Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I Am Teaching Leila Aboulela's "Minaret" Again

This week, in my African Literature summer course, I am teaching Leila Aboulela's Minaret. We started the course with Ama Ata Aidoo's Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa, went on to Athol Fugard's Valley Song, then Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences, then Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

I am teaching Minaret for the second time, having first taught it in the spring. As I did then, I have started with an introduction to Islam, because Minaret deals with the lives of Muslims. I also feel privileged to talk about Islam in view of the widespread ignorance of it in American society. Having been born and raised in Tanzania, about half of whose people are Muslim and about half Christian, living in relative harmony, I enjoy sharing with students my experience of Islam and Muslims.

This time around, having talked about the origins and the five pillars of Islam, and about the Qur'an and the hadiths, I have started focusing on the novel, intending to go through it at a measured pace, in order to explore it as well as possible.

With its opening words, "Bism Allahi, Ar-rahman, Ar-raheem," Minaret inducts the reader into the world of Islam. In class today, I dwelt on this phrase, which means "In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful," and explained its significance in Islam and in the daily lives of Muslims. I went on to explain other references to Islam featured in the first several pages of the novel. I have no doubt that my students will both enjoy and learn much from this novel.

On my part, especially today, I have been thinking about other works of fiction I have taught, written by African Muslim women. These are Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter, Alifa Rifaat's Distant View of a Minaret, Nawal el Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero and The Fall of the Imam. I am dreaming of someday creating a course on writings by Muslim women. As Muslims say, Insha Allah, God willing.

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