Thursday, November 5, 2009

Social Injustice: Arranged Marriage

In this second portion of Amin Mallouf's "Leo Africanus," we get several important historical socio-perspectives, including those between Hasan and his uncle, Khali, during their caravan, as well as the corrupt and unjust marital arrangements that occur later between Hasan and Fatima as well as Harun and Hasan's unfortunate sister, Miriam. Her leprosy and condemnation by her father forces her to marry a man many years her senior; doubly detrimental is their fleeing to avoid the leprosy officials and further condemnation by society. Hasan describes his father's interest in marrying his daughter off to anyone that might take her: "Harun was an unhope-for-savior, and were it not for the loss of dignity it might entail, my father would have hissed the hands of this heroic fiance" (179).

Furthermore, Khali's death leaves Hasan to deal with a letter, which he identifies as "the heaviest thing to bear" (169) following Khali's illness and gievous end to life. The letter obliges Hasan to marry Khali's oldest daughter, Fatima, whom Hasan has no interest in marrying, and further personalizes as well as de-solidifies the institution of arranged marriages. His interest lies in beautiful Hiba, whom he continues to fawn over even after his marriage to Fatima. Ultimately, though, Fatima is also somewhat petrified by marrying her cousin Hasan; Maalouf shows this desperation by her fainting at the sight of the 15th century version of the honeymoon suite - the "marriage chamber" (187). Described by Hasan as "more troubled than troubling" (183), Fatima feels compelled to consumate their marriage even after she fails to do so the previous evening. However, Hasan shares her sentiments and comforts her, physically and emotionalyl protecting her from the tramatic implications of an arranged marriage.

Hasan feels compelled to care for his new family and responsible to uphold the cultural and societal standards of the institution of arranged marriage and the traditional Muslim family during the 15th century. This close socio-cultural look at the 15th century provides a perspective quite interesting to me; as another student pointed out, this is something that can rarely be conveyed in historical textbooks and its mico-level interpretation shows how this type of global culture truly existed outside of trade and other economic forces.

Quite obviously, I question the institution and ideals surrounding arranged marriage, but I also question the historical versus socio-cultual impacts as well as portrayals in textbooks. Maalouf's portrait of the effects on the characters was both literary and compelling, while also seemingly historically accurate. How do textbooks fail where literary pieces succeed? In the same way, how to literary pieces fail where textbooks succeed - notably from a socio-cultural point of view?

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