‘Imād Al‐Dīn Al‐Iṣfahānī’s Al-Barq Al‐Shāmī: a Paradigm for Cultural Memory in Autobiography of the Arabic Literary Tradition
This paper aims at presenting ‘Imād al-Dīn al‐Iṣfahānī’s (A.D. 1125-1201) memoirs of his association with Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn, known in the West as Saladin (A.D. 1138-1193), and his purpose to enhance the identity of his people. ‘Imād al-Dīn rose to high rank in the service of the Sultans and the Caliphate in Baghdād and later was in the service of Nūr al-Dīn at Damascus and became secretary (kātib) to Saladin in A.D. 1175. In this post, he wrote an account of his experiences in the service of Saladin, entitled al-Barq al-Shāmī (The Syrian Thunderbolt) (A.D. 1166-1193). ‘Imād al-Dīn’s work is a historical account referring to the brief but glorious reigns of Nūr al-Dīn and Saladin, that saw the unification of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt into a single kingdom and the recapture of Jerusalem from the hands of the Crusaders who had held it for eighty-eight years (A.D. 1099–1187). Although ‘Imād al-Dīn’s work is framed as a life of Saladin, the narrative focus slips away to highlight the role of ‘Imad al-Dīn himself (tarjama nafsah). ‘Imād al-Dīn’s historical account is in no sense an ordinary narrative chronicle. It is much more in the nature of a professional diary or record of the author’s secretarial activities, copiously illustrated with copies of or extracts from his own dispatches. Moreover, ‘Imād al-Dīn gives a detailed account of his day-to-day activities as a high-ranking administrative secretary. Emphasis is given to the role that ‘Imād al-Dīn played during the reign of Saladin and his own social commentaries regarding the ‘men of the pen’ and the ‘men of the sword’. Furthermore, ‘Imād al-Dīn’s autobiographical account focuses on the true moments of his personal glory. Certainly, ‘Imād al-Dīn shows a deep admiration for Saladin, but his greatness appears wholly as a corollary from the facts themselves, and only occasionally does he express some criticism of his master. These memoirs are seen as a chronicle of events, with the remarkable feature that they are usually related in the first person plural, a practice that gives an impression of vanity and self-importance on the writer’s part. By constructing the past and thus its cultural memory, makes one suppose that ‘Imād al-Dīn relies upon the veracity and the ‘historical conscience’ and tries through his autobiographical memoirs to present important personal and national events. All these materials, though at times appear to be straightforward eulogies, aim at serving his patron as well as to instill confidence to his people. On the whole, it may be said that the various discourses of the past that are quoted by ‘Imād al-Dīn aim at determining and enhancing the social and ethnic identity of his people.
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