January 11, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 330

The Egyptian Wife's Tale: Part II

January 11, 2002
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 330

The following is a continuation of excerpts from a letter written by an unnamed Egyptian woman which was recently published in the Egyptian government weekly Akhbar Al-Yaum:

My Daughters' Education[1]

"My husband thought that education was appropriate for boys but pointless for girls. His excuse was that I, his wife, a university graduate, had immediately after my marriage devoted myself to giving birth and raising the children in Islam, which was completely separate from the education of unbelieving society… My husband agreed that our sons would attend school and university… but for our four daughters he chose a nearby religious school. This school was situated in a ground-floor apartment, and accepted only young girls. Its curriculum in no way resembled the government curriculum, such that the diploma it granted was unrecognized and not worth the paper it was written on."

"My two eldest daughters finished elementary school there… After that, my husband decided they should stay at home. He brought in the blind sheikh to continue their religious studies… The two other daughters are still little and attend the school, until they reach the age when they will stay at home to complete their religious studies."

"Don't ask me what my girls are learning. They are completely ignorant in all areas of the government curriculum, not to mention the curricula of the private schools, which are higher quality than the government schools. My daughters can't do more than read and write - although they know the Koran and the Hadiths [Traditions] by heart… The situation is different for our sons, who continue to excel at the government schools and university…"

"At first, I was sorry about the life forced upon my two sons, and I cried when I saw that they couldn't play with the neighbors' children or go to the club on Friday and holidays, or to the cinema… Sometimes… [I] would take them to visit a neighbor so they could watch television and listen to the radio. But when my husband found out, he severely punished me and my children, who were guiltless. So I stopped doing it."

My Suicide Attempt
"Often, [my husband] would order us to do our utmost to direct our female relatives and neighbors [towards the path of righteousness], to increase their balance of merit on Judgement Day. We carried out his orders… One day when he came home he told me, 'I saw your neighbor at her door, half naked, talking with a man! Go to her tomorrow, when you are sure her husband and children are out, and do everything you can to direct her [towards the path of righteousness] and save her.'"

"The next day, I sent my little daughters, enrobed in veils, to ask my neighbor to allow me to visit for a few minutes. After receiving permission and making certain her husband wasn't home, I sat with my neighbor. I was surprised to find her wearing an ordinary, respectable dress, the same dress she had worn the previous day when she had opened her door to a clerk from the Energy Ministry to pay her electric bill!"

"I looked at the body of my neighbor, searching for the 'nakedness' that had so alarmed my husband - as he had said she was half-naked in front of a strange man. But I found no part of her body naked, except for her hands and face…"

"I asked my neighbor, 'Why don't you wear a Niqab?! She was surprised by this unusual query, which was even more provocative for me than it was for her. Instead of answering, she hastened to ask me, 'Why should I wear a Niqab?! Give me one Koranic verse or Hadith that requires a believing Muslim woman who observes Shari'ah to wear [it]. The religion makes concessions, it's not strict…'"

"My neighbor did not stop there. She added, 'I have often cried for you and your daughters and sons. All of us in the building hear of, hurt from, and are stunned by the suffering your husband causes you. We have spoken of this tragedy many times, and my husband asked me in amazement, 'Why does your neighbor agree to stay with that man?! Why doesn't she leave and go back to her parents' house or anywhere else? No matter how low her standard of living there, it will be better than being in his apartment.'… Personally, I don't understand how you tolerate this. I don't know why you allow your children to be stripped of their most basic rights, like the right to laugh and play with other children?! You might not believe it, but I, my husband, my children, and all the building's tenants speak with rage about your husband and show sympathy for your children. At the same time, we are furious with you for agreeing to live even a day with that creature who rightly belongs in the prehistoric caves.'"

"I wasn't angry at the words of my neighbor - she who had been unjustly accused by my husband of living a life of sin just because she did not wear a Niqab and exposed her face and hands to the Energy Ministry representative… On the contrary; she was surprised to find that I agreed with her, and, what's more, shared her rage at my weak character. I said to her, 'Don't be angry with me. I'm aware of my situation, and my self-criticism is more severe than any of your criticism. I acknowledge that if I hadn't given in - if not for my helplessness and my weakness, my husband wouldn't have been so cruel [to us], and the children wouldn't have reached the point they have reached. I alone am responsible for what happened, for my shattered life and for reaching a state where I would rather die than continue to live a life which a normal woman would never accept …'"

"'My husband has invented his own private religion, setting conditions that contradict, from A to Z, [the religion] in which I was raised… I am a faithful Muslim woman, but nevertheless I accepted the nonsense of this ignorant man to whom fate tied me and had me bear six children!…'"

"Following this visit… my rage at myself multiplied, as did my hatred of life itself. I decided to do what I had intended to do dozens of times, but every time feared the wrath of Allah and backed down from committing the crime. Over 20 times I had decided to commit suicide and be rid of this life; the 21st time, after I left my neighbor's house, I was filled with a deep sense that Allah would forgive me if I carried out my decision and ended my life. It did not appear to me that the torments I had suffered all the years of marriage to my hangman were any less than those awaiting me in the afterlife for committing suicide - something that Allah the Merciful has forbidden his servants."

