As a young girl ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Arabian Nights’ were two of my favorite movies. The mysterious Arab world with deserts, camel caravans, palaces, spice markets, handsome Arab men in Thoub , Shumagg, Tagiyah and ogal and stunningly captivating women in veils and exotic dresses. Abayas, HIjabs, Niqabs were part of my fantasy world.
Closer to home the women in burqas did not appeal to me much maybe the reality of seeing them in person was disturbing to me .I wondered how they managed to see through their thick netted veils and didn’t they feel like throwing the layers and layers of black cloth which wrapped them as mummies .
I dreamt of living in a beautiful land which offered such splendor and often used my scarves and stoles to make sheer or heavy veils. Wearing my long skirts I weaved tales around me and vowed to marry someone from any of these countries and live my dream.
As I grew up I started to read more about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
Soon my veil was lifted as I read and saw more and more about the sub human conditions in which an average woman lived here.
The Karo Kari (honor killings) which includes death by stoning, the brutalities they suffer sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes for customs. The much longed attire that I dreamed of as a child turned out to be the cause of heated debates and a refusal to wear Hijab leading to death as punishment sent chills up my spine.
These women have no rights and live a life worse than that of an animal.Though in the modern times some upper class sections of the Islamic society may have changed but mostly it still remains in its primitive stages.
The attires have gone from heavy cumbersome coarse cotton to stylishly deigned silks etc for some but the average woman still suffers under the burdens of these symbols of modesty.
From hijab to circumcision the irony never ends in the lives of these women.The conditions in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and some African Islamic nations such as Sudan are worse than the others but over all the need to bring a change is very essential.
The strict Islamic laws restricting movement of women, takes preposterous dimension in Saudi Arabia where men and women are treated in a manner as if they are two different species. Shrouded in dark colored abayas or traditional Saudi attires for women covering the head and extending to the tow, Saudi women move about the street like living ghosts.
The women are mere commodities and are often battered, molested or killed if they show even the slightest sigh of rebellion.
Child marriages are prevalent and little girls as small as eight years old are given in marriage to men as old as 50yrs.
The books that I read many years ago by women authors Jean P. Sasson, Tehmina Durrani and Taslima Nasrin(Lajja) made me shiver .I was glad not to be part of such a cruel society .All the dreams of the childhood came crashing in front of the insane reality .
MY FEUDAL LORD BY TAHMINA DURRANI
“There is a fantasy of a feudal lord as an exotic, tall, dark and handsome man, with flashing eyes and traces of quick-tempered gypsy blood. Images of him parrying thrusts with the fiercest of swordsmen and riding off into the sunset on his black steed set the pubescent heart aflutter. He is seen as a passionate ladies man and something of a rough diamond, the archetypal male chauvinist who forces a woman to love him despite his treatment of her.
But the fantasy is far from reality, and my country of Pakistan must face up to reality of it is ever to grow and prosper.” (QUOTED FROM THE BOOK)
Tehmina Durrani unwinds the details of her private life in a male dominated chauvinistic society, to give voice to the abuse she suffered while being married to a despotic and brutish husband Mustafa Khar as a Sixth Wife.
After being suffered in silence for 13 years often trading her self-esteem and individuality for a marriage that rocked with physical abuse and emotional blackmail, Tehmina stands up for what she truly is. Breaking free from the convention and taking up the choice of raising her voice against her conniving, manipulative, and spineless Feudal Lordship, risking her life and character assassination in public for her conscience.
Durrani’s book detailed her abusive marriage to Mustafa Khar, once Pakistan’s most powerful feudal landlord from Punjab province.
She wrote the book after divorcing him in 1988.
Plagued by physical abuse, marital rape, hypocrisy, public scrutiny, betrayal, and where women are treated as mere possessions and objects of desire, and the basic human rights to women are still a dream, she dared to bring into open the hard hitting truthof her society .
Going through a reflection of this autobiographical account of her life, my heart swelled with pride and admiration for this beautiful woman and her unfailing courage. This book indeed stands as a living testament to the insurmountable human spirit and it’s longing for freedom of self expression.
I found the book captivating because of the description of the cloistered society, the politics and the politicians, the lordship of men and the treatment of women folk.
PRINCESS TRIALOGYBYJEAN P. SASSON
I read two of the three books a few years back and again a few days back and they tended to both outrage and bring out the activist in me.
Princess is one of those books that have the potential to really rile up the feminist in anyone. This is a book based on the diaries of a Saudi Arabian princess, a member of the royal Al’Sa’ud family.
Sasson, a friend of “Princess Sultana” a pseudonym for the woman whose diaries from which this book is based, lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 1978 to 1990.
This book is written entirely from “Sultana’s” point of view, from her childhood to her middle adulthood. The author‘s views are not expressed anywhere.
The book has 254 easy reading pages and contains four appendixes, The Koran and Women, The Laws of Saudi Arabia, a glossary on Arab terms and a Chronology of Key Events in Saudi History, all are in the back. In addition there is a map of Saudi Arabia, the surrounding area, with facts on Saudi Arabia and the surrounding countries and a family tree of the House of Saud in the front of the book which is a great help.
Sultana’s mother, Fadeela, was the first of her father’s four wives. She had borne her husband sixteen children, eleven of whom lived- a total of ten daughters and one son. Sultana was the youngest child and quite rebellious. Her brother, Ali, enjoyed great status as the first born son. As such, he was spoiled rotten and behaved with mean spiritedness that was often directed at Sultana. Other brothers were born to the other wives, but Ali was the most revered because he was the oldest. Sultana hated him with a passion.
