Different Dialogues : Dr. Hassan Elmrani

In conversation with Dr. Hassan Elmrani – Moroccan-born Poet and Professor – residing in Dubai.
Educational background: Ph.D. in Arabic Literature and Orientalism. Went to Paris, France for 2 years of research on French Orientalists and their interest in Arabic Poetry. Also, studied at University of Mohamed I, founded in 1978 in Oujda.
Professional background: He critiques literary work. He writes articles in different magazines and newspapers associated with culture and literature. He has 30 books to his credit, written in the Arabic language and published from Morocco and Lebanon.

One evening, on Dr. Hassan Elmrani’s kind invitation, when I met up with him and his daughter, Iitimad Elmrani at the Emirates Tower in Dubai, the idea was different than this interview. We were meeting for a cup of coffee to discuss Dr. Hassan Elmrani’s magazines. As our general conversation developed on the literary scene, it was easy to recognize Dr. Hassan Elmrani’s ceaseless passion for poetry and scholarly interests. What followed quickly is that we mutually decided that it would be equally suitable if Dr. Hassan Elmrani’s life journey could be projected to my readers through the advantage of this meeting. To catch up more precisely with time, Iitimad, started translating in English to me – what her father was saying, mainly in Arabic. So, among the three of us the arrangement of interviewing the great man – Dr. Hassan Elmrani worked out well. Iitimad most attentively, filled in all the relevant spaces – helping the dialogue to grow smoother and faster.

Dr. Hassan Elmrani was born in Morocco in 1949, and he received his school and college education in Morocco. Arabic and French were the languages for his syllabus. Much later on, for higher studies, he went to Paris for 2 years for further research. He received the Ph.D. degree in the Arabic language from Rabat, the capital of Morocco. ‘The French Orientalists studied Arabic Poetry, and why they studied it, I wanted to grasp their point of view’, Dr. Hassan Elmrani explains. ‘Throughout my studies, I found that the poets from the West were very fond of the Eastern civilization – right from Morocco to India. Victor Hugo, Goethe – the German dramatist and Pushkin from Russia are the examples. I was looking at what these literary masters had accomplished and given to society.’

Little by little, we began talking about Victor Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin and questions began. We talked how they were all highly celebrated names. Hugo was French whose literary fame comes from poetry and also originates from his novels. Goethe was a writer and a politician, and his work includes epic and lyric poetry, plus, prose and verse drama. Pushkin published his poems at the age of fifteen and didn’t stop to be recognized by the time of his graduation!

When I asked Dr. Hassan Elmrani how his interest in poetry developed, his tone was nostalgic. ‘My father used to recite religious poems. The poetry was love for God’, he expressed softly. It was apparent, Omar Elmrani had succeeded in sowing the initial seeds of literary creation in his son. These seeds were to sprout in many ways because as a student, young Hassan became fond of theatre – writing scripts and acting during his academic years. In 1971, his first poem was published in an Arabic magazine: AQLAM – meaning, THE PEN. The title of the poem, literally translated in English would be: The Entrance to Ages of Sadness.

Dr. Hassan Elmrani continued on, and where he stopped, Iitimad picked up. As a daughter, she was as much immersed as I was to know about her father’s experiences of life. I also learnt that she has four siblings – two brothers and two sisters; her parents married in 1977. Her mother followed the devout call as a conservative Muslim lady and has stayed at home – looking after the family.

Now Dr. Hassan Elmrani joined in. ‘Fez is the cultural seat of Morocco and until 1912, it was the capital of Morocco. Rabat became the capital, later’, he tells me. ‘I spent many productive years gaining knowledge and experience in Fez and in the city of Oujda. One of the interesting things I found at the University level was that the poets I’d read about were my Professors now over here. For me, this was something fascinating, totally fascinating.’

I could imagine how good the environment was to influence the young man – Hassan. Human nature is about looking up to peers and feeling a sense of inspiration. Through the process, the same human nature nurtures warmth, understanding, regard. For that matter, from the much-loved-relationship between Iitimad and her father – I could see the same features of affection!

I learnt that prior to shifting to Dubai, Dr. Hassan Elmrani was coming to UAE on many occasions. As a scholar, he was participating in conferences which were literary and religious. ‘They could be rounded as cultural’, Dr. Hassan Elmrani tells me. I also learnt that some of the conferences were encouraged by the support of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. ‘Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was very keen on the importance of cultural bonding. He encouraged such gatherings where people could mix and express’. I responded ‘Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a great leader with a powerful vision. His vision has borne advancement of UAE in many ways'.

‘How did you feel on arriving to settle in UAE?’ I enquired from Dr. Hassan Elmrani. He replied, ‘The first year of 2007 was dry from poetry. There was a vacuum. I felt for myself that there was no network. The limitations of starting a new life were there at first. Then, the new place became similar to back home. The year of 2007 was a year of ‘storage’, a year of ‘storing’ emotions and thoughts.’

