Fahīm Rūḥānā al-Za'innī

Arun Vajpey

Jul 8, 1999
Ever since I read about him years ago, I have found Syrian Third Class passenger survivor Fahim al-Zainni (later Philip Zenni) interesting. His whole life seems to be full of odd anomalies and unfortunate twists and turns. I was recently reminded of him while reading the thread about another Titanic survivor Rose Icard, the French maid of First Class passenger Martha Stone.

Fahim al-Zainni was born in Syria in 1886 but his ET bio says that his parents were only married in 1893, which, given the place and time, might have raised a few questions. On ET he is listed as belonging to the Muslim faith but several people in his family have Christian sounding first names (a brother named Joseph, for example). He is supposed to have first moved to America in 1906 but he was not really a "Syrian American" as some of his bio show because he was not granted US citizenship till 1924.

On the Titanic he was sharing a cabin with two others (whose names he could not recall) and claimed that one of them woke him up after the collision. He claimed that a waiter or steward handed him a life vest (The Dayton Herald, 13th June 1912) and he tried to get a place in an early lifeboat. Fahim claimed to have tried jumping into the "second lifeboat to be lowered" unsuccessfully on two occasions and the officer involved ordered him out with a drawn revolver. He then said that he crept in successfully behind the officers' back when the latter was helping some ladies into the boat and hid under a seat. He was not discovered till the boat was in the water and then helped to row.

It is generally believed that Fahim was rescued on Lifeboat #6, which was actually the sixth boat to be lowered (after #7, #5, #3, #8 and #1) but the second boat (like he said) on the port side. It was one of Lightoller's boats which explains him being ordered out by the officer, but I found the gun point bit hard to believe. Lifeboat #6 was lowered at 01:10 am and all evidence suggests that it was immediately afterwards that Ligtoller met the Captain and other senior officers to receive guns. But his story about sneaking into the lifeboat behind the officer's back and hiding under a seat is likely true because it is supported independently in Rose Icard's letter. Icard was also saved on #6 and claimed that there was a man hiding under her seat who later helped to row. But Fahim also claimed to have been the only 'man passenger' in his lifeboat but that cannot be true if he was on #6 because Lightoller had allowed Major Peuchen in to help with the rowing.

After he reached and eventually settled in America, he was joined by his wife Elsie. They went on to have 4 children, but Fahim (by then Philip Zenni) was repeatedly in trouble with debts, business setbacks and brushes with the law. His family life also ran into problems and his wife apparently disappeared with their children while he was serving out a community service sentence. As far is known, his attempts to trace them failed and he died in 1927 of pneumonia aged 41 years.
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