Ameen Rihani: Arab-American Author Honored

Ameen Rihani was a Lebansese Arab-American writer as well as a intellectual and political activist. He was also a large figure in the mahjar literary movement developed by Arab emigrants in North America. Growing up Ameen was the eldest son of six children born in Lebanon. When he was eleven he came to New York City with his uncle in 1888. He became a US Citizen in 1901.  He was the first writer Arab-American writer to have a English book published in the United States.

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. He acquired an invaluable and first-hand account of the character, vision and belief of each of these rulers. He developed a friendship with Ibn Saud,ruler of the desert kingdom that would soon become the Kingdom Saudi Arabia. Between 1924 and 1932 he wrote and published six books in English and Arabic related to the three trips he made to Arabia. These accounts were a considerable critical and public success. London publishers released a circular on Rihani’s travel books as having been best sellers. He is considered by some scholars as a major figure in the intellectual development of Arab nationalism. In his writings on national issues, he emphasized the importance of a secular state and a secular education pointing that there must be no minorities or majorities, but only equal citizens.

The honor and remembrance of the Lebanese Arab-American writer played a central role not only in Lebanon’s history, but as well in the United States history. Not only was Rihani a successful writer but, he valued Arab-Americans in the United States and was very active in rapprochement between the East and the West and a major step in global cultural dialogue. He believed in creating a identity for Arab-Americans and strongly advocated for Arab emigrants to receive American citizenship.

The honor of an Arab-American in the United States is very unusual. Rihani was the first to be recognized, but yet many Arab-Americans feel that there could be more who deserve this as well. In Lebanon Rihani is known and seen as a celebrity for activism and his writings. In the United States he is recognized culturally for his ethnicity, and this is where many Arab-Americans find a problem. They wish that he had been recognized for his activism as well as his writings. The problem with this is also that Rihani wrote of ethnicity and combining Eastern and Western Culture, therefore some people think of it as a great honor that he was recognized for his ethnic as well as cultural beliefs.

Regardless of how or what Rihani was recognized for, he played a great part in opening the doors for other Arab-Americans to make impacts not only in their country, but in the United States as well.


One thought on “Ameen Rihani: Arab-American Author Honored

  1. I am curious to know whether or not he believed that the creation of a secular state and a secular educational system is even plausible in many of the countries in the Middle East. From the group discussion that we had on Monday (9/17/12) with the students from Lebanese International University, it appears that religious tension and sectarianism is on the rise in Lebanon. This would most likely be very alarming Ameen Rihani, who saw equality and understanding as the keys to cooperation and success.

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