Monday, October 4, 2010

Story Of Khalil Beidas

Khalil Beidas (Arabic خليل بيدس, also transliterated Khalil Bedas, Khalil Baydas, Khalil Beydas) (1874 - 1949) was a Palestinian scholar, educator, translator and novelist. Beidas was the father of Palestinian Lebanese banker Yousef Beidas and was a cousin of Edward Said's father according to Said's autobiography.

Alongside contemporaries such as Khalil al-Sakakini, Muhammad Izzat Darwazeh and Najib Nassar, Beidas was one of Palestine's foremost intellectuals in the early twentieth century during the Al-Nahda cultural renaissance. Beidas was the pioneer of the modern Levantine short-story and novel. He was also a prolific translator - as early as 1898, he had translated some of the works of Tolstoy and Pushkin into Arabic. In addition, he established a magazine "an-Nafa'is al-'Asriyyah" (النفائس العصرية, The Modern Treasures), which acquired a good name in literary circles both in the Ottoman vilayet of Syria (broadly corresponding to today’s Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) and the Diaspora.

Education and career

Beidas was born in Nazareth in 1874 and studied at the Russian Orthodox ‘’al-Moscowbia’’ and the Russian Teachers’ Training Centre until his graduation in 1892. Beidas’ education was on a basis of classical Arab culture, and despite being a Christian Beidas was renowned as a hafiz. In his early twenties, Beidas was appointed headmaster of Russian missionary schools in many parts of Syria and Palestine. Later, he became the senior Arabic teacher at St. George’s Anglican School in Jerusalem.

Beidas travelled in Russia after his graduation in 1892 as a ward of the Russian Orthodox church, where he was influenced by the ideas of the late-19th century cultural nationalists such as Dostoevsky, Gorky and Tolstoy. On returning to Palestine, Beidas became a prolific translator, introducing the major figures in Russian literature to the Arab reader. His technique in translation was distinctive – he translated freely, adding or omitting until he achieved what he considered to be the basic aim of the novel, that which is derived from everyday life and human nature. His style tended to be naturally elegant, humorous and sarcastic.

Given his strong connections with the Russian Orthodox Church, Beidas became a leading member of Palestine's Orthodox church, representing the Orthodox Christians of Northern Palestine at the Combined Council of Arab Orthodox and Greek Clergy which was charged to administer Orthodox affairs in Jerusalem.

Beidas was interested in European culture, especially with its humanitarian and social aspects and, prompted by the contemporary Russian cultural resurgence to which he had been exposed, called for a comprehensive cultural revival in the Arab world. His own cultural works were multi-faceted: literary criticism, educational textbooks, translation of major foreign works of fiction, works on linguistics, political speeches and articles and works of Arab and European history.

Beidas’ was a key proponent of the Palestinian national movement, through his journal An-Nafa’is as well as through a number of public speeches and articles in major Arabic (Egyptian) newspapers such as Al-Ahram and Al-Muqattam. Beidas tried to raise awareness of the threat from the Zionist immigrants, and urged the Ottoman authorities to treat the Arabs fairly.

Beidas established a unique library of old manuscripts, valuable books as well as a Stradivarius violin, all of which were lost when he was forced to flee to Beirut after the creation of Israel in 1948. Khalil Beidas’ library is thought to reside within the Jewish National Library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Beidas’ periodical, an-Nafa'is al-'Asriyyah (النفائس العصرية, The Modern Treasures), was founded in 1908 in Haifa (transferred to Jerusalem in 1911) and became one of the most popular periodicals amongst Arabs living both within the Levant and in the Diaspora.

Beidas was in full technical control of the journal, editing most of the contents himself. It became a mouthpiece for all major active writers in Greater Syria and the Diaspora and was distributed widely, as far a field as Brazil and Australia. An-Nafa’is became a distinguished institution, benefiting from the general cultural awakening in the region and the increased focus on literary and scientific matters.

In the preface to the first issue of An-Nafa’is, Beidas explained that he considered novels to be one of the great pillars of civilisation in the enlightenment of the mind and his aim was to draw readers’ attention to the significance of narrative art from the intellectual, social and moral point of view.