Romance marked the Beginning for Muslim Brotherhood Theater
Among the most confusing issues in our cultural life is the position of Islam on arts; the position of the Islamists and their art experience are not less ambiguous than that. In this report we are going to tackle unknown historic art experience of Islamists, namely, the experience of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in theatrical work and composition under the auspices of Sheikh Abdurrahman al-Banna half a century ago.
Jamil Buthaina was a commencement
Al-Banna wrote “Jamil Buthaina”- one of the most famous romantic fictions- so that many people would be struck by the question why had he selected Jamil Buthaina as a first work instead of any other enthusiastic issue or rather he should have resorted to the Islamic history which is brimful with leading stories of Muslim fighters?
The prominent member of MB- and the thereafter nominated for succeeding his brother “Hasan al-Banna” in leading MB group, Abdurrahman al-Banna felt no embarrass in presenting such a work which was produced by the then ministry of education ” Acting Encouragement Committee” which undertook directing it on its own account in 1934 due to good meanings and sublime values they felt in it. The play seemed to have remarkably succeeded; Shawqi Qasem- the author of a doctoral thesis titled “Islam and the Egyptian theater” stated that Jmil Buthaina stood comparison with the pearl Poets Prince Ahmad Shawqi “The Madman of Laila.” A glance at this artistic work is sufficient to prove how professional the play was; the list of its stars includes: George Abiad, Ahmad Allam, Abbas Faris, Hasan al-Barudi, Fattouh Nashati, Mahmoud al-Miliji and from among women Fatima Roshdi and Aziza Amir were included.
The main theme of this fiction was romance, but the impetus behind choosing it was jealousy for Islam and Arab Nationality! Al-Banna saw that there was still a great vacuum to be filled by the Arab artists; he wondered at the beginning of the play:” why do we import stories and event from the west as “Romeo and Juliet” and celebrate with the tender young girl of kamala” instead of resorting to our Eastern heritage for illumination through its bright heavens and for love through the purity of its people. Then he discribed the different atmosphere of his play saying:” Here we find Jamil and Buthaina, the hero and heroin of a romantic story attracted the attention of people in their time and the time after. Here is Jamil talking to the rocks moving pigeon to tears…and here is Buthina crying to justice and getting her heart familiar to suffering. Again he returned to the moral value of the story that distinguished the Arab community with the Platonic love that doesn”t conflict with Islamic values saying:” The surrounding atmospheres are seducing but they both were not seduced they were both experiencing the overwhelming power of youthfulness but neither of them slipped into a sin; that they have two hearts cherished by Arabism and cultivated by Islam. Thereupon the author doesn”t absolutely reject romantic work but he sees that it depends upon the approach of the author to the subject; he should deal with the overwhelming passion in the way that enhances chastity. In spite of the great affection and strong attachment to each other, however inequitable was the society and however fair their cause was, the two lovers have never slipped into moral sins when they were able to satisfy their relish. The main scruples behind that, according to al-Banna were Islam and Arabism.
MB and the forties theater
Abdurrahman al-Banna works followed forth and he became known in the theatrical milieu as a writer who deduces poetic romantic fictions from the Arab environment. The renowned songstress Malak who was one of the pioneers in the lyric theatre asked him to set writings for her. He wrote to her the play “Suada” which was directed by the artist Hasan Helmi. The play depicted the faithfulness of Muslim woman towards her husband through a true historic story.
In the same way al-Banna did not feel shame in dealing with romantic works, he did not find fault in the playing of the actresses on the stage. He was helped through all that by the Arab environment from which he drew most works. The nature of this environment has forced the actresses to play in descent clothes to be in consistence with the atmosphere of the text. A matter of funny about that was related by Abdurrahman al-Banna in one of his articles that he felt embarrassed to see the actress Aziza Amir who was wearing a long sleeve dress but it was wide enough to uncover her arms. When he directed her attention to that, she did not disdain to tie the slave with a string to tighten it in response to the desire of the author.
