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Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind
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: Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind
Author: Suzanne Fisher Staples
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, Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind, 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 Pakistan in what appears to be the 1980’s or later in the Cholistan Desert. It is centered on a young desert dwelling Pakistani girl, Shabanu, who is the narrator of the story. Always in fear of not having water, these desert dwellers follow the rains; yet try to stay in the same encampment as long as water exists in the local watering holes. She belongs to a family that herds camels and it is through the sale of camels at the yearly fair that they are able to finance their needs including planning a great wedding for their older daughter Phulan followed by Shabanu a year or two after that. Their camels are their most prized possessions and they look after them with great care.

The story begins with her family’s preparations to marry her older sister Phulan, which is intertwined with Shabanu’s thoughts about her own wedding day. She has not reached maturity yet, but as soon as she does she will be married. It is their custom that parents completely arrange the marriage. For Phulan, her parents have chosen Hamir, a farmer who managed to bring agriculture to a portion of the desert. For Shabanu, they are planning on marrying her to his younger brother, Murad. We find Shabanu at times dreaming of how marrying Murad will take her away from her desert life and her camels which she so dearly loves and at other times dreams of how wonderful life will be with him. She remembers Murad when she saw him years ago at the yearly fair as a young boy with ears that were too big for his head and she wonders if he still looks the same.

Shabanu is a strong willed girl of eleven or twelve years old, who is obedient in doing her chores and what she is told until she loses faith in her father, when he sells her beloved camel Guluband after he promised her that he would not. At this point she starts becoming more independent in her thinking, and even though she is still obedient there is a shift in her attitude towards marriage and her willingness to get married. She continually compares herself to her sister Phulan, who is completely submissive to the will of her parents, and at times wishes she could be more like her.

The story for the most part is quite uneventful until the family travels to the township where Hamir’s family lives and farms the land. It is when Shabanu and Phulan visit a watering hole to get water for the family and bathe that the story takes a drastic turn. Several men on a hunting expedition see the two girls and set up a bet amongst them that the one who can shoot the most quail will have Phulan. It was the custom that the landowner, Nazir Muhammad, would provide his guests with a girl from among the tenants of his land, and in this case the hunting party wanted Phulan. When they are finished with her, they give her some money and send her back to her family. Shabanu overhears their sinister plans, and in anger throws their water jars at one of the hunters, splashing mud on his fine silk trousers. This enrages him, and Shabanu and Phulan flee in fear on camel back to their encampment. They tell their father what happened and that when they finish the hunt, they will come for Phulan. He orders the girls, their mother and aunt to flee to a township called Derawar Fort, where he would catch up with them, then rushes to town to warn Hamir and Murad that they need to contact the landlord, Nazir Muhammad, and let him know that Phulan is betrothed. Hamir becomes enraged and after grabbing his gun, sets out to find the hunting party. Before he can leave his village the hunting party arrives in search of Phulan. A skirmish takes place and Hamir is shot and killed. Meanwhile, the Desert Rangers have taken the women into their protective custody at the advanced ordered by the father over radio. Their father eventually catches up with them covered with blood. Phulan goes into a state of depression after hearing that Hamir is dead. He is accompanied by Murad, whom Shabanu sees for the first time since he was a child, full grown into a handsome, strong and courageous young man.

The remainder of the story deals with a negotiation between the landlord, the governor of the area and the two families on how this incident should be resolved. By this time, Shabanu has become much bolder and independent in her manners and thinking, and a sense of rebellion toward the authority of her parents is evident. During the negotiations, Shabanu’s two young nephews manage to get outside and get stuck in a tree. She goes outside to help them get down using a ladder. As she is climbing the ladder, it starts to slip just as a jeep pulls up to the house. From within the jeep an older distinguished gentleman emerges and holds the ladder for her until she can rescue her cousins. She smiles at him in gratitude; this proves later to be her undoing.

