Last semester, spring 2017, I taught a class at Harvard on Arabic paleography and archival skills. Each week, we’d read a couple of Arabic, hand-written archival documents that I had culled from the Egyptian National Archives. The documents were mostly from the 19th century, although some dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. I’d have the documents transcribed and the quaint and odd words explained in advance. On their part, the students were supposed to a. translate the document, and b. practice reading it at home and be prepared to read it in class from the original, hand-written text.
The documents ranged from administrative correspondence to police and court records of criminal cases.
It was one of the better courses I have ever taught, and I, for one, had a blast with these excellent students. In the final week, I asked them if they would like to write something creative, e.g. a play or a short story, using one of the documents we’d read throughout the semester. This was a completely voluntary exercise that had no bearing whatsoever on their final grades. Five of the eight students responded, and I took their permission to publish their “reading” here, together with a short bio (written by each author).
Below is one of these pieces. It is a graduation certificate from 1868 issued by the Qasr al-Aini Medical School.
The original document comes first, followed by a transcription, then a translation, a short bio of the student, and finally, the icing on the cake: the student’s own “reading” of the document.
معلم الجراحة العامة: محمد أفندي فوزي، صاغ
معلم التشريح: حسن افندي عبد الرحمان، بكباشي
معلم الفسيولوجيا: حسن بك هاشم
معلم فن الرمد و الإكلينيك الرمدي: حسن بك عوف
رئيس المدرسة الطبية ومعلم فن الجراحة والإكلينيك الجراحي: محمد علي بك
معلم الباتولوجيا العامة: مصطفى أحمدي أبو زيد، يوزباشي
معلم قانون الصحة: عبد الرحمن أفندي الهراوي، بكباشي
معلم المادة الطبية: بدوي أفندي سالم، صاغ
معلم فن العلاج: محمد أفندي بدر، صاغ
معلم الطب الشرعي: محمد أفندي عبد السميع، قائمقام
معلم الجراحة الصغرى وفن التعصيب: محمد فوزي أفندي، صاغ
معلم الكيمياء والطبيعة: صالح أفندي علي، صاغ
معلم التاريخ الطبيعي: أحمد أفندي نده، بيكباشي
١. صورة الشهادة المعطية إلى شيبان الخازن: نحن الواضعين أسماءنا وأختامنا أدناه من رئيس المدرسة الطبية ومعلميها في محروسة
٢. القاهرة نقر ونعترف أن شيبان أفندي ابن نور الخازن من بلدة عجلتون من جبل لبنان من أعمال القطر الشامي
٣. قد دخل في المدرسة المذكورة ف ٣ كيهك سنة ١٥٨٠ وتعلم فيها العلوم الطبية إحساناً من المراحم الخديوية والشمائل الداورية. ومن وقت
٤. دخوله قُيد في الرتبة الخامسة وهي رتبة المبتدئين، فدرس في السنة الأولى علم الكيمياء، والطبيعة، وعلم الموجودات الطبيعية، أي
٥. المعادن والحيوانات والنباتات، وتشريح العظام والمفاصل، والجراحة الصغرى، وفن التعصيب. وفي آخر السنة الأولى
٦. حصّل امتحانه، وأجاب الأجوبة الكافية في العلوم المذكورة. وحيث أن ما درسه الأفندي المذكور من العلوم فهو موزع
٧. على الفرقة الخامسة والرابعة وأنه أحسن الأجوبة في هذا الامتحان في علوم الفرقتين حتى تعجب الحاضرون، فاتفق
٨. رأي أرباب الامتحان على نقله إلى الفرقة الثالثة مجازاةً لاجتهاده في تحصيل علوم الفرقة الرابعة أثناء ما كان
٩. في الفرقة الخامسة. فدرس في السنة الثانية علم التشريح، والفيسيولوجيا، أي علم منافع الأعضاء، والجراحة العامة، والباتولوجيا
١٠. العامة، وفي آخر السنة الثانية حصّل امتحانه في تلك العلوم، وأجاب الأجوبة الفائقة، وارتقى إلى الفرقة الثانية،
١١. فدرس في السنة الثانية جراحة الأنسجة، والعمليات الجراحية العامة، وقانون الصحة، والمادة الطبية، وفن العلاج، وقسم
