Header image: An ad for al-Rabita appearing in the 1930 Syrian American almanac.

Al-Rabita Al-Qalamiyya (The Pen League): A Digital Exhibition

Research Manager Matthew Jaber Stiffler and Curator of Exhibits Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan introduce this online exhibition.

Introductory Essay by Janna Aladdin, PhD student in Modern Middle East and Islamic History

Fueled by their interests in mysticism, philosophy and spirituality, members of al-Rabita collectively formed the mahjar (diaspora) school that aspired to rethink the form and essence of Arabic literature and language. Their animated literary and artistic world created a home in New York from where they could withstand the potentially pernicious effects of ta’amruk, or Americanization. On the hundredth anniversary of al-Rabita’s establishment in 1920, al-Rabita al-Qalimiyya: A Digital Exhibition presents a range of images and texts including poetry books, articles, personal letters and community journals published and written by the League’s members. By presenting a small part of the members’ archives, this exhibition offers a glimpse into al-Rabita’s vibrant worlds and ambitious undertakings.

Diana Abu-Jaber, PhD reads “On Love” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

Click the images to learn more and to read the complete books

First edition of The Prophet inscribed by Kahlil Gibran to Naoum Mokarzel, owner of the newspaper Al-Hoda.

Cedar branch from the Lebanese Government that hung in the Al-Hoda offices, ca. 1930s. Gift of Helen Samhan and the University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center.

Majmu'at al-Rabita al-Qalimiyya (The Gathering of the Pen League) is a publication created by the al-Rabita members in 1921. Many of the members contributed their own poems and stories. From the Evelyn M. Shakir Collection.

Omar Offendum performs “Dead Are My People”, a poem by Kahlil Gibran in response to the famine after World War I. AANM owns a letter by Gibran to the President of the Syrian American Club of Boston.

This first edition copy of Aghani Al Darwish (Songs of the Dervish) by Rashid Ayyoub includes an inscription by Ayyoub and images by Kahlil Gibran. From the Evelyn M. Shakir Collection.

Carol W. N. Fadda, PhD, reads an excerpt from “Does a Homemaker Deserve a Salary?” by Victoria Tannous. Tannous is included here as women would have been excluded from al-Rabita at the time. She and other female writers contributed greatly to Arab American literature and journalism. 

Salima Mitraj was a female journalist whose work appeared in several Arab American newspapers and magazines at the turn of the century. This article in As-Sayeh from 1923 discusses a woman’s right to remain unmarried and childless.

Khaled Mattawa, PhD, reads an original English translation of “al-Masaa” (“The Evening”) by Elia Abu Madi.

This 1929 photo is from a banquet honoring Ameen Rihani for his political activist work with Lebanon. Several other al-Rabita members have been spotted in the crowd. Gift of the Ameen Rihani Organization. Click the image to see all Rabita members in attendance. 

Sinan Antoon, PhD, reads an Arabic translation of “The Revolution” by Ameen Rihani. This poem was originally written in English in 1907.

View more of AANM’s al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya items in our online collections databases through the links below: 

Selected full texts and documents

Additional images and objects


Community efforts in New York City to preserve the legacy of al-Rabita writers 

All Rights Reserved. 2022 Arab American National Museum