Ameen Rihani

poet and writer

Ameen Rihani


Born in Freike, Lebanon, on November 24, 1876, Ameen Rihani was one of six children and the oldest son of a raw silk manufacturer, then a flourishing local industry. In the summer of 1888, Ferris Rihani, the father, sent his brother and eldest son, Ameen, to the United States and followed a year later. The young immigrant, then twelve years old, was placed in a school outside the city of New York. His father and uncle, having established themselves as merchants in a small cellar in Manhattan, soon felt the need for an assistant who would read and write English. Therefore, Ameen, was taken out of school to become the chief clerk, interpreter, and bookkeeper of the business.

During that phase of his life, Ameen developed a genuine love for reading and became familiar with the writings of Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Whitman, Tolstoy, Voltaire, Thoreau, and Emerson, to name a few. Ameen had a natural talent in eloquent speaking, and in 1895, the teenager joined a theatrical company. Two years later he entered the New York Law School. A lung infection interrupted his studies, and at the end of his first year, his father had to send him back to Lebanon to recover. In Lebanon, Ameen Rihani taught English in return for being taught his native Arabic language. During this period he discovered Arab and other Eastern poets, among them Abul-Ala.

In 1899 he returned to New York had decided to translate some of the quatrains of Abul-Ala into English. He managed to do this while he was still giving much of his time to the family business. The first version of the translation was published in 1903. During this phase, he became a regular contributor to an Arabic weekly, "Al-Huda", published in New York. He wrote about social traditions, national politics, and philosophy. Thus, he began his extensive literary career, bridging two worlds. He published his first two books in Arabic in 1902 and in 1903.

In 1905, he returned to Freike. During an ensuing six-year period of solitude, he published, in Arabic, two volumes of essays, a book of allegories and a few short stories and plays. Additionally, he lectured at the American University of Beirut, and in other institutions in Lebanon, as well as in the cities of Homs and Damascus. He also worked, along with other national leaders, for the liberation of his country from Turkish rule. In 1910, he published Al-Rihaniyyat, the book that established him as a forward thinker and visionary. As a result of Al-Rihaniyyat, the Egyptian media hailed him as "The Philosopher of Freike". The Book of Khalid was written during this same period of mountain solitude and was later published in 1911 after he returned to New York. The illustrations for this book, which was the first English novel ever written by a Lebanese-Arab, were provided by Khalil Gibran.

In 1916, Ameen Rihani married Bertha Case, an American artist who was part of the Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, and Derain group who frequently worked together in Paris and in the Midi and exhibited their works at the Salon de Mai. In 1917, Rihani met with Theodore Roosevelt, former president of the United States concerning the Palestinian cause.

In 1921, he served as the only Near Eastern member of the Reduction of Armaments Conference in Washington D.C.
During the period between 1910 and 1922, Rihani became remarkably involved politically while continuing to pursue a productive literary life. Among the books that he published during that period were Zanbakat-ul-Ghawr - a novel in Arabic, The Luzumiyyat - a translation of Arabic poetry into English, The Path of Vision - essays in English, A Chant of Mystics - poetry in English. In 1922, Rihani traveled throughout Arabia, meeting and getting better acquainted with its rulers. He was the only traveler at that time, European or Arab, to have covered that whole territory in one trip. Between 1924 and 1932, he wrote and published six books in English and Arabic related to the trips he made to Arabia. During that same time, he also published another four books in Arabic, and delivered numerous speeches in Lebanon, in the Arab World, and in the United States.

During the last eight years of his life, Ameen Rihani wrote the remainder of his books, continued to be active in his political, literary, and philosophical endeavors, and maintained close contact with several political leaders, poets, writers, scholars, and artists. Ameen Rihani passed away at the age of 64 in 1940 in Freike, Lebanon. The news of his death was broadcast to many parts of the world. Representatives of Arab kings and rulers and of foreign diplomatic missions attended the funeral. He was laid to rest in the Rihani Family Mausoleum in Freike.

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