calling my nation who is naked.”
Seemingly, he answers his own cry of bitterness:
“Yes! Our turn has arrived.
Our turn has arrived.”
In his verse, Al-Fituri reflects on the colonial history of Africa. He talks of how war after war, the Europeans took Africans to fight their conflicts – not struggles to free the African people, but battles to enrich their colonial masters. These few lines give his and the majority of Africans’ true feelings about these wars:
“We have returned, yes we have returned from the war victories.
On our necks they have placed the laurels of victory,
And from the moaning of our mouths they have shaped their glory.
We have returned from the wars, to the fields, the factories.
So that we could plough, seed, harvest and gather,
So that we could build for others, cook but starve from hunger.”
Yet, in spite of all the suffering imposed by the European imperial powers on the Africans, he still had faith in humankind. Calling on all people in the world to understand the feeling of the oppressed Africans, he asks:
“Oh my brother! In the East, in every dwelling,
Oh my brother! In the world, in every nation,
I am asking you,
Do you know me?”
These are but a few of the Africans’ cries of anguish in Muhammad Al- Fituri’s poetry. He wanted the sufferings of his people to end and their lives improved. Throughout his verses, he calls for a free, enlightened and proud Africa. Like a good number of Africans who write and express their feeling in Arabic, he inspires his countrymen to build a new African world.