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The Beduin's Gazelle
Book Review As It Relates to the Book’s Use in Humanities For Complementing Studies About Islam and the Muslim World in the Context of World History & Social Studies

Book Title: The Beduin's Gazelle
Author: Frances Temple
Reviewer: Youssef Ismail

Except for teachers, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of ING (Islamic Networks Group).

The purpose of this review is to produce a synopsis of the book, The Beduin’s Gazelle, and critically analyze passages that reflect positively and negatively on Islam and the Muslim world and to correct any misconceptions promoted by this story, as it relates to the book’s use by the humanities for complementing the study of Islam & the Muslim world in the context of World History and Social Studies

The story is set in 680 Hijrah, 1302 AD/CE (Common Era), in West Africa, most probably in Morocco, or just east of Morocco. It is a love story between a young man of the Bani Khaled tribe, named Atiyah and his betrothed from birth named Halima of the same tribe, who also happens to be his cousin. This tribe is one of several desert tribes that seem to be rivals that compete for dominance in the desert by raiding each other for wealth and livestock. The tribal chief of the Bani Khaled, Essafeh, is Halima’s father and Atiyah’s uncle. Atiyah also has a second uncle, Saladeen, who is an Islamic scholar who has designs of acquiring power over the desert tribes and particularly his own tribe, the Bani Khaled. Saladeen is portrayed as a corrupt, power hungry man who uses the Islamic faith as a means of acquiring power. As part of this plan he decides that it is imperative that Atiyah, who happens to be the up and coming leader of the bani Khaled, must come to Fez and study the sacred law of Islam. He attempts to win Atiyah’s loyalty using religion to make him see that the warring tribes are misguided and that only he, with Atiyah’s help, can liberate them. Atiyah, and Essafeh, however are upset by his plans and see this as a plot to destroy their tribal traditions. Atiyah tries to flee but is caught and eventually returns with Saladeen to Fez where he begins his studies. Once in Fez he finds that he is a misfit with his harsh tribal manners, and continually finds himself out of bounds when asking questions of his teachers. In Fez he befriends a French student Etienne, who is there to learn Arabic and Islamic Law, even though it is clear that he has not accepted Islam, although he often prays with the Muslims. Etienne becomes Atiyah’s confidant while in Fez and eventually helps Atiyah escape from Fez.

In the meantime, Halima and her tribe, the bani Khaled, are forced to move due to a lack of rain and grazing for their livestock. In love with Atiyah, Halima wonders if she will ever see her betrothed again, and dreams of the day they are reunited and married. Along the journey she falls asleep and somehow the camel she is riding becomes untied from the caravan and wanders off into the desert. She finds herself lost in the desert for several days before a lone horseman from the Bani Shummari tribe finds her and her camel near death. He rescues them and brings them to his tribe’s encampment. After three days of recuperation she begins to interact with this tribe, who happens to be the main rival tribe of the Bani Khaled, led by a man called Raisulu. Treated as a guest in the Bani Shummari camp ensures that she will not be harmed, in accordance with tribal customs. She remains with them for several months and proves to be an asset to the tribe. Eventually Raisulu asks for her hand in marriage as his second wife. She agreed since she had gradually given up hope that Atiyah would ever return or find her living among this rival tribe. She made alliances with the women of the Bani Shummari tribe and in particular a woman named Saffiya who was Raisulu’s first wife. It seemed that Saffiya, even though she was the first wife, did not live conjugally with Raisulu, which prompted him to take a another wife. Part of this was due to the fact that she was barren and could not give Raisulu a child.

After several months, the Bani Khaled tribe gave up looking for Halima and assumed that she was dead. Word was sent to Fez to inform Atiyah that she had been lost in the desert and died. Atiyah does not believe that she has died and vows to find her. With Etienne’s help they manage to escape Fez and attempted to enter a horse race to win some horses for them to ride back to the tribe of Bani Khaled. The night before the race the two found themselves at a poetry competition in which Atiyah takes part. After he recites his poem, the crowd is pleased, particularly a man who tells Atiyah that his words deeply moved him and asks what he can give him. It was through this offer that they secured two horses and provisions for their journey.

