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Widad Nabi

20 questions for: Widad Nabi (#9)

Episode #9 of my series “9273 roots”: 20 questions for the woman who processes the futility of war through Arabic poetry: Widad Nabi.

Last updated: 5 months ago

Lisān al-‘Aarab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…

Widad Nabi

وداد نبي

The woman who processes the futility of war through Arabic poetry

  • Date of birth: 12th October, 1985
  • Place of birth: Kobanê (مدينة كوباني), Syria
  • Place of residence: Berlin, Germany

Widad Nabi was born in Kobanê in Syria. She currently lives and works in Berlin. The Kurdish-Syrian poet and author completed her Bachelor of Economic Studies at the University of .

Her work has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. Some of her writing has also appeared in English, for example in Tulips Magazine in Washington, or in French, for example in the anthology L'amour au temps de l'insurrection et de la guerre (Maison de la Poésie). In 2013 her book Time for Love, Time for War was published in Aleppo. Her book Syria and the Senselessness of Death was published in 2016 in Beirut.

Widad Nabi1 e1554319536710
photo credit: Widad Nabi

How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn't know you?

I am a Syrian-Kurdish writer and poet. I do not believe in borders between countries and maps or nationalities. I believe in human beings.

What was your first Arabic grammar book?

It was a grammar book in primary school.

What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?

The novel East of the Mediterranean (شرق المتوسط) by Abd al-Rachman Munif (عبد الرحمن منيف).

book east mediteranen

East of the Mediterranean or Sharq al-Mutawassit is a novel written by Saudi Arabian writer Abdul Rahman Munif in 1975.

What is the story? The novel deals with various themes of freedom. The protagonist is Rajab Ismail who suffered from eleven years of extreme torture and was eventually made blind during the horrific ordeal. The novel marked the beginning of Munif's exploration of the Arabic wilderness in his novels with Munif's venture into the desert.

How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?

It depends on the person's effort to learn the language. But I think you need at least three years (full time study).

What is your favorite Arabic word?

It is مَنْزِل.

Remark: The word مَنْزِلمَنازِلُ). It is the noun of place (اسْمُ مكانٍ of the verb to descend; to stay to live نزَلَ).

Which Arabic word do you like least?

The word نِسْيَانٌ which means forgetful or forgetfulness.

You can find Widad Nabi's work (poetry) in the German-Arabic book “Die Flügel meines schweren Herzens”.

The book is a collection of poems and writings of female Arabic poets over the centuries. It is great tool for Arabic learners as the book gives you both the Arabic and German text. Unfortunately, there is no English translation.

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Which Arabic dialect do you like best?

Syrian! (اللهجة السوري).

What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?

.ياليتني كنت نسيا منسيا

I wish I had forgotten.

Remark: This is a sentence fragment from the Holy Qur'an. In Sura /Maryam (مريم), in verse 23, you can read as follows:

فَأَجَاءَهَا الْمَخَاضُ إِلَىٰ جِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ قَالَتْ يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَٰذَا وَكُنتُ نَسْيًا مَّنسِيًّا.

and, when the pains of childbirth drove her to [cling to] the trunk of a palm tree, she exclaimed, ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before all this!'

What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?

.لَكِ يا مَنازِلُ في القُلوبِ مَنازِلُ

Remark: This is the title of a poem written by al-Mutanabbī (المتنبي) – the grandmaster of Arabic poetry. It is hard to translate. A more literal translation could be: O, my homesteads, you have homes in my heart.

Who was al-Mutanabbi?

Al-Mutanabbī (أبو الطيّب المتنبي) was born in AD 915 (303 AH) at the end of the Abbasid era. His father was a water carrier. It is recounted that he learned the subtleties of the Arabic language in the desert living with tribes. He began composing his work as a young man, and it was in his youth that Ahmed ibn Hussein earned the controversial nickname Mutanabbī (مُتَنَبِّي) which denotes he who would be a prophet.

His work was written in a flowery, bold, and hypnotic language, full of improbable metaphors, stretching and re-imagining the Arabic language.

Translating Mutanabbi's poems is a difficult task. Some even say you should leave them untranslated. Here is one of his most famous lines: The desert knows me well, the night and the mounted men (وَاللّيْـلُ وَالبَيْـداءُ تَعرِفُنـي) – The battle and the sword, the paper and the pen (وَالسّيفُ وَالرّمحُ والقرْطاسُ وَالقَلَـمُ).

In 965 (354 AH), he was killed by bandits near Baghdad.

Al Mutanabbi
The probably most famous Arabic poet: al-Mutanabbī.
Picture credit: wikipedia.org

What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?

I have no idea.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

.الْمَرْءُ صَنِيعةُ الْحُبِّ

It means: One is made of f true love.

Widad Nabi2
Widad Nabi fled from war and is now currently based in Berlin, Germany.
photo credit: Widad Nabi

Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?

The Turkish writer Elif Shafak, the German thinker and philosopher Hannah Arendt and the Austrian author Ingeborg Bachmann.

What was the last great meal you had?

Fried Chicken with Broccoli and noodles.

What is your favorite city?

Aleppo (حَلَب) in Syria.

Widad's most favourite city is Aleppo in Syria. This is a picture how this ancient and famous city looked like before the war (2009).
picture credit: wikipedia.com

Which book would you give to a dear friend?

The book Masnawī by al-Rūmī (جلال الدين الرومي).

The Masnavi (or: Masnawi) is a poem written in Persian by al-Rūmī, the famous Sufi poet. It is one of the best known and most influential works of Sufism. The Masnavi is a poetic collection of anecdotes and stories derived from the Qur'an, sources, and everyday tales. Stories are told to illustrate a point and each moral is discussed in detail.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams.

What music do you listen to?

I like  Yanni (a Greek musician) and Sufi music.

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When were you happiest?

When my poems were translated into English and when I traveled with my husband to Italy / Tuscany.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is that I won't go back to my country and die in exile.

For all German speaking readers: Widad's new book was published in March 2019! It is a collection of poems, carefully and beautifully translated from Arabic by Suleman Taufiq. The book is called Kurz vor dreißig, …küss mich. You can get it here or at amazon.

Here is what the publisher says about the book:

“Widad Nabis Texte erzählen von der unstillbaren Sehnsucht, vom Verlust, von Lust und Schmerz, von der Suche nach menschlicher Nähe. Sie besingen zumeist einen Moment der Nostalgie, der Zärtlichkeit und der Liebe. Ihre Gedichte, die poetisch eng mit den Ereignissen der letzten Jahre in Syrien verwoben sind, entsprechen dem Lebensgefühl vieler Menschen, die auf der Flucht sind. Das Gefühl der Fremdheit in ihrer Lyrik ist eine Metapher für die Entwurzelung und Heimatlosigkeit des modernen Menschen.”

What is your life motto?

Follow your heart (اتبع قلبك قلبك).

Widad Nabi, thank you for your time.

CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS: Who should we interview soon?

Do you know an interesting person who has a special relationship with the Arabic language? Then click yes below and tell us why we should interview this person!

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3 years ago

Hi this is a really cool interview. I am an arabic student and currently analysing her poetry and that makes me ask, why did you ask her all these questions and not a single one about her own poetry?

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