This thesis sets out to provide what is perceived as the nature of Islam and background
that inform the interpretation of the two novels ofMariama Ba as well as that of selected
works by fellow Muslim writer, N awal El-Saadawi. Although the question of gender is
carefully addressed, the principal viewpoint is Islamic theocratic rather than purely
This study surveys the struggle of these two women writers to claim public space in a
dominant patriarchal society. It examines the socio-political conditions affecting women
in the Arab peninsula before the rise of Islam, also called Jahiliyyah, from Islam's
inception (622 AD). It notes that the principle of equality of all the believers was
established by the injunction in the Qur'an, and endorsed by Muhammad, the Prophet,
after whose death, manipulation of the sacred texts, especially of the Hadiths, took place.
This led to opposition to gender equality; while fitna (civil war) in Medina, led the Prophet to re-institute the hijablveil, in order to protect women from being sexually
harassed. The significance of the hijab is then explored, and Fatima Mernissi's text Women and
Islam (1987; 1992) is used as seminal to the argument that the hijab was not instituted
to put a barrier between men and women. The question of how the Islamic tradition
succeeded in transforming the Muslim woman into a submissive, marginal creature, one
who once buried herself behind a veil, is considered in the light of feminist theory and practice in both the Third and Arab worlds as well as in terms of the postcolonial notion
of 'writing back'.
The works of Ba and El-Saadawi, chosen for discussion in this thesis, examine these
common issues, and underscore the entitlement of women to equality. The proposition,
that Muslim women talk/write back, is epitomized in Ramatoulaye's forceful wordsuttered
after thirty years of silence and harassment: 'This time I shall speak out' (So Long
a Letter, 1980; 1989: 58).
This study also shows that both Ba and El-Saadawi (by employing the journalisme-verite
approach) move beyond gender and cultural issues to explore the universal nature of man
and woman, and that in accordance with Muslim theocracy, these writers ultimately
advocate the notion of redemption through humanity, coincidentally expressed in the
Wolofproverb: 'Man, man is his own remedy!' (Scarlet Song, 1981; 1994: 165). Furthermore, within the context of these concerns, a few speculative remarks on the likely
future ofMuslim women in the Arab and African world are made, arguing that had Ba's
life not been cut short so tragically, it is reasonable to suppose that she would, like ElSaadawi,
have continued to advocate a holistic, healthy Muslim society, in which the
humane treatment of women would prevail.
Finally, in terms of the title Beyond the veil: Muslim women write back, an attempt has
been made to show how both Ba and El-Saadawi strive by 'writing back' to move 'beyond'
the veil, speaking out on behalf of fellow Muslim women in Africa.