On their journey, they meet the Bani Shummari tribe. Atiyah is surprised to find that Halima was living amongst them, and Halima was surprised that Atiyah had actually returned. She is also caught in a dilemma since Raisulu had been preparing for his wedding to Halima only a few days away. Atiyah is enraged to learn that Halima had abandoned him for Raisulu, but after Atiyah meets with Halima privately and is reassured by Halima that she still loves him, he vows to rescue her at any cost. The story grows quite tense as Atiyah plans to steal her away at night. She refuses, as she fears that Atiyah will be killed, and she prefers giving herself up to a loveless marriage with Raisulu than to see Atiyah killed. Convinced not to steal her away, Atiyah confronts Raisulu with the information that he is Halima’s betrothed and that tribal customs do not allow Raisulu to marry her. Raisulu is annoyed and continues planning for the wedding. The Shammuri tribe arrive the day of the wedding joining Atiyah and his friend Etienne. The story takes a surprisingly pleasant turn when Raisulu stands to deliver his wedding speech. Instead of announcing that he will wed Halima himself, he actually acts as her father, and gives her in marriage to Atiyah. By doing so, he preserves and honors tribal traditions and seals a lasting peace with the Bani Khaled. The story ends with Atiyah becoming the leader of the Bani Khaled and making peace with his uncle Saladeen as well.

General Critique:

The story portrays characters that are apparently Muslim by faith, however, they exhibit many tribal customs and beliefs that conflict with Islamic teachings and practice. The names of two of the characters Raisulu and Saladeen are portrayed as essentially wicked men, yet bear names of very noble and magnanimous real-life characters in Islamic history and tradition, namely the Prophet Muhammad, known as ‘Rasul’ Allah in Arabic – the Messenger of God, and ‘Saladin’, the 10th century Muslim Caliph who freed Palestine from the oppression of the Crusades and opened Jerusalem to all faiths. The issue of marrying multiple wives is also a practice that is not common as it is misrepresentative of the norm in marriage, which is monogamy. It further confuses the issue of the ‘dowry’, which in Islam is actually a marriage gift given by the groom to the bride, and not visa versa. It is her property and no one, not even her father or guardian has any claim to it. There is also a misuse of translated words for God interchanged with the word in Arabic, which creates the impression that God and Allah are not simply two words meaning one and the same. On the contrary, the interchange should demonstrate they are the same thing. Finally, with references to words like Jihad, it portrays Islam as an intolerant religion that views all others as heathens.

Specific Analysis:
Page 2: “…even toward the boy to whom you were promised from birth, your own cousin.”

Analysis: Being promised from birth for marriage is not an Islamic practice. The more common Islamic principle is that a woman’s consent is needed to validate a marriage contract.

Page 2: “Halima dreamed of her cousin Atiyah, to whom she is promised, whose name meant the Gift of God”

Analysis: See above note on being promised in marriage. In addition, it is not clear to this reviewer that the word Atiyah means ‘Gift of God’. The word ‘Ata is an Arabic word which means ‘to give’. It is unclear if this is an Arabic word or one of the tribal dialects found in West Africa. Berber is a common language among the West African desert tribes and it might be from that language. More will be commented on inaccurate translations the author uses.

Page 3: “…if she and Atiyah were found alone together before marriage, she would be put to death, and rightly so, to protect the honor of the tribe.”

Analysis: Being put to death for being alone with another man and how this is related to the honor of the tribe is not an Islamic practice; There is no punishment for merely being alone with a man, and if any claims of fornication were made that might lead to any sort of punishment, then under Islamic law, the accuser must bring four witnesses with impeccable character that would have to testify that they witnessed the actual penetration of the man’s genitals into the woman’s, which is nearly impossible.

Also, ‘honor killings’ are not an Islamic practice, but rather the practice of pre-Islamic Arabs, which stemmed from tribal based communities. The reputation of the tribe and its honor were very important and losing it was disastrous for the tribe. Islam actually prohibited such practices and taught the importance of loyalty to God as believers over the loyalty to the tribe. Any practice of this sort is cultural than Islamic.

Page 4: “’…Hamdillah…,’ she murmured, “the merciful, the compassionate…’”

Analysis: The word ‘Hamdillah’, even though misspelled, is intended to mean ‘all praise belongs to God’ and not ‘the merciful, the compassionate’. The correct transliteration of the phrase ‘all praise belongs to God’ is Al-Hamdu Lillah. The Arabic for ‘the merciful’ is Ar-Raheem and for ‘the compassionate’ it is Ar-Rahman.

Page 5: “…Go! Raid our enemies the Shummari…”

Analysis: Aggression in Islam is strictly prohibited. Such a command to raid another tribe unprovoked would be considered an unwarranted act of aggression, which Islam condemns.