With the negotiations settled, the parties involved announce the outcome. Phulan will be wed to Murad, Hamir’s younger brother. Shabanu is infuriated that her sister will marry the man she had dreamed of. Her fate is sealed however, when she learns that the landlord will not evict or cut off the water supply to the farm now tended by Murad, in return for his brother, the governor, Rahim-Sahib, marrying Shabanu. Rahim-Sahib is no other than the man who held the ladder for Shabanu who was smitten by her when she smiled at him. He is a man in his fifties with three previous wives. Shabanu protests vehemently but to no avail. The decision has been made that when she reaches the age of maturity she will be wed to him.

Shabanu turns to a cousin of her mother’s for support. Sharma is a strong willed woman like Shabanu who herself has a daughter fled a bad marriage. They live alone and have a commanding presence. Sharma scolds Shabanu’s father for his actions, but while he knows that Sharma is correct, out of stubborn pride and honor for the family, he sticks with his initial decision. Sharma gives Shabanu some personal advice on how to deal with the situation at a personal level, and assures her that she always has a choice, and offers her a refuge if she ever decides to leave. A few months after Phulan’s wedding, Shabanu starts to menstruate, but keeps it secrete from her parents for about three months, trying to avoid the inevitable. She also now starts to feel desire, and at night is embarrassed and ashamed when she hears her mother and father being intimate while they believe Shabanu is asleep. She decides that she cannot bear having a man old enough to be her grandfather in such a relationship. She decides to accept Sharma’s offer of refuge, sneaking away one night on a camel on what she thinks will be a 24-hour journey. While out in the desert, her pet camel Mithoo falls into a foxhole and breaks his leg. In despair she stays with him fearing that jackals and vultures will eat him. Now, instead of fearing her father will find her, she is now in dire hope that her father will actually find her to save Mithoo. As dawn breaks, her father does find her, but instead of helping her, starts to beat her with a stick until he has bloodied her back. At the end she hears sobbing as her father embraces her but realizes that the sobbing is coming from her father and not her. She finds solace in the advice that Sharma has given her: “The secret is keeping your innermost beauty, the secrets of your soul, locked in your heart so that he must always reach out to you for it.” This she does and this is what keeps her from crying and what will eventually give her the strength to be wed to an old man.

General Critique:

I found the book to be rather uneventful until the story picks up momentum after the hunting party incident, which changes Shabanu’s life. But what is especially troubling about the book is that the author describes many rituals and practices without making any distinction between cultural traditions and Islamic teachings and practices, although the reader is left to believe that the behavior of the characters is based on Islamic teachings. In fact it was the lack of knowledge and adherence to Islamic Law that lead these people into committing gross violations of Islamic Law itself in regards to such aspects as worship, burial of the dead, using girls as gifts, arranged marriages, beating of children, and conflict resolution. The story’s conclusion was probably the most frustrating, since it leaves the reader with a sense of hopelessness, oppression, and anger. Not only were the forced marriage, the beating, and the father’s attitude totally un-Islamic, they were totally inhumane. A true understanding and adherence to the teachings of Islam would have prevented such things from happening. The book is filled with passages that indicate behavior and beliefs that are not Islamic at all, and which confuse the reader into thinking that they represent Islam. Even if one was to look at this book for cultural accuracy, it is not in any way reflective of the life style of most Pakistani girls, who today are educated, enjoy many freedoms, and choose their own spouse. For the seventh grader reading the book as a complement to their study of Islam and Islamic history, instead of being educated, they are being filled with stereotypical representations that they assume to be facts. This is a disservice both to Islam and Muslims, and the students reading it. Some of the specific criticisms are enumerated in the pages, which follow Other Reviewers Comments on Shabanu:

Other Reviewers' Comments on Shabanu:

"Shabanu is a fictional book that is being used by 7th grade humanities teachers to supplement the student's education about Islam. Although it is an engaging story, Shabanu presents an extremely narrow view of a subculture in Pakistan, and reinforces common stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. This defeats the entire purpose of teaching about other religions and cultures.

