Muhammad Izzat Darwaza
محمد عزة دروزة
Muhammad Izzat Darwaza was born in Nablus on 21 June 1887 into a middle-class family. His father, Abdel Hadi, was a cloth merchant; the family name suggests that his ancestors were tailors. Muhammad married twice, first to Fatima Darwaza and then to La’iqa al-Tamimi. He had two sons, Zuhair and Sami, and two daughters, Najah and Rodaina.
Muhammad Izzat Darwaza received his primary school education at the Sheikh Muhammad Zaatar School and graduated from the Rashidiyya secondary school in 1903. His father had also sent him to Shaykh Mustafa al-Khayyat in the grand mosque in Nablus for lessons in Islamic jurisprudence.
Darwaza began work in 1903 as a trainee in the Department of Telegraphic and Postal Services in Nablus and soon had a permanent job there. He held several positions in the department: as the department’s agent in Baysan, commissioner for the Nablus office, head of the stamp selling department in Beirut, roving agent, and then inspector of telegraph and post offices in Sinai and Bir al-Sabi‘. He became secretary of the directorate-general in Beirut and remained in that position until the end of World War I.
Darwaza was an avid reader, which activated his political consciousness and honed his writing skills. He read widely in the fields of literature, history, society, and law. His job in the post office gave him an opportunity to read the Egyptian periodicals that were distributed to subscribers in Palestine at that time, such as al-Ahram, al-Hilal, al-Muayyid, and al-Muqattam. His reading expanded his intellectual capacities, introduced him to events in Egypt and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, and encouraged him to attempt to write. During this period, Darwaza contributed to the Beirut newspaper al-Ikha’ al-‘Uthmani (Ottoman Brotherhood) and started writing a weekly article in the Beirut newspaper al-Haqiqa. He also wrote for the Jaffa newspaper Filastin and the Haifa newspaper al-Karmel.
After the Ottoman constitution was proclaimed in July 1908, Darwaza joined the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) briefly before helping to set up a branch of the Freedom and Accord Party in Nablus the following year, which opposed the CUP as well as the sale of land to the Zionist movement.
In 1911 Darwaza helped set up the Arab Scientific Association in Nablus, which aimed to resist Turkification in schools and encourage the teaching of Arabic. In 1912, along with several colleagues with Arab nationalist inclinations, he helped set up a branch of the Ottoman Party for Administrative Decentralization, which had been formed in Egypt, and he helped organize the first Arab nationalist conference, held in Paris in June 1913. During this period, he wrote two novels giving expression to Arab nationalist aspirations: Al-Nu‘man’s Visit to Khosrow Anushirvan in 1911 and The Realtor and the Landowner in 1913. In 1916 he joined the underground al-Arabiyya al-fatat (Young Arab Society) and was twice elected to its central committee.
When World War I ended in 1918, Darwaza left Beirut and returned to Nablus where he helped set up the Muslim-Christian Association. He remained secretary of the organization until 1932 and was the association’s delegate to the first Palestinian National Congress held in Jerusalem in 1919. He was elected secretary to that conference.
Darwaza was an advocate of unity between Palestine and Syria and he took part in the foundation of the Independence Party, which was the platform for supporters of Prince Faisal in Damascus. He represented Nablus in the General Syrian Congress held in Damascus in March 1920, which installed Prince Faisal as king of Syria. Darwaza was elected secretary to this congress and he was the one who announced Syria's independence on 8 March to the Syrian crowds from the balcony of the city hall. But he was forced to move to Amman after French forces occupied Damascus in July 1920 and brought an end to the reign of King Faisal. In Amman he worked as secretary in the office of Prince Abdallah bin Hussein.
After settling in Palestine, Darwaza took part in the 5th Palestinian Congress, held in Nablus in August 1922, and was elected congress secretary.
Darwaza ran the Najah School in Nablus from 1922 to 1927; under his guidance the school pursued both a nationalist and an educational mission. It instilled in pupils a love of patriotism, Arabism, and pride in Arab and Islamic glories. During his tenure, he gave a weekly lecture on ethics and society to the secondary-level students. Despite the demands of running the school, he continued to write articles about society, politics, and education for the Beirut magazine al-Kashshaf, the Cairo magazine al-Mara’a al-Jadida (New Woman), and the Palestinian newspaper al-Jami‘a al-Arabiyya. He also wrote two novels, The Falcon of Quraish and The Last Arab King in Andalusia. During this period, he wrote textbooks on ancient, medieval, and modern history.
