Interview with Nawal El-Saadawi
Azam Kamguian: Do you see any distinction between Islam and so - called Islamic fundamentalism? Especially with regard to women's rights and women's status in the Arab World?
Nawal El-Saadawi: A very good question! There is a difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. First of all, I usually do not look at Islam alone as a religion. I have to campare Islam with Christianity and Judaism and other religions. Some people try to say that women are oppressed in Islam and in Arab countries, which is not true. Women are oppressed in Christian countries and in Christianity; Jewish women are also oppressed by religion. If you read the Old Testament and the New Testament and compare them, you find out that women are more oppressed in these religions; even that women are more oppressed in the Old Testament than in the New Testament and they are oppressed in Koran less then Bible because of historical reasons. In every human society religion exists and we have to accept the phenomena of religion because it is there. People tend to believe in its power, especially people who are weak in front of death and in front of the many problems in life such as diseases, etc. So they need to believe in a divine power, power up there. So we can understand why religions came to history. Therefore we should not judge Islam alone.
Second, Islam is not fixed; it is
changing all the time. When political and social systems change, religion also
changes. The interpretation of religion also changes. All holy books need new
interpretations. Some people interpret religion in a progressive way and some
interpret it in a reactionary way. Regarding Islamic fundamentalism, there are
political groups who use religion and they abuse Islam and Christianity as
well. I live in the
There is not any difference between
Islam, Christianity and Judaism if we go to their original core and essence,
which are humanity's justice, freedom and love. But the religious
fundamentalist groups are against justice; they oppress people, they oppress
women. They tend to separate between men and women. If you differ with them
they kill you. They put your name on the death list. We have to understand why
this phenomena has spread all over the world in the last few decades. Who
originated the Taliban? It was American power and the CIA. They financed and
supported the fanatic Islamic groups to fight the
Azam Kamguian: In justifying women's status in Middle Eastern countries, there is an argument stating that modernity and secularism were not and are not compatible with the culture of Middle Eastern society and what has happened in the last two decades is a return to the Arab's indigenous cultural values. What is your view on "Eastern culture" and "Western culture"? Do you believe in the relativity of cultures?
Nawal El-Saadawi: I
have a book called Nawal El-Saadawi reader in which I have really elaborated these
issues of post- modernism, identity politics, East and West and
Azam Kamguian: But when it comes to women's rights, do you see any differences between women's lives in the East and in the West?
Nawal El-Saadawi: I
do not divide the world between East and West. They call us the
Azam Kamguian: Let's put the terms aside and talk about facts. Do you not see any difference between women's rights and women's status in different parts of the world?
The reality is that there is nothing called Eastern and Western. There are
capitalist societies; there are class - patriarchal societies; there are feudal
societies and social societies. We have to understand economy and its relation
to politics. But to divide and say that East is backward and West is forward
and progressive is very wrong. For instance they say my clothes are Western
which they are not. They are of Egyptian cotton and the trousers are not
western. In my village, women wear big, wide trousers and sometimes they cover
their hair because of the sand like in
We change by unveiling the mind and
uniting. Knowledge is power. When we know, we are powerful and if we do not
know, we are weak. Correct knowledge is power because sometimes we have wrong
knowledge. So unveiling the mind is our first aim in Arab Women Solidarity.
Second, is to organize. When we are in groups we are powerful. They can kill an
individual or two persons, but they cannot kill one thousand.