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“لااله الا الله” – There is no god but Allah. The core of the declaration of faith that is required of every Muslim and the first pillar of Islam.  I do not recall when I was first taught these words. For as long as I can remember, I have had this phrase repeated to me over and over again. “There is no god but Allah.” It was screamed at times of turmoil. “لااله الا الله” It was whispered in the presence of wonder.



Many of my blog posts are influenced by my background; my culture, where I grew up and how I first formed my views on religion in general and Islam in specific.


My Background:

I am a Muslim woman. I grew up in the city of Khartoum in Sudan, a country in Africa that identifies as an Islamic country, whose laws are supposedly based on Shari’a laws. Growing up in Khartoum, religion, Islam to be more specific, was intertwined with the Sudanese culture. I always found it hard to determine which parts of our culture were influenced by religion and which parts weren’t. To me, culture and religion were two parts of the same whole. Even looking back at the history of Islam, the religion was introduced to mankind within the context of a culture. It does not exist in pure form and cannot exist without a culture to support it. And that is in part what we learnt during the course. Islam is often associated with the Arab world. The Qur’an itself is written mainly in Arabic. However, throughout the course of this seminar we were exposed through literature to different Islamic cultures from different parts of the world, from Africa to Asia. Seeing the way Islam fit in with the cultures and was incorporated within these cultures was extremely eye opening. It was like seeing a new and unique version of Islam with every culture we visited. The idea of religion being a part of culture is represented in my blog.

Growing up in Sudan, I was exposed on a daily basis to the idea of colonization. Sudan was imperially colonized and only gained it’s independence on the 1st of January, 1956. As is the case with other colonized countries, Sudan experience major repercussions from this colonization, the most significant of which being the division of South Sudan. One of the tactics used by the British was “Divide and Conquer” and they used this strategy on Sudan. While the North was developed, bridges and ports built to serve imperial purposes and Islam maintained, the South remained underdeveloped and christianity was spread through missionaries. And this is where it all started. After independence, the new rulers promised to develop the south but failed to keep their promises and as a result, a civil war erupted and eventually the South split as it’s own country. This has had a profound impact on how I view foreign intervention with a country’s sovereignty and this was very much part of some of the readings we did throughout the course and so, became a part of this blog.


Other consequences of colonisation is that it affected the way we view the world. Our beauty standards have changed to match those of the west. I used to wonder how a country in Africa, a continent that is home to so many black people, a country whose name literally translates to land of the blacks, would place such high value on the lighter skin tone. Later on in life I got to understand that beauty in particular is influenced by many factors and in Sudan, one of them was colonialism. This in turn helped me understand the phenomena that is skin bleaching which is so prevalent in Sudan.


After independence, control over Sudan fell in the hands of many leaders until it got to Omar Al Bashir, our current president. Under his rule, Islamic codes were enforced. As I grew up, I always thought the Islam I learnt in school (part of the national education requirements) was the true Islam. Little did I know that the views reflected in the books they used to teach us about Islam at school were skewed. They were tailored and manipulated to fit the government’s political purposes. As years went by, and my eyes started opening up to the world, I learnt that our government was actually corrupt and has been using Islam as one of it’s tool to control the public. The “rules” of Islam that I was taught at school were actually too strict and narrow-minded. Thankfully, my parents corrected this view I had of Islam and I was taught a new, more relaxed set of rules. The government on the other hand, continued to justify horrible actions and crimes that it committed through the name Islam. They managed to convince parents’ who’s young kids they have taken to a pointless war that their children will die as martyrs. With the majority of the population being illiterate, the government had the perfect set up. They used the power of reading and writing they had to teach these people false meanings of the multifaceted religion they followed, conditioning them to a single interpretation and never giving them the chance to apply their religion to their unique lives. And this was one of the biggest aspects of Islam that was uncovered to me throughout the course: it is dynamic. Even after my parents corrected my views on Islam, I still had the idea that it a set of strict rules. Yet, the first thing we learned in this course is that Islam is not static but changes with time, culture etc. It’s experience is unique to every person. The solid interpretations of the verses of the Qur’an dissolved before my eyes as I learned how illogical that notion is: to have someone tell you what a verse that was sent down as guidance to you seems absurd.


