A Great Man Has Died
Fakhri Maluf (Brother Francis Maluf)
On Saturday, 5 September 2009, Brother Francis Maluf went to his reward. His death was very peaceful, we are told, a reflection of the man’s peaceful life and loving nature.
Who is Brother Francis and why are we writing about him?
Brother Francis was Fakhri Maluf, a great scholar from Lebanon. After he passed away the Catholic Church paid tribute to the man with a laconic obituary stating, in part:
Fakhri graduated from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics. From 1934 to 1939, he taught physics at that same University. In addition to his academic career, Fakhri was also involved in Lebanese statecraft, being the philosopher, and later president, of the Syrian National Party. He was, during this time, a friend, disciple, and associate of Dr. Charles Malik, the noted Lebanese philosopher and diplomat.
True, Fakhri, was, for a short time, “a friend, disciple, and associate of Dr. Charles Malik.” However, the person he always held the greatest respect and affection for was Antun Saadeh, the founder of the Syrian National Party.
Fakhri met Saadeh for the first on the campus of the American University of Beirut in 1933 and immediately fell under his spell. Saadeh’s broad intelligence and charismatic personality captivated the imagination of Fakhri and opened up a whole new perspective on life for him. He joined Saadeh’s secret movement and briskly slotted into the core of true believers that gathered around Saadeh. Later on, in 1941, Fakhri published a moving account of how Saadeh persuaded him to join the Syrian National Party:
It was in the summer of 1934. I was relaxing in my green tent near our house in our small village at the foot of Mount Sannine. The sun had tilted toward the West and I was still deeply absorbed, since the morning, in a book on the mysteries of the stars (astrology). Suddenly, the atmosphere around me invigorated as it always did when Saadeh showed up [Saadeh was a friend of the Maluf family]. It was Saadeh himself. He stepped inside the tent and before I could collect myself he asked me: what is in you hands? “A book on astrology’’, I replied. He rejoined with a bewildering tone: “You are studying the stars without knowing anything about who owns and dominates the ground you are standing on.”
Those words shook Fakhri’s world to its foundations. He realised right there and then the futility of reaching for the stars without a solid ground to support his feet and feat. His homeland not the stars deserved his first attention. He turned around to Saadeh and said to him: “Here I go. I am closing this book for the last time, and I will not reopen it ever again.” That marked the beginning of Fakhri’s transition from astrology to philosophy He ceased to be an observer of things and became a campaigner for his country - Syria - and a political ideologue of the highest calibre.
After that critical encounter, the bond between Saadeh and Fakhri grew stronger. No wonder. Despite their age difference (Saadeh was almost ten years older), they shared many common features: a very strong sense of patriotism for Syria; a preference for philosophical thinking and rational explanations; a fondness in the national heritage and an irresistible trust in the future; a cosmic belief in the core values of human life - trust, courage, honesty and dedication; and a high propensity for collective action and responsible work. Most of all, Saadeh and Fakhri shared a common stand on ethics, which they deemed as the most important tool in the national arsenal. It is this, the ethical factor, which drew them together like a powerful magnet. Saadeh would subsequently tell his followers:
One of the most important elements in any national revival, after the establishment of the concept of nationhood and identification of the principal goals, is the issue of ethics or ethical mentality, finding a system of proper ethos capable of changing the state of the people or society. Every political strategy and every military strategy, irrespective of how masterly or complete it might be, can only be realized through ethical principles that can bear the burdens of such a strategy. That is to say solid ethics that embody unyielding resolution, unbendable faith, a robust will and the belief that principles are more important than life itself. This is because human life without human values to which man holds fast and with which he can build his personality and sense of existence is worthless: it is no better than animal life.
Under Saadeh’s “guiding leadership” (and the words are Fakhri’s), Fakhri Maluf went on to become one of the philosophical pillars of the Syrian National Party. He was entrusted with its permanent Cultural Seminar, awarded the title of Trustee (amin), and elected as chairman of the Supreme Council. The trust between Saadeh and Fakhri was unflinching. The archives of the Syrian National Party attest to that. It is born out in their correspondences, writings and speeches. They held each other in the highest regard. Fakhri spoke of Saadeh in the most flattering terms, both of his character as a man and of his simplicity and power as a leader. Saadeh reciprocated in gently remembered terms and was reported to chide anyone who tried to insult Fakhri’s memory. So great was Saadeh’s trust and confidence in Fakhri that he earmarked him as a potential successor.
Fakhri’s contribution to the Syrian National Party cannot be understated. He wrote and lectured about its ideology, took up its cause in the press, defended its principles and leader (Saadeh) against malicious detractors, and contributed precious studies on Syria and its people. The following are some of his contributions:
1. “Our National Characteristics” (Al-Maarad, 14 April, 1936)
2. “Our nation is not a Neglected Chapter in History” (Al-Makshouf, 13 October, 1937)
3. “The Population Density in Syria” (An-Nahda, November 1937)
4. “A Reply to the Poet Elias Farhat” (Suria al-Jadidah, 25 March, 1939)
5. “Our Culture” (Al-Zowba’a, 15 May, 1939)
6. “Syria’s Future in the Event of War” (Suria al-Jadidah, 14 August, 1939)
7. “Philosophical Aspect in Saadeh’s Thought” (Suria al-Jadidah, 16 November, 1939)
8. “From Zeno to Saadeh” (Suria al-Jadidah, 16 February, 1940)
9. “The Concept of Wait and See” (Suria al-Jadidah, 7 Sept, 1939)
10. “The New Democracy” (al-Salam, 27 August 1940)
11. “Syria’s New Message to the World” (Suria al-Jadidah, 31 August, 1940)
12. “Ideologies and the Philosophy of History” (Suria al-Jadidah, 17 April, 1941)
13. “The National and non-National Man of Letters” (Suria al-Jadidah, 14 April, 1939)
14. “An Aspect of the National Renaisance” (Suria al-Jadidah, 19 April, 1941)
15. “Between Two Homelands” (Al-Nisr, 22 April, 1941)
16. “The Leader [Saadeh] in his Guiding Work” (Suria al-Jadidah, 19 May, 1941)
17. “Ideology, Faith, Solidarity” (Suria al-Jadidah, 23 May, 1941)
18. “The Ideology and the Truth” (al-Zowba’a, 15 February, 1943)
19. “To the Leader Antun Saadeh” (al-Zowba’a, 15 June, 1943)
20. “A Letter to Salloum Mukarzil” (Al-Huda, 10 July, 1944)
In addition to his Arabic writings, Fakhri Maluf was responsible for the first translation into English of the Program and Principles of the Syrian National Party. He was methodical in everything he did, a labour or perfectionism and devotion. That is why Saadeh’s heart broke when Fakhri decided, in 1945, to renounce politics in favour of religion. It broke but not soured. Fakhri remained one of the very few people that Saadeh continued to hold in the highest regard even after leaving the party to pursue other interests.
In hindsight, Fakhri Maluf was born three times. First in 1913 when he became a member of the Maluf family; second in 1934 when he joined the Syrian national renaissance; and third when he rediscovered God in 1945.
Fakhri Maluf was a natural leader who stepped to the plate in our country's hour of need. His moral consistency and religious faith were evident to all. If Saadeh was writing this tribute he would probably end it as follows: “”Now that it is time to say goodbye, we do so in humble thankfulness for the privilege of having come close to one of the greatest citizens of the 20th Century.”