ArabLit in Australia: A Conversation with Amal Awad

Does the western media want to keep Arab Muslim women in a particular image? A major issue is how we are not perceived as fully-functioning, fully human beings. HS: In one your interviews you said, “I do think it is up to Arab women themselves to tell their stories, they don’t need a westerner to come in and save the day and say I am going to give you a voice”. But the same can’t be said for the Arab world where there would be greater pressure in some societies to dress conservatively. AA: I’m not sure if the media is creating the image or mirroring what people believe about Arab women – it’s a combination of both. I wanted the real-life stories of Arab women to be out in the world, to have a place amid all of the negativity. One of the major differences I perceived in my research was how different the Arab women in the Middle East were compared to women like me, who are of Arab heritage but grew up in the west. Her latest is a non-fiction book called   Beyond Veiled Clichés   –   The Real Lives of Arab Women. More than one woman talked about a grandmother or other elder who refused to wear hijab, seeing it as a step backwards. I wrote it in my 20s, at a time when I was trying to make sense of what’s it like to be that fish out of water – a religious woman in a western society, and the balancing act this involves. And the question is, how much is the embrace of the veil a barometer for where a society sits? We have one foot in Australia, one in the homeland of our parents. The prevalent image of the ‘Arab woman’ is that of a veiled woman, kohl-lined eyes peeking out from a heavily veiled face, looking frightened or enticingly exotic. HS: How does Beyond Veiled Clichés deal with the veil? I think Arab people in general are only under greater scrutiny and criticism over time, so writing Beyond Veiled Clichés was important to me. It’s a light-hearted exploration of a young Muslim woman in Australia looking for love, but also purpose in her life, when she has spent most of her life being a people-pleaser and thinking she doesn’t have the same options as everyone else. I prefer not to use these labels as much nowadays. But at the heart of all of my writing is a desire to deep-dive into human experiences, ideas and pathways. Whether we’re perceived as victims or heroines, we seem to exist in extremes in the minds of others, devoid of normal lives, depth of feeling, desires that don’t revolve around men and wider culture and society. The similarity is that, although it’s non-fiction and a serious book, it’s also about trying to make sense of life and how you fit into it, as part of a culture and/or religion, and as an individual. How do we live and what makes us feel whole? You were born in Australia from Palestinian parents; how do you identify yourself? The women in the Arab world weren’t afflicted with identity issues; religion and culture were often quite blended. Amal has also worked as a producer for   ABC Radio National. For women overseas, there was a similar commitment to hijab, but those who don’t wear it for whatever reason often expressed concern about what the rise in conservative dress meant for their societies. AA:   Well Courting Samira is a fiction book, more specifically chick-lit. For the women in Australia, the veil was their choice. Hend Saeed loves books and has a special interest in Arabic literature. Amal is the author of four books. Wwhy do you think this is happening? How did you find balance between the two worlds? Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Prominent Egyptian Novelist Sabri Moussa, 1932-2018Categories: ArabLit in Australia, PalestineTags: Amal Awad, ArabLit in Australia, Hend Saeed I identify as being Palestinian-Australian in a Muslim family. There is so much more to us than our identity labels. It’s non-fiction and features the voices of many women from around the world, sharing their real-life experiences. These are extreme images and both exist and both define how people around the world view Arab women. To help inaugurate Hend Saeed’s new venture, Arabic Literature in Australia, we’re featuring a conversation between Saeed and Palestinian-Australian author Amal Awad:
Hend Saeed: A new generation was born in Australia, or any other Western countries, from Arab Parents (Muslims) and some of them, face the identity issues, especially women. More often than not this would be the case, generally speaking. Beyond Veiled Clichés is a very different kind of exploration. AA:   It’s funny, the book is called Beyond Veiled Clichés because I was very focused on writing about the lives of Arab women more generally, beyond the veil that seems to define us in the eyes of many.   And based on your book Beyond Veiled Clichés there are amazing women. She had published a collection of short stories and recently started “Arabic Literature in English – Australia.” She is also a translatore, life consultant, and book reviewer. This is why, in history, the veil – which itself doesn’t change much beyond being something that can be either very trendy or deeply forbidding in its nature – can symbolise different things. Amal Awad is journalist, screenwriter and author. I have at different times in my life identified very strongly as Palestinian; I’ve identified very strongly as a Muslim woman; and while I am still those things, I don’t want to be defined by them. I have been critical of the focus on the veil but it became clear that it needed to be covered in depth, so I have included a chapter on this. You can read an excerpt online. The women I met with usually had opinions on hijab and niqab, both variations of the veil many Muslim women wear. She is a columnist for   SBS Life and The New Arab and has written for ELLE, Frankie, Daily Life, Sheilas and Junkee. For the Muslim women in Australia who wear hijab, it was clear that for many of them, it was an important aspect of their faith, and that they felt it was part of their identity as Muslim women in the west. So it’s not a simple case of liberation or oppression. Amal Awad:   That’s an important question. The conditions of the society, its attitude towards women, and how women themselves see their place in society all shape the energy of that moment. There is just too much emphasis on women as barometers for society. Many Arab women aren’t Muslim; those who are Muslim are not necessarily religious, in the same way a lot of Christian or Jewish women might not be religious even if they identify as being in those faiths. Not all Arab women wear a veil, and those who do don’t necessarily wear the veil the same way. HS: From Courting Samira (2010) to Beyond Veiled Clichés (2016), did you find any change in Arab women’s situations from the time you wrote Courting Samira to writing Beyond Veiled Clichés and does it make a difference if women are living in an Arab or Western country? But really, it’s a very universal story about learning to love yourself, explore your own life potential, and find joy in it. The interesting thing is how interchangeable the veil is; it can be at once a form of liberation or a source of oppression. In Australia, however, a lot of us have experienced identity confusion.