Arab Female Writers

Everyone in the world has a free will if they have the determination to fulfill anything either in writing or in literary works. This paper majors on the Arab female writers and the variety of techniques and styles used in their writing. It also draws comparisons between the earlier ages Arab female writers and the current Arab female writers. When drawing comparisons between the early ages writing and the current ones, it is also mandatory to use examples of stories written by the women in the past and currently. The comparisons are mainly evident in the ways they wrote their pieces of literature as well as the ways the several problems combating them on the way. This is also by identifying the analysis, the themes and the techniques used in order to bring out the comparisons in a clear manner. It generally analyses the issues addressed by the female writers in their selected stories. Studies show that there are several developments in the women field of literature as seen by their tremendous improvements despite the enormous criticism by men.

Development of Female Arab Writers

Women in the earlier centuries did not play a major role in writing, but they played a major role in the roles in the written pieces of literature. Women in the early centuries often focused on poetry more than any novels and short stories. The earliest Arab known poetesses included Layla al-Akhyaliyyah and al-Khansa both of the 7th century. The minor female writers included Ibn Zaydun and Sufi, well-known poetesses who brought everything to vision through poetry. The two suggested a much uptight and hidden world of the female literature. An example of an Arabic epic is Sirat al-amirah Dhat al-Himmah, a known female warrior who was a chief protagonist. Throughout the years, several developments have been rampant in the female world of literature and writing in the Arab countries. Most of the early women poetesses often focused on depicting what affects the women through poetry. The study of poetry includes themes, styles used like symbols, metaphors and personification. These women like Sufiand Ibn Zaydun came up with flowing poems that often caught the readers’ minds since they had all interesting ingredients of art (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 95).   

Arabic literature dates back to the 5th century. This includes both the female literature and the male literature. One of the earliest distinctive pieces of Arabic literature is the Qur’an. It acted as one of the first inspirations for other Arabic writers to come up with their own pieces of literature. The Qur’an is one of the finest pieces of Arabic literature written in Arab language. There are people who believe that the controversy surrounding the female Arabic writers is over. In the modern Arabic literature, that is not the case, mainly because controversies still exist. In 2008, during the annual Arabic literary events, a conference conducted on ‘new female writing in the Arab world’ stirred a lot of upcoming events. It touched a raw and clear nerve for the Arabic female writers in the Arab world. Syrian novelist Yazbek Samar refuses to be recognized as a traditional character that surrounds her stories in a traditional setting.  Several other female Arabic writers came up and refused to be referred negatively but to be respected as Arabic female writers with honor (Valassopoulos 95).

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During the year 2008 in Damascus there was a debate on female writing. Said Benkrad a Moroccan novelist stated his belief that Arab female novels carry in themselves the temptation as well as the body. She also asserted that these female writers put much of their desires mainly above their words. This therefore brings out the distinction between the female and the male characters. Yessra El Maqadam, a Lebanese writer considered Benkrad’s views as typically male and chauvinist. She explained further that his views act as objects of destruction in the Arab world. There has also been an assertion that female writers imitate men greatly in their writings. They see themselves in a manner that men see them. Such opinions of belittling women’s literary skills bring division to a creative world of both female and male writers. Maha Hassan is a major female writer in Arab world and she has often insisted on the Arabic writing world as often caught in stereotypes (Valassopoulos 80).  When she published her first novel known as ‘Infinity’, she came under criticism by men since the narrator in the novel known as Adham was male and he was the novel’s main character as well. The criticism saw her include a male major character as well as the narrator in her second novel ‘The Cover Painting’. She used a male voice again depicted by Karim Al Hawi.

In the Arabic culture, the male is still seen as the omnipresent creature on several instances. This is unlike other countries in the world whereby women also present the omnipresent role. In the Arabic world however, the female writers still struggle to put out or rather assert their views (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 125). The world of writing since time immemorial is under the governorship of men but this has gradually changed. The main question therefore is whether or not these female Arabic writers will continually exist in the era of writing. Arabic female writers however have great abilities since hundreds of them are in the writing field with most of them currently churning out bestselling books with worldwide recognition as well as worldwide acceptance. They do not give in to the views of the Arabic male writers who believe that the males must be the only ones in the literature world.