Literature of Hadith on the Stage
Abdurrahman al-Banna-born in 1908- who tried before death to complete “AL-Fath Arrabani expounding musnad Ahmad Al-Shaibani”, a great book dealing with collected hadiths that his father had commenced, is the same person who set himself to theatrical composition out of jealousy for his religion. In one of his articles he mentioned that he felt jealous when he read in the weekly Sabah paper that a European troupe had disrespected the noble prophet, PBUH, in a performance on the Egyptian opera stage. He committed himself to write a play as a refutation to the blasphemy, and he resolved to present it at the same stage.
He had to select a proper text and troupe. Facing a great difficulty to secure both at the beginning, he got the first which is the text, namely “Jamil and Buthaina”. Moreover, He set a condition on the troupe to perform in the classical Arabic.
Palestine on the Stage
The play Saladin was the first work of al-Banna to draw attention to the Palestinian Issue. He held in mind that theater should act as armaments that work beside the struggler in Palestine. He presented the work in recognition of the faithful martyrs of Palestine and the champions of the sacred fight to save and liberate the Muslim territories.
“To the migrants and the homeless fellows of creed and Islam, the people of struggling Palestine those who have been expelled from their homes In defiance of right, for no cause except that they say. Our Lord Is Allah…to you I present this play that was intended to work side by side with the artillery fires and the whizzing of warplanes…to raise the flag and to achieve the aim.”
Even three members of the troupe excused themselves in order to join the fighters in Palestine, as stated by the play advertisement labels which read in the margin: “From among the troupe members in the field of fighting now are: Ibrahim Al-shami, Fateen Abdulhamid and Ibrahim Al-Qirsh. The first became one of the most important dramatists in theater and the Egyptian television till his death.
Arab theater stars are MB members!
Al-Banna took further steps in establishing an MB exclusive troupe to show his plays that numbered eight. The radio appreciated it and broadcast it directly. Such activity was not confined to the group main center rather it was extended to the group branches through Egypt; even it was shown at the great Egyptian stages. We have such documents as a lease contract to al-Banna who was hiring out al-Azbakia theater, as well as a demand presented to the theater director to hold a party, which was signed by the comedian actor Abdulmunim Madbouli, a member of the then Islamic troupe and afterwards a great figure of a comedy school named after him” Madbulism.” The impact of the troupe went further than the initial results.
To see how far the results were effective and the precedence that MB had gained in this respect, we should contemplate a great event related to the Egyptian national troupe. When it was established in 1935 and led by Khalil Mytran, it dispatched the first mission of students to Europe to receive art education there; the eye catching matter is that the mission included dramatists who previously took part in al-Banna plays. From among them were Fattouh Nashati, Muhammed Mutwalli, Siraj Munir, Hasan Helmi, and Muhammed al-Saba`. Al-Banna was concerned to develop his troupe abilities that he directed the troupe young men who ended secondary schools to join the acting high institute. The young men including Muhammed Al-Saba`, Abdulbadi al-Arabi and Ibrahim al-Shami- who became afterward renowned actors, listened to the advice.
MB in the Opera
The shows presented by the troupe at the Egyptian greatest stages like the Opera House and al-Azbakia Theater included, “Two years in a mountain route” about the persecution against the early Muslims in the Meccan mountain route, “The champions of al-Mansuria” a play in prose focusing on the status of the fatimids in Morocco and how great their strength and wish to enter Egypt were. Al-Mansuria is a Tunisian city, They also included “Al-Muiz lidin Allah the Fatimid” a historic one-scene play depicting the entrance of Al-Muiz to Egypt after Jawhar Assiqilli has captured it, “The battle of Badr”, “the Migration”, “Saladin the Ayyubian, and “Bint Elikshid” written in 1939 in celebration of the passing of thousand years after Azhar and Cairo were established; it dealt with the end of the Ikhshid “s(sunnis) era and the beginning of the Fatimid”s(Shiite) time, it was a three scene play in prose, which the author has enriched with Islamic values, since he called upon bringing Muslim sects close to each other and he warned against exploiting schools disputes in weakening and splitting the Ummah.
