(Ar: سلامه موسى) Born into a wealthy, land owning Coptic family in the town of Zagazig located in the Nile delta. Salama Musa was a journalist, writer, advocator of secularism, and pioneer of Arab socialism. He wrote or translated 45 published books; his writings still influence Arab thought and he is frequently referred to. Salama Musa campaigned against traditional religion and urged Egyptian society to embrace European culture.
Salama Musa had no memories of his father since his death occurred when he was still a young child. His father left the family an inheritance that allowed them to live comfortably. Salama Musa received his elementary education in a Coptic school, but in 1903 he moved to Cairo to receive a secondary education. The Khedivial College where Musa attended was run like a military camp with harsh punishment for misbehavior dished out by the British instructors. In Cairo during the early 20th century there was rising anti-British sentiment rooted in the nationalist movement, and Qasim Amin’s movement for the liberation of women was creating a stir. While in Cairo, Musa was exposed to writers such as Farah Antun, Jurji Zaydan, and Ahmad Lutfi Al-Sayyid that discussed modern and at the time radical ideas such as Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is a term commonly used for theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, seeking to apply the principles of Darwinian evolution to sociology and politics...
, women’s rights, and nationalism. Growing up as a religious minority in Muslim dominated Egypt he was attracted to these ideas. After secondary school Musa was interested in studying European literature and science, but was unable to receive a postsecondary education in Egypt, because this advanced education was monopolized by Al Azhar and Dar al-‘ulum, both of which required students to be Muslim.
In 1907, Musa traveled to Europe to continue his education and in the process he was exposed to a modern, secularized Europe rampant with socialist ideologies. Musa also experienced a new and empowered woman with social freedoms the likes of which he had never seen. Musa chose France as his destination; at this time France was considered the hub of the modern world. In Montlhéry, a small village near Paris, he became interested in studying socialism and evolution as well as studying French relentlessly and within a few months he was reading the daily newspapers. The newspapers benefited Musa, because they exposed him to modern arguments and ideas such as freedom of women, socialism, and even about his own native Egypt. Reading the daily press also presented insight concerning international politics and evolution. Egyptology was also a great discovery to Musa during his stay in France, he was asked by French students about pyramids and other monuments and he was unable to respond. After being stumped on his own country’s history Musa was determined to learn about the Egyptian civilization and would study intensely upon his return to Egypt in 1908. In 1909, Musa moved to England where he wanted to brush up on his English, and he also briefly studied law at Lincoln’s Inn. In England socialism was on the rise as well as ideas of social Darwinism, Musa had a lot of interactions with members of the [Fabian] society and became a member in July 1909. The Fabian society apart from being a preeminent academic society rallied for social justice, lobbied for minimum wage, and the creation of universal health care. Fabianism thought to get rid of the landed classes and empower the peasant, Musa embraced the ideas and wanted it realized in Egypt. In 1910, he wrote his first book “Muqaddimat al-superman”, this book was his realization of the major differences in European life compared to that of the lives of the Egyptians and the social injustices they faced on a daily basis. In 1914, Salama Musa returned to Egypt and starts his first weekly magazine Al-Mustaqbal with Farah Antun and Yaqub Sarruf on topics such as the Theory of Evolution, national unity, and socialism. The British controlled government responds to these radical ideas by shutting down the magazine after only 16 issues.
The 1920s were an active time for Musa as well as Egypt, considered a revolutionary period in culture and literature; Musa forms the Egyptian socialist party, which is promptly dissolved under pressure and intimidation by the government. In the same year he proceeds to establish the Egyptian Academy for Scientific Education, the government, after only 10 years of operation, shuts this down as well. Musa wanted Egypt to shift to a Europeanized thought and abandon old traditions and customs when it comes to the role of women in Egyptian life and secularism, for this he was criticized and attacked. In 1936, he proclaimed that socialism would sweep Egypt before he turned 100 years old. He spent a brief stint as editor for the social affairs ministry and in 1942 Musa was jailed on charges of sabotage, which were trumped up charges for criticizing the ruling family.
The 1952 revolution was a turning point in Egyptian history where Nasserism was taking hold and nationalization of Egypt had begun. Salama Musa remained an important figure during this period and was appointed supervisor of the science section in Akhbar Al Youm, a position that he held until his death in 1958.
Salama Musa believed that the minority Copts were the descendents of the pharaoh’s and therefore the true Egyptians. Musa wanted an identity separate that of the Arab world, one that was an Egyptian identity and even fought to try and get the Egyptian dialect taught as the official language. However, in the 1930s Musa abandoned his nationalistic ideas and reaffirmed his belief in a shared humanity. Musa was an advocate of secularism, democracy, and the liberation of women; his thought was very European in that sense. Salama Musa was also a champion for workers and peasant’s rights and improved working environment as well as reforms in public education. Seminars led by Musa discussing social issues drew large crowds of young intellectuals. In 1956, under Nasser’s leadership Musa saw some of his goals being realized and Egypt was moving toward becoming a more modern nation.
Salama Moussa became seriously ill and died on 4 August 1958, a few months after turning 71.
- Divine Thoughts and Their Origin (1912)
- Treatise about Socialism (1913)
- The Most Well-known Love Affairs in History (1925, revised and renamed "Love in History" around 1949)
- Reading Matters on Elections (1926)
- Dreams of a Philosopher (1926)
- Freedom of Thought and Its Representatives (1927)
- Secrets of the Inner Life (1927, revised in 1948)
- History of Art and the Most Well-known Pieces of Work (1927)
- Today and Tomorrow (1928)
- Descent and Development of Mankind (1928, revised in 19523)
- About Life and Culture (1930, revised and renamed in 1956: Culture and Life)
- Our Duties and the Tasks of Foreign Countries (1931)
- Gandhi and the Indian Revolution (1934)
- Renaissance in Europe (1935, in 1962 posthumously revised and renamed "What Is Renaissance")
- Egypt, a Place Where Civilization Began (1935, expanded edition in 1948)
- The World in 30 Years (1936)
- Modern English Culture (1936, expanded ed. in 1956)
- Our Life as from 50 (1944, expanded ed. in 1956)
- Freedom of Thought in Egypt (1945, this piece of work clearly shows, how much Salama Moussa was influenced by the European culture, in particular by Voltaire.)
- Eloquence and the Arabic Language (1945, expanded ed. in 1953 as well as posthumously in 1964)
- My and Your Intellect (1947, expanded ed. 1953)
- The Years of Salama Moussa’s Apprenticeship (1947, posthumously expanded 3ed. in 19589 This piece of work is of the first renowned autobiographies of the Arabic Language Area)
- The True Path of the Young People (1949)
- Psychological Attempts (1953, changed to Attempts in1963)
- These are My Mentors (1953, among them a very obstinate discussion on Goethe’s works, posthumously expanded ed. in 1965)
- The Book of Revolutions (1955)
- Psychological Studies (1956)
- The Woman Is not the Plaything of the Man (1956, a very early dispute about the liberation (emancipation) of the woman at that time, especially in the orient)
- George Bernhard Shaw (1957, who he has met and got to know in England, posthumously expanded ed. in 1977)
- Attempts of the Young People (posthumously 1959)
- Forbidden writings (posthumously 1959)
- Mankind is the Pride of Creation (posthumously 1961)