By A Taha, London, UK, 03 September 2015
Mohammad Hosni (1894- 1964) also known as calligrapher Muhammad Husni, or Muhammad Kamal Hosny Al Baba (محمد حسني البابا), was a master calligrapher at the Royal Institute of Calligraphy in Cairo. He was a pioneer in Arabic and Islamic calligraphy, he excelled in the Thuluth school of calligraphy
Early Life and Family
He was Kurdish descent born in 1894 in Syria within the Al Baba clan. He was fond of calligraphy from his childhood. Famous Turkish calligrapher Istanbul-based Yousef Rasa (died in 1915) had renovated the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus at the turn of the twentieth century . Yousef Rasa was commissioned by the Othman Caliph Abdul Hameed to write the calligraphy of the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus during its restoration. Mohammad Hosni learned this art from this Turkish master, Yousef Rasa. Hosni also learned more from Mohammad Shawqi (also known as Mehmed Sevki Efendi).
At the age of 18 years, in 1912, he migrated with his father from Damascus in Syria to Cairo in Egypt. He lived, worked and died in Cairo where he became one of the leaders of Arabic and Islamic calligraphy.
In Cairo, he bought a house in Khan Al Khalili and by 1929, at the age of 35 years; he has had his own office and workshop.
He got married more than once and had eleven children ;
- Eight with his first wife; four boys (Ezz Eddin, Nabil, Farooq and Sami) and four girls (Khadija, Samira, Najat, Afaf).
- Three with his second wife; three girls (Kawther, Soad, Sabah).
Two of his daughters became actors and singers. Najat, known as Najat Al Saghira (born 1938) and Soad Hosni (1942-2001) both became super-stars in the Arab world.
His household was known as “the home of the Artists . His son, Ezz Eddin Hosni (1927 – 2013), was a music composer for some 100 songs, taught his sister Najat music and singing . His other son Sami Hosni was a Cello player, jewellery designer and also calligrapher. His son Farooq was painter and his daughter Samira was actress.
In 1944, he certified the most famous Iraqi master calligrapher Hashim Mohammad Al Khatat Al Baghdadi (1917-1973); shown in above 1946 photo standing in the middle and in the following photo some decades later.
By 1958, Mohammad Hosni was an international star in calligraphy. In 1965, he was awarded honour PhD in calligraphy in Canada, a year after his death in 1964.
Samples from his work can be seen on several web sites and books including some of his master frameworks and few of his greatest in the “Thuluth”.
Samples from his Works
Calligraphy of Aya from the Quran by Mohammad Hosni
Books on his Work
In 2011, Egyptian master calligrapher Khudair al-Borsaidi said he met Mohammad Hosni in 1958 and that Mohamed Hosni was his “first teacher”.
In 2012, Arabic Calligraphy Exhibition in Cairo (organized by Senari House in Sit Zainab, Cairo) showed the original of one of his frameworks for the first time. This particular work of Hosni was owned by artist Hamdi Al Sharif; a student of Hosni.
A Taha, London, UK, 03 September 2015
Who is Najat Al Saghira?
She is an Arabic actress and singer retired in 2002. There are those who claim to have seen the same video of the same song 200 times! Others regard Najat Al Saghira as the most beautiful woman in the universe! Many are dazzled and mesmerized by her performance on stage.
A date (year) is given for each photo. Number of asterisks refers to the possible accuracy of the given date. No asterisk means the shown date is likely accurate; otherwise: (*) refers to +/- 1 year margin of error and (**) refers to +/- 2 years margin of error.
Najat was born in Cairo into an “extended family” in August 1938. God blessed her with wonderful voice and great beauty. She was singing in family gatherings at the age of 5 years. She made her first film Hadiya (released in 1947) at the age of eight.
Her father was Mohammad Hosni. He was originally Syrian with Kurdish roots. He settled, lived and died in Cairo.
He was a respected calligrapher as can be seen from the couple of samples shown here: one is the first part of verse 2.144 in the Quran and the other is a Hadith (statement by the Profit peace upon him).
He was married more than once. Najat’s mother was Egyptian. The household of her father was known as “the home of the Artists”. His son Ezz Eddin Hosni, is a music composer. His other son, Sami Hosni, is a Cello player, jewellery designer and also calligrapher.
Soad Hosni (1942-2001) is the half-sister of Najat. Soad died in London under controversial circumstances. Soad performed in more than 80 films the last of which was released in 1991. She had four (possibly five) marriages and had no children. She died whilst still married to her last husband, script-writer Maher Awad, whom she married in 1987.
