In six of the stories in Distant View of a Minaret, characters stop what they’re doing for prayers, which Muslims do five times a day. In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the call comes just as the husband and wife are having sex, and, in a way, it liberates the wife so that she may pray, make coffee, and carry on with the rest of her day. In “Telephone Call,” the narrator expects the morning call to prayer to come soon, to end another night of staying up and longing for her dead husband. In “An Incident in the Ghobashi Household,” Zeinat has woken up to find that her daughter is showing signs of pregnancy, but before she attends to this dilemma, she makes her ablutions and performs the daily prayer. The men working on the canal in “Mansoura” finish their day and say the last of the daily prayers before gathering around the fire to hear the legend of Mansoura. And in “The Kite,” though Widad does not know any verses of the Qur’an and cannot perform the daily prayers, she makes gestures of gratitude and thinks back to when her husband was alive and she could stand behind him as he prayed.
Only one character hears the call to prayer and does not pray: Aziza in “The Flat in Nakshabandi Street.” As others begin to pray in the street, Aziza thinks to herself that she no longer has to pray. This, she feels, is because she has prayed enough during her lifetime, she has not committed the sins of married women, and she leads the women in funeral dirges during every funeral she attends. Her self-righteousness is striking when compared to the humble obedience of the characters in other stories.
Muslims’ daily language includes praise and thanks to Allah. In “Bahiyya’s Eyes,” Bahiyya’s language makes her faith in Allah clear. The story opens with the sentence, “We praise Him and thank Him for His favour for whatever He decides.” Bahiyya praises Allah despite the fact that she has not been allowed to live fully because of the restrictions placed on women in her society. She constantly references “Allah’s hands,” a phrase that demonstrates her faith that whatever happens, regardless of how tragic, is Allah’s will. Bahiyya also uses phrases such as “Allah have mercy on her,” “Allah bless you,” or “Allah forgive me,” which are simply habits of speech rather than true prayers. Other stories contain similar language. In “Thursday Lunch,” the narrator converses with her mother’s servant, making small talk that is punctuated with the phrase “Thanks be to God.” In “An Incident in the Ghobashi Household,” the phrase “May Allah keep him (or her) safe” is used twice, when the characters refer to travel. These phrases are simply part of everyday language in an Islamic society. By using them in the stories, Rifaat sets her collection firmly in an Islamic setting.
Most of the characters in Distant View of a Minaret are widows, and the state of widowhood takes different shapes with each woman. In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the wife is not emotionally connected to her husband, and she feels calm when he dies. When Bahiyya’s husband dies in “Bahiyya’s Eyes,” Bahiyya feels like a stranger in her own village: other women avoid her for fear that she’ll steal their husbands. In “Thursday Lunch,” the narrator’s widowed mother confesses that she has constantly thought of her dead husband for the past twenty-four years. The widow in “Telephone Call” loved her husband enough to seek signs of him from beyond the grave. The women in “The Kite” and “Just Another Day” are widows as well.
Some of the women who are not actually widows lead lonely lives that resemble those of widows. In “Badriyya and Her Husband,” Badriyya is married to a selfish womanizer and has not even had sex with him. In “The Long Night of Winter,” Zennouba must constantly deal with her husband’s affairs with the servant girls. In “At the Time of the Jasmine,” Hassan’s wife has left him and now lives in her homeland of Turkey, and she basically leads a widow’s life. Each of these wives must find the strength to endure a lonely life.