Biography

Ali al-Rimawi

Biography

Ali al-Rimawi

علي الريماوي
1860, Beit Rima
1919, Jerusalem

Ali al-Rimawi was born in 1860 in the village of Beit Rima (today part of the Ramallah governorate). He was born into a family whose origins are believed to trace back to the city of Aleppo and whose members were referred to as the halabis, or Aleppans.

Rimawi received his early education from his father, Shaykh Mahmoud al-Rimawi, one of the prominent ulama or religious scholars of his time, and then studied in the madrasas or Islamic religious schools of Jerusalem, including al-Rasasiyya school. He then traveled to Cairo to further pursue his studies at al-Azhar seminary, where he stayed as a resident scholar in training for twelve years. During his time at al-Azhar he studied the fundamentals of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, and Arabic grammar and literature. While in Egypt, he became well-known for writing poetry; he published many of his poems in Cairo’s newspapers.

After completing his training at al-Azhar, Rimawi returned to Palestine and lived in Jerusalem, where he worked as an editor for al-Ghazal, an official Arabic-language monthly gazette whose function was to broadcast the official decrees and orders of the Ottoman state. He also worked as chief editor of the Arabic section of al-Quds al-Sharif, the official gazette of the Ottoman government in Palestine. The Ottoman authorities had launched this bilingual Arabic-Turkish gazette in 1876 (its Turkish section was headed by Abdul Salam Kamal), but they closed it down soon after. The Jerusalem mutasarrifiyya revived it in 1903 as a weekly publication, which made it practically the only newspaper in the entire district.

Now called shaykh like his father, Ali al-Rimawi was appointed as a teacher of fiqh and Arabic grammar at al-Ma‘arif School, a teacher training institute. He also taught at the German-supported Laeml school for Sephardic Jewish girls. The then-Mufti of Jerusalem, Shaykh Tahir al-Husseini, hired him to give private lessons in the Islamic sciences to his sons Kamel, Fakhri, and Amin at home. (In 1908, Kamel al-Husseini succeeded his father and became the next Mufti of Jerusalem, and after his death in 1921, the position was taken over by his brother Amin.)

In 1907, Rimawi launched his own newspaper called Bayt al-Maqdis, but it was soon closed down by the Ottoman censor. After the Young Turk revolution of July 1908, led by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), and the reinstatement of the Ottoman constitution, intellectual life and literary and journalistic activity flourished in the Jerusalem mutasarrifiyya. Rimawi joined the Jerusalem branch of the CUP, and on 24 December 1908 he published the inaugural issue of his weekly newspaper al-Najah (success), which was billed as “a political, literary, scientific, and agricultural" newspaper. It seems that this newspaper was brought out irregularly over the course of two years, always on a Thursday, and that one of its goals was to improve relations between the CUP-led Turkish government and the Palestinian Arabs. Thus, it too published its articles and news in both Turkish and Arabic. In this context, Rimawi wrote an article on the quest of bilingualism titled “Arabic and Turkish are sisters, so why do we find them at quarrel?” In it, he refuted the view that the Turks were working to stifle the Arabic language, and called on Arabs to learn Ottoman Turkish (written in the Arabic alphabet) so that they could advance in the government bureaucracy, and to not fear losing their distinctive identity as a people.

Rimawi published his articles in numerous newspapers and magazines that were started after 1908, the most important of which was the Jerusalem-based magazine al-Manhal (the wellspring), published by Musa al-Mughrabi. He was one of the main editors of the newspaper al-Quds, partnering with its publisher Jurji Habib Hanania. In his articles in al-Najah and in al-Quds, he criticized insufficient government expenditure on education and attacked corruption in the municipal administration, specific repressive measures taken by the gendarmerie, and the lack of accountability in the public budget.

When World War I broke out, Shaykh Rimawi and about thirty other religious scholars, journalists, and writers from the Syrian provinces participated in the Arab Scientific Mission, formed on the orders of Ahmad Jemal Pasha, governor of Ottoman Syria and Commander of the Ottoman Fourth Army on the Palestine-Suez front. The expedition was led by Shaykh As‘ad al-Shuqairy of Acre, mufti of the Fourth Army, and its destination was Istanbul, to declare the loyalty of the Arab population to the Ottoman state and the Sultan, and to offer congratulations for the army’s victory over the English fleet in the battle of Janaq Qalʿa, or Gallipoli. This mission embarked from Damascus on 15 September 1915 and headed first to Aleppo and then to Istanbul, where its members met with the senior statesmen of the Ottoman Empire, including the Shaykh al-Islam (the equivalent of the chief mufti), the sadr-e ʿazam or Grand Vizier Said Pasha (the effective head of government) and the Crown Prince of the Sultanate, Yusuf Izz al-Din. They also visited the Ottoman army stationed at the Dardanelles front, after which they met with Sultan Mohammad Rashad V himself, who was delighted to receive them. During their visit, some members of the expedition delivered speeches and recited poetry, including Rimawi, who recited a panegyric he had composed for the occasion in front of the Crown Prince.

The mission spent several weeks in the Ottoman sultanate’s capital city. After its members returned, Shaykh Rimawi composed a long ode, “The Delegation’s Homecoming,” in which he heaped encomiums on Jemal Pasha. However, with the defeat of the Ottoman forces and the entry of the British forces into Jerusalem, led by General Allenby in December 1917, Rimawi quickly changed his loyalties and started to contribute to propaganda for the British occupiers with both his written and spoken word. He became a contributing editor for the Arabic supplement of The Palestine News, which British forces in “the enemy’s occupied territories” started to issue in April 1918. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the occupation of Jerusalem in December 1918, he wrote an ode that was a panegyric to the new regime, He died in Jerusalem in the winter of 1919 from a bout of pneumonia and was buried in his native village of Beit Rima.

Shaykh Ali al-Rimawi is considered one of the most prominent poets and journalists in the Jerusalem region during the late Ottoman era. He was known for being a loyalist of Ottomanism and an opponent of Arab nationalism. Much of Rimawi’s poetry belongs to the genre known in Arabic as shiʿr al-madaʾih (panegyric or praise poems) that he composed at short notice on political occasions. Outside of his numerous poems and articles that were published in the newspapers of the time, no published standalone books of his have been found to exist. It is believed that he intended to compile all of his poems into a collection, but he died before doing so.

 

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