“We grow most when we listen to those whose views are different from ours,” says Turkish writer Elif Shafak. “Our imaginations might shrink, our hearts might dwindle, our humanness might wither if we stay for too long inside our cultural cocoons.” In this seminar, we shall discuss books by two different Muslim women from the Middle East, who know and love the traditional cultures of their countries, but who also break taboos.
In The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak tackles the theme of the Armenian genocide of l915. Her novel is set in present day Istanbul and is populated with colourful female characters and even supernatural beings of the Muslim world, called djinns that represent the irrational, spiritual elements of the human consciousness that enrich our lives.
Djinns are also to be found in Egyptian Alifa Rifaat’s collection of short stories, Distant View of a Minaret. While remaining a devout Muslim, Rifaat offers sensual, tender and poignant insights into the plight of women in traditional Muslim settings, by touching on taboo themes such as female desire and sexual pleasure.
The cultural barriers between our lives in the Western world and the lives of Muslim women are among the hardest to overcome. Stories are magical tools to help us to transcend cultural barriers. With the stories of Shafak and Rifaat, we hope to break out of our cocoons.