By Rana Khaled
“Writing novels is a comprehensive human life experience that writers must live with all their senses and feelings” – with this motto in mind, young novelist Mohammed Ibrahim published his first literary works that gained the attention of dozens of Arabic readers who found something remarkable in his writings. Born in the village of Tahta in the Sohag governorate, Ibrahim developed a special interest in writing novels as a little child. In 2014, he graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy and started working in the field; however, he could never forget about his first passion.
In April 2014, he published his first short story collection, entitled “First Love”, online, which allowed him to gain a large numbers of followers and fans. In 2015, he published his first novel, “Fe Balat El Khalifa” (“In the court of the Caliph”), which raised waves of criticism and praise.
In an exclusive interview with Daily News Egypt, Ibrahim talked about the preparations for his two first literary works, the criticism he encountered, and revealed some secrets about publishing houses.
How and when did your passion for writing novels start?
“First Love” short story collection was your first literary work. Why did you choose this title for it, and what are the main messages you tried to convey through it?
I tend to consider my first short story collection “First Love” as a gathering of many different literary experiences, as I wrote each story in a separate writing session over long periods of time. I was so desperate to publish it in print form that I resorted to publishing it online, to introduce myself to the readers through the internet first. Actually, the experience was useful, as I managed to know the audience’s feedback directly, listen to their comments and open discussions about their opinions. It also allowed me to discover the fake piracy claims. In brief, I always describe it as a very useful but exhausting experience.
In your first novel “Fe Balat El Khalifa” (“In the court of the Caliph”), you moved from presenting romance to providing a new genre of literary historical documentation. Why did you choose such turning point?
The real writer must have the tendency and ability to stay away from the traditional moulds that other writers prefer to stick to. In my opinion, classifying the writer under any one literary genre is the beginning of the end, as I always say. I consider writing novels as a comprehensive human life experience, and that’s why I believe that I am able to write all the different kinds of novels. However, I always advise readers not to expect anything while reading any novel and to try to read the literary works without any pre-judgments or pre-assumptions.
“Fe Balat El Khalifa” was the first novel that tackled the biography of Omar Ibn El-Khattab in literary form. How did you come up with the idea and how did you prepare for it?
I can’t assure you that this was the first novel of its kind throughout history. We may discover another old, unpopular novel with the same idea someday. However, we have to give credits to the outstanding theatrical artistic work written by Ahmed Bakatheer. When I started writing the novel, thinking about being the first to write in this field didn’t occupy my mind very much. I paid special attention to the human aspect of Omar’s character, and I wanted to tell people that there are various aspects about Omar’s life other than what they hear about him in Friday sermons. After all, Omar was a human like you and me! I hope that I could convey my message, and I think it will be somehow inspiring for many other people. As for the preparation stage, it was very exhausting and it required exerting great efforts to collect the data and phrase them in a storytelling context. I kept reading about him for so long. When people tell me the novel is so interesting but short, I immediately remember the great effort I exerted to get the novel in this final form.
Were you worried about carrying such responsibility? Did you expect the criticism many people raised against the idea of presenting Omar’s biography in a literary novel?
The responsibility goes back to the conscience of the writer himself and, yes, I can tell you that it was a huge burden during the writing process as transferring such a great character into a literary novel without bothering the audience and the clerics which was always a huge challenge! There’s a group of people who want writers to tailor novels and stories to appeal to their minds and way of thinking, but I don’t think I’m a suitable writer for such a mission. I write what I feel and believe, and I won’t write to satisfy the reader alone. However, I always promise to respect the reader’s taste and mind and provide what’s better for him. Criticism will come anyway, but you have to write what will satisfy you first and what deserves to bear criticism and attack.
Did you encounter any difficulties in publishing your first literary works?
The publishing process in Egypt is random and complicated. The publishing field is full of scammers and thieves, and there’s no constant rule. Many publishing houses agreed to publish my novel in return for paying money, but I refused. Only a few publishing houses had a vision for what must be published for it readers. I think “Kayan” is one of those outstanding houses that fate helped me when I was desperate because my novel didn’t see the light for a long time.
I plan to publish some literary works that will leave a special imprint on the Egyptian literary field. I plan to be remarkable and different, and I do my best to prove myself as a talented and hardworking writer. I plan to be myself, not anyone else, but I’ll leave the future to uncover my future projects soon.