This brings me to my next point. Part of my journey in Sudan involved experiencing what it is like to be a woman in a country that oppresses women. Not only do the Sudanese laws oppress women, they make them believe that this oppression is part of their beloved religion. I always thought that forcing women to wear the hijab was part of Islam. Having men beat their wives was also part of the islam I was taught. Of course both ideas seemed ridiculous to me but I never really questioned them because I was supposed to obey these religious laws without asking any questions. What this course revealed to me in terms of interpretation is that religion is just one more way for men who do not want gender equality to control women. How can we expect men who the Qur’an verse on hijab wasn’t meant for to interpret the verse correctly? Much like other atrocities committed under the name of Islam, oppression of women is another one of them. As a woman, I also got to witness other women or young girls being forced into marriage. I always thought it was an odd tradition. Naturally, Islam made it’s way to this tradition and I often heard people claim that any other way to marriage is sinful from the point of view of Islam. This was an interesting concept to me and that is why I try to understand it through one of my blog posts.


Other aspects of Islam that were revealed to my by the course:

One of the readings we did in the course revolved around a traditional village in Egypt. With Sudan and Egypt being neighbors and sharing the same culture for a significant part of history, much of the topics covered in the novel applied to Sudan the same way it did to Egypt. One of the topics that caught my attention was the use of traditional and religious means to cure diseases. Now in Sudan, the first thought that comes to mind when someone gets ill is taking them to see a Sheikh. Sheikh’s are usually older men who have studied (either formally or informally) religion and have devoted their lives to Islam. If the Sheikh’s “religious magic” doesn’t work then it’s herbs and visits to other religious men and women who cook up concoctions that are supposedly blessed and can cure any disease. Any form of modern medication is sometimes rejected by people, particularly those who live in rural Sudan. Which brings me to my next post.


Something I always knew in the back of my mind was the depiction of islam in terms of science. I always had an idea of where it stands when compared to science but it was never really an active thought in my head. However, as this course progressed, we started discussing this idea of science and religion. Often times, the reason people who are maybe more traditional in their thinking reject modern medicine or science is that they view it as straying away from Islam. Indeed, in many cases, science is viewed as a product of the west and the western world is considered the enemy of Islam. In many ways, the western culture is believed to be the polar opposite of islamic cultures and teachings and so avoidance of anything to do with this wicked west is encouraged. Our Sudanese president never fails to blame most things that are going wrong with Sudan on the sinful west which in turn pushes people further away from anything western. Ignorance lies at the heart of this issue. Ignorance of the people who think “America” and “modern” are synonymous and people who believe “muslim” and “terrorist” are synonymous. That is why in our day and age, religious literacy is important. To avoid such misconceptions.


Looking back at the course, I can confidently say that my views on Islam have shifted dramatically. I am no longer the same Muslim I was at the start of the course. The way I view the world itself has changed. I used to think it was difficult to reconcile my feminist side with my muslim side. I have been taught all of my life that this religion marginalizes women and how silly would it be for me to try to make two opposites coexist. After learning more about women in Islam, I can now use my religion to support my views on gender equality.


This blog is collection of thoughts the readings evoked and the connections I was able to make with and draw from my own culture.


Hear my Voice


Dear man,

Was I only made to serve you?
Destined for a housewife position and I cannot argue
Head wrapped tightly and I, beyond view

Why are my opinions offensive?
Shackled down, hushed and subdued
I would break all these chains,  if only I could

Am I supposed to believe all that you say?
All the lies that you maintain
Conditioning my very being with this game you play

It is time to change the game
Time to light the candle and watch the flickering flame
Time to shine the light on things that cannot remain the same

I will not be quieted down, timid and shy
Your rules will no longer apply
I will walk with my head held high

For I am a woman, hear my voice


This is my second attempt at writing a poem. I wrote this poem in response to Persepolis, where one of the themes was how the Islamic regime in Iran treated women. The reason I chose to write this poem is because I was inspired by Marji’s outspoken attitude. She is always voicing her opinion which is uncommon to many women living under the oppressive regime she was living under. Being a part of a similar regime that oppresses women, I decided to write this poem a word revolution that defies societal norms and calls for a change in the way the world, particularly some parts of the muslim world where Islam was manipulated to serve certain political moves, views women. The poem is written as a letter to “man” i.e. men in general asking important questions about gender inequality and telling the men that oppress women that their oppression is coming to an end. We will no longer quietly hold that subordinate role.