Mohammad Hosni had several marriages and divorces. Both his daughters suffered marriage failures. Soad’s dentist in London said, in a TV interview after her death, that Soad told him “Art destroyed my life”.
Najat had two (possibly three) marriages. It appears her first marriage was at young age, in 1955, when she was 16 (or 17) years old. Najat divorced her last husband in the 1970s and has remained single to date. Media reports suggest that she made a decision to devote her life to raising her only child, Waleed, and to her work.
In the first 10 years of her singing career Najat imitated other singers. Renowned Egyptian journalist Fikry Abatha (1896-1979) demanded the State should support this young girl and insure proper development of her gift. According to her family that period “trained” her voice. However, in 1949, music composer Mohammad Abdul Wahab (1902–1991) actually filed an official complaint at the Police station against Najat’s father. He claimed that such training hindered the natural process of her voice development and that she should be left alone to develop freely without it.
Najat’s stage performances are the core of her legacy. Kamal Al Taweel (1922–2003), one of her distinguished collaborators, said in a TV interview that as far as music composers were concerned “Najat was the best performer in the Arab world”. This statement puts Najat in effect as No.1 arguably ahead of Um Kalthum (1898–1975); still widely regarded by many as the greatest Arabic singer in history.
Mohammad Abdul Wahab, the most prominent 20-century Arab composer, felt his works were safest with Najat.
Nizar Qabbani (1923–1998) a Syrian diplomat and one of the most revered contemporary poets in the Arab world said, in a TV interview that he hoped to attract some 15 thousand readers when he published a book of poetry, but when Najat sang one of his poems it attracted millions in the Arab speaking world.
Sole Recorded Interview
To my knowledge, there is only one recorded interview with Najat. It was on screen in 1960s; possibly in 1964 for Egyptian TV to the presenter Ms Salwa Hejazi. This interview was relaxed and informative.
It was conducted in Najat’s own apartment. Let us call it the “1964 interview”. She stated that she had, at that time, eight brothers and sisters. Currently (2015) some media outlets are indicating double that number; the most frequently mentioned is seventeen brothers and sisters!
In the interview, Najat confirmed that she was brought up in a home where most of her brothers and sisters were Artists. She provided the following insights (translated from my memory);
Salwa: Did you experience any deprivation in your life?
Najat: There was a time whilst still a child, on stage, when I felt the responsibility of a waiting audience. This was a type of deprivation I have experienced. I do not recall playing with a doll or having my favourite red colour as normal children would do. But, I have tried to compensate and am still compensating through playing games with my son!
Najat‘s son was with her at this interview. He was eight years old.
Salwa: There is a complaint about you which we regularly receive from your fans!
Najat (embarrassed): What is it?
Salwa: Shortage of your works. People are asking for more songs from you.
Najat: Yes, I cannot deny it. But, it is not easy to find quality lyrics, music and sufficient time for training. It is a lot of hard work. If it was up to me alone I am ready to sing up to ten times a year if I can get the quality words and the right music compositions.
Najat: Recently I went for a drive accompanied by some of my friends and relatives to see a film in Cinema “Metro”.
Salwa: You drove the car!
Najat: Yes. Normally my brother or the driver drives it but not this time. Upon arrival, we noticed the queue on the box office has stretched out into the street. I stopped the car in front of the Cinema to discuss our options with my companions. People left the queue and gathered around my car. Their number increased rapidly. The situation quickly got out of hand. Somehow I managed to move the car slowly, maneuvered it out of the crowd and we returned back home.
Salwa attempted to protest such negative behavior from the fans. But Najat intercepted;
Najat: It was upsetting, but also nice! I would have been more upset if they did not take notice of me! This is called tax of fame!
Since then she seems to have avoided further TV interviews and minimized her contact with the Press. She said that her performances should speak on her behalf. Najat stood on stage at the age of 5 years and retired from it 59 years later.
Najat broke-away from imitating other singers when she released her own first song in 1955 at the age of 16 years. In mentioned 1964 interview, Najat herself indicated her first song was “Why did you allow me to love you?” Thereafter she released several other songs for Radio stations. Each song had duration of 7 to 8 minutes.
She then delivered “long-duration” songs. Each of these songs tells a story and each typically lasts for some 20-40 minutes in Studio recordings. To hold onto her audience for the longer durations on stage Najat turned her attention to people like Nizar Qabbani. His classic poetic styles combine simplicity and elegance in exploring themes of love and feminism. She has sung at least three of his poems all of which were composed by Abdul Wahab.