Page 10: “…Saladeen had been sent to recruit warriors for a jihad: Saladeen claimed that jihads were holy wars; that their purpose was to convert the heathen to Islam. Essafeh said the wars were not holy at all, that their purpose was to increase the power of the caliph, who wanted to rule even the desert tribes.”

Analysis: This passage has several problems with it. First, the name of the character Saladeen is portrayed as essentially wicked, yet he bears the name of one of the most noble and magnanimous real-life characters in Islamic history who was Saladin, the 10th century Muslim Caliph who freed Palestine from the oppression of the Crusades and opened Jerusalem to all faiths.

Other problems with the passage stem from the understanding of the word, jihad. Islamically, Jihad does not mean ‘holy war’. Holy war in Arabic is harb muqaddas, a term which never appears in the Quran or other Islamic scriptural sources. The word stems from the root verb in Arabic jahida, which means to struggle or strive. Jihad in Arabic is a verbal noun, which is a noun that implies action. Thus jihad means a struggle, which occurs in two forms – internal and external. The internal jihad is the internal struggle that each person deals with to remove bad character from the self and to cultivate good character. As this is sometimes very difficult to do, this form of jihad is referred to as “the greater jihad”. The external or lesser jihad is a physical struggle either with the heart, tongue, or one’s hand to stop oppression and aggression on the earth. As Essafeh correctly notes, Islamically, the external jihad to stop oppression on earth should not be waged with the intention of converting others to Islam, or as a means of acquiring land and wealth.

Page 13: “Everyone is someone, Nazreen. And we are the Beni Khalid. No one goes hungry from our tents.’”

Analysis: Treating guests hospitably is greatly emphasized, and practiced Muslim tradition.

Page 17: “Halima reminded herself that women of the Beni Khalid worked, kept their counsel and did not question men.”

Analysis: This is a tribal custom that does not have a basis in Islam. Women were active in the community of Muslims, even at the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the 6th century. Their counsel was sought and Prophet Muhammad devoted time to the women of Medina where they could address their needs and concerns directly with him. With regards to seeking a woman’s counsel, the Prophet Muhammad did this on numerous occasions. To serve as an example, in one instance, at the critical juncture of the early Muslims, when they attempted to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca for the first time after migrating to Medina, the Meccans prevented them from doing so. The Prophet Muhammad then consulted with his wife on what to do, and then followed her counsel to perform the rituals that follow the pilgrimage, and returned home; thereby avoiding confrontation or hostilities.

Page 23: “’… and make your contribution be the glory of Islam and peace among the tribes.’”

Analysis: An interesting passage, as Islam, 600 years prior to the time of this story, did bring peace among the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Page 24: “’Your mind is supple and can grasp the wisdom of the ulama, the religious council…’”

Analysis: the word ‘ulama’ actually means scholars of any of the Islamic religious sciences and not a religious council. The word stems from the Arabic verb ‘alama which means to teach. The word ulama, a plural, literally means ‘those who know’.

Page 25: “…’May fleas devour you slowly,’ he said, once outside. ‘May Allah scatter scorpions in your path.’”

Analysis: Making such a supplication to harm someone is not of the teachings and practices of Islam. Islamic tradition is to always repay a good with good and more amazingly, always repay an evil with good! Therefore, it is unfitting for a Muslim to make supplication to God for an evil, since supplications should only be for good.

Page 27: “…They ate outside, near the cook-fire, the women just after the men.”

Analysis: Islamic practice is just the opposite. It is customary to let the women and children eat first before the men.

Page 32: “’Swear it in blood’, Uncle, Atiyah begged…”

Analysis: Islamically, Muslims do not invoke oaths in the name of anyone or anything besides the name of God as it negates the belief that God is the source of everything. The use of blood also implies a commitment to violence or killing, which is not characteristic of an Islamic personality.

Page 32: “…’Who knows?’ said Essafeh cheerfully, half to himself, as they slowed to a walk nearing the corral. ‘Perhaps if one of us learns the laws of the Prophet properly, Allah will reward us by sending us rain.’”

Analysis: While Muslims believe that by supplicating God for rain and other provisions, God may grant the supplication, this is not dependent on learning the laws of Islam, but rather the sincerity of the seeker and God’s divine plan.

Also, reference is made to the laws of the Prophet, as opposed to the laws of Islam, which maybe misinterpreted by the reader. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was a human being who was chosen by God as His messenger of God’s revelation. Muslims do not believe that Muhammad created the laws of Islam but rather that he received them from God.

