January 11, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 329

The Egyptian Wife's Tale: 'Egyptian Women are Living Exactly as Afghan Women Lived' Part I

January 11, 2002
Afghanistan, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 329

The Egyptian government weekly Akhbar Al-Yaum recently published a lengthy letter from an unnamed Egyptianwoman. Editor-in-chief Ibrahim Sa'adeh wrote that he decided to publish the letter after being told by colleagues thatthey had heard similar or worse stories. Following are excerpts from the letter:

"To Ibrahim Sa'adeh:"

"I don't know why I am writing to you, and I don't know what point there is in writing… I am enraged by the Egyptian and Arab media because these days all they do is declare that the end of terrorism and terrorists is nigh… The press and Arab and Western satellite channels showed the joy that swept Afghanistan when the Afghan people were delivered from the fire of ignorance and blind fanaticism… and when Afghan women were delivered from the rigidity of a regime determined to humiliate, persecute, and debase them and to strip them of everything Allah granted them… Your mouthpieces never stop lauding the liberation of Afghan women… but [never reported on] what is happening in [Egypt]…"

The woman goes on to tell her own story:
"I had a normal life, a happy childhood in a simple, religious family that followed the precepts of our tolerant religion. Fortune did not bless me with beauty, but I was not unhappy, and I never envied my prettier girlfriends at school and university… My family encouraged me to take a job appropriate to my education. My family does not differentiate between boys and girls, especially with regard to the right to work."

My Marriage[1]
"A young man asked for my hand. I was enthralled by the force of his personality, and by his decency. He was religious, but not fanatically so… He did not object to my continuing at my modest job in a private-sector company, alongside dozens of men… But even before the honeymoon was over, I was astonished to discover a man different than the one I had known… The smile that never faded from his lips became rare. His tolerance, which had attracted me during the months of our engagement, turned overnight into rigidity, domination, and tyranny… A week after the wedding, he asked me to sit down with him and hear his instructions:"

"'First:' [he said,] 'You must terminate all contact with your workplace. You don't have to submit your resignation; just do not show up for work, with no explanation whatsoever. After 15 days they will fire you, in accordance with the law, without giving you any rights. You don't need them.'"

"'Second: You obviously were not granted beauty, and you must admit that artificial makeup does not improve your face as you might imagine. Be satisfied with my agreeing to accept you as you are, with your face and your weight. That is enough for you. You must immediately rid yourself of all these sins [makeup]. I want you as Allah created you, with no artificial, false beautification. I accepted you in spite of your ugliness, and in spite of your body's appearance; in return, I expect you to follow my guidelines closely and be thankful that I've accepted you. I could have rejected you like all the other men.'"

"'Third: I know that your face does not attract men, but there is still a possibility that there are some men hungry for any woman, whether clean or dirty, beautiful or ugly, slender or fat, religious or secular, young or old. This type of man is unfortunately becoming more widespread in our unbelieving Egyptian society… and you are prohibited from arousing their appetites. The only way to do this is to wear garments that conceal you from their adulterous eyes and protect you from their bestial appetites.'"

"'Fourth: During your childhood and youth, you lived with your face exposed and your hair uncovered. This is a grievous sin for which your parents and brothers will have to answer to [Allah], even before you will… Allah is merciful and forgives his servants, and fortunately for you Allah has given you the chance of a lifetime – my asking you to marry me so that I could save you from the torments of Hell, to which you most certainly would have been doomed had you married another man who does not believe as I do…'"

"'From this moment, you must rip up your clothing and burn all your silk garments and lingerie. A seamstress will come; she will sew for you the only garment a Muslim woman needs to wear, whether inside or outside her home. There is a consensus about the characteristics of Islamic clothing… ever since the days of the Prophet. This apparel covers a woman's body from head to foot. I will not settle for a veil [that covers only the head] and arouses impulses more than it protects [women]; I will not accept colorful clothing – only black. I will not allow exposed hands… the Islamic garment permits only the Dharbat Mussa [i.e. the rectangular opening in the Niqab, the all-enveloping garment worn by religious women], the width of the eyes, which allows you to see and to avoid bumping into things.'"

My Submission
"I refused these 'directives.' I returned to my family, and complained to them about the startling things I had heard… My family was shocked… and my parents were enraged… My father and eldest brother met with my husband and told him what I had not dared… [When they returned,] my father said that their objections had surprised my husband; his reaction had been mild, and he had told them that the only purpose of his four injunctions had been to protect me and my religious belief. No more, no less!…"

"Do not be angry if I admit that after I returned to his house I accepted the four directives… With no explanation, I stopped going to work… I didn't return the phone calls or answer the letters sent by the company management – which, until the last moment, perceived me as a responsible clerk. Finally, I received a letter of dismissal, which caused my husband great joy… I threw all my makeup in the garbage, and never did more than wash my face with water five times a day before prayers. I gave away all my clothes to the needy… My husband brought me a seamstress draped in a Niqab, whose face I have never seen although she has been coming to my home for more than 20 years and is my only source of 'religious' garments which are in accordance with Allah's Shar'iah [Islamic law], as my husband told me – [he] who imagines himself a messenger of Allah's Providence, [whose mission is] to deliver Muslim girls and women from their sins! I have many garments, all robe-like, [all] concealing every centimeter of my body except for the Dharbat Mussa as wide as my eyes, and in two colors: black, for outside the home, and white, for inside!"

