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EN993 Issues and Problems in Arabic Fiction

NEW module from 2013. Full title: "Issues and Problems in Arabic Fiction: Women in Society and Culture"

Convenor: Dr Cathia Jenainati

“How wretched are women in our country. They are not permitted to learn or to earn. They are chained to custom and tradition.

They are reluctant dependants and even the men are always complaining about them” (Ulfat Idilbi, Sabriya).


On this module we explore, in-depth, a range of novels that examine the representation of women in different Arab countries. We think about the role that women have traditionally occupied in society and culture but also in literature, and we consider the ways in which authors and critics have challenged dominant stereotypes about Arab women. The quote from Ulfat Idilbi’s novel expresses a somewhat recognisable attitude towards Arab women in the 1920s. On this module we delve into the historic, social and economic changes that took place in the 20th century and which have enabled a reconfiguration of the roles that women occupy; we also consider the ways in which women’s writing has been reshaped by politics and the media. The aim is to investigate the complex and varied definitions of femininity and ideas of womanhood in the twentieth century, and to understand the opportunities provided by contemporary Feminist discourses but also their limitations. The set texts are taught in English but students who are capable of reading the original Arabic text will be given a chance to explore issues of translation and trans-cultural interpretations.

Indicative Syllabus

  • Fadia Faqir, Pillars of Salt;
  • Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, Munira's Bottle;
  • Leila Al Atrash, A Woman of Five Seasons;
  • Muhammad Kamil Al Khatib, Just Like a River;
  • Hanna Mina, Fragments of Memory;
  • Naguib Mahfouz, Midaq Alley;
  • Ulfat Idilbi, Sabriya;
  • Hanan Al Shaykh, The Story of Zahra;
  • Nawal Saadawi, The Fall of the Imam;
  • Zeina Ghandour, The Honey;
  • Ibrahim Al Koni, The Seven Veils of Seth;
  • Mansoura Ez eddine, Maryam's Maze;
  • Miral Tahawy, Gazelle Tracks.

Additional Required Reading

BOOKS (selected chapters)

--Samir and Roseanne Khalaf, Arab Society and Culture: An essential reader
--Ramsay Harik, Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change
--Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics & Islam
--Joumana Haddad, I killed Scheherazade
--Mohammad Masud, Islam and Modernity
--Margaret Badran, Opening the Gates: A century of Arab Feminist Writing
--Isabelle Eberhardt, Dans l'ombre chaude de L'Islam [or the English version, In the Shadow of Islam
--Miriam Cook, Women Claim Islam


--Swanee Hunt, "Iraq's excluded women", in Foreign Policy (2004) No.143
--R.Ray, "Women's Movements in the Third World: Identity, Mobilization, Autonomy" in Annual Review of Sociology (1999) Vol 25
--Nawar Al-Hassan Golley, "Is Feminism Relevant to Arab Women?" in Third World Quarterly (2004) vol 25 No 3
--Peri Kedem-Friedrich, "Does Modernity lead to Greater Well-Being? Bedouin Women Undergoing a Socio-Cultural Transition" Third World Quarterly (2004) Vol 67 No 3
--Rashid Khalidi, "Arab Nationalism: Historical Problems in the Literature" Third World Quarterly (1991) Vol 96 No 5
--Donald Cole, "Where have the Bedouin Gone?" (2003) Third World Quarterly Vol 76 No 2
--Leslie Peirce, "Writing Histories of Sexuality in the Middle East" in The American Historical Review (2009) Vol 114 no 5

Further Module information