١٢. من الأمراض الباطنية. وفي آخر السنة الثالثة حصّل امتحانه في تلك العلوم، فأجاب أجوبة جيدة، وارتقى إلى الفرقة الأولى
١٣. في السنة الرابعة من الدراسة، فدرس فيها جراحة الأقسام، والعمليات الجراحية الكبرى، وبقيت [أي بقية] الأمراض الباطنية، وفن
١٤. الكحالة، أي علم أمراض العين وعملياتها، والطب الشرعي. وفي هذه السنة الأخيرة صار امتحانه يوم الاثنين الموافق
١٥. سبعة كيهك سنة ١٥٨٤، فأجاب الأجوبة السديدة عنما [أي عن ما] سئل عنه في العلوم حتى تعجبو الحاضرون من فطانته وذكاء عقله،
١٦. وأقروا له بجودة المعارف. ثم أن الأفندي المومئ إليه أتقن هذه العلوم باللغة العربية والفرنساوية، وكان
١٧. قدوة حسنة بين معاصريه من التلامذة في تهذب الأخلاق وحسن السلوك، والمواظبة الفايقة على استحصال
١٨. العلوم المذكورة آنفا، وأنه قد قَرَنَ العلمَ بالعملِ، حيث كان مواظباً على مساعدة معلميه في معالجة الأمراض على
١٩. اختلاف أنواعها في الاسبتالية العمومية، متلقيا بالرغبة والنشاط فوائد الدروس السريرية، أي تشخيص الأمراض،
٢٠. مجربا له بنفسه، وقد أجرى مراراً أشهر عمليات الجراحة والرمد، من بتر، واستخراج حصياة [أي حصيات]، واستئصال
٢١. أورام باطنة وظاهرة، وعمليات قدح، وحدقات صناعية، وغير ذلك من العمليات العديدة التي تستدعيها
٢٢. الأمراض المختلفة. فطال ما امتاز بحسن السيرة والاستقامة والسهر على اقتباس العلوم المذكورة، والحرص على صحة
٢٣. المرضى الذين كان يداويهم مدة إقامته في الإسبتالية والمدرسة الطبية. فبعناية ولى النعم تحصّل على الطب
٢٤. علماً وعملاً، فلا شك أنه صار طبيبا ماهراً، مجرباً، متضلعاً على دقائق وشواهد هذا الفن، يصح الاعتماد عليه
٢٥ في كل رأي وعمل يتعلقان بصناعته، جعله الله نافعاً للأنام. ولذا حق الآن علينا أن نشهد بفضله
٢٦. وأن نجيزه بالعمل والتعليم بالعلوم السابق ذكرها حيث أقام واستقر، بدون معارضة من أحد كان ما كان.
٢٧. وبناء على ذلك سلمناه هذه الشهادة لتكون بيده سنداً لدى الاقتضاء، وتلك الشهادة ممهورة بختوم من ذُكر أعلاه.
Part 1: All the teachers who approve this certificate (names followed by corresponding military rank)
- The general surgeon Mohamed Effendi Fauzi ( ﺻﺎغ)
- The post mortem teacher: Hassan Effendi Abd al-Rahman,ﺑﻜﺒﺎﺷﻰ
- The physiology teacher: Hassan Bey Hashem
- The teacher of the art of ophthalmology and ophthalmic clinic: Hasan Bey Auf
- The president of the medical school and the teacher of the art of surgery and the surgical clinic: Mohamed Ali Bey
- The teacher of general pathology: Mustafa Ahmed Abu Zeid, Captain
- The teacher of the code/laws of health; Abd al-Rahman Effendi Hawari, ﺑﻜﺒﺎﺷﻰ
- The teacher of medical curriculumt: Bedawi Effendi Salam, ﺻﺎغ
- The teacher of the art of treatment: Mohamed Efendi Badr, ﺻﺎغ
- The teacher of forensic science: Mohamed Efendi Abd al-Samia, ﻗﺎﺋﻤﻘﺎم
- The teacher of small surgeries (?) and the art of infection: Mohamed Fouzi Effendi, ﺻﺎغ
- The teacher of chemistry and nature (?): Salih Efendi Ali, ﺻﺎغ
- The teacher of medical history Ahmed Effendi Nadu, ﺑﻜﺒﺎﺷﻰ
Part 2: Contents of Certificate
(1) This is a copy of the testimony given to Sheban al-Khazan: We the authors have put our names and our stamps below, from the president of the medical school and its teachers (2) in Cairo . . . and we recognize that Sheban Effendi son of Nur al-Khazn from the village of Ajlatun from Mount Lebanon who has done works in the Shami country (Levant) (3) entered the aforementioned school on the 3rd of Koiak (4th month in Coptic calendar) of in the year 1580. And in it he learned the science of medicine as a result of the kindness of the Khedival beneficence and his periodic . . . (?).
