Muhammad Issaf Nashashibi
1885 – 1948
Muhammad Issaf Nashashibi, more popularly known as Issaf Nashashibi, was born in Jerusalem in 1885 in a well-to-do and scholarly home. At the time, his father Othman regularly held literary salons at his house that brought together writers, poets, scholars and the general public. Among the scholars who frequented the Nashashibi home were Muhammad Jarallah, Aref Husseini, Assad Imam and Sheikh Ragheb Al-Khaldi. It was, in fact, Al-Khaldi who first percepted the wit and talent of the Nashashibi boy and suggested to his father to send him to the Patriarchal School in Beirut, Lebanon. It was there that Nashashibi studied under the tutelage of Sheikh Mohyee Al-Din Al-Khayyat, Sheikh Mustafa Al-Ghalayini and Abdallah Bustani. Nashashibi's mate there was the famous writer Shakeeb Arslan.
Upon completing his studies in Lebanon, Nashashibi returned to Jerusalem where, up until the end of World War I, he immersed himself fully in reading the works of the old masters of literature and philosophy, much to the chagrin of his father who wanted him to become a doctor or a businessman. Nashashibi's ardent pursuit of literature brought him into close contact with the luminaries of the time in literature, languages and politics. He was well acquainted with Ahmad Shawqi, Abdel Azziz Shawish, Khalil Sakakini, Hanna Al-Issa and Saed Zaghloul, among others.
Nashashibi worked in the field of education for several years first as an instructor and then as an inspector of the Arabic language, a post he later resigned from due to repeated harassment from the British who ruled Palestine at the time. Nashashibi dedicated his time to writing. He published hundreds of articles in various Palestinian and Egyptian newspapers and journals. He often used a pseudonym for the many articles that were published in the Egyptian magazine "Al-Risalah Al-Masrieh." He also wrote several books on language and literature, the most important of which was "Al-Islam Al-Saheeh" (The True Islam) for which he read more than 900 books. Nashashibi was elected a member of the Arab Scientific Forum in Damascus in 1923. Khalil Sakakini said of Nashashibi that he was a walking encyclopaedia of the Arabic language. His fierce love of the Koran and the Arabic language stemmed from his perception of people drifting away from them and gravitating toward a Western way of life. He was a proponent of the classical Arabic language and strongly resisted any attempts to exchange it with colloquial dialects. Nashashibi's style was akin to that of the poets and linguists of the Abbasid period, unlike that of his friend Khalil Sakakini. Ameen Al-Rihani, another friend and writer, advocated the adoption of Western civilisation and a departure from emulating the old masters.
Nashashibi's Jerusalem mansion attracted many Arab thinkers, poets and literary personalities of the likes of Michel Abu Shahla, Marouf Al-Rasafi, Abbas Mahmmoud Al-Aqqad, Bishara Al-Khoury and Makram Ibeid. His sudden death in Cairo in 1948 due to asthma and heart failure was a great shock to his many colleagues. In his eulogy, Ahmad Hassan Al-Zayyat wrote that death silenced a biting tongue and a throbbing nerve; a sharp mind with superior wit.
Nashashibi's legacy has been rekindled at the beautiful mansion that was his residence in Jerusalem. Built in 1924, the villa in the upscale Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood has become part of the Dar El-Tifl El-Arabi Institute after having served as the French Consulate until 1961 and the German School of Archaeology until 1982. The Issaf Nashashibi Centre for Culture and Literature, as it is now called, serves as a forum for lectures, exhibitions, poetry reading and literary and musical evenings. The centre contains a library of rare books and manuscripts on history, Islamic heritage and Arabic language and literature.