"The portrait this story paints may be true for the nomadic people that live in the desert of Cholistan in Pakistan, or other remote areas of the Muslim world. It is a far cry, however, from the lifestyle of the millions of Muslims living in large cities, in houses or apartment buildings, riding cars or buses, attending schools and colleges, and generally living a modern lifestyle.

"It would be similar to a book about a girl living in a cabin in Appalachia, without electricity or running water, who walks barefoot for miles to fetch water. Were such a book read in other countries as a supplement to the study of the US, it would indeed convey an inaccurate picture of the lifestyle of the common American.

"Add to this setting the story line of a prepubescent girl forced to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather as his fourth wife by her overbearing father. It would be hard to contrive a more stereotypical plot. And since the targeted audience - seventh graders - are generally not equipped to make the distinction between religion and culture, specific situations and broad generalizations, it is common for them to ask such telling questions after reading the novel as: "Do you drive?" "How old were you when you were married?", and "Were you forced to marry your husband?" There have even been instances of Muslim girls being teasingly called Shabanu.

"If the purpose of the expanded curriculum adopted by the California Framework is to broaden students’ horizons and make them less intolerant and susceptible to stereotyping those who are different from themselves,it is counterproductive to have them read books like Shabanu. While there is no single book that we recommend as a replacement for Shabanu at this time, there are a number of alternatives offered in ING's catalog at www.ing.org -Ameena Jandali, Islamic Networks Group (ING)

"Please, please, please, throw out your copies of Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind – it is ‘colonialist literature’ – and don’t even consider its sequel! It is a humiliation to every Muslim child in your classroom – and this alone ought to be cue to you to abandon it."-Audrey Shabbas, Arab World and Islamic Resources & School Services (AWAIR)
" . . .While the character of Shabanu is somewhat "spunky" and independent at times, the main focus of the book is that worn-out ‘who will I marry’ story line which authors use to rope in every adolescent female reader. This continues the stereotype that the only thing on the mind of a young Muslim female is marriage . . . The ending of the book is quite unfortunate in that the last scene literally has her father catching up with his runaway daughter and beating her as the book closes!!" -Shabbir Mansuri, Council on Islamic Education (CIE)

Specific Analysis:

Page 3: “If God had blessed you with sons, we wouldn’t have to break our fingers over wedding dresses”

Analysis: This quote reflects the notion that sons are better than daughters. Islamic teachings place no greater worth on a son than a daughter and in fact both are considered a blessing from God. In fact, there is an Islamic tradition that states, “Whoever raises three daughters, treating them well, will be admitted to Paradise.” No such tradition is mentioned with regard to sons

Page 3: “You’ll spend your life’s savings on two dowries and two weddings. Without a son, who will bring a dowry for you? And who will take care of you when you’re old?

Analysis: The term “dowry” as it used throughout the book is defined as the property and wealth that a woman brings to the household of the husband when married. This understanding comes from a practice in other faiths and does not fit the description of what is commonly practiced by Muslims. Islamically, when a man and woman are married, the contract that is executed between them has as one of its conditions a wedding gift, known in Arabic as mahr, which is a gift from the groom to the bride to show his affection and commitment to the marriage. This gift is her property once she receives it and no one, not even her father or guardian has any claim over it.

Page 6: “Dadi will give us each ten camels with our dowries.”

Analysis: See note above on dowry.

Page 18: “Now that she is betrothed, she can’t leave the house without a billowy veil…”

Analysis: The use of the word, “veil,” here is misleading. The covering of the hair by a scarf and modest, loose-fitting dress, commonly referred to by Muslims as “hijab” becomes obligatory for a young woman when she reaches puberty. It should not be confused with the face veil, which is often cultural. The purpose of the hijab is so that a woman is not judged by her physical appearance or sexuality, but rather her character, behavior and intelligence. Also, Islamically, betrothal is not the discerning factor as to when the hijab needs to be worn by a woman. As stated earlier, it becomes required after she reaches puberty. And even then, it’s an aspect of Islamic teachings that is not forced upon a woman, but is her choice. Of course, this reviewer understands that in some Muslim populated countries today, the hijab is forced upon women such as in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, when the Taliban were in power. Hijab takes on the form of a “chador” or “burka” in South East Asian countries, and sometimes is imposed on women in certain rural regions.