It is also important to make comparisons between some of the famous female writers belonging to the Arab world. Despite the fact that most of their works have same basis, it is important to draw the comparisons. Most of the female Arab writers have over time been global. The awarding of the annual Nobel Prize in 1988 went to Naguib Mahfouz. She is an Egyptian novelist. Several of her books had undergone translation from Arabic to other languages. Her books also spread to the West. This led to a huge benefit by the other upcoming female writers since there was increased international interest in Naguib Mahfouz. Since then most books have undergone translation to English and even French. Several current publications translated into English are by women therefore this shows the enormous development. Some of the translated literary works include Syrian Hanna Minah, Moroccan Muhammad Barrada and Egyptian Gamal al-Ghitani (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 133).

Most of the Arab female writers’ stories often revolve around wars; women gender issues and generally issues surrounding women. An example stories by the Arabic female writers is ‘An Anthology of Shirt Stories’ written by Arab Women Writers. This novel consists of sixty short stories written by forty women across Arab world. This collection of stories opens up numerous windows into the Arab culture and the society. The collection also offers very keen insights into the feelings of Arab women as well as what they think on several issues. Some of the writing skills in these stories include the use of descriptive texts when explaining on the feminist ideas. The stories also depict the cultural, political as well as the social nature of the Arab women. There are different modes of writing and styles applied. There are also creative approaches and diversity techniques. The authors also present several outspoken ways of solving problems and facing situations in daily life. The stories are outspoken, lively, provocative at some point and interesting for anyone who needs to know more of the Arab female world. The stories are in eight parts. These are ‘Growing Up Female’, ‘Love and Sexuality’, ‘Male-Female Relations’ ‘Marriage’ and ‘Childbearing’. The others include ‘Self-Fulfillment’, ‘Customs and Values’ and the eighth one ‘The Winds of Change’ (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 109). Going through these stories draws insights on the lives of people in general including what these same people go through in their daily lives. The topic on self-fulfillment for example puts across the need for people to be satisfied with whatever they have for example the lives that they live.  

Nawal el Saadawi is the second woman. She was the first woman writer to catch the Western readers’ attention. He was an Egyptian feminist whose’ 1980 non-fictional book known as ‘The Hidden Face of Eve’ became a classic instantly. El-Saadawi’s ‘Woman at Point Zero’ came up in 1983 and all of them also in English translations. Nawal El Saadawi ia an Arab woman who greatly inspires. Her works greatly inspire and divulge even to the many sacred places and enclosures. This has caused great dismissal from her male counterparts. On several occasions she is under dismissal as an opportunist and a bad writer. Her books however over the years are in bookstores despite the mere propaganda going round. She has books in huge multiple editions in Arabic originals both in the Arab world and in the West whereby in the west people enjoyed her literary works.  Irony is highly part of her life. The government of Ethiopia shut down El Sadaawi’s organization (Valassopoulos 65). Islamists threatened her life and she sought protection. One leftist writer even claimed she brought destruction to the daughters in Egypt and other Arab worlds.   Despite all this she still stood out and went on to write books with her views greatly voiced.

Despite these comparisons of the various Arab writers, several critics have continually brought criticism to their literary works. The main critic is the fact that there are only few Arabic translated books therefore there are fewer readers since everyone in the world is not Arabic. There should be more Arab books in English language translations. The diversity and the complexity of the Arabic world as well as its’ literature is best represented by an enormous range of works. Between the year 1880 and 1980, there have been close to 480 Arabic women writers. This estimation came up after a study conducted by an historian by the name Joseph Zeidan.   Arab writers generally belong to diverse and vibrant social and cultural movements. They also speak diverse languages known in the whole world. There should be a debate aimed at appreciative criticism for the marvelous literary works conducted by the Arab female writers. Recent surveys show that several books over the past years with widespread acceptance belong to the women writers. The prejudice aimed at them does not in any way put an end to their literary works. The acceptance and widespread reading of their works is highly because they focus on the occurring issues at the moment that is the real life issues. Critics in the Middle East often aim at bringing down the women (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 137). Criticism is a major tool in the women literary works as well as the men’s works too.