Page 68: “In one of the inner courts of the Mosque and University of Qaraouyine, there was something so beautiful, so magical and strange that Atiyah thought when he first saw it that he must be dreaming. In the middle of the courtyard grew a flower of stone, open to the sky, and from its calyx spurted a stream of the most precious substance on earth: water….”

Analysis: This is one of the great contributions that Islam made to civilization, the beautification of living spaces with such things as fountains, as well as running water to homes. Water is greatly valued by Muslims as a source of purification and tied to the five daily prayers through the required ablution (ritual washing).

Page 71: “There is a saying among the peoples of the desert that it is the Archangel Gabriel who drives the rain clouds across the sky….”

Analysis: Islamic belief actually places the Angel Michael as the angel charged with driving the rain clouds to where God will make the rainfall.

Page 72: “’For this I have tried to study, so that I might bring the law back to the Beni Khalid. I had hoped that in this way the Angel might drive more clouds to us.’”

Analysis: As stated earlier, while Muslims believe that by supplicating God for rain and other provisions, God may grant the supplication, this is not dependent on learning the laws of Islam, but rather the sincerity of the seeker and God’s divine plan. Also, according to Islamic teachings, angels do not determine where rain will fall. Rain is considered to be among the sustenance of God and is only determined by God.

Page 89: “…’Did your father have many wives?’ asked Saffiya. ‘He has been sent courtesy wives, of course, because he is the sheikh…’”

Analysis: The term ‘courtesy wives’ is unclear in meaning. If it means a woman given to the leader of the tribe as a gift then it is not accepted in Islamic Law. In any case any conjugal cohabitation outside of a legal marriage is prohibited.

Page 89: “’Atiyah is my cousin. We have been betrothed from birth, in the way of my people. Is it done so among the Shummari?’ ‘Of course,” said Saffiya, her voice growing hard. “How else would the clan stay pure and strong?…’”

Analysis: Being betrothed from birth and having to marry in the family to keep the blood pure is not an Islamic practice. In fact, while Islam allows marriage between cousins, Islamic teachings encourage people to marry people who were not related to them by blood so that their children would be genetically strong.

Page 91: “…Cousin Raisulu…”

Analysis: The name Raisulu raises questions. It is very close in pronunciation to the word “Rasul”, which means messenger and is usually used to refer to the Prophet Muhammad and other prophets. Like the character Saladeen, Raisulu is somewhat of an antagonist in the story, which could shed a negative light on the Prophet Muhammad if a connection is made between the name Raisulu and the word Rasul.

Page 106: “A sheikh was allowed many wives, and many of them he took out of kindness.

Analysis: The above passage gives the sense that a sheikh (in this case, a leader of a tribe) can wed any number of women. Islamically, a man is allowed to marry more than one wife, provided that certain conditions exist and he is able to maintain each household equally in every respect, otherwise he must have only one wife. So, the norm in Islam is monogamy, not polygamy. The verse of the Quran in which this issue is addressed was revealed in the context of a period of war in the life of early Muslims (who were being attacked by the Meccans for their monotheistic belief), leaving many women and their children without care or support. Rather than leaving these women and orphans to fend for themselves, early Muslims were given permission to take more than one wife provided that the man is able to care for his first wife, and any additional wives (limited to four) equally. But in the same verse of the Quran, God states that it is impossible to care for more than one equally, so it is best to keep only one.

Page 107: “’Have you forgotten the time of exclusion? It is written in the Book that a man may not take a new-bought concubine or a foreign woman to wife until she has been in the care of his women for three full moons, that he may know that any child she bears will be his own and that she is not unclean.’”

Analysis: Concubinage was prohibited in Islamic Law. The word “exclusion” is in reference to waiting before marrying a woman who was recently divorced for three menstrual cycles to ensure that she was not pregnant. If she was pregnant, then the child’s father would be responsible to provide for that child, exclusive of any other care the child maybe provided by the new father. The reference to the woman being “unclean” is not based on any Islamic teaching or practice.

Page 111: “…’They have some horses. Some of our horses, in fact, since they raid us whenever our backs are turned.’ ‘And you, the Beni Khalid, raid them in turn?’ Atiyah’s eyes sparkled. ‘Of course! We raid them even when they are watching! How do you think Essafeh’s herds have become so numerous?’…”

Analysis: See the note above about the mention of raids. The idea of raiding other tribes for the purpose of gaining property is more akin to robbery and is a pre-Islamic tribal custom common in many tribal areas throughout the world, but is not sanctioned by Islam.

