This woman’s story is truly remarkable – although in a sane world, it wouldn’t be. Nawal El Saadawi is 79 years old and has spent much of her life fighting the wretched sexism and misogyny of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, as well as other “cultural” traditions that often go hand in hand with Egyptian Islam, such as female genital mutilation. Nawal herself was subjected to the hideous practice, at the tender age of six, as related in a Guardian article, Nawal El Saadawi: Egypt’s radical feminist (4/15/10):
In [her book Daughter of Isis] she writes about the horror of female circumcision. “When I was six, the daya (midwife) came along holding a razor, pulled out my clitoris from between my thighs and cut it off. She said it was the will of God and she had done his will… I lay in a pool of blood. After a few days the bleeding stopped… But the pain was there like an abscess deep in my flesh… I did not know what other parts in my body there were that might need to be cut off in the same way.” Later, while working as a doctor, she saw for herself the terrible physical damage female genital mutilation could cause; she campaigned for 50 years, she says, for it to be banned in Egypt. A ban was finally instituted in 2008, but she says the practice “still happens – it is even increasing. Some religious leaders talk against it, but others are for it.”
The notion that this atrocity is increasing is beyond appalling: In this day and age, human beings remain so unevolved that they see nothing wrong with holding down a small child and cutting off one of the most sensitive parts of her body with a razor. Indeed, the practitioners of this vile “tradition” are so distorted that they actually believe they are doing something “good” or even “holy!”
And this insult to the core of her being was not the end to what Nawal El Saadawi has had to endure, simply because she was born with female genitalia. In consideration of the barbarity of those who surrounded her, it is surprising she’s still alive. I might half-jokingly suggest that she is being protected by a guardian angel – Isis, perhaps?
Just a few short years later, Nawal again faced such barbarism as makes people of conscience cringe in shock and disbelief: She was about to be married off – in an area where it was customary to marry off girls of 10 or 11 – obviously against her will, as she was still a child. Clearly possessing a gentle and enlightened soul, she strenously objected and refused.
The rest of Nawal El Saadawi’s amazing story is quite long, but includes her becoming a medical doctor and seeing first hand the horrible, life-time effects of female genital mutilation. Her experience is so bitter, and she is so aware of the unbelievable sexism and misogyny within today’s popular religions, that she says she is “very critical of all religions”:
“I am very critical of all religions… We, as women, are oppressed by all these religions.” It is religious extremism, she believes, that is the biggest threat to women’s liberation today. “There is a backlash against feminism all over the world today because of the revival of religions,” she says. “We have had a global and religious fundamentalist movement.” She fears that the rise of religion is holding back progress regarding issues such as female circumcision, especially in Egypt.
If ever one has wondered why I do what I do, it is largely because of this issue as defined by Nawal. And then there is the environmental degradation, the immense injustice done to hundreds of millions worldwide who have been brutalized, raped, murdered and robbed in the name of religion, along with all other atrocities over the past several thousand years.
Concerning Nawal, The Guardian article continues:
Her work continues to be explosive. Her play, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting – in which God is questioned by Jewish, Muslim and Christian prophets and finally quits – proved so controversial that, she says, her Arabic publishers destroyed it under police duress. And recently her criticism of religion, primarily on the basis that it oppresses women, has prompted a flurry of court cases, including unsuccessful legal attempts both to strip her of her nationality and to forcibly dissolve her marriage.
My impression of this remarkable woman is that she is a living embodiment of the best of the ancient Egyptian spirit, bypassing the past 2,000 or so years of male-dominant religion in the region that eventually destroyed her original people, and reviving the divine feminine.