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Engendering Dilemmas

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A pioneering effort in building up a positive narrative of identity conscious Muslims in the West.
Normal Calm
Hend Hegazi
FB Publishing
San Clemente (US)
320 Pages,
Price : Not stated

Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Hend Hegazi has woven a delectable story around Muslim Arab-American families in the United States and the cultural and religious dilemmas unfolding upon them on day to day basis. The story revolves round Amina, daughter of an Egyptian couple, who chooses to don headscarf upon entry into the high school. Her decision to cover herself provokes disapproval from friends and inhibits new ones from befriending her. Mindless of what derisive stares and murmurings, Amina carries herself through the academic careers.
The novel very effectively portrays the clash, conflict, coalescing of Islamic and Western ethos as Amina grows up, moves into a university, hires an independent apartment in her bid not to share dormitory with girls from unknown backgrounds. But ironically, she is raped by a colleague and there begins her long psychological ordeal. Arab customs place huge premium on virginity inasmuch as even a rape makes the girls unmarriageable.
Clash of Islamic and Western ethos gets etched to broad relief. Islam offers the women dignity through protection while the West takes the route of complete liberty and sexual freedom. A Muslim female is supposed to tell their parents where she would be going and who she would be with and what time the return is expected. Amina’s colleagues would not understand why a woman with a job of her own would live with her parents. Muslim girls are not expected to go somewhere parents would disapprove of, partly out of respect but mostly because they know they make those judgement for their own good. Amina refuses the night shift even at the cost of skipping the opportunity to get promotion.
For a Muslim and Arab girl, marriage must precede sex, and generally even love and romance. For the Westerners, marriage comes last, sometimes even after childbirth. Dichotomy of identities often has telling effect on youth and second generation migrants. Stigma, shame and psychological burden of rape is a nagging worry for Amina, for no Arab man would accept her if she fails the test of virginity. On her own part, Amina would not like a secret to remain between her and her fiancée. Parents’ offer to opt for restorative surgery is firmly turned down.
Huge disappointment darken her life when her engagement with Sherif, an Egyptian man breaks at the verge of marriage, merely because she remained firm with her resolve to let him know the atrocious truth. Deep gloom surrounds the family. Amina’s mother Ruwaydah undergoes a nervous breakdown. Encounters with Sherif at weddings here and there come as depressing blow and huge embarrassments for Amina. But then gloom suddenly lifts as she meets the man””an Egyptian-American again””who would accept her for what she is. The huge load gets off her shoulders, as she and Mazin tie the nuptial knot in a glittering ceremony.
Hegazi has woven the story skillfully around American ambience and Arab customs carried overseas by migrant families. Amina stands like a tower of strength, positivity, truthfulness and immense self-confidence. The novel is an interesting read for all those keen to know the creative social interaction between Muslim migrants and the West. The novel can well be described a pioneering effort in fictionalizing Muslim lives in the West from a positive angle.