Occupy Sudan



A black slice of land of an even blacker continent in need of a savior



Covered in darkness, from the sable skin of it’s people to their backward, dark-ages, unilluminated thoughts



Ruled by gloom, riches wasting coated with soot

Foolish people following old traditions and blind religion


Cue the knights in shining armor, ivory skin glowing in the bright African sun
Making capes of their legislation and slaves of my people


“Divide and Conquer” and divided they made us


1956 came and we were once again free
But free from the consequences we will never be


Embedded in our brains are their foreign ideologies
Judgement based on religion and race is now our mentality


For you have paved the way for further corruption
And our women’s wombs new colonizers have erupted
Their only aim to fill their pockets with the riches of the land
Preaching a false Islam we have never known
Twisting and manipulating words to fit their goals


And you claim to have brought civilization to our doors
But what we knew before you is civilization you will never know


Have you seen my people before you came?
The blood of the Kandaka* will forever run through our veins


*Kandaka: Ancient Sudanese warrior queens. The ancient Kush kingdom of Sudan revered women and was considered a very sophisticated and civilized kingdom.


I wrote this poem as a response to the “Swallows of Kabul.” After reading the book, I was struck with the idea of colonialism and what it does to people. Being from a country that was colonized by the British, I can see first-hand the effects of this colonialism. It always strikes me how different things could have been if we were not colonized. How our morals and ideologies would have been if they remained untouched.

In this poem I attempted to write,  I explore the false pretense that colonizers use to rob a country of it’s sovereignty. We often hear of the west claiming that our part of the world is undeveloped, uncivilized and follows a religion that is backward in thinking. Through this poem I try to expose this false notion by referencing old civilized sudanese kingdoms. I also touch upon the consequences of colonization that are still felt today. Everything from the secession of South Sudan, to our twisted morals can be traced back to colonialism.

Do I Look Acceptable Now?




One of the readings we did was “the Rainbow Sign” by Hanif Kureishi. In the book, the author mentions the story of a Pakistani boy who pours boiling water on himself in order to bleach his skin to look like white people. This story resonated with me as I have witnessed many incidents of skin bleaching in Sudan. Many of these incidents often lead to serious medical injuries and sometimes even the death of the person bleaching their skin as a result of all the harmful chemicals used. In Sudan, skin bleaching is mostly done by the darker toned girls as one of the beauty standards is having a light skin tone. This impossible-to-attain-by-all beauty standard has left girls in Sudan harming their skin in order to be accepted within society. Yet, after scraping their skin raw, the girls who bleached are often looked down upon as insecure, self harming girls, who failed to accept themselves. I found it odd how a society that dictates impossible beauty standards would reprimand those who try to attain it.

In this comic strip, I show an unhappy, dark skin woman being insulted by society because of her skin color. One of the people shown in the strip calls the woman “ugly and blue” in arabic and this is my way to injecting a bit of the sudanese culture to this piece. In Sudan, when someone’s darker tone is being called out on it’s “ugliness” it is described as blue. The second part of the comic strip shows the same woman, having bleached and peeled her skin in order to be accepted by society also being called names and shamed for harming herself. It just shows that society will always talk and people will always find things to criticize no matter what you do.

Don’t Tip the Scale




This painting is my response to “Sultana’s Dream.” In the short story, a world where the roles of men and women are reversed and it seemed like every woman’s wish came true. That world depicted in the story where women had power over men, had the upper hand, felt like a dream come true. I used to think that in order for this world to move forward, for sexism to disappear, and for the oppression of women to stop, the roles of men and women should be reversed. It seems to me now that this idea was a brought about by the oppressed woman in me. After years of being in the subordinate role, with Islam being misused by men who told me what my God is asking of me based on their interpretation of Allah’s words, I felt like I want to know what it would feel like to  have the upper hand for a while. I often wondered what it would feel like to be the one to tell men what their religion asks of them.  However, I have come to the realization that the reversal of roles would lead to the marginalization of the other gender. What we need is not more oppression but equality where both genders get equal opportunities and that goes for anything from job opportunities to determining how religions apply to them.

