“Jalal Khalid”, the First Novel in Iraq

Abbas M. Mousa

2021 / 2 / 21

The modern Iraqi narrative arose at the beginning of the last century, influenced by the development of such art in Western countries, and it reached Iraq through two main sources: The first is what the Turks translated from European literature, where a number of the pioneers of the Iraqi narrative were influenced by it, on top our writer “Mahmoud Ahmed El-Sayyid”, who read such type of literature in the (Turkish) language. The second source is what the Egyptians and Syrians translated from world literature.
The Writer El-Sayyid’s Life:
“Jalal Khalid” novel gained great importance in the Iraqi narrative, despite being the third novel in El-Sayyid’s record, written in 1928, after his first novel (For Marriage Sake) 1921, and The Awakening Novel by Suleiman Faydi 1919.
Mahmoud Ahmed AbdulFattah AbdulHamid Ibrahim was born in Baghdad on March 14, 1903 and died in December 1937, (34) years old. Mahmoud El-Sayyid s culture was defined by his religious studies in his father s library at Al-Haydarkhana Mosque. His father was a teacher at Haydarkhana Mosque and the imam of Sheikh AbdulQa--dir-- Al-Gailani Mosque--;-- and his grandfather was also a cleric. Mahmoud Ahmed also studied at the Sultani School and graduated in 1918. He was appointed in the Irrigation Department in the Al-Hindiya region, but he soon left his job after months and traveled to India in 1919, and spent more than one year in it, familiarizing himself with the cultural and social conditions of India and getting acquainted with the Indian socialist thinker (Swami). He was influenced by Swami, and then returned to Iraq in 1920, during the 1920 revolution, to write down the experience of his journey to India and the outbreak of the Iraq revolution in his novella, short novel (Jalal Khalid) which he published in 1928. He was appointed as a clerk in the Ministry of Interior in December 1920. He was transferred to the Diwaniyah province in 1923, and returned to Baghdad to work in the Baghdad Mayoralty in September 1923. After that, he became Secretary of the Municipalities at the Ministry of Interior in June 1931 and then Secretary of Parliament in March 1933 until his death in Cairo Egypt for treatment of liver disease. He died there on December 10, 1937 and was buried in the cemetery of Imam al-Shafi’i in Cairo.
(El-Sayyid) studied Turkish language like many children of his generation and translated from it from English and Russian literatures. His first work was a short novel entitled (For the sake of marriage) which he published in 1921 with an introduction by his friend Hussein al-Rahhal, one of the most prominent progressive Iraqi intellectuals in that time. He followed it with another novel a year later, “The Destiny of the Weak”, --print--ed with its predecessor in Cairo, with an introduction by Mahmoud Hilmy, the publisher and owner of the Modern Library. Then El-Sayyid issued a collection of short stories in the same year (1922) under the title (Nakabat´-or-The Catastrophes). Then he issued (The Opposing Arrows) collection, which was intellectual dialogues that took place in the form of letters between him and his friend Awni Bakr Sidqi. Then “The Structures of Ignorance” 1923 and “The Broken Pen” 1923”.
Mahmoud Ahmed El-Sayyid is also the founder of the Iraqi short story. He published his collection “The Catastrophes” in 1922, which are full of preaching and guidance. After being criticized of the inability to write a novel, he left writing the story for years, and was busy studying Russian realistic literature and writing literary articles in which he attacked the Iraqi literary achievement in the twenties in general, and what he wrote in particular, saying (everything I previously wrote was not literature in its true sense), and he wished to have the authority to create a great Holocaust against all the fictional works written in that period!. He established a new trend in the Iraqi narrative, which is another image of Russian realistic literature, using the Latin name to define it (realism). He tried to find a verbal approach to it that fits with the environmental conditions of the eastern Iraqi society, so he called it (popular literature), and defined it as (it is literature that is a mirror of the people life, expressing its feelings, dreams, sorrows, pleasures and hopes, and in the future it could turn into a source for historians who would write its true history and research how it used to live in that era).
The Novella:
In the second phase, his first most important novella (Jalal Khalid) appeared in 1928, a novella that was re-published in his complete collection of works issued by Ali Jawad Al-Taher and AbdulIlah Ahmed. Then the “Talaa´-or-Vanguards” collection issued in 1929, and finally a collection “In an hour of time” 1935, and other articles and stories translated from Turkish language.
Jalal Khalid s novel was written governing by the literary tools available in its time and narrative techniques dominant at the time regarding the style, language, and method of de--script--ion. It is not fair to critically compare the spirit of your time to that time, its techniques and schools etc.
The dedication (the novella dedicated to the youth of countries that raised to fight for freedom and truth)--;-- an epic theatrical discourse, in a luxurious and enthusiastic language. This style represents an important part of the virgin culture in which the writer grew up, and he used it as an inspirational introduction for the reader to know the writer s intellectual attitude.
