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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

The Priest’s Vision – Ahmed Abdo

The Priest’s Vision!


by Ahmed Abdo


translated by Hatem Al-Shamea



My problem was with the time factor, as every minute counts for me. In a quarter of an hour, a live broadcast of an “exceptional” Mass from the Vatican will begin. Half of our time evaporates, and we do not grieve for a minute of it. The next minute is always golden. Who will seize it with me or seize it for himself? All week I have been preparing myself for this moment, and fortunately, they will broadcast it late in the evening of our winter evenings, so no interviews, no visits, no lectures. Since I learned about it, I have been putting my hand on my heart; what if something unexpected happens to me that prevents me from watching this golden occasion?

Should I have kept the remote control in my pocket, or placed it in my private cabinet and shut it tight? And how could I have done that when there were no children around to scatter things? I used to carry in my belly a summer watermelon, for it worked with excellent efficiency, and its stones remained intact. Yet, despite this, I bought it a pair of Energizer pen stones yesterday. I rummaged through the sparse contents of the room in vain, a room in a government dormitory, a university city for pharmacy students. What would be the size of its contents?


My trust in its spontaneous presence betrayed me at any time, or was it I who didn’t account for it? The obsession that made me anticipate the withdrawal of the stone’s spirit while watching it led me to buy others, but it didn’t avail me, nor did it suggest me, urge me to keep it in my bag, or my private cabinet, or the palm of my hand!

The wings of anxiety almost cast me onto the street as I searched for Mustafa. I called him, asking about the remote, and his response was:


“And should I carry the remote in my pocket, Kamel, to push carts down the street?”


Oh God! It was as if a jinn dared to defy my desires and concerns by snatching it away! Perhaps the Mass broadcast would be repeated at noon today, and the next day too, and maybe the remote would reappear later, or I could buy another one in the morning. But what about my crisis in the moment I find myself in now? I always prefer the first edition, the first pick, the live moment. I don’t relish repeats in anything, and I trust only what I grasp with my own hands. Yet, there might be an emergency that prevents me from seeing it in the repeat as well, especially if it occurs during the day—a lecture that extends, a sudden trip to my relatives in Asyut, a sudden bout of colic, a cosmic event that disrupts television transmission, a global event covered by local and international media. So why not hear and see it in the moment of its live broadcast?

Tonight, the Pope of the Vatican will deliver his urgent sermon to us, though today is not the scheduled time for his sermon. Following that, Father Petros Basileios will step forward to read a message from the Lord Christ, given to him in a vision, and instructed him to convey it to the leaders of the Christian world! The leaders of the Christian world?!! What will “Our Father” say to these leaders? I believe it’s a message of utmost importance and utmost danger!


But what about the leaders of the rest of the world? If it were also directed to the leaders of the Islamic world, would Mustafa care about it? I mentioned it to him yesterday, and he should be particularly interested because it’s addressed to them specifically!!


You’ll miss out on half of your life, Mustafa. You would have wronged us all if you hid the remote, and you would have wronged yourself if you intended to escape from these divine and worldly spiritual moments at once. “Our Father” will speak to those who are of him, and he is of them. He will speak to his children, and undoubtedly, his words will somehow reflect on the rest of the leaders of all nations, indeed all the people of the world.

The remote is always beside the television, the week passes without us paying it any attention. We use it sporadically, for quick and fleeting views: the news bulletin, the top stories at best. We don’t lend our ears to follow the politics, resembling clusters of hyacinth demonstrations, protests, or quick glimpses from a movie or a series, be it Arabic or foreign. We lack the spirit, the energy, and the time to keep up. All of this takes only a few minutes! Mustafa sometimes uses it with his favorite channel before he sleeps.


Books, notes, and pharmacy lectures take us away from our families and friends, take us away from ourselves! And then the remote disappears the moment I need it? Thirst scorches my throat, and a sip of cold water won’t quench it!


On the other hand, I am eager to see the atmosphere of holiness and spirituality, and the fragrance of history that wafts in the halls and grandeur of the holy sanctuaries in the Vatican, from the statues, specifically St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. I recall my joy and excitement during my visit there the year before last.


For the first time, Mustafa leaves the television tuned to “Al-Majd Channel for the Holy Quran” and steps out. Sometimes, he leaves it on before sleeping, with the volume low. Is there a connection between leaving the Quran channel open like this and him leaving, even disappearing all this time? And between my anticipation for the Mass broadcast directly from the Vatican, on official and private channels as they said? He neither turned off the device nor left it on a news channel, for example, or a series, with the remote’s location visible.