These long duration songs were highly successful and promptly elevated her to Um Kalthum popularity. Her success with long duration songs was phenomenal.
She built on this success in subsequent years, despite the difficulty of finding new outstanding poems and corresponding music compositions. To combat this shortage, she was forced to rely on her own abilities in performance. For example: in 1976, she, at the age of 37, conducted several songs in her last film “Dried Tears”. One of these songs was “Mata?” derived from the poem written by Nizar Qabbani with music by Abdul Wahab. The duration of this song in the film was less than ten minutes. In the years that followed, Najat sang it several times on stage; the last time was in 2002. One of those repeats was in the 1980s when she was in her 40s. Her performance on stage lasted for almost one hour! In this performance, she extended the delivery of this same song from below 10 minutes in the film to about one hour on the stage. Many consider this specific performance on the stage was one of her life-time bests and I agree! It was recorded and can be easily found on YouTube. I could not ascertain exact date of this concert.
Najat made 13 films then retired from filming in 1976 at the age of 37 years. Nearly, all of her films contained songs performed by her. The best of these films are those where she has the starring role. These seven films “1958 Stranger, 1962 Black Candles, 1966 Beach of Fun, 1969 Seven Days in Heaven, 1971 My Dear Daughter and 1976 Dried Tears” fall into that category.
Music, Words and Delivery
There were many composers other than above mentioned Kamal Al Taweel who composed “Live with me” and Abdul Wahab who composed her best hits including “Do not lie”.
There were many composers other than above mentioned Kamal Al Taweel who composed “Live with me” and Abdul Wahab who composed her best hits including “Do not lie”.
Several of the Arabic music composers of the 20th century worked with her such as:
- Baligh Hamdi (1932–1993) who composed “I am waiting for you”.
- Syed Mekkawy (1927–1997) who composed “It makes a big difference”.
- Mohammad El Mougi (1923–1995) who composed “Eyes of the heart”.
- Composers of earlier songs Riyad Al Sunbati (1906–1981), Mahmood Al Sherif (1912-1990), Hilmy Bakr (born 1937) as well as Zakariyya Ahmad (1896–1961).
The list of song writing collaborators may have been even longer than that for music.
Besides Nizar Qabbani, other famous Arabic poets and song writers of the 20th century also obliged Najat; such as Maamoun Shennawi (1914-1994) who wrote “Your love is my life” and his brother Kamal Shennawi (1908–1965) who wrote “Do not lie”.
Najat, as she herself confirms in that 1964 interview, always sought quality in words. She was extremely cautious with and meticulous in her choice of her lyrics.
One example is that she replaced several words in and even deleted possibly more than one line from “Mata?” the original poem by Nizar Qabbani before she agreed to perform it!
Well that was where Najat put her powerful signature. Her rigorous training, lengthy rehearsals in the recording studios and tireless performance on the stage are legendary.
Najat emerged at a time when the field was already crowded with formidable competitors. These included;
- Warda el-Jazairia (1939-2012),
- Shadia (born 1931),
- Sabah (1927-2014),
- Faiza Ahmad (1934-1983),
- Fairuz (born 1934), and others.
Shadia alone appeared in 114 films most of which contained songs by her.
From the start of the Sixties, Najat quickly became a category on her own; separate from the others.
Najat Describes the Hard Work
According to Arabic media sources Najat has commented on the difficulties and intricacies of her Art form and her collaboration with poets and music composers “The road was not easy or laid with flowers as some people believed it to be. There was hard work in achieving those songs. I, the song writer and the music composer was watching every signal big or small. We were greatly daunted by the need to achieve success in front of massive audiences to the level of obsession in order to ensure there were no mistakes or omissions in the song. At the same time and in respect of my part; I must be at the level of the poet who invested so much effort in the words and also rise to the musical sentence of the composer. My voice had to bear the responsibility of carrying all of the words and musical components. All was for the sake of producing the emerging song to the public in the most desirable-perfect form“; (imperfectly translated).
Najat was honoured and given prizes many times;
- In 1960s, President Gamal Abdul Nasser (1918–1970) awarded her a high ranking Medal.
- She had, and still does have, many fans in Tunisia. Both Tunisian Presidents Habib Bourguiba (1903–2000) and later-on Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (born 1936) gave her awards.
- In 1985, King Hussain of Jordan (1935–1999) gave her the First Degree Medal of Independence.
