Alia Shukry: Pioneer of Folklore Science and Scientific Research Ethics
Ahlam Abu Zaid
Alia Shukry authored a number of significant works on Arab folklore, the majority of which were reflected in the themes and topics of the master's and doctoral dissertations she supervised. Dar Al-Thaqafa published and distributed the 484-page second edition of her book ‘Features of Socio-Cultural Change in the Arab World: Field Studies of the Culture of Local Communities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’ in 1983 as part of the Contemporary Sociology Series No. 23.
Al-Kitab House re-issued the book for distribution in 2005. According to the book's author, it contains a variety of studies that are the first of a series of field studies aimed at shedding light on various aspects of cultural and social development in the Arab world.
Shukry's studies of these cultures are the first of their kind. In terms of their primary goals, they provide a chance to evaluate scientific tools and field evidence for folklore research. These tools have been tested extensively in Egyptian society (in various governorates, rural and urban regions), but this was the first time they were tested outside Egyptian society to compare traditional cultural aspects in different sections of Arab society.
These studies provide comprehensive documentation of specific aspects of traditional culture or folklore in the populations under study. According to Shukry, she attempted to take a convergent approach because the circumstances in each society always interfered by favouring one topic over another or helping to elaborate and serve one topic more than others, and therefore she made every effort to integrate these studies.
As part of Shukry's attempts to educate the Arab world about global trends in folklore research, the House of Culture for publishing and distribution in Cairo produced the second edition of her book ‘Egyptian Folklore in the European Library’ in 1979. The book is a collection of studies about Egyptian folklore that has been published in the West.
Shukry continued her presentation of Egyptian folklore in the European Library, bringing us the 1941 book ‘The Great Journey in the Ethics and Customs of the Residents of the Nile Valley’ by German scholar Enno Littmann, a record of the scientific and objective components of Littman's endeavour to record Egyptian folklore in the 1930s.
The book is a lengthy report by an Egyptian from Cairo in 1935. Littman asked him to describe the customs and morals of the Egyptians, with an interest in highlighting Egyptian characteristics.
The report includes chapters titled ‘Egyptian attire’, ‘The first week after a child's birth’, ‘Circumcision’, ‘The child’s education’, ‘Egyptian weddings’, ‘Dancers' songs’, ‘Egyptian funerals’, ‘Women's mourning rituals’, ‘Visiting cemeteries at the appropriate time’ and ‘The myth of En-Naddha’ (an Egyptian legend about a naiad-like female spirit who summons men to the Nile). Littmann's book was the result of his endeavours, and he published it in the original Arabic with an exact translation into German along with some essential remarks.
Shukry also introduced us to another book, ‘Folk Beliefs in the Islamic World’, written by German professors Rudolf Kriss and Hubert Kriss-Heinrich. It was released in two volumes, the first of which was published in 1960, and it is about shrines and the sanctification of saints. The second volume, released in 1962, is about magic, amulets and zar. Shukry describes saints in Egypt, referring to the fundamental notions and foundations of honouring saints in Egypt.