Al-Bana said in his diaries about that period:”The Islamic theater kept flourishing for 14 years with the appearance of every new play. I can remember when the Migration play was performed at al-Azbakia Theater on Wednesday 15th November 1947 and was broadcast by the Egyptian radio, many cinema men have come one after the other demanding to direct it in the cinema. The troupe has not only consolidated the role the Islamic theater should play, it consolidated its members and many of them have graduated from the acting high institute as well.”
Effects of the MB Theater
There were many effects of the MB Theater on the Arab theatrical atmosphere especially in Egypt. Among these effects was the interest of various Islamic powers in theater. The Muslim Youth Assembly has established a troupe led by the artist Muhammed Uthman that represented a pulpit producing Islamic plays till the July Revolution officers felt its danger due to its promotion of values contradictory to the socialist way they wanted the Egyptian people to live. Shortly, they involved the troupe in what was known as the liberty organization. No sooner than Uthman had agreed to join this assembly, they immobilized the troupe activities.
The effect has exceeded the MB to the great Azhar. In 1944 the Cairo Azhar secondary institute students have established “Azhar Students literary Association”. The association has presented many works; the most famous of them is the 1947 “Hercules embraces Islam” play which was derived from the sound Bukhari collection of Hadith. They asked the MB troupe for help, so al-Banna delegated to them DR Ibrahim Sukkar, a professor at Ain Shams faculty of arts afterwards. The funny is that the first Youngman in all these works was the student Salah Abu-Ismael the afterwards renowned Sheikh and the Islamist member of parliament.
History and Classic Arabic
Though he was indulgent for the actresses to make appearance in his plays, he was in no way content with the Egyptian colloquialism. The then cultural and social course, undoubtedly underscored this direction. There were calls by Luis Awad and Salama Musa to use colloquial language and even to replace the Arabic letters with the Latin letters, which led Muslim artist to have no way other than emphasizing on using the classic Arabic in arts.
Here arises a question concerning the reason that prompted Abdurrahman al-Banna to turn to history, especially Islamic history, devouring its material in the same time he overlooked the social and political issues of that time; even when he dealt with the Palestinian issue, he turned to Saladin”s biography? This may raise another question about his vision of the Islamic theater, whether it should stick to Islamic history, use the classic Arabic and follow the righteous biographies, or there were factors that directed him this course?
Though the first interpretation is comprehensible and logic, the second is most probably true for many reasons:
1- turning to history at the stage especially the theatrical stage was a fashion then. That may justify why the great actors sought after Abdurrahman al-Banna works. This tendency is shown as well in the great bulk of historic theatrical works adopted by the Arab authors in that time: Ahmad Shawqi wrote seven plays( Cleopatra, Laila Madman, `Antara, Ali bey the great, Qumbiz, the princess of Andalus); Farid Abu-Hadid wrote “Mison the gypsy” whose theme was about one mamluke prince, and Tawfiq al-Hakim whose initial work was the “People of the cave” with its intellectual and religious revelations. Moreover, Mahmoud Taimur wrote “The immortal Eve” that told about `Antara and Abla, and “Today is for wine” that told about Umrua Alqais, “The hawk of Quraish” about Abdurrahman Al-Dakhil and “Ibn jala” about Alhajjaj Ibn Youssuf….Thus al-Banna was not the only one to insist on classical Arabic.
2- The social theater in the forties was too flourishing to give the author an opportunity of precedence and path finding. So the Egyptian troupes that dedicated themselves to social and comic aspects have fulfilled their mission in a way that did not conflict, in general, with the Islamic point of view. An overview of the plays of al-Raihani and Badi` Khairi reveals that idea.
At last the worthy mentioning in this unknown aspect is what sir Jamal al-Banna, the younger brother of Abdurrahman al-Banna, related that the closest one to deal with Abdurrahman al-Banna in art-specific affairs was Shukri Raghib, the general director of the opera House. The latter is an Egyptian Christian whose friendship with Abdurrahman al-Banna reached so far that he insisted to label the name of Shukri Raghib as a general director of the theater on the advertisements of MB plays.