This experience taught me how indispensable it is to keep your dream safe, and hide it, until the moment you can fulfill it. Talking too much is dangerous. I agree with the French when they say, "Ceux qui parlent ne font pas et ceux qui font ne parlent pas": those who speak don't act and those who act don't speak. So I decided to change strategies and convert to the collective dream.
"I want to be a doctor when I grow up, too. I'd like to cure children."
"How sweet. It's called a pediatrician. Bravo! Let's have a round of applause."
The most one can expect from a girl: a fledgling mother! All in order, nothing to worry about, the little girl is growing up in full obedience to tradition. A neighbor in Cairo, Uncle Attia, said, "Daughters are like hand grenades: it's best to get rid of them in a hurry!" If anyone asked how many children he had, he would always say, "Three boys, four hand grenades (to settle somewhere, inshallah), and two atomic bombs (one unmarried and one divorced)." Is it a coincidence that the word "bomb" in both Italian and Arabic is feminine?
The truth is that I understood early on, even before I read some books on feminism by Nawal Saadawi, that our society doesn't love women and above all doesn't tolerate ambition in them. My grandmother always urged us, her beloved granddaughters, "Don't get a swelled head, always fly close to the ground." And if someone ventures to fly high? The family will take care of breaking her wings. Ruthlessly.
First rule of survival: avoid competition with males in every way. In exchange for obedience a woman can enjoy male protection her whole life: from father to brother, from husband to son, from son to grandson. An Arab woman has to get one important thing through her head: to avoid complications she has to live like a sheep. What? Yes, like a sheep, and preferably white, not black. Better to be a normal sheep, conformist. If she abandons the flock she does it at her own risk and peril. She won't survive amid the herds of wolves! Clear?
In Egypt they say, "Al maktùb aggabin, lazem tchufo l'ain!" What's written on the forehead the eyes have to see. No one can escape maktùb, destiny. When we're born, God writes on the forehead of each of us what we will live until death. Someone will say: this is fatalism, the game is over, there's no free will, Muslims as usual, obedient to everything, blahblahblah.
It's not like that. Maktùb helps us accept what's already done, like the death of a loved person, in order not to fall into deep despair, or go mad. There exists a higher will that dominates ours. The matter is really rather complicated, but that's natural, we're talking metaphysics, not physics.
The interpretation of my high-school Arabic teacher comes to mind. Once in class there was a lively discussion about a line of the Tunisian poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi (poor man, he was only twenty-five when he died). The line goes, "When the people decide to live, destiny can but bend." Some of my classmates (probably budding fundamentalists) insisted that the poet was an unbeliever and so he had better forget about paradise, the houri, the rivers of wine, and all the rest. In no case can the will of the people surpass the divine will. God is above the people. The professor explained that God is omnipotent and can therefore change even destiny. It's a possibility to reckon with, but it's up to us to pass the tests and show that we're equal to it.
I've always liked this interpretation. To believe in maktùb is, above all, an act of faith. Things don't happen by chance, there's always a reason. What's important is to do one's best and accept one's responsibilities. I like the concept of fair play in sports: give a hundred percent and accept the final result. This in my opinion is an example of maktùb.
Excerpted from Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous. Copyright © 2012 by Amara Lakhous. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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