In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fahad al-Asker

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Islamic Studies Fahad al-Asker
Geoffrey Martin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0271


Fahad bin Saleh bin Mohammed bin Abdullah bin Ali al-Asker was born in the small town of Kuwait between 1913 and 1917. Attending the first modern school in Kuwait, Mubarakiyya, he was drawn to traditional Arabic literature. In late childhood he became renowned for reciting and writing poetry, learning much from the literary magazines and periodicals in the Ibn Ruwaih Library, the first such book collection opened in Kuwait. Fahad al-Asker became a renowned poet after winning a BBC poetry contest in 1944; he won multiple poetry awards and traveled the region reciting his most famous works to different kings and princes of the Arabian Peninsula, including the King of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Saud. Al-Asker is known for his existentialist poems, pain and romance, and his stance against conservativism and traditional Kuwaiti society, which was divided by the perception of deeply anchored religious, familial, socioeconomic, and tribal identities. Al-Asker’s poetry has three intertwining threads: wine, woman, and complaint. His advocation of independent, free thought has often been used as a signal for resistance or rebellion against the status quo through “self-emancipation” and a willingness to pay any price. Al-Asker, along with other poets of this era, was heavily influenced by the neo-romanticist movement in Egypt and Iraq. These influences made for a distinct style of poetry that engaged with and was critical of contemporary events, experimented with symbolism, and had a more simplified metric than the earlier work of classical Kuwaiti poets such as Abdullah Farah and Abdallah al-Adsani, which were more complex and stuck to limited themes. Unfortunately, al-Asker’s last days were blighted by problems, as he became blind and was disowned from his family for calling for a more open and tolerant society in Kuwait, his friendship with the British consular, his erotic poems, and his drinking habits. He died 15 August 1951 of tuberculosis and was buried in a nondescript grave. After his death, his family burned most of his written poems. Only a few dozen poems have survived, although pieces of his work, including a biography written by Abdullah al-Ansari in 1956, have inspired a wide variety of lyrical prose in Kuwaiti songs and indirect references from later poets and authors. Al-Asker remains unique and set apart from more traditional or patriotic poets for his willingness to pay any price, regardless of consequences, to share his thoughts and words. Al-Asker is considered to be one of the pioneers of the Kuwaiti poetry movement, and he also holds an important place in the development of education in Kuwait. Before al-Asker and his friends began writing and reciting poetry, there were no literary groups, journals, clubs, or libraries. By the 1930s, all of these developments had occurred and set the stage for later poets, such as Ahmad al-Adwani, who characterized the awakening of Arab nationalism. While the reach of al-Asker’s work has only briefly touched wider academic circles, the poet has influenced a range of poets and literary figures in Kuwait’s past and present, including Ahmad al-Adsani and more recently Mona Kareem. Al-Asker’s poems, which focus broadly on feeling alone or lacking belongingness, which in turn causes great suffering, have also become politicized, most notably by stateless people (bedoon) in Kuwait.

Primary Sources

There is only one collection of al-Asker’s poems that is easily accessible to readers online.

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