"I took my opportunity when my husband and children had gone to pray in the nearby Zawiya [small mosque], where he met up with those who shared his opinions… I went to the kitchen and locked the door behind me. I took a sharp knife and cut the veins in my wrist. I sat on a small wooden chair and watched the blood flow, with a feeling of relief such as I had not known for a quarter of a century… I began to murmur silent requests for Allah's forgiveness… [But] Allah wanted me to return to life, even as I thought that I had finally managed to rid myself of it."

"My children and relatives gathered around my bed, their faces showing joy at my return to them. In contrast, the face of my hangman was, as always, frozen, angry, and enraged. From him I heard not a single word of encouragement, not even 'praise Allah you are well.' He persisted in humiliating me and hurting the feelings of my brothers, sisters, and daughters by saying, 'You have committed an unforgivable crime. Don't think that Allah… forgives you because he has brought you back to life. The purpose of your return is to spend the rest of your life trying to atone for your tremendous sin, and we pray to Allah to accept your repentance, and make you one of the good, believing women.'"

Driving a Car
"…What was strange was that my hangman thought, for the first time in a quarter of a century, that he should cheer me up. He told me, 'I know you were angry about my forbidding you to drive a car after we wed, so as to protect you and to strictly observe the directives of the creator of heaven and earth. Now, after I've heard a religious ruling from the preacher A.P., you may drive a car - he allows this with some conditions, the most important of which is that there be a chaperone next to you in the car, such as one of our sons. I bought you a new car and it is parked outside. Let us go down immediately and try it out."

"I did not respond to my husband's words, and only deep in my heart did I wonder about this man, who thought that he was making a huge concession and showing tremendous tolerance by allowing me to drive a car again! Or perhaps he thought that I wanted to be rid of my life because the right [to drive a car] was taken away from me - not because of the poison that he disseminated in my life and in the lives of my children…"

"When he asked me to sit behind the wheel, I protested, saying, 'How can I drive a car in a Niqab? You know my eyesight is poor, and if I wear glasses under the Niqab I won't see anything through the Dharbat Mussa.' My husband did not answer; he just told me to drive."

"We drove a block or two. I bumped into people and cars in all directions. What was amazing was that we passed traffic policemen and officers, yet none protested at my driving wearing a Niqab or at my endangerment of life and property. On the contrary; the traffic policemen looked at me with satisfaction, esteem, and encouragement."

"Whether we like it or not, the Niqab is esteemed and supported by many. No one dares to ban it, even where the face must be exposed for identification purposes. It is no secret that some women arrive for examinations at school and university wearing a Niqab so no one would know their identity... [This goes] for passport control at the airports as well… The officers do not object to letting these women through, after giving up on a useless argument. Traffic policemen do not object to women in Niqab driving cars, although the Niqab blocks peripheral vision and endangers them and others..."

September 11
"The most difficult problem was with my two sons… They had become copies of their father. They believe in the ideas he believes in… My son at university has become even more fanatical than his father, and even more ardent to save the world from the sins and unbelief of its occupants who do not believe in the ideas he insists descended in the Book of Allah and the Traditions of the Prophet. While his father is satisfied with words, his son thinks that these ideas cannot be imposed through gentle persuasion, and that force must be used…"

"I cried for hours when my son came home from university praising what had happened on September 11 in New York! I cried not only for the thousands of innocent people killed in that terror operation; I cried even more for the violence, the hatred, and the enmity that had taken root in my son's mind, which went far beyond anything I expected from the fruit of my loins."

"You can say that my son's view is only an isolated or sick case, but [he] 'informed' us that hundreds of his friends praised [the attacks] just as he did, [describing it] as a war that will consume all those who are not Muslim like them, and all those who do not implement what they demand to be implemented!"

"I state with certainty that [this attitude]… is not limited to the poor, unemployment-stricken neighborhoods, as some who want to simplify this serious problem claim whenever we hear of a terror incident. My home is in a good neighborhood, and my husband - after raising his torments to an art form - is interested in nothing but hoarding money from his shops. This man, religious, dependable, and decent, as his long beard, his Islamic dress, and the prayer beads never out of his hand attest, pays no taxes despite his great profits, and falsifies his documents to prove he has suffered losses and is practically bankrupt."

"My children attend school and university, and they expect to inherit a great deal of money from their father, so that they can quickly marry and produce children and disseminate in their hearts and minds the most violent of ideas, which their father has planted in them…"

The Causes of the Phenomenon
"The phenomenon of the hangmen of Egypt's women… is becoming widespread in Egypt, and, in my opinion the spread of the 'virus' of irreligious violence [in the guise of religion] is destroying the minds of our young people. [This happened] after they allowed the preachers to disseminate their ideas, and after the newspapers, books, microphones, schools, mosques, and homes were opened to them so they could brainwash our boys and girls. The damage to me and my children is the natural outcome of what is happening in our land, before the very eyes of all the defenders of women's rights."

"The stupidest thing that we are doing today is… to ignore what is happening to Egyptian women who are at this very moment living exactly as the Afghan women lived…" [2]

[1] Subheadings added by the translator.

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

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