Then he moves to the introduction in which he focused on a problem that is still inherent in the narrative, which is a (literary genre). He tried to explain to the reader the literary genres he is reading, using the term story. Then he arrives at a strange term, but he tried through such term to bring the picture closer to the reader at that time, using the term (hadith). We note that this term is a product of a literary environment, which until recently dominated the popular environment in which the novelist grew up, which is the (storyteller), which was common in old Baghdad cafes. His introduction has mentioned a place that refers to this social environment in which the novella was written (Baghdad: Bab Al-Sheikh). This technique also influenced the nature of his discourse to the reader, so he used the form of discourse of the masculine singular.
As for the language that Mahmoud Ahmed El-Sayyid used, it was dominated by exaggeration, metaphors, strange and old vocabulary.
Jalal Khalid s novella is the first Iraqi novella in the history of Iraqi literature. It consists of two parts, and it is a memoir of Jalal Khalid during the British occupation of Iraq. He left Iraq to escape the brunt of the occupation when he was a 20-year-old.
The novel begins with the departure of Jalal Khalid on the evening of the seventh day of March 1919 from Baghdad to India on board of the ship (Barjora). On the board of the ship, a beautiful Jewish girl caught his attention on her way to Singapore with her father and fiancé. He fell in love with this girl and kept caressing his thoughts.
After a while, the ship arrived in Bombay city. He went out and wandered around the city and found its rich enjoying everything that was pleasant and good, but the majority of its inhabitants are poor. As a year and a few months passed, he left Bombay for Calcutta and found its condition like Bombay. There he meets the Hindu socialist writer F. Swami, who uses to encourage people to revolt through his writings. He told Jalal Khalid that he differs from him because he stayed in his homeland to spread patriotic ideas and did not leave it to escape the oppression of the occupation. And here we read many of the dialogues between them about freedom, culture and women s rights before returning to Baghdad, after about a year and four months, to be surprised by the news of the French occupation of Syria.
The second part of the story includes correspondence between Jalal Khalid and his two friends Ahmed Mujahid and (K.S.) after he met with them in his home and told them about the Indian writer. The exchanged messages talk about the bad conditions of people and the desire for revolution, especially in southern Iraq. Jalal sees that revolution and reform take place through the spread of knowledge, education, and abandonment of the old traditions that only lead to division, in addition to Iraq s need for men and efforts made to reform it and correct its system.
Jalal Khalid novella is an ideological text that defined the problem in a mature way that preceded his era by years, and dealt with the real reasons behind the lagging and backwardness behind the Arabs and Muslims countries. The novelist used the puns method to express his bold and sensitive views, by posing the problem in a field far from its real field. He transferred it from Iraq to India. In a dialogue between the hero Jalal Khalid and the Indian writer Swami, in which the latter disclosed one of the reasons, saying: (But these temples do not benefit the Indians today, the people do not have schools).
The character Jalal Khalid represented a person who disappeared behind the writer, Mahmoud Ahmed El-Sayyid. The journey of Jalal Khalid to India is a symbolic one similar to the intellectual journey that the writer himself lived, which resulted in the transformation of his intellectual, religious and social convictions and visions, as a result of his great influence with modernist intellectual ideas, coming from Turkish and Russian and French literatures. This matter was clarified in Chapter Nine, when the hero switched from national religious thought to revolutionary socialist liberation thought, after listening to several literary and intellectual studies that represented global literary, philosophical and political experiences, in a forum, while he was in India.
There was confusion between the concepts of patriotism and nationalism within the text.
The novella presented ideas that are among the advanced ideas of that era and have great audacity, for example: Jalal Khalid, the Muslim is in love with a Jewish girl, which constitutes a call for rapprochement and fusion between nationalities and religions. When he visits India, (Jalal) reveals the exploitative nature of foreign companies, foreign and Indian merchants. The novella is a comparison between the struggle of the Indian people and the Iraqi people. It depicts the beginnings of the workers ’movement demanding an increase in wages. The novella diagnoses the deteriorating situation in which Iraqi women live, and deals with the issues of peasants and workers, as we see that (Jalal Khalid) believes in the right of workers to strike.
Through his de--script--ion of the tribes of the southern Euphrates and his sympathy with the peasants, in addition to other issues, we see his belief in the revolution for independence and his defense of national, national, and socialist human causes.
Hanna Batatu described the novella as “the first novel in Iraq, that it was based on real facts, and was used to inculcate new beliefs and played a role in the ideological formation of Iraqi youth”. It seems that Hussein Al-Rahhal was aware, as he pushed El-Sayyid to write, that narration is a very valid artistic way to transmit new ideas that he would like to spread among the new generations, therefore he did not care much about what was technically superior as much as he cared about the idea that the narration promotes and communicates to the recipients.
Mahmoud El-Sayyid described himself as neither a writer nor a professional, but rather a lover of literature and art.

Prepared and Translated by:

Centre of Laic Studies and Research in the Arab World