For him to leave it on the Quran channel, neither saddens me nor delights me; it’s quite ordinary, and I have no sensitivity towards it. For you do not hear the chirping of birds, or the cooing of doves, except what you give your ear to, and if something from their chirping, cooing, or coo reaches you, or you deliberately receive it, then it’s okay. You may learn a word or words, and perhaps grasp their meanings, memorize a verse that you repeat to your Muslim interlocutor, it comes up in conversation, as a form of culture. On the other hand, nothing stirs in the heart except what you give your conscience and mind to, and I know some popes and priests who memorize many verses of the Quran.


But what do I say now: Should I surrender myself to my legitimate concerns?


The fact that Mustafa turned on the television to his channel before leaving, two hours ago, means that the remote is present, and you are now in the street, Mustafa, and you should be at the supermarket adjacent to the university city, directly across the street, and we are in the late hour of the night. It’s just a few minutes that separate you from me, at least you were supposed to be searching with me, for you were the last one to use it. You’ve had two hours and haven’t shown up yet, to buy something that would only take you ten minutes. So, how do I understand your behavior?


It was not among the conditions of “coexistence” between us, as set by the university city administration, that I listen to the Quran or sermons of the scholars, nor that Mustafa listens to the Gospel or the priests, nor the fathers’ sermons. Also, discussion on matters of doctrinal differences is prohibited, not even issues about each doctrine individually. In general, “speaking about religion is forbidden.” The essence is merely our presence together in one room, with our similar bodies and contrasting names, each name turning its back to the other. Here we are, exchanging breaths in the same room, sharing oxygen and mingling carbon dioxide. None of us will inhale more than the other, nor exhale more than the other. The magnetic fields of our bodies intersect, forming like links in a chain, in addition to sharing the same meal. All of this is the goal planned by the university city administration, and it is the core of its philosophy in this field. This approach can create among us a religion where speech is not prohibited, with its subject being pure humanity.


Yet sometimes, Mustafa can only fall asleep with this channel. It’s a silent fascination with a low voice, he says it brings beautiful sounds and rare recitations, carefully selected from the most beautiful voices of reciters. It’s completely free from politics, and he invokes God and sleeps.


So that no feeling of resentment overtakes me, whether I express it or keep it to myself, and to prevent frustration, jealousy, resentment, or inferiority from taking hold of me, I find myself in a state of suppressing anger and disgust. Sometimes, I heal myself by watching Gospel channels, albeit for a few minutes, without leaving them on, and I invoke God in my own way, and then I sleep.

Mustafa and I are like a split bean, divided into two halves… Our chemistry is harmonious, completely outside the realm of creed considerations. When it comes to our daily lives, neither of us can bear the absence of the other, nor can he bear my departure. A week without one of us, away from his family in his hometown, for example, feels like a month. Even when it comes to religious matters, which are like saliva in our throats, drying up if not nourished, and flowing if moistened, if not for the warnings of the university city administration, each of us might not be able to conceal his annoyance or boredom with his companion—I might even say his disgust!


But does the university city administration have control over the flow of saliva in our throats? In this case, each of us reluctantly accepts his companion, tries to accept and tolerate him as much as possible, forces a smile, and adds a few drops of lemon juice and a sprinkle of vinegar and spices to himself when he sees or hears—forgive me—what is said on the screen, outside his creed and religious culture.

The behavior of “attempting, persevering, and striving” is intended by the university city administration, without preaching or guidance, in a practical, silent, indirect, organized, and systematic manner, aiming to eradicate the manifestations of annoyance, boredom, feelings of superiority, and, more importantly, the possession of truth and uniqueness, and the claim of benevolence and superiority. Anything that fragments the elements and prevents their unity in the laboratory of life. Sermons prove futile, their failure has been established, and their impact is slow, if not nonexistent; they have become part of the daily routine. Hence, the innovative approach emerged that Kamil shares a room with Mustafa, just as Peter shares a room with Ali, and Shay shares a room with Eid. Until the meaning becomes the same, where Eid means Shay and Shay means Eid, and Abd al-Masih shares a room with Abd al-Nabi.


Among the beautiful ironies intentionally crafted by the university city, Ibrahim shares a room with Ibrahim, Majid with Majid, Issa with Issa, Jamal with Jamal, Shuaib with Shuaib, Yusuf with Yusuf, and Hani with Hani.

In the city of girls, Maryam resides with Maryam, Layla with Layla, and Nadine with Nadine. However, some issues arise from time to time such as the curious question: Who among you is Christian and who is Muslim?!