Page 28: “In less than a year you’ll be betrothed. You aren’t a child anymore. You must learn to obey. Even when you disagree.”

Analysis: According to Islamic teachings, a person has individual rights and his/her consent is required for decisions that may impact them. And as individual rights relate to marriage, Islamically, a woman’s consent is required in order to validate her marriage. A woman cannot be forced to marry someone she doesn’t want.

Page 30: “Dadi is a wise man, and I’ve never truly learned to obey him. How can I let a boy with a skinny neck and ears that stick out from under his turban tell me what to do?”

Analysis: Once again, according to Islamic teachings, a person has individual rights and his/her consent is required for decisions that may impact them. In a marriage situation, both husband and wife must consult with one another on matters concerning the family. In many instances in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, for example, he consulted with his wife on what to do and made decisions based on those consultations.

Page 38: “Back beyond our camp…in the ancient mosque is a garden, where it is said that the Abbasid Prince kept seventy wives in richly decorated underground cells.”

Analysis: A mosque is a place of worship to God. They can be decorated but usually they are simple peaceful structures designed to facilitate prayer. This passage has many problems in it. First, seventy wives is not permitted in Islamic Law. 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.

Secondly, Islamically, keeping women or anyone in underground cells is a kin to imprisonment, and a person cannot be imprisoned without having committed a crime. But even imprisoned people have civil rights under Islamic law.

Page 44: “For the first time in my life, I pull the chador over my face and lower my head beneath the gaze of these men.”

Analysis: The chador is a garment worn in parts of Pakistan & Afghanistan that covers the whole body and often face, and should not be confused by students with modest dress in Islam, commonly referred to as “hijab”. (See the notes above for page 18.) This passage makes it seem like this is a monumental moment. However at the time this event took place, Shabanu still had not reached puberty and thus it was not an obligation for her to wear the hijab.

Page 44: “You know, little one,” he says, “these men will kill the woman when they find her.” I don’t answer. He is reminding me that I must abide by the rules.”

Analysis: This passage is in reference to the couple that eloped to get married. However, vigilante killings that this passage alludes to are absolutely prohibited according to Islamic teachings.

Page 53: “A man in a filthy tunic promises through a microphone that the dancing inside is performed by beautiful women who do forbidden things.”

Analysis: This passage alludes to the subjugation of women in the pursuit of monetary gain. This has been a problem that has plagued human society for thousands of years. According to Islamic teachings, women are not objects that can be used and abused for the enjoyment of men. Islam places men and women on an equal footing before God.

Page 61: “I bite at him like a wild animal. With his free hand he slaps my face, sending me to my knees. He still holds my arm.”

Analysis: According to Islamic teachings, beating another person, particularly a woman or a child, let alone an animal is strictly prohibited. If a parent does abuse a child, an Islamic judge can order the child to be taken away from the parent and given to another relative for care.

Page 63: “Dadi has made enough for Phulan’s wedding and dowry and for mine next year.”

Analysis: See the note about dowry from the passage on page 3 above.

Page 66: “A small boy joins in the snake dance, and the watching men twirl rupees over the dancers’ turbans to ward off the evil eye.”

Analysis: This scene describes a cultural practice, not based on any Islamic teachings.

Page 74: ““This is my wedding present for Phulan,” says the shopkeeper handing it to me. “May she have many sons.””

Analysis: The two aspects in this passage that are worthy of mention are generosity and the issue of sons over daughters. It is considered of good moral character in Islamic teachings to be generous, not only to friends and family but also to strangers. Secondly, sons have no more intrinsic worth to a family over daughters. In fact having daughters could be a reason for admittance into paradise, as stated in the notes above for the passage on page 3.

Page 91: “Our thoughts turn to Channan Pir, the desert shrine where women pray for sons and good marriages for their daughters.”

