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Shumaisi by Turki Al-Hamad

April 29, 2016

ShumThe chapters are very short which means you can keep up with it by reading in snatches.

One literally distasteful scene fairly early on is when a father chews meat and then spits it out for his sons to eat.

Hamad is quoted on the cover of one of his novels: “Where I live there are three taboos: religion, politics and sex. It is forbidden to speak about these. I wrote this trilogy to get things moving.”  After the publication of the third in the trilogy, Karadib, in which the main character wonders whether God and the devil are the same thing, and which the clerics regarded as heresy, he was threatened by the mutaween by e-mail, and accused of apostasy by al-Qaeda. In his Tweets, Turki al-Hamad also spoke of the unity of religions and that every religion summons its followers to adhere to brotherly love. He criticized religious institutions and said that Islam should be wrestled out of the hands of those attempting to monopolise the religion and its interpretation, and, in the process, turning themselves into a cast of priests, a trend completely opposed to the original intentions of the religion. He further stated that Islam needs its own Luther and Calvin to reform it. He spent some time in prison in December 2013.

Shumaisi , named after a quarter in Riyadh, brings Hisham (whom we first encountered in the previous noven, Adama) to college in the capital. He plasters his walls with posters of Marx and Che, “but the most striking pictures in the room were those of Abu Ali, the name he had given Adolf Hitler.”

Handsome, bright, impulsive and spoiled, Hisham is popular with his men friends but adored by women from his devoted mother to his loving cousin Moudhi by way of a neighbour’s daughter who delivers milk, the frustrated Suweir across the street who encourages him to spy on her in her bedroom, and a cheerful and lively prostitute named Raqiyya.

With no public places for the sexes to meet, Hisham makes assignations in the scalding desert or while the girls’ guardians doze in front of the television next door or, in one case, waits for customers in his butcher’s shop. Hisham discovers arak and American cigarettes and finds himself at the end of book in deep trouble from which even his loving parents cannot rescue him.

Saudi Arabia operates according to the belief that God made young men and women so utterly and completely without self-control that they must be physically segregated every moment of the day and night. Hisham’s world, with its unbounded sexual opportunity and lashings of sexual guilt, is that ideology in negative. Hisham is most assuredly not some new man, and even Moudhi will never be allowed to become a new woman. Hisham is alert to swaying bottoms and veils “so fine they hid nothing”. Every feminine gesture contains sexual promise. Yet his fumbled assignations culminate in overwhelming guilt rather than erotic fulfilment. He is haunted by the disturbing vision of his mother’s face framed by his lover’s “dark triangle”. Now I know that the protagonist lives in a culture of sexual repression but this obsession is a bit sad.


“His room seemed ready now”

In one of al-Facf awi’s classes, the pupils were required to recite some verses of the Holy Qur’an, making clear the letters that needed idgham, ghanna and iqlab. Before Adnan’s turn came, he raised his finger to ask permission to go to the toilet. The teacher reprimanded him sternly. Adnan sat hunched in his seat staring at the Holy Qur’an in front of him, shaking terribly. Hisham’s turn to recite came and went. As usual, the stick had its share of him that day though, thank goodness, he had not made so many mistakes that he was laid out on the floor and beaten with a whip, then given a detention. The teacher told Adnan to stand up and recite, but he stayed silent, shaking. Then he began to cry. The teacher noticed a patch of urine under Adnan’s chair. He grabbed him violently by his shoulder and examined his wet clothes. He hit Adnan with the stick, then dragged him to the front of the class, put his legs in the whipping seat and ordered the nearest two pupils to lift it up. The stick came down again, hard and savagely, as Adnan continued to scream, and the teacher cursed, with the saliva flying from his mouth, as he repeated, ‘Cursed children … if your families don’t know how to bring you up, I’ll do it myself … I’ll do it myself!’ The cane continued to rise and fall. When the teacher finished, he spat at Adnan, cursing, then left the class after ordering Adnan to stay for an hour after the end of the teaching day when the other pupils had left.

Classes finished. Hisham had not yet -left, but stayed with Adnan. Tears still hung in the corners of his eyes. ‘Why didn’t you go to the toilet?’ Hisham asked.

`The teacher was in a temper, and I was absolutely desperate. What do you expect me to do?’ replied Adnan innocently, wiping away a tear with his sleeve.

`You should have gone, come what may. He would only beat you and give you detention … What’s it matter?’ said Hisham.

Hisham smiled as he remembered scenes he had long since thought lost from his mind. He decided to read Freud and the psychoanalytical school more carefully, hoping they would give some answers to the questions that he couldn’t find answers to in Marxism.

When he had gone to the mosque at dawn that time after his sexual experience with Raqiyya, he had prayed deeply and pleasurably for the first time in his life, and had experienced some kind of profound spiritual revelation. Before that, his prayers had been mere physical movements, devoid of spirit, and really just a recognition of social conventions. Although he felt insignificant when he observed such conventions, he couldn’t abandon them altogether, for God was merciful and forgiving, even though his creatures knew no mercy or forgiveness. But after that violent experience with Raqiyya, when he’d suffered an unbearable pyschological split, he needed a merciful and forgiving Father on whom he could throw his burdens. A Father not like other fathers; a Father who would forgive his errors and mistakes, take him by the hand and lead him to rest after suffering; to release from all the guilt and pain inside him.

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