"I have lived with my husband for nearly a quarter of a century, and I swear that during that entire time I knew no more than a week's happiness… I am the mother of six children, four girls and two boys, and they are all in school. My husband thinks that the only reason for marriage is increasing the birth rate of the nation of Muhammad. Were I not already 55, he wouldn't have settled for six children; if he could, he would multiply their number several times over!…"

"After the honeymoon, my husband, may Allah forgive him, issued another directive: Laughter was prohibited in our apartment… Laughter, he told me, was a trait of Satan, who aims solely to corrupt believing Muslims!"

Islamic Education
"When the honeymoon was over, the laughter disappeared from my and my husband's faces. Likewise, none of our guests dared to laugh, or even smile, so as not to be banned from the apartment… Imagine, sir, a home full of children forbidden to laugh or play… [My husband] brought in a blind sheikh, who drilled the children on the Koran all morning – even during the few moments we met around the meal table. Children who had not yet begun elementary school, who couldn't tell A from B, had to memorize and proclaim the blind sheikh's words, without understanding a single word… hour after hour."

"I was shocked when he demanded that I cover my daughter's hair when she reached the age of four, and dress her in a Niqab at the age of seven. He ordered me to wear a white Niqab in the house, to set a personal example for my daughters, and not to take it off while I did the housework – so as not to encourage the girls to remove the Niqab outside the home, far from his watchful eyes!"

"Our house… has no television or radio, because these are forbidden by Islam and because they confuse the children and distract them from the only purpose for which they were created. Our house has only tape players, going all hours of the day until bedtime. My husband set some of the tape players to play Koranic verses, and the others to [play] Egyptian and Arab clerics. We have hundreds of cassettes…"

"My husband was a great [collector] of tapes by the well-known Islamic preacher… and would often gather us together to listen to his sermons and commentary… He would frequently reward a child for memorizing excerpts … [with] another cassette by the same well-known preacher. Thus the years passed and the number of cassettes grew – until one day my husband came home depressed and angry, and burst out cursing the preacher."

"Obviously, we dared not ask [why]… Later, he said: 'You won't believe it. It turns out that that man is a crook, and corrupt. The Interior Ministry… caught him on video in a situation contrary to the religion and to morality, and he should be executed for it in the town square! When summoned to the police station, he burst into tears, and groveled to kiss the officer's shoes…' My husband ordered me to bring him the big pot from the kitchen… and then asked my eldest son to bring all the preacher's cassettes… When the cassettes were piled up in the living room – I forgot to mention that my husband had sold the couches and armchairs because the 'great ancestors' used to sit on the floor – he distributed the cassettes in accordance with the religious rules [of inheritance] – that is, twice as many to the boys as to the girls – and asked us to throw them into the big pot. Then he poured kerosene into the pot and threw in a lighted match…"

"That year, my husband told us of a young man, a graduate of the American University in Cairo who wore fashionable European clothing, who had suddenly become an Islamic preacher. He said that all the rich women were running to his sermons so he could teach them facts of the Islamic religion. My husband said: 'For us, it is enough that this boy is a graduate of the American University for us to judge him and decide that he is an American agent aimed at distorting the religion of his audience!… For us, it is enough that this boy is popular with the wanton women, perfumed and with their faces uncovered… to know that this is no more than adultery'… But a few months later, my husband surprised us by saying: 'Evidently, I was unjust to the young preacher. I discovered for myself that he is faithful in his Jihad for the victory of our religion, and that his real goal is to guide those young girls and women… He acted wisely by appearing as a European, wearing a suit and with his face shaven, so that those women would trust him and sit and listen to his sermons, which concerned mostly permitted things and not forbidden things. After a few meetings, when he had earned their trust and taken over their minds, he reveals that he is an extremist Islamic preacher… I heard of dozens of girls with uncovered faces burning their sinful clothing and donning a Niqab [following his sermons]… I brought a few cassettes for you to listen, and then we will discuss his rulings.'"

"One day, my eldest daughter asked her father, 'Why don't you bring us cassettes of the great clerics – the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the Egyptian mufti, or Al-Azhar University professors, whom I heard my cousin praise?' My husband's answer was most peculiar: 'They are agents of the unbelieving government; they rule as [it] orders and speak its words… There is no place in my house for cassettes of these people'…"[2]


[1] Subheadings added by the translator.

[2] Akhbar Al-Yaum (Egypt), December 29, 2001.

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