This painting is of a scale that is balance. The scales carries the symbols for female and male and this is to represent gender equality. It is a simple representation of a rather complicated idea of a utopia. If it was indeed simply attainable, it would have been done. But several factors come in to play the most significant being the distribution of power between the genders.

“I Don’t Recall…”



This piece is a response to “Children of the Alley” by Naguib Mahfouz. The central theme of the novel is the idea of forgetfulness. The novel itself is an allegory of the different abrahamic religions that were sent to people and plays on the idea that human beings forget the message sent to them with each prophet by God and that is why so many Prophets were sent to humankind. One of the main messages of Islam is that humans are supposed to always remember Allah and be thankful to him. Spacing out the obligatory daily prayers for muslims throughout the day is one way Islam ensure that muslims remember Allah. Not only humans, but it is said in Islam that all of nature is constantly worshipping and remembering Allah. Human beings however, are plagued with forgetfulness as Naguib Mahfouz pointed out in his book. We fail to remember God in our everyday life and often seek Him only when in need.

This piece is a visual representation of this idea of forgetfulness. The centre of the piece is a man as it is said that the whole world was created to benefit humans. Surrounding the man is my representation of nature and the world. In each of the different representations, the word “Allah” appears to symbolize the constant remembrance of the created. But the man in the center does not seem to recall what the entire world keeps repeating. His mind is blank.

You’re Getting Your Fairytale


I have never given much thought to marriage. It was a foreign concept to me. I never fantasized with the other girls in the village nor did I have an image of the knight that would one day sweep me off my feet and carry me into the sunset. No. Building castles in the air was never for me; particularly when it came to marriage.

It is not that I do not want to get married; I know I am bound to soon enough. The suitors have been knocking on our door ever since I turned 13 last year, but none of them was good enough for my parents. They have their eyes set on Hajj Ahmed.  In fact, every family in our village wants Hajj Ahmed for their daughter. Never mind his old age, he is a man of position and power; his land stretches beyond what the eyes can see, he owns most of the date trees in the village and heads every committee here. Indeed, he is a great catch.

It is not about my education either. No, I stopped going to school the day I grew into a woman as does every girl in the village. “What use is school for a woman anyways?”  My father would say. I knew he was right. The role of the woman in our village is very simple: she is to get married, bear children and take care of her house. There is no room for education in her life and as such, there will be no room for education in my life.

I never wasted thought on marriage because I always knew that it will happen someday. It was the custom in our village. And I had no choice in the matter either. When the time comes, I will marry whomever my parents choose for me. So, what good is it wasting time thinking about the inevitable?



“Ayooy yooy yooy”

Ululations fill every corner of the house, rocking it off its foundation. My mother has gathered the women of the village and is conducting preparations for an engagement feast. Hajj Ahmed just asked for my hand in marriage and predictably, my parents have agreed. The news did not come as a shock to me. There has been word around the village that Hajj Ahmed is planning on making me his wife. I heard my mother talking to Amna the seller of milk about this one morning, not so long ago. “I am telling you Khadija,” said Amna “that Hajj Ahmed will soon come knocking on your door.”

“Mabrook Mariam,” says Asha to me, although I can see the disappointed face beneath her mask of happiness; she often fantasized about marrying Hajj Ahmed herself. I smile courteously at her as she has been my companion since childhood and I do not want to lose her friendship. I spend the rest of the day accepting congratulations graciously. I am not as excited about marrying Hajj Ahmed as I thought I would be yet, I fake enthusiasm to perfection.

All my parents want out of life is to marry me to a man who makes a comfortable living and raise their status in the village. Marrying Hajj Ahmed will give them just what they want. That new glimmer in my father’s eyes when he looks at me and the unwavering smile that paints my mother’s face are enough reason for me to go through with this marriage. I will not let doubt taint their joy. Soon, I will become Hajj Ahmed’s wife.


For our last meeting, I chose to read “Madras on Rainy Days.” Though the book touches upon several important themes in Islam but the topic of arranged marriages, something I have come across many times in Sudan, stuck with me the most. The idea parents forcing their daughter/son into marrying who the family thinks is right for them has always seemed odd to me, particularly given the fact that in Sudan it is mostly underage girls who are forced into these marriages. I used to ask my parents why no child would stand up to their parents and refuse to get married. My mother would reply by saying that many of the girls dream about getting married all of their lives and an early arranged marriage to them is like their parents making their fairytale dream come true earlier than expected. Another explanation I got was that some girls just trust their parents and want to make them happy and if an arranged marriage is what it takes then so be it.