Arab Voices is a book written by Samar Dahmash-Jarrah. Unlike the collection of stories by Arab female writers that focuses on bringing out the Arab women’s nature this story focuses on other issues. After the USA September 9/11 tragedy, teacher, journalist and peace advocate Samar Jarrah decided to dispel stereotypes of the Arabs and the Muslims. She spent three years speaking to people around USA at events of huge professional associations, churches and several other organizations. She had a mission of clearing out the misunderstandings between Arabs and the Americans by creating dialogue between the two. This mainly happened through interviews in Kuwait, Jordan and USA. The interviews mainly dealt with the people’s views on the relationships between the Americans and the Arabs (Valassopoulos 99). This therefore shows the differences between the two novels discussed above.   The first novel mainly dwelt on the social issues affecting people whereas Samar’s novel talks on current issues affecting countries like wars and misunderstanding.

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‘Things I’ve been silent about’ is a book written by Azar Nafisi. This book came into place after the authors’ keen observations on parties held in Tehran, watching Marx brothers in Tehran and reading ‘Lolita’ in Tehran. This book also looks into issues on the repressive laws facing the people and the various executions on innocent people even on the smallest crimes committed by the people. It mainly seeks to spell out the political and public abominations as well as seeking to express the people’s views from time to time.  It also talks on the private portrayals. Generally, this book looks into the problems faced by the people and seeks ways of stopping such terrible acts on the citizens. This writer is famous for writing on the actual things affecting the people mainly looking into breaking down the bad things affecting the people (Valassopoulos 201). Her other literary works aim at putting to an end the oppressive laws on the people. Her book ‘Things I’ve been silent about’ has unique styles of writing aimed at clearly bringing out the negative issues affecting the people and descriptive messages that show how these oppressive laws put an end to fruitful lives due to the execution laws.

Generally, the story of the female Arabic novelists reflects as well as dwells in several ways on the stories narrated by several women in different contexts and disciplines. On several occasions, it is the story of enormous creativity backed up with few rights and on other instances, backed up with no rights at all (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 159). It is the same story of the women group absented from major literary scenes due to their attitudes and creativity that came under provocative ideas that it belonged to the men’s world. When comparing the men and the female writers, it is important to always note that men are still seen as the mainstream as well as the only arbiters’ who make the final decision on what is valuable literally.

This is the type of story that over the years is seen as an ‘unnoticed story’ that is the value of the women writers. This has however changed and comparing the earlier and the current situation shows that in the recent years Arab female writers have a distinctive position in the literature field with an impressive richness. The first novel was by an Arab female followed fifteen years later by that of a man. Women lead the reign of Arab storytelling and this has not often augured well with what the men want. From the women’s point of view, storytelling is a way of self-expressing oneself as well as a way of individualism. This does not imply that gender determines the literary creation nature but instead gender underscores the differences manifested deep in literature. Feminism is also highly institutionalized in these literary works and the values depicted by the stories (Valassopoulos 95).

Criticism over the years is inherent in Arabic pieces of literature from time immemorial. The pre-Islamic poetry festivals often pitched together two major poets against one another. This was mainly in a verse war, their modes of writing, techniques used and how the work was under presentation. The Islamic study of the Qur’an is a major study when creating verse wars. Despite the spiritual, inimitable and divine nature of the Qur’an, a study came into place to allow a clear and better understanding of the message. This facilitated the interpretation mainly aimed at practical use. This therefore helped in the development of a more critical method that set way for the other pieces of Arabic literature works.  It also set pace for developing writers in Arab world. There is often a regular distinction between popular works and literary language used in the Arab literature. During the earlier stages, poetry criticism was mainly by Qudamah Ibn Ja’far (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 168). The other people’s works decided to continue with the tradition of leveling out the contrast between two poets. This was mainly in order to determine the poet that strictly followed the classical poetry structure rules. After exercising the major critic’s concerns, plagiarism became the next most significant idea. Several writers often looked up to al-Mutannabi’s works with the aim of borrowing a verse or two from his work. This was plagiarism considering the fact that these writers created copies of everything the poet wrote in his numerous collections.