And at the time of his (4) entrance he was leading in the fifth rank (of the army) and this is the rank of beginners, and then in the first year he studied the science of chemistry and nature, and natural elements, i.e. (5) the minerals and animals and plants, and the anatomy/dissection of bones and joints and the small surgery (?), and infections. And at the end of the first year (6) he took his exam, and responded with sufficiently correct answers in the aforementioned sciences.
And because the aforementioned Effendi had not studied science before he was put in (7) the the fifth rank and the fourth, and was the best respondent on this exam in the science of the two fields which pleased those present. So the
(8) lords of the exam (exam administrators) agreed on moving him to the third level, rewarding his efforts in achieving the 4th level and (9) the 5th level at the same time.
So in the following year he studied the science of dissection, and physiology, i.e. the science of the function of organs, and surgery, and (10) general pathology. And at the end of the second year he passed his exams in those sciences, and his answers were outstanding, and he rose to the second level.
(11) And in the following year he studied tissue surgery and general surgical operations, and the health law, and the medical curriculum, and the art of treatment, and (12) internal disease. And at the end of the year he passed his exam in those sciences, and he did well, so he rose to the first level.
(13) In the fourth year of study he studied the surgery of dividing sections (?) and the big surgical procedures and the rest of the internal diseases, and the art of (14) (?) ﻛﺤﺎﻟﺔ i.e. the science of the diseases of the eye and their procedures, and the forensic science. And in this last year his exam was on Monday the (15) 7th of Koiak in the year 1584, and he answered strongly in response to what was asked of him in the sciences until he pleased those present (this is an oral exam) from his patience and the wisdom/intelligence of his brain, and they (16) certified the quality of his knowledge.
Then the aforementioned effendi mastered these sciences in Arabic and French, and he was (17) a role model among his peers (since he did 5 years in four, and skipped a level) and for the other students in motivating them (refining their ethics) and improving their behavior، and exceptional persistence in the (18) aforementioned sciences, since he had joined science with work.
And he stayed on to help the teachers in treating different kinds of (19) illness, in the general hospital، since he had the desire and activity which were the benefits of these clinical lesson,. i.e. diagnosing illness, (20) which he had experienced himself, and had carried out many times (for months) surgery and ophthalmological surgery, and of amputation . . . and taking out the hippocampus (i.e. organs) (?) (21) and removing internal and external tumors or and . . . glass? (qadh) operations, and . . . prosthetics, and so on, from among the many operations which are called for by (22) the different illnesses.
And as long as he was distinguished by improving his path and integrity and . . . of the aforementioned sciences, and his keenness and care for the health of (23) the patients, who he healed during their stay in the hospital and the medical school. So with the care and blessings he obtained in medicine both (24) out of science and out of work (in practice and in theory?), there is no doubt he is a skillful doctor, outstanding in the particulars and performance of this art. And so his accreditation is certified by (25) all the undersigned who have produced this document, may God make him useful. And so now he has the right to practice as he likes (26) and is authorized to work and teach in the aforementioned sciences that have been established and settled on, without the opposition of anyone. (27) And so we handed him this degree accordingly so that it is in his hand in support of him as is required and appropriate, and that degree is given by those mentioned above.
(N.B. translation by Eleanor Ellis)
IV: Abdul Rahman Latif’s “reading”:
“Abdul Rahman Latif is a Masters student at Harvard Divinity School concentrating in Islamic Studies. He wants to do historical work, and this class has convinced him that the archives are more difficult to manage but even more rewarding than he had imagined.”
A Med School Diploma
Shayban al-Khazen was a young man quite brazen,
always reading, which his friends thought amazin’
His mum didn’t like the late night candle light
She’d yell, he’d make salawat to avoid the fight
His dad would say that studies’ll pave the way
But he sure wished the boy’d help with the hay
Shayban enjoyed his time in madrasa
Yet dreamt about schools a la franka
His uncles would ask- whatchu wanna be?
