Kenize Mourad’s novel counters misperceptions of non-Western women

Published 20.11.2014 00:00
Updated 20.11.2014 01:24
Kenize Mourad’s novel counters misperceptions of non-Western women

A strong, Muslim Indian woman who stands against British colonialists in 19th century India is the central focus of the latest novel by the granddaughter of Ottoman Sultan Murad V. Kenize Mourad's "In the City of Gold and Silver," tells the story of Begum Hazrat who stands bravely against the East India Company, but is eventually forced into exile in Nepal. Begum is an orphan and aspiring poet who gains the attention of the Indian ruler and finally becomes his wife. From this powerful position, Begum is a principal figure that leads the uprising against British colonialist in India. According to Mourad, she uses Begum's story as a platform to counter "the misperception of Eastern women by Western orientalists. Muslim women are characterized as veiled and shut in the house, passive in daily life." But Mourad goes even further and offers that "Women in India are much more powerful than modern women in the West." She added, "The perception against Muslim women, from the West, is often wrong ... Western women feel that they are more free and superior. They talk loudly. Eastern women on the other hand do what they want to do by talking softly." Mourad cites the example of a Tatar proverb to put a finer tip on her point. "Man is a head, and women is a neck. The head goes where the neck wants it to go. That is the Eastern woman's position in most of the Eastern countries, as I see this in India." Mourad, whose mother was a Turkish princess and father was Indian raj, grew up in the diaspora after her mother was forced to move to Paris but died shortly thereafter.

Her bestselling book, "De La Part De La Princesse Morte" (Regards from the Dead Princess: Novel of a Life), has sold more than 3 million copies in France and tells the story of the end of the Ottoman Empire through the eyes of Princess Selma, her own mother. It has been published in 30 languages.

She was raised by a French Catholic family, but began learning about Islam later in life. "Islam gave many more rights to women during the Prophet Muhammad's time, like the right to divorce; those who complained about their husbands to Muhammad for not taking care of them are given permission to divorce, which was an important step by that time," she said.

As time passed, because of misunderstandings, "women were kept under the power of men." "Invisible power," is how she describes the woman's role in daily life. "When I went to India for the first time when I was 20-years-old, I was surprised, as I was there as a Westerner, but soon after, I got a sense of inferiority from the women I met because they were strong and they were so powerful." she said. "And [with] all my superiority, I became no more than a 'Westerner.'"

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