Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Alifa Rifaat

Her first name (which means tame) and the title of her book (Distant View of a Minaret) did not prepare me for the rebellious Egyptian women I so much enjoyed meeting on the pages of Alifa Rifaat's book.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that an Egyptian woman who was not allowed to go to college, forced into an arranged marriage, and denied a literary career until the death of her husband, would not shy away from discussing issues as bold as women's emotional and sexual needs in a marriage.

While some themes in Ms Rifaat's writings are mirrored in the works of other Egyptian and Arab female writers, her uniqueness stems from the fact that her rebellion, no matter how fierce, stays within the boundaries of her Islamic faith. She does not blame Islam for the sad and unjust position so many Muslim women find themselves in, but instead blames the men for not following the true teachings of Islam, which demands that they treat women with respect and kindness. Her women use their instinct to understand and accept the indisputable teachings of Islam set by a Just and Merciful divinity, while the men focus on and prefer some twisted man-made interpretations that ensure their dominance and control of women.

While the writer gives her characters the full right to rebel against the reactionary husbands, she does not allow them to even consider adultery. How could they when the hours of their days are marked by nothing other than the calls for prayers? The azzan is the common sound track that is heard throughout the book. The azzan might even be the source of strength of these women. They long for it, anticipate it, and after hearing it, they are not only capable of facing men, they are also capable of looking death in the eye and deciding that it does not have to indicate the end, but that it could also be a beginning of a better life.

As I came to the end of each of the fifteen short stories, my only regret was that the story was not a few pages longer so I could spend more time with those courageous women.

1 comment:

Noran said...

Dear Nahoul,
I honestly believe that you're a born book critic. Your writing shows deep feeling and great knowledge of what Muslim and Middle Eastern women go through. I look forward to reading Alifa Rifaat's book, in the mean time you keep up the good work.