Then the university city administration went on a search; perhaps to find “Mina” to reside with “Mina,” and “Ramses” to live with “Ramses,” and “Isis” to dwell with “Isis.” Unfortunately, those names were not found on the side Mustafa belonged to.


Between me and Mustafa, a plate of beans or lentils unites us with love and ease. Our feelings melt into each other in our family circumstances. One of us may leave leftovers if they sense their companion is hungrier. When Mustafa fasts in Ramadan, I nearly fast alongside him, and in our fasting, he eats what is permissible for our fasting.


So does a plate of beans bring us together and a plate of belief separate us?


We try to avoid discussions on religion, our focus lies in our future of studying, graduating, and obtaining our degrees. Even if those aspirations were lost, discussions on faith, or faith itself, cannot gather the spilled milk. However, the message of Mr. Christ to the leaders of the Christian world, in such a manner, with such specificity, must be for a unique vision of the world’s current state. It reflects our Father’s sacrifice for love, a rare, unprecedented occurrence.


The fear is that this remote-control issue might lead to our expulsion, or the expulsion of one of us from the university city residence. In such a scenario, who would be to blame? Is it me or Mustafa? If the city administration senses any lapse that disrupts efforts of acceptance, coexistence, and integration, the punishment begins with a deduction of 25% from each subject’s grades. For a repeated mistake, the deduction escalates to 35%. The punishment culminates in the third instance with expulsion from the residence.


Oh my God, how can I divert Mustafa’s attention from this channel? Even if it’s just one notch, one click, one press, one channel. Perhaps I’ll find the mass in front of me, regardless of any channel. They said it will be broadcasted on all channels: Egyptian and international. When Christ speaks, He also “does not speak from whim,” and what He says must be for the whole world’s benefit. How much does the world need the words of the Lord Christ today?


It’s now two in the morning, except for five minutes. The remaining time is just those five minutes. Should I call the emergency number to search for Mustafa? Or should I throw my head out of the window and call for him amidst the buildings of the university city and the main street overlooking those buildings, at this hour?

If it were about a book, a memo, a lecture, a pen, or a cup of tea, I would knock on the doors of my neighbors in the adjacent rooms. For to knock on their doors to take something of common interest, something related to our academic fate, is normal among students in the university city, and there’s no harm in that. But to dry my face and knock on their doors in such a wintry time? And all for a matter of extreme privacy regarding myself? Even though I wouldn’t take more than a minute of their time, even if some of them were awake like me, and were fellow followers of the Lord Christ like me, it’s not appropriate. Michael lives next to us with Ahmed, and Marqus lives with Mahmoud there. I have many peers here among them: Peter, Hanna, Michael, and Luke in the adjacent rooms. But my interests don’t need to align with theirs, and I cannot impose my interests on them. The concerns of our studies and their consequences, our social worries, life’s preoccupations, the difficulty of securing pounds in our pockets, the challenge of finding job opportunities after graduation, and the meager salary if we find the opportunity – all of this leaves no room for cosmic issues, regional matters, or religious questions. Whoever needs something seeks it, even if Peter, Hanna, Michael, and Luke are busy with this mass – I met them earlier today and talked to them about it – they would have shown interest in it to me.


Christ assures us that he has not left the world and departed; he is concerned about us, and he is with us, seeing us and hearing us, while we are suspended in our feelings, lost in the depths of despair! Does Mustafa mean to be absent all this time, and at this precise moment? And why does the remote control disappear, coinciding with his absence on one hand, and on the other hand with the timing of the broadcast of the mass and the message of the Lord Christ, and on a third hand leaving the television on “Al-Majd Channel for the Holy Quran”?!

If the university city management were to realize the disappearance of the remote control, which is entrusted to us, and it is known that the government cat has nine lives!, the problem would not be in fining us for its price, the problem would be if they investigate our matter, and they come to know that we are in disagreement in a doctrinal debate, or a formal matter of religious aspects, or they become aware of the vocabulary of this disagreement among us: television remote, mass, Pope of the Vatican, Bishop Basilios, Al-Majd Channel for the Holy Quran…

Many times, I search and rummage around the device: under the stand, in the clothes drawers, I tinker with the receiver randomly, I remove the jacks and plugs and insert them back in their places again, I press the buttons, I don’t think my artistic attempts are the ones that brought about the result!!: “Al-Majd Channel for the Holy Quran” cuts its broadcast, and the announcer mentions the live broadcast of the mass from the Vatican shortly.


The Quarantine Philosopher – Wajdi Al-Ahdal – trans. Hatem Al-Shamea

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