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Isolation Of Islamic Families Essay, Research Paper

The presence of European thought could be observed in most societies throughout the world’s history. Therefore, from a historical aspect, European culture has affected the Islamic society, although not as intensely as it was in the case with other non-Western cultures. In the novel Palace Walk, Naguib Mahfouz helps to understand how the people of Egypt were affected by the country’s status as a British protectorate. In the novel, Mahfouz presents a portrait of the Abd al-Jawad clan, a devoutly Muslim family living in the old section of Cairo. It is also a portrait of a country in transition. The whole family is a relic of the old Islamic society, which like the country as a whole is being forcibly dragged into the 20th century. One may argue, however, about the extent of influence on middle-class Islamic families, and, as in this case, the influence on the family of Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. The isolation of this particular family from the Western culture evolves from the differences in personalities, religious beliefs and customs, political and economic circumstances between them.

Much of the novel is concerned with the manner in which Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, the head of the household, well-respected and likable outside the home, conducts his affairs, both in the home and outside it. He, an aggressive, controlling father, allows no challenge to his authority or any bending of the strict rules of Islam and society, and practically dominates the family. In his treatment of the members of the household, Abd al-Jawad displays an inflexible cast of mind that most Western people have come to consider characteristic of Islam and Muslims. The father permits himself any level of excess. He is prone to drunken partying and carries on with cabaret girls. He is also more concerned with his reputation in the city than he is with the well-being of his family. Abd al-Jawad seemed to be almost terrorizing and threatening in his warning to his wife when she tried to object to his numerous nights out: “I’m a man. I’m the one who commands and forbids. I will not accept any criticism of my behavior. All I ask of you is to obey me. Don’t force me to discipline you.”

Abd al-Jawad communicated to his children in the same way as in the case with his wife. He would check if his son, Kamal, has washed his hands, and “if Kamal answered in the affirmative, he would order him, ‘Show me!’ Terrified, the boy would spread his palms out,” but, “instead of commending him for cleanliness, the father would threaten him.” The author presents Ahmad Abd al-Jawad as a strict, unsmiling traditionalist, known for his anger and his devotion to the teachings of the Qur’an inside of his own home. Outside of the family, however, he is a much-loved storekeeper who spends his evenings pursuing women, drinks, and laughter: “The truth was that he was dreaded and feared only in his own family. With everyone else – friends, acquaintances, and customers – he was a different person.”

While the entire family is affected in some way by the British occupation, and has opinions on it, it is primarily through the thoughts and activities of Fahmy, Abd al-Jawad’s second son that the audience learns about what motivates those who fight for a better future and for autonomy from political domination. Fahmy, like other “brothers,” was a brave and intelligent young man. Perhaps, his tragic death was unexpected, and it really touched his father, who may be for the first time realized how he will miss his son. Abd al-Jawad was concerned with his

image too much, and for sure he did not know many things about his family members. For example, he never had a chance to realize that Fahmy had been participating in violent demonstrations. He believed that the fatal demonstration was Fahmy’s first, and certainly last.

For Kamal, Abd al-Jawad’s other son, he actually liked the Australian troops, when they watched him in delight as he entertained them with his beautiful singing. For other members of Abd al-Jawad family, they cared about the British soldiers in the same way others did. They were much more concerned with the head of their household, since he was so frightening.

However, Egypt’s society as a whole underwent a transition as a result of British occupation: “Two major intellectual responses – Islamic modernism and Egyptian nationalism – sought to understand the changes and chart a course to the future.” The families of the middle class, though, in a sense did not belong to these responses: they were isolated. That is what happened to Ahmad Abd al-Jawad’s family. Their cultural beliefs and religion did not allow them to undergo such dramatic transformations, that is why they were isolated from the 20th century Western culture.

The reason why they were isolated is difficult to perceive by a Westerner. Even the British military forces that occupied Egypt did not understand the meaning of culture and religion to the Egyptian people. And that also affected the response of Islamic families to the “alien” thought. Certainly, in the case of Egypt, there had been a feeling of negative response, since the British occupation converted once independent Egypt into a colony. One may understand the reasons behind the Britain’s actions – need for the Suez Canal which was a way to India, another of its colonies. Thus, the Europeans were not very interested in the roots of Muslim culture; they were interested in what this culture could for them. The reactions of Egyptians were such as Abd al-Jawad’s: “May God destroy and annihilate them.” These angry feelings backfired at the British,

thus, making them more hostile and the whole situation more tense. The historical perspective, however, resembles the current thoughts on the issue of Islam and its culture.

Unfortunately, most of the people in the West presently do not know much about the values and culture of Islamic families:

One of the hallmarks of civilized man is knowledge of the past – the past of others with whom one’s own culture has had repeated and fruitful contact; or the past of any group that has contributed to the ascent of man. The Arabs fit profoundly into both of the latter two categories. But in the West the Arabs are not well known. Victims of ignorance as well as misinformation, they and their culture have often been stigmatized from afar.

Again, this proves the vast differences between the Western culture and that of the Islamic society.

As for the family of Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, they represented a regular middle-class Islamic family. However, the fear and strict rules of the father did not allow the other members of the family to be connected to the outside world. Amina, the wife of Abd al-Jawad always listened to him, since he was the only source of news. Because of the lack of information they stayed isolated. One of the daughters became married to escape her father’s severe teachings, one son became a debauchee like his father, and another died like a hero. Things changed in the Abd al-Jawad family, but one aspect did not – their faith and appreciation of their culture, and that had shaped the ground for isolation from the West.

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