- In 2006, some four years after her retirement, she won the prize for “Those Who Gave People Happiness” in Dubai being a Gold Medal and US $100,000.
She has not been seen on screen or in public since 2006!
In 2010, a reporter confirmed that she still lives in Cairo but travels to London in summer for medical treatment.
In 2014, at the age of 74, she made a phone call to an Arabic TV station. She was talking from Germany where she was receiving medical treatment.
In 2015 (spring), social media chatter indicated she was receiving physiotherapy and there were some concerns about her health.
A Taha, London, UK, June, 2015
Me, Baghdad’s Sixties and Najat Al Saghira
By A Taha, London, UK June, 2015
Our country was politically unstable. As young men our families encouraged us to remain apart from the political activities. We studied hard. However, it was not easy to remain detached from the news we heard and saw routinely on Radio and TV. Throughout my teens and my early twenties, my memories of my friends and family are suffused through the performances of Najat. I remember the sights and sounds of Baghdad when hearing her voice. I can chart the Sixties milestones in my life through her songs.
In those heady days my friends and I could not have envisaged the tragic upheavals that would befall Iraq and also Egypt? I hope this page provides a relieving break from the regular depressing news of the current chaos in the Middle East.
Najat’s stage performances are at the core of her legacy. When I think of my life in 1960s Baghdad Najat’s songs with their haunting music are inseparable. The Arabic meaning of the word Najat is Rescue or Savior; handy name to day-dream and escape with from the reality of daily life in Iraq;
I was still a school boy; just moving from Elementary school to Intermediate school. Najat’s film “Stranger” was released, but I did not see it and I did not know who she was. Instead, my favourite films are Tarzan, Lassie the female collie dog and Fury the brave stallion or comedy films of Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), Ismael Yassin (1912-1972) and Norman Wisdom (1915-2010).
My parents moved from my grandfather’s big house in Central Baghdad to our own home some 20 miles away. We were in suburbia; there was only one Summer Cinema as the Cinema had no roof. Being a small neighbourhood with an even smaller number of cinema goers the films were changed once or even twice a week. We saw virtually every film. It was the prime source of entertainment. The alternative for school boys and teenagers at the time was football games on dusty grounds or black-and-white TV. There was only one TV channel and it was government controlled. Sometimes the TV was unwatchable if there was a lengthy News session or an interview with a long-winded politician! This year 1958 had two big events. A positive one: Union between Egypt and Syria UAR (United Arab Republic) began. And a troublesome one: Iraqi military “Free Officers” wiped-out the entire Iraqi Royal Family including the young king Faisal II (1935-1958).
On 14 July, the 23 year old King, Crown Prince Abdullah and two or three Princesses were executed in the gardens of the Royal Palace. The military rebels named General Abdul Karim Qasim (1914-1963) as Iraq’s new ruler. The Kingdom of Iraq became the Republic of Iraq.
There was a plot to assassinate General Qasim but it failed, he was injured. One of the plotters, Saddam Hussain (1937-2006) although also injured managed to flee to Syria and from there to Egypt. In view of those events and the lack of political freedoms our elders in and around my extended family were keen to keep their youngsters away from trouble. We were always encouraged to keep away from politics and focus on school, sports and recreation. Meantime, Najat’s short-duration songs on the Radio started to draw the attention of some and a little of mine!
We moved to a house not far from the Summer Cinema. During the hot weather, we slept on the flat roof as there was no air-conditioning. We could clearly hear the Cinema loud speakers playing Najat’s short-duration songs before the start or after the finish of the film as well as during the film interval. When a new film came in and we went to the Cinema we could put our requests to the neighborly Cinema operator to play the songs we liked. It was a close peaceful dreamy community and I was one of the dreamy teenagers who started to enjoy the music and songs.
Najat kick-started the sixties decade with her first “long-duration” song “Does he think I am a toy in his two hands?” which was written by Nizar Qabbani with music by Abdul Wahab. This song is a 20-minute Studio recording. There is an interesting photo of a letter circulating in media outlets, addressed to Najat, hand-written by Nizar when he was in China on a diplomatic mission. He was pressing her to release the song. It was his first with her and an immediate huge success.
A historic event occurred downtown: In September 1960 the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed in Baghdad. The five “Founding Members” were Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela. Later they were joined by another nine countries. In this year, Najat and her first husband, the father of her only child were divorced.
Najat sang a patriotic song in praise of President Gamal Abdul Nasser called “Son of our cousins Gamal”. She sang it in Aswan near the construction site of the High Dam. This song was written by Ahmad Shafeeq Kamal with music by Abdul Wahab.
