The Origins of Culture

"Ashour Al-Tuwaibi"

To get from Ras Hassan to the Zawiyat Al-Dahmani Secondary School, you had to cross Al-Dhal Street (or “Shade” Street). I loved that name, and the notion that shade could have its own street. It was inhabited by a number of the new bourgeoisie, who lived in large houses with lush and fragrant trees casting their shade. Walking down Fashloum Street, there was nothing particularly interesting, except the Al-Nouflyeen neighborhood that extended along its eastern front. I studied in its kuttab, a large fig tree perched at the door, its sweet smell–which I still remember–wafting into the mosque. Then we'd climb north to the Zawiyat Al-Dahmani area. 

It was the late 1960s when I met Muhammad Al-Faqih Saleh, who enrolled in the humanities track at the same time that I enrolled in the sciences track. The exact roads that led me towards a friendship with Muhammad Al-Faqih Saleh are unclear to me, though I could tell they involved literature and politics. My literary knowledge was not bad, but I was lacking in political knowledge. The world at that time was undergoing massive turbulence: major transformations in the United States and Europe in the aftermath of World War II; a shifting global map; the victory of independence movements in the Arab world and the domination of Nasserism in the Arab political scene; the proliferation of leftist movements; as well as the September '69 revolution in Libya and the changes that followed. 

This was a rich, exhilarating landscape for high school boys. The Libyan cultural movement, pioneered by the likes of Al-Misrati, Al-Talisi, Al-Alaqi, Al-Qarawi, Al-Fazzani, and Al-Nayhum, was thriving, and we never had enough of tracing its developments. We found cultural nourishment and entertainment in the Al-Esboo’ Al-Thaqafy newspaper, which came out every Friday, and the Al-Haqiqa newspaper. 

We all had the feeling that Muhammad Al-Faqih Saleh was a poet. We never read anything he wrote, but we were certain that he would pursue poetry, and time only proved us right. I remember that we once attended a poetry recital at the Tunisian Cultural Center in Tripoli, where the only participating Libyan poet was Al-Sharif Tarhouni. Before the event ended, I passed a note to its curator, the writer Abu Al-Qasim Karo, suggesting that he invite the poet Muhammad Al-Faqih Saleh to read some of his poetry, and he obliged. Muhammad was taken aback, but he still recited his poem, "The Warmth of Supplication in the Presence of Tears and Flames." The room erupted with hearty applause, and he was the biggest hit at the reading. The esteemed professor and writer Khalifa Al-Talisi even said: “This is a true poet.” It was a memorable day and a victory for our small group, which also included Omar Al-Kakli, Nour Al-Din Al-Nimr, Muhammad Al-Zantani, and Ashour Al-Tuwaibi. 

The seventies were another battlefield, with arduous roads and cold rooms. I witnessed the decline in romanticism's influence, and the rise of pop stars and socialist realism. The masses were wide-eyed, their hearts beating with the pulse of a distant spring. 


Every discovery was accompanied by astonishment, including works by Egyptian poets such as Salah Abdel Sabour, Muhammad Afifi Matar, and a friend of Muhammad Al-Faqih Saleh’s, the inimitable poet Ali Qandil. We also read the Iraqi poets Al-Bayati, Saadi Yusuf, and Muzaffar Al-Nawab, and poets from Lebanon and Syria, including Adonis, Onsi Al-Hajj, Bassam Hajjar, and Muhammad Al-Maghout. At the same time, we explored fantastic works by the renowned Sufis Ibn Arabi, Al-Hallaj, Al-Nafri, Al-Bistami, Al-Suhrawardi Al-Maqtool, and Farid Al-Din Al-Attar. The printing houses of Beirut, Baghdad and Cairo filled the markets with translated literary works by Russian, German, English, and American authors.

The 1970s were a time filled with gifts and works of genius–filled with questions and doubts, including the question of language. In which language should we write? Now that the old language is dead; can we give birth to a new language? We had no choice but to ride the wild horse of experimentation!

Born in Tripoli, Libya. He is a poet, translator, painter, and retired physician. He has published several poetry collections including “Poems from the Balcony” and “Khalimakhous Al-Quraini Crosses the Prickly Pear Field”, as well as two collections in English. He has also translated several poetry collections from world literature, including those of the Sufi poet “Kabir” and selections of haiku poets.

Ashour Al-Tuwaibi
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