Minaret (Leila Aboulela)

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In her 2005 book Minaret, Leila Aboulela focuses the lens on Najwa. Najwa’s downturned gaze and hijab makes her a modest Muslim woman to her mosque friends and an obedient maid to her employers. In London Najwa learns to live the role of the invisible figures that catered to her as a young university student in Khartoum.

The story flashes back from London from the early 2000s to the mid 80s and 90s to recount the shattering events which transformed the secular, partying Najwa of Sudan to a humble housekeeper.

Why did Najwa replace her short mini-skirts to long floor length skirts? How did Najwa decide to tie her hair and cover every strand under the hijab? If a reader is seeking a romanticized depiction of Sudan with its fertile agricultural land, rivers and friendly citizens then I would not recommend Minaret. Najwa, a naïve narrator, relays what she sees and how she feels to the reader with no boundaries. As a result the reader is able to make connections and interpret the content with no directions. Identity in Minaret is displayed less as a struggle and more as a state of being. For Najwa Islam means peace for the mind and purity for the body.

Aboulela’s tranquil storytelling reflects to the reader Najwa’s observant and reflective nature. The South African Nobel Prize winner J. M Coetzee calls Minaret a “story of love and faith all the more moving for the restraint with which it is written” I warn readers of the strong attachment and identification felt towards Najwa. Her simplicity, sincerity and serenity make it hard to part with the words that reveal her deepest secrets and silent triumphs.

Please read responsibly.

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