In 1928 Darwaza helped to set up the Young Men's Muslim Association in Nablus, and he was a member of the Pan-Islamic Congress held in Jerusalem in December 1931 to affirm the Islamic identity of al-Buraq/Western Wall, especially after the unrest that had broken out in August 1929 (known among Arabs as al-Buraq Uprising). He joined the central committee for the relief of victims, which was set up after the unrest. The Supreme Moslem Council had appointed Darwaza as commissioner of religious endowments in Nablus between 1927 and 1932 and then as director-general of religious endowments in Palestine from 1933 to 1937.
In August 1932 Darwaza was a member of the founding committee of the Arab Independence Party in Palestine, with Awni Abd al-Hadi, Subhi al-Khadra, Mu'in al-Madi, Akram Zuaiter, and others. The aims of the party included to confront the British Mandate as the source of the country's ills, to resist Zionism and combat its settlement plans in Palestine, and to work for the independence and unity of Arab countries including Palestine, which formed an inseparable part of natural Syria. While he and his colleagues were demonstrating against the British Mandate in Jaffa on 27 October 1933, the British cavalry fractured his skull. He was arrested and sentenced to ten months' imprisonment with hard labor.
When the general strike and the Arab revolt began, an Arab Higher Committee was set up in June 1936, with Awni Abd al-Hadi representing the Independence Party. When Abd al-Hadi was detained, Darwaza took his place, but was himself detained after a few days; he was released in October.
In January 1937 Darwaza testified to the British commission of inquiry known as the Peel Commission. In that year the British Mandate authorities decided to remove him from his position overseeing religious endowments and to put him under surveillance. He decided to move to Damascus to help Muhammad Amin al-Husseini support the rebels. He was a member of the Arab Higher Committee delegation to the kings of Iraq and Saudi Arabia and one of the Palestinian delegates to the congress of Arab leaders held in the Syrian village of Bludan in September 1937, which decided to reject the Peel Commission's recommendation that Palestine be partitioned.
The French authorities arrested Darwaza in 1939 at the instigation of the British. He was tried in a military court and sentenced to five years in prison. He served 16 months in Mezzeh and al-Qalaa prisons and was released in October 1940 after France fell to German forces during World War II. His release was facilitated by his friend, Syrian nationalist leader Shukri al-Quwatli. While in prison, Darwaza memorized the Quran and started to write drafts of three of his books: Sirat al-Rasul (Biography of the Prophet), Asr al-Nabi (The Age of the Prophet), and al-Dustur al-Qur'ani (The Quranic Constitution).
After his release, Darwaza took refuge in Turkey, where he spent four years. He then returned to Palestine and in 1946 he was chosen to be a member of the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine, as reconstituted under the Arab League. (The old Arab Higher Committee had been dissolved by the British Mandate authorities in 1937.) But he resigned within months because of ill health and retired from political life.
In the autumn of 1948, Darwaza's health problems stemming from a gallbladder condition grew more severe, and he had surgery at the American University of Beirut Hospital. He was discharged in a greatly weakened condition and his hearing problems, which had started in 1932, also grew worse.
After the Nakba, Darwaza settled in Damascus and devoted his time to writing. He had articles published in many newspapers and magazines, wrote more than forty books, and between 1954 and 1957 gave about fifty radio lectures to radio stations in Mecca and Damascus on the principles of jihad in ancient and modern times. In addition to Arabic, he also spoke Turkish and French well, and he translated several books from French, including Raphaël by Alphonse de Lamartine and Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians.
In 1956 Darwaza was elected to be a correspondent member of the Arab Academy in Cairo and in 1960 he was elected to the Supreme Council for Arts and Literature in Cairo and as rapporteur of the council's historical committee, but his poor hearing and ill health led him to resign. In 1961 Darwaza won a prize from the Supreme Council for Arts, Literature and Social Sciences in Syria for his book Arab Unity.
In May 1964 Darwaza became a member of the Palestine National Council that met in Jerusalem and set up the Palestine Liberation Organization. After that he took part in founding the Association for the Welfare of the Families of Martyrs in Damascus. After the June 1967 war and the launching of the Palestinian armed resistance movement, he made efforts to unite the factions of the resistance into an inclusive liberation movement.
Muhammad Izzat Darwaza was a Palestinian and Arab nationalist activist, writer, historian, journalist, translator, and interpreter of the Quran. His political struggle was shaped by an underlying pan-Arabism and a sense to look beyond the reality of a fragmented Arab world. He was well-known for the firmness of his religious belief. His life reflects the history of the national struggle for independence and unity in the twentieth century.
Muhammad Izzat Darwaza died in Damascus on July 26, 1984, and was buried there.
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