Analysis: This passage and ones referring to shrines & superstition are some of the most disturbing in the book. Islamically, prayer and supplication is directed toward God and God alone. Mosques, rather than shrines are the only places where congregational prayers are made to God. Praying to anyone or anything else negates a Muslim’s belief in God.

However, based on cultural practices, Pakistan is full of shrines, where people go to pray for many things. So, students reading these passages should be made to understand the differences between what Islam teaches and how Muslims pray versus cultural practices in certain parts of rural Pakistan that either pre-date Islam or are a degradation of Islamic teachings.

Page 95: “Every year we make the trek to the shrine to ask for some kindness from the saint who is protector of all children.”

Analysis: Prayer to saints is strictly prohibited in Islam as well as prayer to anything other than God. However, visiting the graves of deceased family and friends and of saints is recommended as it reminds the visitors of the inevitable and increases the ability to worship God more consciously.

Page 95-96: “I sing about a man whose lover God has taken away and sent to live among the stars where he sees her every night. He can never have her.”

Analysis: This passage may be representing a cultural superstition and has no basis in Islamic theology.

Page 97: “She disapproves of Sharma, who left her husband because he beat her. He was older and already had one wife who had borne him no sons. He married Sharma in the hope she’d bear a boy child. When Fatima was born he began beating both of them, and Sharma refused to lie with him.”

Analysis: Wife beating is strictly prohibited according to Islamic teachings. It has no basis and a man who beats his wife for any reason, can be imprisoned and punished severely. Also, as addressed earlier, according to Islamic teachings, men and women are equal before God. In some rural societies however, boys are usually favored over girls for purposes of labor, and possibly gifts brought them in marriage, as dowry is understand in this book, which is not based on Islamic teachings.

Page 98: “…his elder brother has just had a second child, a girl – too bad, it seems to run in the family.”

Analysis: In addition to the issue of bearing girls which we refer to above, this passage tends to imply that God’s decree has no bearing on whether a child born to a couple will be a boy or a girl. Islamic belief places that decision squarely on God. It has nothing to do with genetics or chance. According to Islamic teachings, God decides on the gender of the child at conception, which is why Islam teaches to be happy with the birth of any child, whether boy or girl.

Page 99: “Women kneel in rows in the packed mud courtyard of the mosque. Rotating their bodies, they toss their oiled hair over their heads, back and forth and around and around with a whipping motion like horses’ tails, in a frenzy of devotion. Women whirl like dervishes, ankle bracelets jangling, their skirts flying out like disks of color. All around are women: wailing women, silent women, with children clinging to their skirts, women dancing and playing flutes and singing songs about the life of Channan Pir. Beside the entrance to the shrine a woman, her head thrown back, wails her anguish at having lost a child.”

Analysis: No ritual in Islam bears any resemblance to the acts related in this passage. Worship in Islam is directed toward God, and is solemn and dignified. These maybe cultural practices in certain rural parts of Pakistan but even then, does not really reflect Pakistani culture either.

Page 99: “I pray with all my heart that Phulan will have sons. … I pray she and Hamir will be happy and that life will not be too difficult for her.”

Analysis: Such supplications as the one made in this passage are acceptable in Islam; however, Islamically, they must be directed toward God. The context in which these supplications were made imply they were being made toward the “saint” at whose shrine these women were praying. Again, the emphasis on sons is stereotypical.

Page 101: “…Dadi the favorite, has won. The crowd is nearly mad with ecstasy, calling for blood.”

Analysis: This passage is in reference to a wrestling match that Shabanu’s father had just won. While the women were at the shrine, the men were engaged in near fight to the death-wrestling matches. Such fighting expositions where the intent to is hurt the opponent is prohibited in Islamic Law.

Page 104: “Sharma tells a story about a woman, her friend, who was stoned to death because her husband accused her of looking at another man.”