This piece is a short story I wrote where I explore the thoughts of a young girl in a rural village in Sudan as she prepares to get engaged. It is mostly what I believe would be going through the head of young girl. I base my style of writing in this piece on Tayeb Salih’s short story writing style as many of his stories, if not all, focus on rural villages in Sudan.

Umbrella of Islam



The term “Umbrella of Islam” is one of the most commonly used terms in Sudan to describe governmental actions. In Persepolis, we were given insight into the Islamic revolution in Iran . The book told stories of horrible actions committed by the new Islamic regime against it’s people. Sadly, this idea of an oppressive, Islamic government is not unique to Iran. It is very common in the Arab world. In Sudan, we witness atrocities being committed on a daily basis by our government falsely under the name of Islam. That is why I chose to paint an umbrella (with the word Islam written on it). The umbrella basically provides shade for and covers a rifle and grenade (to represent war), an unbalanced balance of justice (to represent injustice and the forgone rights of the people), a fat man wearing a “jalabiya” (traditional Sudanese dress) carrying a bag of money next to a skeleton (to represent theft by government officials from the sudanese citizens who are starving because they cannot afford to live) and the word “Shuhada’a” in Arabic (to represent the martyrs that die in pointless wars started by the government in the name of islam). Another aspect to this piece is the newspaper I painted it on. The news paper is written in English to represent western media that shows a biased view of Islam. Thus another interpretation of the piece is the idea that media negatively portrays these horrible things as being part of Islam.

Listen…. Feel….. Repeat



We often discussed in the seminar the Qur’an being an audio experience. When it was first revealed to the Prophet Mohamad PBUH, the Qur’an was not in a written form. It was recited to him by Gibreel, an angel sent by Allah. The Prophet himself did not know how to read or write so he memorized the Qur’an that Gibreel recited to him. Nowadays, however, more emphasis is placed on the written form of the Qur’an. The book with the written words of Allah is highly respected within the Muslim community. Although the recited Qur’an is also respected, there is a huge difference in the degree of respect given to each. This is seems odd as the oral Qur’an can reach more people than the written Qur’an. Not everyone knows how to read and write. Furthermore, when the Qur’an is presented to people in the oral form, everyone gets to claim power over it and interpret the meaning behind it based on their own experiences. The written Qur’an on the other hand, is restricted to those who can read and write. These people claim power over it and offer interpretation to the general public based on their personal experience which does not seem fair.

This piece is just a representation of that. It shows that more emphasis needs to be placed on the auditory experience of the Qur’an. There’s the ear and waves next to it representing the sense of hearing. I also included a drawing of the “Mushaf” which is the book of Qur’an. There’s a verse from the Qur’an in Arabic Caligraphy and a radio because it is the most common way to listen to the Qur’an in Sudan.

Holy Lamp




In the Saint’s Lamp, we introduced to a traditional village in Egypt. The villagers seemed to place high religious regard to a lamp that is said to belong to “Zainab” (also known as Umm Hashim) the prophet’s grand daughter. Any oil from that lamp is said to be holy and a cure to any disease. The oil is said to be blessed, but where does this blessing come from? If we look at the religion of Islam, it is noticeable that the family of the Prophet is highly regarded amongst Muslims. Even in our prayers, we pray for the Prophet’s family. So, it only seems logical for people to believe that items associated with the Prophet’s family would be blessed to. The second question that arises is why this particular object? Why a lamp? Again, looking back in time, the Prophets sent by God were a source of guidance to humanity. In a way, you could even say they are using light given to them by God to guide humanity. A lamp is an object that gives out light and was often carried around by people to light their way. So, if Prophet Mohamad PBUH was one source of light, his descendants must also carry some of that light within them. Hence, Zainab, who carries some of that light within her, is represented by the lamp.

In this piece, I decided to paint my own lamp. The lamp is filled with arabic calligraphy as it is usually linked to Islam. The words are mainly some of the names of Allah, the Prophet’s name and some of the women in his life. The main focus of the painting is the word “Zainab” which is at the center of the lamp and the only upright word just to highlight that this is a representation of her lamp.

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