Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Note on Leila Aboulela's "Minaret"

One of the works we read in my Post-colonial Literature course this Spring was Leila Aboulela's Minaret. I planned to focus on two areas of the Post-colonial world: Africa and South Asia. We started with Athol Fugard's Sorrows and Rejoicings, read  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, and then Minaret, before venturing into South Asia.
Minaret explores the lives of Sudanese Muslims in Sudan--especially Khartoum--and in England. It unfolds initially at the University of Khartoum, where we encounter Najwa, the main character. We see how she relates to the community around her, especially fellow students, whose adherence to Islamic principles--such as praying five times a day--she observes with a certain aloofness.

Mostly middle or upper class, the characters in Minaret are a diverse community in terms of their political beliefs and their degrees of attachment to Islam. Cosmopolitan in outlook, they embrace, or easily coexist with, foreign, especially Western, influences. They communicate with friends and relatives abroad, and are able to travel abroad themselves.

Following a coup in Sudan, and the execution of her father by the new regime, Najwa finds herself in exile in England, together with her brother. Though she had not been particularly religious back in Khartoum, after arriving in England and experiencing alienation and other social problems, she embraces Islam, finding meaning and comfort in being a pious Muslim woman. Leila Aboulela presents this transformation in a seamless, persuasive manner.

Minaret offers a refreshing image of Islamic Sudan, a place which many associate with a rigid, conservative society. In contrast to conventional negative stereotypes, Minaret humanizes the Muslims, showing them as people like any other. My students and I liked this novel, and I plan to teach it again this summer.

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