The Soviet Union provided funding; technicians and heavy machinery towards the Dams construction and some 25,000 Egyptian engineers and workers were mobilized for it. Optimism was in the air! Then, the political union between Egypt and Syria UAR (United Arab Republic) broke. President Nasser refused to abandon the UAR name and Egypt continued to be known officially as the “United Arab Republic” until his death (later, President Sadat changed the country’s name back to Egypt in 1971).
At the same time, Kuwait became officially independent with the end of the British protectorate but our Iraqi ruler took offence claiming Kuwait to be part of the mother land Iraq and mobilized his military to Basra with the intention to invade Kuwait. Somehow common sense prevailed and war did not break out. The presence of the British military-might across the border may have been a deterrent.
I returned from suburbia to live back again in Central Baghdad in order to study in a school called Central High School (Central Secondary).
I was seated beside a window overlooking Al-Mahdawi Court building. This court’s official title was “People’s Court”. The judge was an army officer named “Al Mahdawi”. This court was established in the aftermath of yet another plot by some of the Free Officers against General Qasim. It was foiled. The Free Officers were friends, but when they moved into power they quickly split into two rival groups. Qasim’s group tried the other group in this court and passed death sentences on their friends. They were shot.
In this year, Najat’s film “Black Candles” is released and in it she sang “Do not lie” which was written by Kamal Al Shenawi with music composition by Mohammad Abdel Wahab. I did not see the film at the time, but heard the song. It was, and still is one of her best songs and one of her career milestones.
Najat sang on stage in Kuwait “Do not lie” with her new song “He lives opposite my home”. These two songs were aired on Radio and on national black-and-white TV when I was still in second year at Baghdad’s Central Secondary School. It’s hard to say which one of these two songs would be the most popular.
It was not long before friends of the executed Free Officers initiated another coup and this time General Qasim and most of the government were killed. Another military man, who was a close friend of Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif (1921-1966) was freed from jail and named President.
My second academic year of education proceeded. Najat’s new 30 minutes song “Your love is something else!” helped to take my mind off these bloody events. It was written by Hussain Syed with music by Abdul Wahab.
I left high school and enrolled in Baghdad University. This is the year Iraq won the Arab Football Cup for the first time!
Whereas before I crossed the river Tigris walking to school over King Faisal II Bridge (re-named Martyrs Bridge) the journey to the university was now a little further which meant I had to use public transport. This came in the shape of a London red double-decker bus.
Najat released a 10-minutes song “Yes, I get Jealous” It was written by Maamoun Shennawi with music by Baligh Hamdi.
The other highlight of the year was Najat’s release of a 40-minutes song “What shall I say to him?” It was written by Nizar Qabbani with music by Abdul Wahab. The latter referred to this song as the “sister” of the 1960 “Does he think I am a toy in his two hands?” also by Nizar Qabbani.
Iraq’s President Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash. The military passed-on the Presidency quietly to his brother Abdul Rahman Arif (1916-2007).
In this year, Najat released her song “I am waiting for you”. It was written by Morsi Jameel Aziz with music by Baligh Hamdi. It was followed by her film “Beach of Fun”. This film has some frivolous acts by others; but she is beautiful in it.
In this film she sang 3 memorable songs; each about 10-minutes long and all of which were written by Hussain El Syed with music compositions by Abdul Wahab.
Najat’s song “Your love is my life” was released. It was written by Maamoun Shennawi and music by Baligh Hamdi. This release came at a time of great sadness in the Arab world. The Six Day war was a disaster. The perceived bias of the western world in favour of the Israelis added salt to the wounds. The Arab states formulated the “Three No’s” policy, barring peace, recognition or negotiations with Israel. Najat re-married this year the film director of “Beach of fun”. This was her second marriage.
I graduated from the university and joined the workforce. The political life of the country was as turbulent as ever. The Baath Party persuaded a few military officers in key positions to abandon the Arif regime and overthrow the Baghdad government. Once again, another coup, but this time the President was sent into exile alive and the coup was relatively bloodless.
General Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr (1914-1982) was named President and a 30-year old lawyer Saddam Hussain was named his deputy!
Iraq filed a complaint to the UN against Israel accusing Israel of an air raid on some of the 10,000 Iraqi soldiers positioned in Jordon. President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) conveyed a message to Nasser pledging to initiate an attempt to reach a Middle East settlement.