Page 121: “…What a sham it was, Halima thought, grinding her teeth. Sheikh Raisulu was choosing his best animals, which would be given to her and then, because her father is lost to her, would go back to rejoin the sheikh’s own herd…”

Analysis: This passage implies that the ‘dowry’ or marriage gift given by the groom to the bride actually ends up in the hands of her father. But in this case because her father is not present, the gift will end up returning to the groom. Islamic law requires a marriage gift, or mahr in Arabic, as a condition for the validity of the marriage contract between a man and a woman at the time the contract is executed. The marriage gift becomes the property of the bride and cannot be taken or used by anyone other than her. She has complete charge over it and can use it or put it in the trust of someone as she sees fit.

Page 124: “…’Travelers!” came Raisulu’s growl. The word hung in the air. Then: “I see that you are partaking of guest friendship. In the name of Allah the All-Merciful, you are welcome. But may I ask whom I have the honor of feeding in my tent?’…”

Analysis: The passage indicates his displeasure at hosting guests, which on the contrary was considered a noble quality among Arabs and Muslims. A Muslim is supposed to show hospitality to guests for at least three days without any conditions or questions asked.

Page 128: “’Much rests on his being a man of faith,’…”

Analysis: This is a case in point that the characters are portrayed as practicing Muslims while misrepresenting Islamic beliefs and customs.

Page 131: “…Atiyah and I were betrothed at birth….”

Analysis: See the first comment above for the passage on page 3 of the book.

Page 134: “Even the thought of it made her shake. If she were caught, she would be brought before the tribe. Her throat would be slit like a camel’s, her dishonor washed away in blood.”

Analysis: Honor killings are strictly prohibited in Islamic law. This is a practice of pre-Islamic times and was abolished during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Any continuing practice is based on cultural practice or pre-Islamic tribal traditions.

Page 145: “He is called Etienne-Roum. His people have fought for the Christian God. Like us, he is a man of the Book.”

Analysis: This is probably one of the more disturbing passages in the book as it tries to differentiate between the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims. In fact Muslims believe in and worship the same God as the Christians – The God of Abraham – who created everything.

Page 147: “In the name of Allah, and of the ‘asabiyya, the code of the desert, which makes all of us as of one tribe, I relinquish the beautiful Halima to her first cousin Atiyah!”

Analysis: The coupling of the word ‘asabiyya with God in the invocation is problematic. The coupling of God with anything such as ‘asabiyya is not an Islamic practice and is prohibited. Further, the word ‘asabiyyah’ is more in line with the understanding of nationality than it is a code of the desert. It carries with it the notion of common identity that binds a people together and distinguishes them from others. It has both positive and negative connotations.

Page 150: “…fought battles as far away as Spain for the Marinid Empire, to extend Islam among the heathen.”

Analysis: It is unfortunate that the book ends with this passage. It gives the sense that Islam and those that adhere to it are only concerned with extending their empire through fighting and war. Further, it portrays the people fought as “heathens”. However if we look at the definition of the word heathen we find: “An individual of the pagan or unbelieving nations, or those which worship idols and do not acknowledge the true God; a pagan; an idolater.” Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

“One who adheres to the religion of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Thus the use of this word is incorrect at best. The people of Spain at the time of the setting of this story were most probably Christian and would not be considered heathen at all. Islam in fact considers the diversity of people as God's creation, and therefore respect for diversity is commanded. Especially noted in the Quran are "People of the Book", namely Jews and Christians, who were always given a special place in Muslim society. Muslims are commanded to safeguard their right to worship and their places of worship, a command that has been historically followed, as is evidenced by the existence of old churches and synagogues throughout the Muslim world in places like Turkey, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Bosnia. Contrary to the common stereotype, Islam was not "spread by the sword", nor people forced to convert, a fact again born out by the existence of non-Muslim populations throughout the Muslim world. This same respect and tolerance was extended to people of other faiths.

As Bernard Lewis states in his book, What Went Wrong, "Surely, the Ottomans did not offer equal rights to their subjects, a meaningless anachronism in the context of that time and place. They did however offer a degree of tolerance without precedent or parallel in Christian Europe. Each religious community - the Ottoman term was millet - was allowed the free practice of its religion. More remarkably, they had their own communal organizations, subject to the authority of their own religious chiefs, controlling their own education and social life, and enforcing their own laws, to the extent that they did not conflict with the basic laws of the Empire. While ultimate power - political and military - remained in Muslim hands, non-Muslims controlled much of the economy, and were even able to play a part of some importance in the political process."


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