Using selected stories by two North African women writers, Alifa Rifaat of Egypt and Assia Djebar of Algeria, this study, entitled ‘Islamic culture and the question of women’s human rights in North Africa: a study of short stories by Assia Djebar and Alifa Rifaat’, analyzes the creative representation of contemporary Muslim society and its treatment of women. The continued marginalization of women in Muslim societies has led to the rise of feminist movements in North Africa and the Middle East. Muslim women, like their Christian counterparts, have made a most remarkable appearance on the African literary scene by producing literature that interrogates a system in which women are denied the rights to life, equality and freedom, which are the inalienable rights of all Islamic adherents. Thus, North African women’s writing reveals a disparity between Islamic culture, which is based on the Qur’an and upholds equal rights for all believers, and Muslim culture, which denies women access to full rights. The writings of Alifa Rifaat and Assia Djebar espouse the need for a transformation of Muslim culture such that the practices of Muslims effectively harmonize with the teachings of the Qur’an. The stories selected for analysis illustrate that while Rifaat uses the conservatist approach or womanist thrust in her criticism of Muslim culture, Djebar adopts a more radical approach that is ultimately feminist. Nevertheless, both writers address similar issues affecting women in Muslim societies, such as forced or arranged marriages and the suppression of female sexuality. The first chapter situates the argument within gender discourse and the human rights framework, providing a critical appraisal of women in Islam from pre-Islamic times to modern days. To contextualize the literary scene, the second chapter positions Muslim women’s writing within the broad corpus of African feminisms, using the works of Nawal el-Saadawi, Mariama Bâ and Zaynab Alkali to chart the many challenges facing Muslim women today. Chapters Three and Four focus on the selected literature of the chosen writers, Alifa Rifaat and Assia Djebar, respectively, showing how each writer uses her art as an instrument to combat social injustices against women. The concluding chapter establishes the points of convergence and divergence between Rifaat and Djebar and, ultimately, draws attention to the dire need for all Muslims to respect the human rights of women. This study, therefore, blends literary interpretation with sociological findings to assess the extent of the failure of Muslims to endorse the principle of equality for all humans irrespective of race, class, or gender. Essentially, it seeks to raise consciousness on women’s rights in Islam.
Dissertation (MA (Pan African Literatures))--University of Pretoria, 2007.