Analysis: The punishment mentioned in this passage, which is based on an ancient practice, was only executed after a husband or wife has been found guilty by a judge of committing adultery. Further, in order for a judge to give such a sentence, four independent witnesses, of outstanding character & reputation, must actually testify to having seen the actual penetration of the man’s genitals into the woman’s for this sentence to be executed. It is nearly impossible, and certainly would not be done by the mere accusation of ‘looking’ at another man. Mention of it in this passage is absurd.

Page 106: “…but Hindus and Muslims alike come to worship at the mound of rocks where the infant was thrown, and where his body lies today.”

Analysis: This passage again implies worship of something other than God, which is considered unIslamic.

Page 107: “For the first time I feel a communion with the saint; his presence is like a soothing hand on my shoulder.”

Analysis: Communion with the dead is not something that is accepted in Islamic belief.

Page 119: ““I want to die at Derawar,” Grandfather says, his voice stronger now. “The nawab will bury me in a martyr’s grave, with turquoise tiles and lapis carvings. He’ll plant colored flags at the head of my resting place so people can pray at the grave of a man close to Allah.”

Analysis: According to Islamic teachings, martyrs, who are people that die purely in the cause of God (and not anything else), are buried no differently than any other person. Planting colored flags at the head of a grave or people praying at the grave describes cultural practices, not found in Islamic teachings.

Page 122: “It is our custom never to get onto the camels in front of our house for fear we’ll never return.”

Analysis: Superstitions such as the one described here have no place in Islamic belief.

Page 125: The legend of the thirsty dead says if you find a thirsty man too late to save his life, he’ll moan and clamor, his ghost following you the rest of you life.”

Analysis: Likewise legends and stories of the unseen world outside of what is related in Islamic tradition do not have a basis in Islamic teachings, nor does the belief in ghosts. Islamically, once a person dies, their soul leaves the body and enters the next phase of its journey to God where it resides in a world known as “Barzakh,” which is a state between this life and the hereafter. That soul has no further interaction with this life and it definitely does not come back to haunt or follow people around.

Page 126: “I climb into the prickly shrub to retrieve his turban. Dadi turns the man’s face toward Mecca and chants the prayers a family says for its dead. He pours water into his palm and sprinkles it over the lifeless face as a token of the ritual washing of the dead. He wraps the turban like a shroud about the man’s head and shoulders, and we sit silently for a moment, wishing his soul well on its way.”

Analysis: When a Muslim dies, it is incumbent upon the Muslim community to properly wash and dress the body of the deceased. The washing and dressing are described in detail in Islamic Law. Then the community will perform the funeral prayer, in which the living will pray to God for the forgiveness of the deceased. The body is then buried in the ground. This passage alludes to this burial custom and in fact given the circumstances by which this dead man was found, was handled admirably.

Page 130: “Dadi leaps up from his quilt and turns Grandfather’s head toward Mecca so his soul can pray.”

Analysis: The ritual prayer in Islam must be done while the person is facing Mecca. However that is in the case for those who are still alive. This passage takes place after the grandfather has died. Once dead, the soul leaves the body in Islamic belief, and prayer is no longer possible for such a person. This passage shows the ignorance among the characters of Islamic teachings or practices.

Page 131-132: “…mounded tombs to mark the place where the troubled and needy might find a place to pray besides a spirit that has influence with God.”

Analysis: Again as mentioned above, prayers are directed toward God and not toward the dead in the hope that their prayers are answered.

Page 137: “Finally we secure the sticks with colored flags at his head where pilgrims might pray.”

Analysis: This describes a cultural practice, not found in Islamic teachings. For Muslims, pilgrimage can only be made to the Mosque in Mecca for the purpose of the Hajj or the lesser Hajj known as Umrah. Pilgrimage to graves is prohibited. Visiting graves is on the other hand allowed and encouraged.

Page 141: “This will be my first year to keep the sacred fast, as children aren’t required to do so until they stop growing.”

