“From the Memory of Land and River”

A History Book Series for Arab Teens

Vintage engraving of Ruins of Luxor from the Nile in Ancient Egypt, 19th Century, by David Roberts. (Getty)
Vintage engraving of Ruins of Luxor from the Nile in Ancient Egypt, 19th Century, by David Roberts. (Getty)

“From the Memory of Land and River”

“Don’t know much about history” goes the famous song and, to the new generation, it is more of a statement. It could be a coincidence or a choice, but the fact remains, our children are detached from the history of their nations. Young people may know the headlines but they themselves are still out of context.

Hence the main idea that drove Dr. Ibrahim Shalaby to start one of the most interesting history books series targeting young Arabic-speaking teens.

First published by Al-Balsam Publishing House in 2020, “From the Memory of Land and River” is comprised of four books with each one following one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. The first book titled Aziza (precious) follows the Nile River civilization. Now to tell the tales of such a rich, multi-layered and remarkably diverse civilization was no easy job. However, the talented writer and eloquent story teller used his starting point by focusing on the journey of an agricultural product. Beginning the journey with the planting of guava fruit, he walks us from the Nile headwaters in Sudan to the delta in Damietta where it gets exported. The journey is more of a tour in history. Here we sail along the Nile in tune with the famous African drumbeats that reveal African heritage with every beat. The sailboat takes us to the very spot where Prophet Moses’ crib was found. Here we reflect on the ancient Egyptian intangible heritage that is still very much in practice. Then we learn the location of Prophet Youssef, who made the first rosary in the world and how this was later developed by a Christian who added the beads according to the number of years Jesus Christ lived. The author explains that nowadays rosaries are affiliated with all religions.

Aziza is not only cleverly written, it also includes a whole visual section tracing back the ancient Egyptian art of Folk Tattoo.

Portrait of Ibn al-Haytham (965 AD - 1040 AD) an Arab mathematician, astronomer, and physicist of the Islamic Golden Age. (Creative Commons)

The second book of the series “From the Memory of Land and River” is titled Nagham (Tunes). Set in Iraq and following the civilization that was nourished by the water of rivers Tigris and Euphrates is an enchanting trip in itself. While the main starting point is the dates and the ancient industry affiliated with palm trees, it is Iraq’s cultural heritage that is the main hero of this book. From Al-Basra, where the famous Sufi poetess Rabaa Al-Adawya was born, to Sibaweih, the author of the first Arabic grammar book, to the famous scientist Ibn Al-Haytham, the book walks us into the heart of Arabic civilization’s golden era. Al-Haytham was known as "the Prince of Light” and was the first Arab physician to dissect the human eye.  He also discovered the law of optics in general and founded the principles of the camera.

The enchantment continues when the author reveals the last destination of Sindbad’s voyages. This visual section of the book focuses on the cultural gems from the art of Arabic calligraphy.

In his third book, Shalaby wanders about in the Land of Wonder-- India and Pakistan. Under the title “Soresh (Mango) and Rakshanda (pomegranate)” the writer drifts into a million stories entangled with enchanting folk legends and myths. Here is a very fertile land for spirituality and here the learnings of Sufi Pillar Ibn Arabi are integrated into the culture. Here myth and reality walk side by side and bow to each out of courtesy.

The visual history of this book depicts the Henna patterns and motifs.

The fourth and the latest publication of the series is titled “Gamila” (Beautiful) and reveals the beauty and heritage of the land of the Levantine. Taking the Apricot fruit as the starting point of the book, the scent of jasmine fills the air as one reflects on Damascus, the City of Jasmine. Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad state and the place with the oldest wall in the world which Prophet Noah built after the flood. Here the Sufi pillar Ibn Arabi was buried and a lot of Greek mythology took place.

The visual history of this book shows the ancient art of Shadow puppets.

History is a rich detailed documentation of the whole planet, whether it repeats itself or not, and whether it is at all true or not.

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