A friend of mine has lent me an interesting collection of short stories written by kids whose ages range from 8 to 18. The stories selected were winners of a writing contest on the theme “The Open Door”. These kids come from different cultural backgrounds; I read all the stories and was impressed by the quality of the writings, and the imagination that these kids have, and the effort that they put into their work.
Some of the stories were written in Arabic and others were written in English. One of the intriguing things that I noticed after finishing the book was the difference between tackling the subject between Arab kids and Western kids. Most of the Arab kids, writing either in Arabic or English thought of the open door as a metaphorical expression, and built their stories around hope, which the open door signifies. On the other hand, the Western kids always thought of the actual door as an object and their stories evolved around walking through open doors, or trying to open closed ones.
What makes things even more interesting is the theory that Malek bennabi proposed in his book Le Problème des Idées dans le Monde Musulman. He states that the European man has always looked towards the ground or his feet using what is beneath to make things, whereas the Eastern or precisely the Middle Eastern man has always looked towards the sky in search for answers to his existence and being. He also believed that the obsession of the European with material things (objects) made this continent incapable of producing a prophet or a religion.
In this book he cites the examples of Daniel de Foe’s Robinson Crusoe and Ibn Tufail’s Hay ibn Yakdhan. The Castaway Robinson Crusoe tries to occupy himself by writing a diary, making a table, and other things, whereas Ibn Tufail’s protagonist who finds himself alone in a forest searches for a meaning to life and he finally comes to realise the existence of a creator.
Although it is an interesting comparison to make, and it lends supports my observation above. I believe that Malek Bennabi has missed crucial differences between the two stories. Danield De Foe and Ibn Tufail lived in completely different times, separated by hundreds of years of civilization, which at the time of the writing of Robinson Crusoe was moving towards industrialization, i.e. the making of things which must have influenced the line of thinking of Daniel de Foe. Robinson Crusoe was an adult when he was cast away on the island. He had already seen the world and experienced life, so he was trying to make a life that resembles the one that he left behind. However, Ibn Yakdhan was raised alone in a forest, away from human influence and civilization.
Having said that, it has been some time since I read the book; and I may be missing some other points which led Malek bennabi to deduce the crucial difference between the Eastern and Western man.