Najat’s film “Seven Days in Heaven” was released. A welcome escape from reality!
President Gamal Abdul Nasser died and Anwar Al Sadat (1918-1981) succeeded him. Sadat adopted a more westward-looking foreign policy and moved closer to the Shah of Iran.
In this year, Najat released sensational 15-minutes song “In the middle of the road”. It was written by Mohammad Hamza with music by Baligh Hamdi.
Najat’s second last film “My Dear Daughter” was released at the closure of a turbulent decade. She is now 32 years old; her beauty is at peak!
During these unsettling and complicated years in Baghdad Najat’s songs on the Radio and her presence on screen formed the backdrop to my youth and I am sure the same was true for many of my contemporaries.
On reflection many of the older generation were also smitten both fathers and mothers. I remember her as if it was yesterday. There are those who claim to have seen the same video of the same song 200 times. Others regard Najat as the most beautiful woman in the universe! Many are dazzled and mesmerized by her performance on stage.
When I read that Abdul Wahab once described Najat as the owner of the “loud silence” I knew exactly what he meant even though I could not explain it. Something in the way she stands on the stage, interprets the song, smiles, projects her voice, and holds her silences, gestures and even talks. All these things combine to make her an unforgettable personality in the Arab world.
Where and how is Najat now (2015)?
I do not know where she is. She is now around 76 years old. In addition to myself I am sure many of her fans would like to hear some good news from her. In spite of her fame and popularity Najat Al Saghira has remained a private person. What information is available is not well documented. To my knowledge no biography or even an informative article known to be authenticated or approved by her exists. I am therefore searching for more quality information on Najat Al Saghira.
In a recent article (dated 2010) a reporter confirmed that she still lives in Cairo but travels to London in summer for medical treatment.
Last year (2014), at the age of 74, she made a phone call to an Arabic TV station and spoke to the presenter, Ms Lamees Al Hadeedi, on air. She was talking from Germany where she was receiving medical treatment. This was her only audio chat that I know of since she decided to retire in 2002. In this call, Najat the ever positive and optimistic said “Egypt would be the jewel of the world”. I wonder what she thinks of those of us who feel “Najat herself was the Jewel of Egypt”!
There are thousands who wish her well. If she is abroad and wanted fans to visit many would gladly oblige her. To my knowledge, she has not been seen on screen or in public since 2006! In 2006, some four years after her retirement, she won the prize for “Those Who Gave People Happiness” in Dubai being a Gold Medal and US $100,000.
Social media chatter during spring 2015 indicated she was receiving physiotherapy and there were some concerns about her health. It was reported in the media that she went to Makkah and has been in Hijab since her retirement. Islam provides splendid guidelines for mankind on how to conduct their normal daily lives with emphasis on moderation, peace, human dignity and self-respect to oneself and to others. Every human on Plant Earth commit sins inherently. The prime existential issue for each individual is to do good deeds as well as regularly ask God for forgiveness whilst the person is still alive. In conclusion, I pray to God that He forgive all sins of mine, hers and all of those who believe and trust in God the sole creator of Najat and all beautiful things in His universe.
A Taha, London, UK June, 2015
By A Taha, London, UK June, 2015
Soad Hosni. was known as the “Cinderella of Egyptian cinema“. She was one of the most influential actresses in the Middle East. She starred in 83 films between 1959 and 1991; about seventy of her films were shot in the 1960s and 1970s.
Soad Muhammad Kamal Hosni was born in 1943 in Ataba, Cairo, one of three sisters (Kawther, Soad, Sabah) born to Mohammad Hosni and his second wife, Jawahara Mohammad Hassan. Soad also had eight half-siblings from her father first marriage (four boys: Ezz Eddin, Nabil, Farooq and Sami, and four girls: Khadija, Samira, Najat herself, Afaf). Her parents divorced and her mother remarried, to Abdul Monem Hafedh, with whom she had six more children (three boys: Jaheer, Jaser, Jalaa and three girls: Jehan, Janjah, Jeely), thus giving Soad and her two sisters 14 half-siblings (8 from her father side and 6 from her mother side). Soad therefore is the 10th in-line of a grand total of 17 brothers and sisters
As a young teenager, after her parents’ divorce, Soad lived briefly with her half-sister Najat Al Saghira (born 1938) then with her half-brother Ezz Eddin Hosni (1927 – 2013). Thereafter, at the age of 15 she was living with her mother in a Cairo neighbourhood called Shobra; by then divorced from her father, and her stepfather
Thereafter, at the age of 15 she was living with her mother in a Cairo neighbourhood called Shobra, by then divorced from her father, and her stepfather.
