Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad is a middle-class merchant who hypocritically makes his family adhere to the strictest interpretations of the Qur՚n, keeping his wife and two daughters cloistered and his sons harshly disciplined. For his own delight, he partakes of the sexual, musical, and culinary pleasures of Cairo—singing, dancing, drinking, and cavorting with his friends until late at night.
Ahmad’s son Yasin, from an embarrassing previous marriage, is physically and morally a replica of his father, a youth who had discovered his father’s licentious behavior through a courtesan he visits. A younger son, Fahmy, is attracted to the neighbor’s daughter, Maryam, whom he glimpses from their closely placed rooftops. At the same time, however, Fahmy is repulsed at the idea that she might be purposely and immodestly showing herself to him. In the meantime, Ahmad has been avidly courting Maryam’s mother as she shops in his store.
Ahmad’s wife, Amina, lives a life of solitude and austerity. She is representative of Muslim wives in Egypt in 1917, shut in behind household walls. Still, she manages to find some pleasure in her daily life: the morning baking of bread, the coffee-hour conversations with her children, the childish conflicts among the siblings as they joke and tease and share experiences, the unspoken but shared fears of Ahmad and his crushing righteousness, the boys’ desire to escape outside the home, and the girls’ longing for marriage.
Amina is a good wife and a good mother, yet her religious piety creates trouble in her life. One day, she leaves the house, convinced by her children to do so, after Ahmad travels on business to Port Said. She leaves the house without permission so that she can pray at the Sayyidna al-Husayn mosque, a holy place she has longed to see. Overcome by...
(The entire section is 750 words.)