There are stories of pranks that Sultana played on her brother- one of which was quite serious. She left his collection of alcoholic beverages and pornographic material in a mosque one day where it was discovered by the religious police.
As Sultana grows into a teenager, she relates stories of her family and friends. In this part of the book, we learn of young girls of twelve and thirteen marrying men in their fifties or sixties, generally all in the name of preserving or furthering business connections. Once girls have their first menstrual period, they are expected to veil. They are considered women at that point and as such, they are ready for marriage. Sultana explains how when she bought her first veil, she entered the shop a girl and emerged a woman. Men who scarcely looked at her as she cavorted about as a child unveiled were suddenly mystified by her as a veiled woman.
However, the novelty of the experience wore off quickly. Sultana found she couldn’t see through the thick material to cross the street. The blue sky was suddenly hazy with the darkness of the cloth.
I found myself imagining what it was like to wear a black abaya and veil every day as I walked outside, especially in 130 degree heat!
The book talks at length about Sultana’s immediate family– the close relationship she has with her mother, the distant one she has with her father, and the acrimonious one she has with her brother.
There are heart wrenching tales in the book about the customs of the Saudi society. The tales of foreign women who are enslaved by their employers for sexual favors, a five year old girl who was kidnapped, taken to India, and used as a kidney donor, a woman who was locked in a padded room for the rest of her life for the crime of falling in love with a Christian man, a young girl who was stoned for giving birth out of wedlock, a young girl whose father drowned her for shaming the family, forced marriages of teenagers to middle aged men, and horrifying stories of female circumcision.
The fact that Sasson included pictures of the desert, a typical palace, a typical veiled woman, and a picture of the market made it easier for me to form mental images of the place. She has even included some basic information about the countries surrounding Saudi Arabia. In the back of the book, there is a section on the Koran on Women with actual verses from the Koran, Saudi Arabian laws, and a glossary.
The quotes the Koran included in the book; Sura IV 15.
If any of your women
are guilty of lewdness
take the evidence of four witnesses from amongst you,
against them; and if they testify
confine them to houses until
Death do claim them.
For some reason the same does not apply to the men who are guilty of lewdness.
Sura IV 16.
If two men among you
are guilty of lewdness,
Punish them both,
If they repent and amend,
Leave the alone.
These sections add to the book and are very helpful, especially since Sultana travels a bit within Saudi Arabia and many readers are likely to be unfamiliar with the geography of the country, its laws and the customs.
Still the book is from the point of view of a princess and many parts of the book are supposed to be fragment of imagination of the author .Which, if true, is a sad thing as it gives a wrong interpretation of the whole system to the reader.
I found the book very captivating and went ahead to buy the second part, wanting to know more about the land I dreamed of as a future option of living.
Daughters of Arabia
This book is the second part of a trilogy and Sultana’s fight to gain freedom for women in Saudi Arabia.
The second book starts off by Sultana being found out by her brother Ali who had seen the German translation of the book in an airport. He had been infuriated that someone could write about life as a royal princess and so he bought the book and had it translated.
Ali realizes that it was his own family the book talked about and that the culprit is his sister Sultana.
Sultana, Kareem and the rest of her sisters are summoned and when she sees the translation she realizes that she has been found out and is petrified. Sultana, rebel that she always is, fights back as she feels that she has nothing to lose at this point in time and the reader gets the impression that her life was spared because the royal family could not afford a scandal of this magnitude.
There is such an anti-climax in the first few pages of the book because the author leads the readers to believe in book One that something dreadful was going happen to the princess.
The book then deals with the lives of Sultana’s daughters Maha and Amani.
It is revealed to Sultana and Kareem that their daughter Maha and her friend Aisha were lesbian lovers and Maha has a nervous breakdown. Had the religious militia found out then serious consequences would have been paid for such an act is abhorred. Maha is whisked away to a London clinic and it takes several months before she is cured by a doctor who specialized in the Arabic way of life; he knew how the unbearable constraints of life behind the veil takes its tolls on females.
The description of Annual pilgrimage to Makkah is worth reading and gives an insight into the religious rituals .I found this part very informative as I had always wondered what it was all about.
During the pilgrimage Amani becomes extremely religious to the point of being fanatical. On their return to Riyadh she tries to convert her friends and family and even becomes dictatorial to the servants demanding that they convert to being Muslims.
Sultana, who had fought all of her life to liberate women, now had an extremist daughter, trying to enforce the segregation of men and women, who scorned on women wearing make-up etc. The story revolves around Sultana’s two daughters who fought totally opposite fights.
The story of female circumcision in Egypt and that this ritual is still imposed on young girls who have no say in what happens to them was appalling. To have all your genitalia removed by a razor is barbaric and totally unnecessary.
We see here that the current younger female generation is not as tolerant of the deplorable customs as their mothers and some of the younger males are more sympathetic to the female situation but I do think it will take years to alter the way the majority of the male population in Saudi Arabia view females.
It seems that the male species have misinterpreted some of the teachings of the Koran because it does seem that the Koran is not totally against women.
I wonder what the current condition of women is in these male dominated societies. What does an average woman feel about her life in a system where she is just an object? Maybe in some countries the middle the upper middle and the high classes of the society have relaxed some rules for their women but what about those who still live in the sub human conditions ?
Who is going to change their destiny and are they willing to give up the customs which have been instilled in them from generations? Do these books, media coverage and all the talk about their libration really bring any change?
I hope someone is working in this direction to set the spirit of these enslaved women free.