Home of Artists
Soad Hosni. was born into an artistic family. Her father was a calligrapher, was Syrian of Kurdish descent. The household of her father was known as “the home of the Artists”. His son Ezz Eddin, a music composer, taught his sister Najat music and singing. His other son Sami Hosni is a Cello player, jewellery designer and also calligrapher .
Both Soad Hosni. and Najat Al Saghira, one of Hosni’s half-siblings, became super-stars in the Arab World in the arts of acting and singing. Najat Al Saghira, was a child-star who started singing at the age of 5 years in the early 1940s and continued to be a great success. Soad also began her career at the age of three years in 1946 within a children Radio program and thus she was also child-star. This Radio program, called The Children’s Corner, was broadcasted by the famous Mohamed Mahmoud Shaaban, known as Baba Sharoo, and in it she sang her famous song “I am Soad, sister to the moon, my beauty recognised by all” before reaching the age of 7 years! . Soad did not continue and starred her first film later at the age of 15 years .
In 1950s, Soad step father treated Soad well, but at the time, he was conservative and refused to send her to school.
In 1957, family friend Abdel-Rahman Al-Khamisi wanted Soad, at the age 15 years, to play Ophelia in a production of “Hamlet” he was directing. It was difficult for her, she wasn’t able to recite Shakespeare well, and she would weep in frustration . But Al Khamisi sensed her acting talents and asked Ibrahim Saafan, an Arabic teacher and comedy actor , to teach her reading and writing and Anaam Salousa to give her oral acting performance lessons.
Thereafter, Mr Al-Khamisi persuaded film director Henry Barakat (1914– 1997) to test Soad for the star role of her first film “Hassan and Na’ima”. This film was based on a folk story the script of which was being written by Al-Khamisi himself. The test was successful, the film was released in 1959 and within 2 years she had starred in ten more films!
In 1972, Soad’s film “Watch out for Zouzou” was released to become the biggest box- office hit in Egyptian cinema to date! This film was the longest running film in Egyptian cinemas, showing for over a year. Many and some would argue most, Egyptians know the film’s songs by heart. Soad Hosni, until her last days in London, called herself “Zouzou” .
Soad starred in 83 films; a staggering number, over a period of three decades all of which were successful at the box-office with the exception of one film titled “Third Class” in 1988 .
In 1991, Soad made her last film “The Shepherd and the Women” (in Arabic: Al Ra’i We El Nissa) which was directed by her ex-husband Ali Badrkhan and thus retired from filming at the age of 49 years.
Soad Hosni is one of the most popular actresses in the history of Egyptian cinema. Film director Mohammad Khan wrote in Al Aham newspaper “She’s a better actress than Marilyn Monroe, I think “.
Soad Hosni starred 83 films, the following short list is among the most famous of her works,
- 1960 Girls and Summer (story Ihsan Abdel-Quddous; co-star Abdel-Halim Hafiz).
- 1966 Cairo 1930 (Naguib Mahfouz’s novel, co-star Ahmed Mazhar).
- 1966 Too Young for Love (co- star Rushdi Abaza).
- 1967 Marriage Modern Style (co- star Hassan Youssef).
- 1967 The Second Wife (co- star Shukri Sarhan) .
- 1969 Some suffering (co- stars Yehia Shahin and Hassan Youssef).
- 1970 Lost Love (story Taha Hussein; co-stars Rushdi Abaza and Zebida Tharwat).
- 1971 The Choice (co-star Ezzat El-Alayli).
- 1972 Watch out for Zouzou (co-star Hussein Fahmi).
- 1974 Where’s My Mind? (Story Ihsan Abdel-Quddous; co-star Rushdi Abaza).
- 1975 Al-Karnack (Naguib Mahfouz’s novel; co-star Nour El-Sherif).
- 1981 A Dinner Date (co- star Ahmed Zaki).
- 1983 Love in the Prison Cell (co- star Adel Imam).
- 1986 The Hunger (Naguib Mahfouz’s novel; co- star Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz).
Soad was honoured and given prizes many times ;
- 1968 Ministry of Culture Special Prize for her role in her 1967 film “The Second Wife”.
- 1971 Best Actress, First National Conference for the 1970 film “Sunset and Sunrise”.
- 1975 Best Actress, Film Society, for the 1974 film “Where’s My Mind?”.
- 1977 Film Society Second Conference for the 1975 film “Al-Karnack”.