Analysis: The actual time when a child is required to observe the ritual fast of Ramadan is when they reach puberty. In the story, Shabanu has not reached puberty yet and is still about 12 years old. However, students may be interested to know that it is customary for Muslim families to let children practice the fast at a younger age than puberty, where they may fast half the day or do without food or water for a part of the day so as to get prepared for the day when they have to fast as adults. Abstentions from the fast occur when the person is too young or too old, when a person is sick or on medication, when a person is traveling, and when a woman is pregnant or nursing.

Page 144: “Many young women come to their husband’s houses as slaves to their mothers-in-law.”

Analysis: This is a cultural practice in some societies without foundation in Islamic teachings. Nothing in Islam prohibits living with the in-laws after marriage, but the new wife does not become the servant or slave of the mother-in-law. The in-laws should however be treated with respect and dignity as one would treat one’s own parents.

Page 154-155: “…Nazir Mohammad, the land-owner, has hunting parties. He offers each of his guests a girl, usually a tenant from his land, for the time they are with him. When the man is finished with her, he gives her cash and sends her back to her family. Some people are grateful for the money and are willing to forget the indignity.”

Analysis: The custom described in this passage is nothing more than prostitution and sex slavery, both of which are prohibited under Islamic teachings.

Page 171: “She raises her arms and throws back her head with another primeval wail. “God, my life was perfect, and you struck him down. Just when I’m happy, everything changes!””

Analysis: Islam discourages such displays of grief after someone dies and limits mourning to three days after the death of a person. Even though grief extends for sometime after three days, Islam encourages people to keep focused on life and the worship of God and not the person who died.

Page 188: “Shabanu, really. What we decide for both of you is what you will do. You aren’t old enough to know what’s good for you."

Analysis: According to Islamic teachings, a person has individual rights and their consent is required for whatever may impact them. And as individual rights relate to marriage, a woman’s consent is required in order to validate her marriage. A woman cannot be forced to marry someone she doesn’t want.

Page 190: “…I wonder if one of us is to be married to the Holy Koran, as some girls are, so that there’s no question of sharing the land.”

Analysis: This is a reference to an unusual practice, which has no foundation in Islamic teachings or practices.

Page 191-192: ““How many wives does he have?” I ask, my chin thrusting forward. “Three,” Mama replies. “But you will be the youngest by nearly twenty years. You will be the last and always his favorite. He will provide well for you and your sons.” “How old is he?” “He’s only fifty or fifty-five,” Mama says. “He’s old enough to be my grandfather!”…””Shabanu, you are still young. You aren’t even of age yet. You have another six months, perhaps a year, to get used to the idea.”

Analysis: Islamically, Shabanu’s protest to this marriage makes her marriage contract invalid, as the woman’s consent to the marriage must be sought before she can be married to a man.

Page 192: “Your father was very angry with you for not keeping an eye on the boys and ending up in a tree when Rahim-sahib arrived in his car. He was angry enough to beat you.”

Analysis: With regards to beating a child, see the note for the passage on Page 61 above.

Page 193: “I’ll go live with Sharma’” I say, and Mama’s slap send my head flying back and my eyes reeling.”

Analysis: See earlier notes regarding passage on page 61 above, regarding striking a child.

Page 196: “He has already bought you. He has paid more that a fair price for a troublesome girl like you. You may as well get used to the idea. Can’t you see he wants you to be happy?”

Analysis: This passage is in reference to the gifts that Rahim-sahib keeps sending Shabanu and her family. Again there is no such thing as a bride price in Islamic law that is given to the family of the woman in exchange for her. Any gifts related to the marriage come in the “Mahr” or wedding gift to the woman as part of the marriage contract, as previously described in the notes regarding the passage on page 3.

Page 200: “Flags begin to appear around the house where Hamir’s body lies buried under the floor. Someone brings inscribed marble slab with the promise of a full tomb after the first anniversary of his death. Word of his heroic death and our resultant wealth spreads wider and wider, like ripples in a pond, and Hamir’s house becomes a shrine.”

Analysis: See the earlier notes regarding passages on worship in shrines or the tombs of deceased persons.

Page 202: “Bride price is common here in the desert – I don’t begrudge Mama and Dadi that. It has insured their future, and they won’t have to worry about drought or anything else ever again.”