Dr. Hassan Elmrani critiques literary work. He writes in different Arabic magazines and newspapers on cultural and literary subjects. He has 30 published books to his credit. His first book was published by Al Mishkat Publishing – an establishment which is always been waiting to discover talented Muslim writers breaking from the traditional fiction world.

Time and again, Dr. Hassan Elmrani recalls with pride the name of his University – University of Mohamed I, founded in 1978 in Oujda. And why not! In a report published in 2010, University of Mohamed I ranked among the top thirty-five in the line of the Arab world and achieved the third position, nationally.

Dr. Hassan Elmrani shares another point of remembrance. ‘In 1971, I wrote a poem meaning: Light. You know, Goethe, when he was dying said, ‘Light, light, give me more light’. He was a Christian. I am a Muslim. Whatever the creed, the true poet has the same thought of unity. My message, my mission is to spread light.’

I asked Dr Hassan Elmrani who came in the category of his favourite poets. He did not really have to think and said almost instantly, ‘Rabindranath Tagore and Muhammad Iqbal – both from India, though Iqbal moved to Pakistan after India was partitioned in 1947. My creative mind has a leaning towards Indian culture.’

I certainly felt good hearing this!

I remembered Iqbal from my own college-going-years – he was a great poet of Persian whose Persian Couplets exceed about 50% of his Urdu verses – though he never chose the language as a part of his courses during his school, college or university education. As for Tagore, his poetry matures with the influence of Bengali rural folk music, which includes mystic Baul Ballads. And his poem… where the mind is without fear… is a poem of beauty and might! I find it to be so invigorating.

Dr. Hassan Elmrani writes all types of poems, including: love, adoration and verse which is political in flavour. ‘One day, I hope to compile the work of my 30 books in one book.’ He says with a gentle conviction.

Concluding our conversation, I asked Dr. Hassan Elmrani for his advice for poets, and he said, ‘Reading poetry of renowned poets is helpful. Modesty is paying. Relying on God is a reward by itself. Our creative mind gains when we are in touch with Allah.’

I asked him, ‘Sir, what views would you like to give me and my readers about your poetry?’ Dr. Hassan Elmrani replied, ‘I am looking for the human side and what is commonly good between civilizations. What serves humanity anywhere in the world through poetry is, what I’m looking at. When I read poetry from east and west – I find and look for connectivity. See, Tagore also speaks about light for sake of light. Tagore is a Hindu. Iqbal who was a Muslim is saying the same things that Tagore is saying. As I said, Goethe was a Christian mentioning light and that’s how it goes with poets and poetry. That goes with you and me, as well!’

There was much to gain from Dr. Hassan Elmrani – besides the memory of a beautiful, serene evening. Iitimad’s eyes continued to sparkle as she and me were wrapping up the interview. All three of us were now set to meet Dr. Shihab Ghanem – our common friend – the renowned Emirati poet at his residence.

On our arrival at Shihab’s place, our discussion on verse and music continued. That was the purpose! Shihab was in his usual elements of hospitality, joined by his daughter-in-law Iman Bawazir. Finally, we broke company when it was nearly mid-night… time to say farewell… till we meet again.

Q1.What has been the turning point of your life?
A. The College period, my first educational trips, and living away from family, made me focus on new literature, especially, French literature from Classics to Romance. I memorized many poems of Lamartine & Verlaine & Paul Valery... I was transferred from the pure Arabic poetry to the international poetry through those poets. It effected the way I wrote my poems and that transformation increased during my University time at Fez – when I was introduced to Persian and Urdu poetry especially, Mohamed Iqbal who amazed me as a poet and a philosopher.

Q2. If you could go back in time what would you want to be?
A. I would want to learn foreign languages mainly German, English and Persian to discover their literature… apart from this I have no regrets, whatsoever.

Q3. What are your future dreams?
A. After the sixties (in age) it may end the dreams of human beings, but there is a saying of the Prophet Mohamed (Peace be upon him.), that opens to us new Horizons to the future – whatever age we reach: “If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutter in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it.” This means that there are still possibilities to fulfill some dreams of my youth… such as discovering other nations’ literature… and mainly of Eastern nations, such as: India, Persia, China – because those literatures I assume, they suit the ambition to spiritual ascension & self-purifying – which the human seeks by the end of his journey. Dreams never stop as long as there is longing for life... what concerns me most is to make my poetry special and my writing in general – calling for freedom, love and peace.

Geeta Chhabra

Iitimad Elmrani – daughter of Dr. Hassan Elmrani is a researcher and broadcast journalist. She has experience working for BBC in London. She is currently working in Media and Cultural Diplomacy, and she is CEO of Heat Creative Media Group, which has their head office in Abu Dhabi with offices in India and Morocco. Iitimad has completed her education from Trinity and All Saints & Oxford Academy in UK.

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