I left London on Friday afternoon for Jeddah, and as soon as I arrived in the city I received a number of messages on my cell phone reading “my condolences on the passing of Muhammad Sadiq Diyab.” I was extremely shocked by this news, and until now I have not felt like I am in Jeddah.
I told my dear friend Abu Ghinwa [Muhammad Sadiq Diyab] that I do not feel as if I am in Jeddah until I have visited him. Muhammad Sadiq Diyab was, to me, like magical old Jeddah, the city of dreamers and poets, ambition and artists, and above all else, the gateway to the Two Holy Mosques. Muhammad Sadiq Diyab was, to me, like the city of Jeddah itself; with his tolerance and flexibility…he was like the Jeddah Sea! I knew him for nine years, and our relationship grew closer over the past 5 years, particularly during the period that he spent in London for medical treatment. During this period, we would either meet, or speak on the telephone, or most often, send text messages to each other, including poetry, prose, jokes, and advice. He would [also] send text messages to me commenting on some of my articles, in the beautiful Jeddah accent, writing “Sir, by God you are a problem, but God will protect you!” I never knew him to be hypocritical or duplicitous, for this was not his character. Abu Ghinwa did not antagonize anybody or pay lip service, nor did I ever hear him disparage anybody during the 9 years that I knew him.
It was through my dear friend and brother Muhammad Sadiq Diyab that I got to know the artistic, poetry, and intellectual community in Jeddah. We would meet during Jalsats [traditional Arab get-togethers] in Jeddah, as well as in London, which were even attended by prominent Saudi Arabian singer Mohammed Abdu. Fans of the Saudi singer would also meet with us, however Abu Ghinwa would say I am Mohamed Abdu’s greatest fan, I am not one of these masses that says to him “good, Mohamed, good.” Indeed, during one of these special Jalsats I heard him speaking to the “artist of the Arabs” [Mohammed Abdu], directly saying to him what he would not write, and I was surprised at how Mohammed Abdu not only listened to him, but took every word that he was saying seriously.
Abu Ghinwa…he is Jeddah. Mohammed Sadiq Diyab the journalist, intellectual, historian, and novelist. Indeed his last novel was called “Maqam Hejaz” [Hejaz Verses] which he was in the process of completing when he was stuck by illness. He then hesitated to complete this book; however his friends and colleagues – including myself – encouraged him. During a visit in London, I was shown the book’s cover, which was designed by the poet Abdul Mohsen al-Halit. On that day, along with Mohammed Abdu and a number of friends in London, the talk turned to [poetry] verses, and Abu Ghinwa turned the question on Mohammed Abdu, and so the Jalsat turned to a literary Jalsat, and [later] the Riyadh Book Fair indeed saw the publication of his novel “Maqam Hejaz.”
I once told Abu Ghinwa, whilst we were sitting together alone in a London apartment, that “my friend, don’t stop writing, be committed [to this], for how many people who are alive live as if they are dead.” He looked at me and said in the Jeddah accent “what, are you already writing my obituary?” I began to explain, but he interrupted me, grabbing my hand and said “do you see this malicious illness, it is the best thing to prepare one to meet God, and my prayer is to leave this life for a better one [in the Hereafter].” I tried to explain that this was not what I meant, when he answered “I tell you what, change the subject, otherwise my wife will hear you and the mood will become miserable.” Then he began to laugh…that is how Abu Ghinwa was.
May God grant him peace and mercy, and grant us and his family patience!