The above shows the development of criticism in the earlier stages. Modern criticism arose mainly after several women ventured into writing. At the beginning, the modern criticism compared new works of Arabic literature and with the ideal classical literature of the past. These standards of comparison and criticism however came under rejection as they were too artificial. On the part of the writers, several of the women writers mostly adopted the modern European romantic poetry. This majorly dictated an introduction of several corresponding critical standards. Over the years, Arabic literature was greatly unknown in the outside Islamic world. This is mainly because the Arabs always aimed at preserving their culture and not letting the European Renaissance affect them or bring them to civilization (Valassopoulos 150). Renaissance Europe however played a great role in driving the Arabic literature from their ancient and distant works of literature to the current developed and wide read literature. Criticism has also enabled development of the Arab literature since criticism plays the role of bettering literature. This is mainly because it drives writers at working towards bettering their books and using attractive techniques, modes, styles and better ways of writing. Translation of the Arab pieces of work also played a role in ensuring that these pieces of wonderful literature spread to the Western parts of the world.

Criticism also regards that the women’s novels are a mere extension of their own bodies. This is mainly the positive criticism that shows that the women represent themselves as the heroines in these novels and short stories. They overcome any prejudices set on them and the views on the Arab women. The negative criticism insisted that these women writers deal often with issues that are rarely of public interest since their majority works revolved around children, family and love. These views diminished after women went on to write on politics, wars and oppressive laws affecting the people thereby shunning down the men’s views.

‘Balcony of the Fakhani’ is the third novel from which comparisons will be drawn. The novel clearly demonstrates the way women involved themselves not only in social issues but also in political concerns of the society. Since the women had no roles in the rampant political corruption, they instead showed genuine concern for their own countries in what they wrote in form of stories and novels (Valassopoulos 155). These are the current urgent issues affecting the people and in the Arab women agenda. They act as the current era thinkers and reformers ready to bring change to the society in general. As compared to the earlier literary works whereby the women focused on poetry often, the current women’s stories focus on the current issues affecting the people and the world in general.

An example of another novel is ‘A land of Rock and Thyme’ a novel by Liyana Badr. She attempts to bring out and portray the terrifying and frightening memories of a widow as she bears the tribulations and the trials of the terrible civil war. This book is a translation from Arabic to English. It is a fiction story but its’ chronologies and themes are from real life issues affecting the people. The scenes in the book depict the real life scenarios in the world currently. These fragments of memory for example represent Beirut a land that decided to divide as well as expunge the whole Muslim population and chase away the Palestinians (Valassopoulos 160). Biadr takes the shards of historical and past evidence and personifies them into raw emotion. It was her own creativity that set her towards taking the forgotten war memories and digging them out of the ground in order to depict the early evil ways of ruling.

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Some of the themes of the story include despair and poverty in women. A young girl plunged into being a widow at a young age greatly suffers. Later on, she fell in love with a man who was unacceptable by her family. Long time ago women had no right to choose whom to get married to. It was the family’s duty. There is also flashback since this story is in form of a flashback. There is also the plight of water since there was no enough water in the area. Water here is used as a symbol of several things. These include education, wisdom, and knowledge. This is because it is something that was looked for, just the way human beings pursue knowledge. The characters are also in a constant search for harmony and peace in life as well as fulfillment in life. Badr clearly presents brutality in short paragraph and forms devoid of accusation and blame. She rendered the people’s lives that live with violence in their lives. Her characters are not in any way heroes, but they are mourners and survivors of the tragedy that people must always be under preparation for (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 192). There is also a clear demonstration of characters. The main theme is war and the author significantly diverges into it.

There have also been translations of Arab works into many Eastern languages from French to Germany to Spanish. Towards the end of the 20th century comparisons could be leveled out between the earlier translated works and the current ones (%u0100sh%u016Br, Ghazoul and Reda-Mekdashi 199). Many people in the world started reading the translated pieces of literature this is because the Arab literature works then had translations in almost all the languages. Female Arab writers for example became known for their intriguing works. Their works often dwelled on the problems faced by women in the society as well as the current issues and even encouraging books on women for their voices to be heard. This led to the growing interests among several people in the world.


After clearly studying the examples of stories and drawing comparisons between these stories, it is evident that female Arab women on most occasions write on the current issues affecting the people. A lot of progress is evident from the development of literature in the 5th century onto the 21st century. From the time when the female writers did not have any respect to the current times when they are held in a distinctive position. Several women with literary skills over time have also come under the spotlight for their tremendous works of art.  

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