Refaa El Tahtawi ….Translation Lighthouse

Refaa El Tahtawi was born on October 15, 1801, Ṭahṭā, Egypt and died on May 27, 1873, Egypt and is one of the most outstanding figures at his age. He was at the age of Mohamed Ali. He joined the holy Azhar when he was six years old, and committed the Koran to memory, he learned doctrine, hadith, explanation and other language branches.

In 1826, Refaa El Tahtawi travelled to France for the first time in a mission of 40 students sent by Mohamed Ali. In 1831 Tahtawi returned home after five years filled with enthusiasm and energy to change and develop his home country. He worked as a translator in medicine school and developed the medical sciences.

Refaa El Tahtawi was looking forward to establishing school for studying foreign languages and graduating qualified translators to translate many western books and documents in many fields to support the development of his home country. He suggested the idea of this school to King Mohamed Ali who liked the idea, then it was named Al Alsun school. The course of study was determined as five years or may be extended to 6 years. Al Alsun was teaching French, English, Italian and Turkish languages in addition to other studies like Algebra, Geometry, Islamic Sharia. In 1839 the first class of 20 translators graduated and introduced some translated books, duly selected and revised by Tahtawi to transfer the literature and culture of Europe to Egypt and Arab World to pave the way to the civilization that Mohamed Ali aspires to.

His Books 

Tahtawi has translated his first book entitled “Maltibron Geography” and presented it to Mohamed Ali who awarded and promoted him. Thereafter, Tahtawi suggested the establishment of a translation school inaugurated in 1835 and later named Al-Alsun School. He was responsible for supervising the technical and managerial affairs, teaching literature and Islamic and Western laws, choosing the materials to be translated  and reviewing translated materials.

In 1841, Tahtawi founded the translation department as a specialized institution mainly dealing with four branches of knowledge: mathematics, medicine, physics, social sciences and Turkish writings. The school of Al Alsun translated different foreign scientific books and contained different departments such as the agriculture management department. He also established an additional department to prepare judges, and another to deal with clerks. Tahtawi and his students translated a big number of educational books. However in 1849 the school was closed by khedive Abbas I who sent Tahtawi to Sudan to be the supervisor for elementary school.

Nowadays, more than 3000 translators and linguists annually graduate from Al Alsun Faculty and contribute to the civilization of Egypt and Arab World with their knowledge and study. Most translation companies in UAE and Egypt are established by graduates of Al Alsun Faculty and lead the Arabic translation industry to new horizons.

Tahtawi is also considered the founder of the first Egyptian newspaper entitled “Al-Waqa’i Al-Misrea” and was supervising the editing the Military Magazine in both French and Arabic. Therefore, he is considered the father of Egyptian Journalism.

Tahtawi translated many books that contributed to the civilization of the Egyptian Kingdom and transfer of the European sciences, including the second volume of “Maltibron Geography.” “The History of Ancient Egyptians”, “Metals and their use”, “General geography”, “On health policies”, “The French constitution” and many other translations and writings. We all should thank and pay for Refaa El Tahtawi for his idea of establishing Al Alsun Faculty as the first translation school in Egypt that still graduates qualified translators in all languages to benefit both Egyptian and Arab communities and lead the industry of legal translation Dubai as the first demanding language service in Middle East.