by Naomi Unger
I recently read the novel, The Cry of the Dove by Fadia Faqir (published in 2007 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc.). Salma, a Bedouin Arab Muslim teenager, gets pregnant before marriage. She escapes being killed to restore her family's honour by going to prison and eventually fleeing to England. There, Salma, now called Sally, is free yet she is still bound by fear, depression and loneliness.
Faqir presents moment of hope, beauty, love and even humour in the midst of all the pain and sadness in Sally/Salma's life. These dark times include imagining that her brother has followed her to England to kill her, her broken-hearted longing for the child she gave birth to but never held, as well as feeling rootless and facing repeated racist attacks.
Don't let the author's style of flitting between the present and the past in a single paragraph put you off. I thought it was a powerful way of showing Sally's distress over her current immigrant situation and agonizing over her infant daughter, Layla, who was taken away from her at birth. In such circumstances, it would be hard for us to stay focused, too.
As you read the story, notice the women in Sally's life. Especially in a patriarchal society, it is the women who give each other the strength to carry on. Even in England, there are women who help Sally. Sally's desire to support her daughter grows stronger and is finally irresistible, as Layla gets older. I was challenged to consider how we can be sisters, mothers and true friends to the hurting women in our communities.
In the story, racism - both personal and structural - goes in all directions. It's not just an issue in Europe; Canadians must deal with this as well. Are we Christ-like in our treatment of refugees and immigrants, of anyone who is different from us? Will we welcome people with their cultural and religious differences into our lives and open ourselves to be enriched by them?
In Faqir's story, the double standard of morality (that women are killed for adultery, but not the men) is exposed. Faqir's work is advocating for vulnerable women and putting an end to 'honour killings'. How tragic if Muslim paradise (sitting in a cloud of perfume drinking milk and honey) is the only free and safe place for oppressed women.
For an eye-opening companion book, I recommend that you read A Thousand and One Egyptian Nights, An american Christian's Life Among the Muslims by Jennifer Drago published by Herald Press. The Drago family lived side by side with Muslims during their MCC assignment in Egypt (2003-2006). Jennifer shares her discoveries and insights in this inspiring book.