Funny that this event should coincide with the week in which I completed “Girl in the Tangerine Scarf”, by the Syrian-American academic Mohja Kahf. The heroine of the story, Khadra, is the daughter of Syrian Daaiays (da3iyas) who join a Dawah centre in the middle of Indianapolis. The parents come across as decent folk, who teach their daughter the shariah, and in her childhood few elements of cultural conditining appear. As a result she grows up to become quite an emancipated young lady, who expects other muslims to behave according to the Islamic concepts she was raised with. She wakes up to a harsh reality when she gets married, and her husband requires of her all the traditional services many arab men expect. He bullies and ‘forbids’ her to ride her bicycle, interferes with her activities on campus, and refuses to cook, at one point shouting ‘I am a man I do not cook’ even though both were in the middle of a university course. It all comes to a head when she gets pregnant and he completes his degree, expecting her to drop hers and move with him back to his country. Khadra, already feeling hemmed in by this marriage, rebels. At point she asks herself “Was this what marriage amounted to, compromise after compromise, until you frittered away all the jewels in your red box?”, she felt the ‘future was closing in, the horizon shrinking smaller around her’. She realises that she had lived her life for others, and this phase in her life culminates in abortion and divorce. That is when the dichotomy between religion and culture smack her in the face. Her parents disapprove, her brother is worried that her divorce will dent his chances of getting married. She is effectively left to deal with things on her own, and surprise surprise sinks into depression.
I wont say much more, its a beautiful book that I highly recommend, and in case anyone is wondering, no it is not an anti-islam book, on the contrary. However Mohja does illustrate how Islam is twisted to suit the male desire and ego. At one point we meet her mums friend, who married for love and whose husband took a second wife after over 20 years of marriage, but she stays with him for the kids and puts on the mask of the brave. Yet she admits to our heroine that her love for him was as pure as gold and that ‘you dont do that to love. No. No. It hurts. It hurts’. I cried buckets at this part.
Its not all doom and gloom, in actuality the fact that an Arab woman is writing about such issues, while still being happily married mum of a few says bucketloads about the status and role of women in what has been a traditionally male dominated society. I refer readers to my post “Arab women of today” for how arab culture and the status of women has evolved in the span of a generation.
the privilege of being a female muslim, also by Mohja Kahf