[P4828] Restoring History, Recording History: From Bint al-Shati' to Samar Yazbek

Created by Zimu Niu
Sunday, 11/19/17 3:30pm


When Arab women writers first gained visibility in the late 19th Century, they started to claim their fair share as narrators of history. This panel starts with the first case of feminist scholastic exegesis by Bint al-Shati’, who resorted to Adab or a literary approach toward the Quranic exegesis, and rediscovered the life of the Prophet Muhammad through vignettes of the women in his life. Rendering the classical Islamic materials in a new style, Bint al-Shati’ brought forth a tafsir of the Quran, and an interpretation of the Islamic heritage from the woman exegete’s perspective. Feminist exegesis highlights pioneer women writers’ attempts to tell their own (hi)story as Muslim women and to claim their rights through a clear understanding of Islamic scripture.
Like their foremothers who sensed the responsibility to record the history they had lived and known as women, contemporary women writers are living the history, making the history and recording it. While the pioneer exegetes dissolved the dichotomy between “subjectivity” of literary critics and the objectivity of Divine Truth, contemporary women writers break the dichotomy of the “private” and the “public”. Panelists discuss how women writers Fadia Faqir and Samar Yazbek deal with “grand topics” like social conflicts, wars and ideological struggles by narrating experiences of individuals.
Since the revival of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1970’s, especially after 911, Islamic radicalism and “war on terrorism” provided new motifs for literature, and Fadia Faqir’s 2014 novel belongs to this category. In this novel, 2 first-person narratives take us from Jordan to Afghanistan and England. Lives of 3 nations affected by terrorism intertwine with the relationship of a daughter and her terrorist father. Both their bodies and voices become expressions for what they experience as history, and women’s embodied recording of history develops a new feminist awareness.
Already a prominent voice, Samar Yazbek became even more engaged since the outbreak of Syrian Civil War, and her 2015 memoirs confirm Emerson’s claim that “there is properly no history, only biography.” A “female flanueuse”, Yazbek returns to a war-torn Syria and her suffering citizens, to follow the on-going history of her country, to reflect upon the setbacks, and to foresee a potential rise from the ashes.
From restoring a “past” to recording the “present”, Arab women writers have moved in from the margins to become part of the canon.


Association for Middle East Women's Studies (AMEWS)





Miriam Cooke

(Duke University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Hanadi Al-Samman

(University of Virginia)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Mohammad Salama

(San Francisco State University)
I received my PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2005, with a focus on postcolonial Egyptian literature and peripheral modernities. I was born in Alexandria, Egypt where I spent all my childhood and adolescent years....
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Zimu Niu

(Beijing Foreign Studies University)
Senior Lecturer, School of Arabic Studies, BFSU, 2008~present. Courses taught: Basic Arabic I II III IV Modern Arabic Literature (Senior undergraduates) Comprehensive Arabic Writing (Senior undergraduates)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Organizer;