2 April 2017

Sudan: Obituary - Dirar Salih Dirar ... Departure of a Library

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Sudanese, both at home and abroad, were shocked over the recent death of one of Sudan's most established writers: historian, poet and translator Dirar Salih Dirar, who died in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, aged 95.

Eulogies continue to pour out of the media in honor of this great man for the tremendous service he presented to his country and humanity at large. Functions of mourning continue to be organized wherever people knew him or read his books.

"Dirar was the greatest living Sudanese historian. Perhaps he had no match with respect to his prolific production," wrote one mourner.

The late Dirar's most outstanding titles are:

- Tareekh al-Sudan Alhadeeth (History of Modern Sudan).

- Hijrat al-Qabae'l al-Arabiyya Ela Misr Wal-Sudan (Migration of Arab Tribes to Egypt and the Sudan).

- Hal Kana Antarata Sudaniyyan? (Was Antara Sudanese?).

- Al-Arab Min Maeen Ela al-Amawiyyeen (Arabs from Maeen to the Umayyads).

- Al Hajjaj Ibn Yousif al-Thaqafi.

- Al-Qadeyya al-Falsteeniyya (The Palestinian Cause) co-authored with Izzeddin Hafiz and Mohammad Mohammad Ali.

- Tareekh al-Alaqat al-Dawliyya (History of International Relations).

- Al-Hub Fi Shi'r al-Aggad (Love in Aqqad's Poetry).

Some of Dirar's books were included in the school and university curricula. His books continue to inspire Sudanese generations with pride and respect for their history and struggle of the country's forefathers.

The late Dirar had started his career as a teacher within the Sudan Ministry of Education. He then travelled on scholarship to Oxford University (England) in 1951. Back from England, he was seconded to the Bakht Arrida Teacher Training Institute. He was the first to apply IQ tests in the Sudanese secondary schools, a step that helped outstanding students with excellent chances for academic and professional opportunities.

According to his brother Sulieman, Dirar had developed a passion for the study of history from his experience as a fighter in the Second World War in the ranks of the Allies." After his graduation from the Gordon Memorial college as a boy of 18, Dirar joined the British Army in response to a British promise to grant colonies that help the Allies fight the Nazis the right to self-determination," said Sulieman.

"Here Dirar and his brothers Idris and Nureddin readily volunteered in the fight against the Italian forces that in 1941 occupied the Sudanese Eastern districts of Kassala and Southern Tokar on the way towards Port Sudan and then Port Saeed to take hold of the Egyptian Suez Canal," Sulieman further tells. Eventually the Italian invaders received a heavy defeat in the famous battle of Karan in today's Eritrea.

Another factor that motivated late Dirar to study history, according to his brother, was "Ismael al-Azhari, Sudan's first Prime Minister after independence, who taught Dirar at the Gordon Memorial College, urged him to write the national history of Sudan to refute the lies of foreign writers of Sudan's history."

Dirar then initiated the teaching of national education in the Sudanese schools.

In addition to his superb quality as a historian, the late Dirar had also marveled as a literary writer and as a poet. He has two published poetry collections. Some of his poems had been included in the Sudanese school curricula. Dirar also wrote short tales from Sudan history for school children, which were published by the children magazine "Al-Subyan".

Dirar had had a compelling interest in translation. In this respect he had translated to English the Book "Huqooq al-Insan Fi al-Islam" (Human Rights In Islam), written by Ali Abdelwahid Wafi. He had also translated Winston Churchill's famous book "the River War", that tells the story of the re-conquest of Sudan by Britain and Egypt at the turn of the 20th Century. He had also translated Graham Green's book "A Sort of Life".

As a historian, Dirar had corrected the historical misconception that the early Muslims had migrated to present-day Ethiopia due to the oppression they were subjected to by the infidels in Mecca. Dirar has argued that those Moslems had, in fact, crossed the Red Sea by vessel into present-day Sudan, as Ethiopia was, and is still, landlocked. The late Sudanese scholars Abdallah al-Tayyib and Hassan al-Fatih Ghareeballa had confirmed Dirar's narrative on this issue.

Upon independence Dirar called, according to a biography published by his brother Sulieman, for the country to be named "Ethiopia", the country's historical name. But politicians had resisted Dirar's plea until Emperor Haile selasse heard of the affair and hastened to change his country's name from Abyssinia to Ethiopia.

Dirar has also revised and published the writings of his father Salih Dirar, also a well-known historian.

Apart from his academic career, Dirar had developed a lot of useful hobbies. For instance his love for sporting had led him to found Port Sudan's al-Ahly Sports Club, with the help of his three brothers. He also practiced tennis, swimming and gymnastics. His love for music has made of him a skillful flute and lute player. He was also a good painter.

Historian and writer Dirar was a pleasant fellow, always ready to crack jokes. He had cherished compassion for all people, young and old.

Towards the end of his career in the Ministry of Education the Minister of Education refused to let him be seconded to the UNESCO as an expert on occupational adult education in India. The Ministry also replaced some of his school books for no clear reason. Dirar was also uneasy about the educational ladder adopted by the Ministry of Education in the early 1970s. Upset by these measures of the Ministry of Education, Dirar opted for voluntary retirement and left the country for Saudi Arabia. There he continued with his career as a translator at the Saudi Ministry of Defense. Then he headed the translation unit of the Saudi public transport company (a U.S venture).Then he became author and translator of the Saudi Encyclopedia, a tremendous job he dispensed with excellence.

The late Dirar had helped many students compile M.A and PhD theses, making of his home in Riyadh a Mecca for researchers.

The Sudanese Presidency had honored Dirar with the Order of Arts and Literature in 2013.

In 2015 the Qatari TV Channel "al-Jazeera" filmed his book "Migration of Arab Tribes to Egypt and Sudan" into a documentary.

The late Dirar is survived by his wife Hameeda Abdellatif, his son Pilot Saif al-Dawla and his daughter, Doctor of Engineering Hind.

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