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Alifa Rifaat was born in 1930 and spent her entire life in Egypt, where she
was raised in the traditions and culture of Islam. Though Rifaat wanted to attend
college and pursue an education and a career in the arts, her parents arranged for
her to be married instead, and she submitted. Her husband died early in her married
life, leaving her to raise their three children. Rifaat, a Muslim (a
follower of Islam), could read only Arabic, so her exposure to literature was
limited to works written in or translated into Arabic, and the Qur’an (the text
of the Islamic religion) and the Hadith (a book of sayings of the Islamic
Although Rifaat did not attend college, she did receive some education at the
British Institute in Cairo (1946–1949). Rifaat continued reading works of Arab
fiction and religious works, and she eventually began writing in 1955. Having
traveled little in her life, many of her stories are set in provincial Egypt and are
untouched by Western influence. As a result, instead of taking the conventional
feminist approach and looking to the Christian West for a model of how women’s lives
should change, Rifaat criticizes men for not fulfilling their role within the
Islamic tradition. She does not question the role of women according to the Islamic
faith, but rather depicts the hardships imposed on women because of men’s
shortcomings. Her collection of short stories, Distant View of a Minaret
(1983), features recurring ideas of sexual frustration, pervasive cultural
pressures, and death.
In Islamic society, a woman is under the protection and rule of her husband if
she is married, or of her oldest brother if she is single or widowed. She often has
little or no control of finances or major decisions. Though Rifaat laments the
limits placed on women in Islamic society in Distant View of a
Minaret, she never questions Islam’s ultimate validity, and every story
contains elements of the Islamic faith. Muslims believe there is one God, and that
whatever occurs in a person’s life happens through the will of Allah (the Islamic
word for God). Allah has communicated to man through the Qur’an, which provides
guidelines for living. Muslims are guided by the Five Pillars of Faith: the
acknowledgment of Allah as the one true deity; the performance of prayer rituals at
least five times a day; the giving of alms; refraining from eating, drinking,
smoking, and sex from dawn until dusk during the month of Ramadan; and making at
least one pilgrimage to Mecca (in modern-day Saudi Arabia) during one’s lifetime.
These guidelines, as well as other elements of Islam, pervade Rifaat’s stories and
place them firmly in the Islamic tradition.
Other works by Rifaat include Girls of Baurdin (1995),
Kad Lia al-Hawa (1985), Love Made a Trap for Me
(1991), Leil Al-Shetaa Al-taweel (translated as
The Long Night of Winter and Other Stories) (1985),
Jawharah Farum (1978), Pharaoh’s Jewel
(1991), and the short-story collection Hawatandbi-Adam
(translated as Eve Returns With Adam to Paradise) (1975). Reviewers
overwhelmingly praise Rifaat for the sense of raw emotion and authenticity in her
writing. She died in Egypt in 1996.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Distant View of a Minaret!