He answered, anything that keeps me busy
But one day mama began to hack and cough
She took medicine but it got more rough
The doctor talked about imbalance, galenic humors
Shay spotted a big lump under her throat, a tumor
Mama wasted away and all the doctor could say
Was to drink this, rub on that, maybe try to pray
Three days later mama was under dirt and sand
Shay didn’t blame God or Doc, but his own hand
All these texts all this time and what could I do?
Declaim and count quick to a thousand thirty-two?
No one ever asked him again what it is he that wanted to be
Cuz’ he asked everyone for dua to study medicine for free
Three years later a turkish official came,
With whiskers long he began to exclaim
I’m looking for the best student of this Mount Lebanon town
I’ll take him to Kasr al-Ayn where knowledge is a crown
He’ll study medicine and then all folks will see
That french knowledge is more than just trendy
This was in turkish so no one understood
But Shay guessed the jist and then stood
I’m the man you want I know it’s true
I’ll study all day and even all night too
No other mom in the Sham’ll be sick when they be can saved
I’ll be the best physician in this place, i’ll be what it’s craved.
And so he made the trip to Cairo with a few other syrian students
They became friends, but pre-med competition brought prudence
He checked out the pyramid, the sphinx, and saw the nile
Ate some koshary, questioned molokhia, but still smiled
The first day of class was with great Salih effendi
A mustached egyptian whose limbs were all bendy
He began to lecture on chemistry and explosive compounds
A reaction began in Shay’s mind and continued to abound
Shay learned about infections and bug infestations
From class and his very appalling apartment situation
First year went by and he took the exam
He was up the whole night before to cram
He waited for the results praying in the Mosque of Al-Hussein
The Imam’s severed head listened to the stress and felt pain
Shay’s mama was imploring Allah in heaven
Of course her son scored up in the top seven
His grades were so good he skipped a level
The other med students swore he was a devil
Shay breathed a sigh of relief but failed to rest
During break he worked as the professors’ best
In his second year he studied diagnosis and physiology
He asked patients for stories to collect an oral anthology
He missed his mum’s tales and had always craved for more
The professors’ failed to notice his past-time amidst his score
He was at the head of the class in the second year and third
Forensics and surgery- he never got a chance to be bored
He tutored fellow students, and sometimes they paid
He sent the money back home to hire his father a maid
Right before his final year, a welcome distraction entered his life
He saw a girl pass by and knew he wanted her to be his wife
The pathology professor had forgotten his lunch
So his daughter came during class in a crunch
Her dad made a remark about a disease in a fluster
She whispered to him, and he soon began to bluster
Ah I believe on the board I have made a mistake
My dear thanks for pointing it out- is that cake?
She was beautiful and smart, Shay didn’t know what to do
His acne was almost gone, his beard had almost come thru
Not really handsome, but witty and with prospects perhaps
Maybe if he impressed the Prof, marriage’ld be in his grasp
In the fourth year he worked like he never had before
Sleep was like mirage beyond the med school’s door
He became a teaching assistant to one Muhammad Ali Bey
The Pathology Professor who was father to his desired Bae
He chatted the instructor up in his newly acquired French
And gifted him lots of attar to deal with dissections’ stench
One day he told the man how he would like to go get married
The Prof asked if he planned to stay in Egypt and be salaried
Shay realized this moment could be the big make or break
The image of his mom’s grave struck his heart like a stake
He gulped twice and spoke
I’m going home to my folks
Then before he could gain control of himself
Word spilled like kahwa beans from his shelf
I’d like to m-meet your daughter, sir
Please please don’t think me a cur
The Prof looked stern then began to laugh
I should beat you raw you uppity rif-raff
But you are most intelligent student I’ve ever met
You’ll found a new hospital in sham, I’m gonna bet
And my girl wouldn’t have to worry about a mother-in-law
Oh wait that wasn’t appropriate, forgive me Almighty Allah
Shay and the Girl talked with one mahram present
The Prof was rather modern in this, Shay a peasant
Her name was Halima and she’d read all her dad’s works
And might have even ghost written a few of his remarks
Shay was given a diploma with high praise
The next day he had his nikkah in a daze
The new couple went to Mount Lebanon as in the divine writ
Then visited his mom’s grave and placed his diploma above it
this is very very nice…wonder how much Arabic/Egyptian culture those students are exposed to outside class and whether they ever lived in Egypt. Great job.
I have a dream: that these courses be teached in Cairo University