Diwan, (ديوان), is a word of Pahlavi (Middle Persian) or Arabic origin, which first appeared in the 7th century and has various meanings. The word signifies a poetry book, often rhymed, sometimes prose poetry, or a compilation of poems from different authors on the same theme. One of the best-known examples is the Diwan al Shams al Tabriz by Rumi (XIII century), one of the Persian mystics, which had a great impact on Sufism. During the Orientalist wave of the 19th century in Western Europe, divan referred to the most famous poetry compilation, inspired by Ottoman classics, which is the West-Eastern Divan, by Goethe (1819). While perpetuating and revitalizing the oral poetry tradition, modern Palestinian poetry developed in the context of cultural resistance: the “I” of classical poetry yielded to the “we” of collective national identity – Mahmoud Darwish’s Diwan being one of the finest illustrations of this phenomenon.
Under the Caliphate of Omar Ibn al Khattab (634-644), diwan had the meaning of a register, then by extension an office of registration for persons or tribes who came to swell Muslim troops. The term subsequently extended over the whole ministries that met the major administrative functions of the State: the Chancellery (diwan al rasaïl), the Army (diwan al jaysh), the Treasury and the Customs Service. The term diwan spread throughout the Islamic world, as far as the borders of India, and came to embody all the offices of representation of the central administration.
Under the Ottoman Empire, divan (in Turkish) simply took the meaning of central government where the Sultan had his headquarters. At that time, a diwan was also a council and a council room. By analogy, diwan can mean the reception room, a place to smoke a narghileh or the furniture found there.
This provides the origin of the English word, divan, which often means a low modern bed or latterly a seat without back or armrest, popularized in Europe in the 19th century and found in the boudoirs, cafes or in psychoanalysts’ consulting-rooms. In the Arab world, and specifically in Palestine, diwan refers to a meeting room for the members of the same hamouleh, an enlarged family. Whether for marriage, mourning, sale, inheritance or the settlement of disputes, the diwan is the place – other than the family residence – where common affairs are settled in front of witnesses.
Diwan could not better represent the spirit of contact and discussion that are at the centre of the mission of Diwan Voyage.