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“Qabbani versus Qur’an”: Arabism and the Umma in Robin Yassin-Kassab’s The Road from Damascus

Tasnim Qutait
Published Online: 2018-05-30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0008


In The Road from Damascus (2008), Syrian-British writer Robin Yassin-Kassab’s debut novel, the protagonist describes “the opposing camps of [his] childhood,” as narratives of “Qabbani versus Qur’an” (56). While Sami’s father idolises the pan-Arabist poet Nizar Qabbani and supports the Syrian regime despite its repressive policies, Sami’s mother, disillusioned with nationalist ideology, turns instead to faith, offering her son a “different mythology” based on “the adventures of God’s messengers” (53). Tracing Sami’s negotiations of these seemingly opposed inherited narratives, Yassin-Kassab’s novel examines the lingering impact of pan-Arabism and the alternatives offered by Islamic frameworks. While critics have previously approached this novel as part of a growing corpus of British Muslim fiction, in this essay, I focus more closely on the novel’s interrogation of Arab nationalism. As I will show, Yassin-Kassab’s novel unfolds as a series of ideological disillusionments that chart the protagonist’s confrontation with the failure of nationalist politics. Inviting the reader to follow the protagonist’s successive conversions and de-conversion from various forms of nationalism, Yassin-Kassab’s representation of the polarisation between “Qabbani versus Qur’an” poses the question of how one might find alternatives beyond such restrictive dichotomies, dramatizing the inadequacies of political vision in the Arab world today.

Keywords: Arab nationalism; migration; ummah


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About the article

Received: 2017-07-29

Accepted: 2018-04-22

Published Online: 2018-05-30

Citation Information: Open Cultural Studies, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 73–83, ISSN (Online) 2451-3474, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0008.

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© 2018 Tasnim Qutait, published by De Gruyter Open. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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