OUTLOOK — By Mohammed Al Hadhrami — Over the last months I have been engaged in researches and writings about the fathers of Omani literature including writers, poets, jurists and other intellectuals as part of the Omani Encyclopaedia Project overseen by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, a project expected to see the light soon. During my researches I came to know a lot about many prominent figures that I never did before. I knew them beyond the boundaries of literary works and researches that they left behind. I felt as if I had gone back in time and got closer to them. I had had a real taste of bygone times, exploring their mysterious worlds and unknown works.
It was an utterly beneficial experience for me; it enriched my knowledge and furnished me with new insights into the works and lives of Oman’s elite intellectuals of times past. It also convinced me that the legacy of those great people is not fully unearthed and we need more efforts to explore its richness. Many are the writers and jurists whose works were lost after their death. There were times when memories of outstanding writers went into oblivion as soon as they passed away. Few years after their death, attempts to unearth the legacy of these writers became akin to looking for gold amid vast deserts.
Where exactly does the problem lie? From my personal standpoint the reason can be attributed to the people’s lack of interest in literature and the importance of documentation. Ignorance coupled with negligence are the key reasons behind losing such a rich legacy produced by elite thinkers over the past decades. Thousands of manuscripts, letters and books were burned, damaged by rainwater or became food for insects.
There was a poet called Ali bin Jabr al Jabri, who died in 1995. He was an excellent poet. His friends and family say that he had a library teeming with old and valuable books which was lost after his death. They say that he endowed his library to the Islamic Institute in Wattayah. When the institute was transformed into a college of law and the attitude towards old books and manuscripts changed. The books were seen as nothing more than old and useless collections of papers, smelling of dust and it was got rid off to keep the place clean.
Abdullah bin Ali al Kalili is well-known to many as an outstanding poet. He died in 2000 after he devoted his life to literature and researches. In addition to poetry and novels he also wrote research papers on history and biographies. Sadly, his books were washed away by the 2007 floods and nothing was left apart from those stored in CVs.
Salim bin Hamoud al Siyabi is a historian, jurist and author, known for his profuse output of literary works; he died in 1993 leaving behind many books, including 10 parts of volumes on jurisprudence, history, genealogy and linguistics. He had over 80 publications on poetry and prose. Most of his books were lost, apart from a few published by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture when he was one of its employees. And what has become of his personal library at his home in the Muttrah district of Al Washal? No one knows.
Jurist Ibrahim bin Said al Abri, the former Grand Mufti of the Sultanate, died in a car crash in 1975 leaving behind a library full of manuscripts at his home in the Wilayat of Al Hamra in Al Dakhiliyah Governorate. You’ll find it painful to know that treasures of records and manuscripts was damaged by the effect of humidity.
Great thinkers and outstanding writers went into oblivion just because we failed to keep what they strived to bequeath to us. These were the founding fathers of the Omani culture who fought tooth and nail to enrich the Omani cultural scene with their works and writings.
It behoves us to do every things in our power to unearth their legacy, to search for what is left of their works and to keep what we find for posterity.
I still remember hundreds of letters which lay for a long time in earthenware potteries in an ancient house in Al Hamra until they were discovered by a foreigner who took them to his home country.
Thus, we lost historical documents just because of negligence and carelessness. Finally, let’s not forget the fathers of the Omani culture and the legacy they left for us.