Salmā Sā’igh


Salmā Sā’igh




Salmā Sā’igh (1889-1953) was a writer, orator, and literary figure born in Beirut. A member of the wealthy and prominent Sā’igh family, Salma grew up in the Beirut neighborhood of al-Muṣayṭaba. Sā’igh studied and mastered literary Arabic under the tutelage of Ibrahīm al-Mundhir, and finished her Arabic studies at a secular school for girls in Beirut. She became passionate about literature and began to write at the age of 17 under the pseudonym Salwā. Her first published articles are said to have been published in the Beirut-based magazine, al-Barq (Lightning).

Sā’igh’s brief marriage to a dentist in Beirut produced a son who died very young, and a daughter, ‘Ā’ida, who was born after her separation from her husband. Forced to support her daughter following their separation, ā’igh became a teacher. Alongside her teaching, Sā’igh wrote openly about women’s issues in a number of other newspapers and magazines, among them al-Ḥasnā’ (The Beautiful Woman), al-Fajr (The Dawn), Minīrfā (Minerva), and al-Mar’a (The Woman). She also published a number of literary works, including al-Nasamāt (Breezes) and Ṣuwar wa-dhikrayāt (Pictures and Memories). Sā’igh is also said to have published her memoirs, Mudhakkirāt sharqiyya (Memories of an Eastern Woman) and a translation of the novel Fatāt al-furs (Daughter of the Persians) from French, though no evidence of either of these works has yet been found.

In 1939, Sā’igh immigrated to Brazil to search for her missing brother who had taken up residence in a remote rural area and suffered from mental illness. Despite the fact that her brother died soon after her arrival in Brazil, Sā’igh continued to live there for the following eight years. In Brazil, Sā’igh met the founders of the literary movement “al-‘Uṣba al-Andalusiyya,” (The Andalusian League), and became an active member of the movement. While in Brazil, Sā’igh mastered the Portuguese language and translated literary works from Portuguese to Arabic.

Following her return to Beirut circa 1947, Sā’igh founded the organization “al-Nahḍa al-nisā’iyya” (The Women’s Awakening), which brought women together to reject sectarianism and advocate for religious pluralism and unity in Lebanon. She also directed Orthodox Christian charity schools in Beirut for a period of five years. Sā’igh is known to have described her legacy and her work in women’s organizations, saying “like a piece of mud that we threw against the wall; even if it does not stick, it will leave a trace.”[1]

In the 1940s and 1950s, Sā’igh hosted a prominent literary salon in her home on Batriārk Street in Beirut. Some of the leading literary figures of the era attended her salon, including Emily Fāris Ibrahīm and Salāḥ Labakī (1906-1955), a well-known poet and the son of prominent journalist Na‘ūm Labakī. Salāḥ Labakī would later go on to marry Sā’igh’s daughter ‘Ā’ida. Feminist scholar and literary critic Emily Fāris Ibrahīm reported that Sā’igh had several extended friendships and romantic attachments with leading nahḍa intellectuals, including Yūsuf Eṣtefān and Felix Fāris, the uncle of Emily Fāris Ibrahīm. Ibrahīm also states that Sā’igh fell in love with a dentist, Adīb Maẓhar, who died tragically in a car crash, adding to the list of tragedies that followed Salmā Sā’igh throughout her life.

Late in her life, Sā’igh, who suffered from debilitating eye problems, went to Paris for treatment. While she was there, she met the well-known mahjar writer and intellectual Amīn al-Rīḥānī (1876-1940), inspiring a chapter about him in her collected volume of essays, Ṣuwar wa-dhikrayāt (Pictures and Memories). Sā’igh died in Beirut in 1953 from pneumonia at the age of 64. Her elegy was published by Yūsuf Yazbek.

[1] Hanadi Al-Samman. Anxiety of Erasure: Trauma, Authorship, and the Diaspora in Arab Women’s Writings, 32.


Salmā Ṣā’igh


Dr. Elizabeth Saylor


Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies


Biography written by Dr. Elizabeth Saylor


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Emily Faris Ibrahim. Adībāt Lubnāniyyat. Beirut: Dār al-Rayḥānī lil-ṭibā’a wa-‘l-nashr, 1964.
Emily Faris Ibrahim. Salmā Ṣā’igh: Āha min bilādī. Beirut: Ahl al-qalam, 1954.
Nādiyā al-Jurdī Nuwayhiḍ. Nisā’ min bilādī. Beirut: al-Mu’assassa al-‘arabiyya lil-dirāsāt wa-‘l-nashr, 1986.
Hanadi Al-Samman. Anxiety of Erasure: Trauma, Authorship, and the Diaspora in Arab Women’s Writings, 29-32.

Alternative Title

Salma Sa'igh

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