- 1979 President Sadat awarded her Recognition Certificate for her distinguished role in the Arts.
Character and Popularity
On Soad’s real-life character, her eldest half-brother Ezzidin Hosni described her as “truthful, clear, frank and loves wellbeing to all others especially those who are close to her” and that “her wealth was for others and not for herself” in reference to her generosity . Egyptian actress Lubna Abdel Aziz (born 1935) wrote in Al Ahram newspaper “It was more than her films that entranced and enraptured. Her beauty, as striking as it was dazzling, still had a soothing and personal quality, neither haughty nor forbidding. It exuded a sense of familiarity and accessibility ….Though illiterate until her twenties; she walked with princes and sat with kings. Her special magic that charmed intellectuals, philosophers, writers, was the very same magic that charmed the labourer, the farmer, the hired hand. She was everyone’s star.“
Soad’s amazing popularity with millions of people across the Arab World has been and still is wide, varied and also covered the un-expected: here is a recent (in 2013; a dozen years after her passing-away) news-line in an Arabic Weddings website: “An Iraqi woman asked her husband to divorce her after he insisted on naming his new-born daughter Soad, after famous Egyptian actress Soad Hosni. The wife was shocked that her husband collected pictures of the late actress, and was really jealous. Their families tried to convince her and change her mind, but there was no use”!
Soad Hosni was known for her glowing smile and irrepressible joie de vivre.
Soad was married five times to,
- Singer Abdel-Halim Hafiz ( for 6 years, in early 1960s).
- Cinematographer Salah Kurayem (for about 1 year, around 1968).
- Film Director Ali Badrkhan (for 11 years from 1970 to 1981).
- Film Director Zaki Fateen Abdul Wahab (for few months, in 1981).
- Screenwriter Maher Awad (for 14 years, from 1987 till her death in 2001).
Her first marriage (to Abdel –Halim Hafiz) was at first rumoured, but music composure Kamadl Al-Taweel and writer Mohammad Fawzi confirmed it, so did her half-sister Janja and her London dentist in TV interviews (available on YouTube). Also, Egyptian Al Ahram-online reported (in 2001) that in 1993 Soad gave an interview published in “Sabbah El-Kheir” magazine in which she said she had been secretly married to Halim for six years. Halim, at the time was 15 years older than her. He died in 1977 at the age of 48.
On Soad’s fourth marriage, Safynaz Kazem wrote in Al Ahram newspaper “Never had she appeared happier than during her relationship with Badrkhan. She enjoyed a simple lifestyle, far from the hullabaloo that usually surrounds movie stars and celebrities. She seemed to be in her element, quiet and composed amid the writers, poets and militant students that formed Badrkhan’s social circle“.
Soad had no children; she was reported as saying “How could I have children when I am myself a child,” in one of the rare interviews she gave in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, she wanted to be a mother as she had miscarriages when she was married to Ali Badrkhan. The Saudi Gazette reported that Soad’s sister, Janja, explained Soad got pregnant twice from her husband Ali Badrkhan but miscarried because of working herself too hard. She (Janja) said: “My sister loved children very much and wished to have her own child; her hobby was to buy children’s clothes and give them out as gifts.”.
In 2001, it was reported Soad Hosni died after throwing herself from balcony at Stuart Tower in London on June 21, 2001.
This proposition was not readily accepted by some members of her family, Soad’s close associates and several media outlets (several interviews and chat shows on this subject are available on YouTube); briefly
Soad Hosni came to London in 1997 to undergo treatment for back problems.
Her last days in London were filled with loneliness and sorrow as she battled her disease in exile. She expressed faith, however, that she would get better and resume her acting career, which is one of the reasons why many do not believe she committed suicide. On 21 June 2001, she fell from the window of her friend London apartment. Her death remains shrouded in mystery and investigations were still on-going. In 2011, Al Aram newspaper, reported that according to some accounts, eyewitnesses claim that falling out of the window was not the cause of her death and neighbours heard shouting before the incident.
In 2012, a formal legal complaint was lodged by Soad’s half-sister, Janja, who alleged that top Egyptian government officials had been behind Soad’s death. A year later, on 24 March 2013, the Judge announced the suspension of investigations into the 2001 death of Soad Hosni. He ruled that there was insufficient evidence to implicate former regime figures.
Her funeral in Cairo was attended by some 10,000 people. Soad had no children and left as her widower, her last husband, writer Maher Awad, whom she married in 1987.
23 August 2015