Analysis: The bride price, a gift of monetary value that is given to the father of the bride for his daughter is strictly prohibited in Islam. The bride price is something of a relic of a practice in other faiths where a price was given to the family as the daughter was taken in lieu of the service she provided the family. It’s a practice not accepted in Islamic Law.

Page 205: ““everything! She’ll be his fourth wife. He already has seven sons. His youngest wife is still of childbearing age. He’s not so rich that he can afford to leave all of them land and houses and money. They all live in one house now. That’s difficult for women sharing a single man.” “Shabanu will be their slave; they’re all uppity-uppity women. They get along all right. But what about her? Do you think they’ll take a desert girl into their circle? And when he dies, the seven sons he has – and perhaps his third wife will bear him one or two more – will inherit his property. She’ll be a penniless widow by the time she’s twenty.”"

Analysis: Everything that Sharma says in this passage could conceivably happen to Shabanu. Many things are unacceptable Islamically with regards to having more than one wife. First, provided that the man has married these women in good faith and under Islamic law, is that each woman must be housed in her own home unless they agree to living under one roof, in which case they must each have their own room. However, Islamically, each wife will receive a portion of the inheritance, and not all of it will go to the sons as mentioned.

Page 219: “Dadi has given Phulan for her dowry with things for the house where she and Murad will live: a stone wheat grinder, goatskin water buckets, clay pots, butter churns, a sitting bed with carved wooden legs clothes, reed mats, goat hair carpets with saffron-dyed cords, woven bags for spice and rice.”

Analysis: See earlier notes regarding dowry. Although there is no prohibition in giving gifts to newly married couples. Islamically, however, it is not a dowry that becomes the property of the husband, unless it was a gift to the husband specifically.

Page 221: “A maulvi chants the call of the faithful in a high, nasal wail, and their vows are exchanged three times, with Phulan nodding her assent.”

Analysis: This passage describes a cultural ceremony of the marriage itself. The marriage contract, if carried out correctly validated the marriage, but the wedding ceremony itself is left open so that different cultures could maintain their traditions such as the ceremony described here.

Page 222: “Our aunts hold the Koran overhead between them, making an arch through which Phulan passes.”

Analysis: Holding the Quran overhead someone is a cultural practice, and not based on Islamic teachings. The Quran is a book of revelation that is recited and studied. It, like any other object in the world has no inherent power of its own.

Page 231: “Perhaps I can learn to read and write. Would he be afraid of a woman who can do such things?”

Analysis: Islam teaches that knowledge is the right of every man and woman and no one can be denied an education. Islamic teachings encourage Muslims to seek out knowledge even if it be in China, meaning even if a person had to travel a great distance to learn something it was considered a noble thing.

Pages 236-237: “I keep waiting for the enormity of my flight to frighten me or to make me sorry – knowing that I’m letting Mama and Dadi down, that Murad could lose his farm, that I could be caught and beaten. But nobody felt sorry or frightened for me when they offered me to Rahim-sahib. No one even asked how I felt.”

Analysis: As mentioned earlier, consent of the woman in a marriage is a necessity, according to Islamic law.

Page 239-240: “Without speaking he lifts me to my feet and brings his stout stick down across my shoulders. I stand straight and let the stick fall against my ribs and shoulders. I am silent…. I refuse to cry out, and Dadi in his fury is like Tipu, bloodlust in his eyes. He can beat me to death if he likes. The pain grows worse as the blows strike already-bruised flesh…. I hear sobbing, as if from a great distance, and my knees crumple. Dadi catches me in his arms and buries his face against my bloody tunic. He holds me against him, and through the haze of pain, I realize it is Dadi sobbing not me.”

Analysis: This is possibly the single most disturbing passage in the entire book. The issue of beating a child has been discussed in several passages above, but in this case the beating is quite severe and brutal and absolutely prohibited, according to Islamic teachings.


Last updated Monday, January 30, 2006 12:09 PM
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