Not Without My Daughter

‘Not Without My Daughter’
– Betty Mahmoody

The text is based on the real life story of its writer Betty Mahmoody, born in 1945 in Alma, Michigan,  who is an American and gets married to an American-Iranian doctor and after seven years of their married life her husband asks her to go for a two week vacation to his native place, Tehran along with their four year old daughter, Mahtob after facing racial criticism at his work. However, once the two weeks were over, he refused to allow them to leave. Betty and her daughter had become virtual prisoners of a man who had rededicated himself to the Shiite Islamic faith.

The story revolves around Betty’s struggle to get her and her daughter smuggled out of Iran where her husband and her child’s father had become their ‘master’ involving  an 18-month tour of terror in which she lived.
Betty, although reluctant at first, is persuaded to undertake the trip to Iran and there she is told that they will never return to the states. She immediately leaves for the U.S. Embassy for help and finds that although she has the legal right to leave the country, she cannot take her daughter and returns to the home that she must now share with the relatives. Trapped and unhappy she is treated badly by both her husband and his family. She is beaten and locked inside her room for days. She is made to watch how her daughter is scolded and punished at the school that she is required to attend. Betty and Mahtob must learn to survive in a country where she knows nothing of the language, customs or laws. A country where women are treated merely as non-living objects and are deprived of any kind of rights, including their own child’s custody.

The text gives rise to the relationship between women and Islam in Islamic countries which has become even more acute after more than twenty years of Islamic revolution in Iran. Reflecting on the subordination of women in the Islamic countries, some feminist researchers hold that Islam could be defined as one of the worst sorts of patriarchal religion, oppressing women and legitimizing gender inequality. The idea of patriarchy is much more greater in Islam than any other country, for instance, Betty cannot go out of the country without her husband’s written permission. Also, the custody of the child lies with the father after the parents get divorced. This upper hand of men in the society could also be seen in the instance when Betty reveals to Moody’s relatives about how Moody swore on the Quran and promised her that they won’t stay there for more than two weeks, the family starts cursing her instead. She is beaten in front of her ward and the school employees for being late to school.

Liljestrom, a Swedish sociologist, explains that there is a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity in their attitudes to sexuality, which influences the view on women (1984, p. 10). She points out that the Christian Church attacks sexuality in itself. Sexuality is reduced to something “profane and sinful”, sexuality signifies the division of human beings into body and soul. Civilization represents the soul’s victory over the body, spirit over the flesh, and diligence over lust.  Islam takes a different approach. It never repudiates sexuality as such. In fact sex is a taste of paradise.  But Islam attacks women instead. As the living carrier of the danger of sexuality and its infinite social destructive forces, women have to be controlled. Sexuality itself is not dangerous since it is the foretaste of paradise that leads men to Allah (Sabbah, 1984).

The different views on the nature of sexuality have resulted in separate strategies of control within Christianity and Islam.

Since Islam regards women as an active sexual power, it is important to restrict women’s sexual power over men. The result is isolating women and men in different worlds. A woman’s sexuality has to be concealed. Her looks and behavior must not reveal her sexual force since it will remind the man of his weakness. Fatima Mernessi, a famous Arab feminist, explained a long time ago that the Christian portrayal of the individual as tragically torn between two poles (good and evil, flesh and spirit, instinct and reason) is very different from that of Islam, which has a more sophisticated theory of the instincts, more akin to the Freudian concept of the libido.

She writes:
“In western culture, sexual inequality is based on the belief in the biological inferiority of woman. In Islam, it is the contrary: the whole system is based on the assumption that woman is a powerful and dangerous being. All sexual institutions (polygamy, repudiation, sexual segregation, etc.) can be perceived as a strategy for constraining her power.”

‘Not Without my Daughter’ reflects more a Western view of Muslim women than the realities of women’s lives in Islamic societies. It is this discourse which Edward Said calls “Orientalism.” In Orientalism, the Orient is created. The Orient is thus a linguistic, discursive creation, rather than a place to which one can travel or in which one can live. The Orient of Orientalism serves a dual function. It affirms the concept of the superiority of the West, and defines West’s normality by regulating the abnormal, forbidden, and dangerous to the Orient.

In Iran after the revolution, the family protection law as reprieved and declared incompatible with the canon of Islamic laws. Consequently, the right to polygamous marriage was once again restored. The minimum age for women marriage fell from 18 to 13. The legal rights of women in application for divorce and custody of children were severely curtailed. The civil law makes it clear that the marriage of a girl is dependent upon the consent of her father or grandfather. Articles 1117 and 54 declare that married women can only accept jobs that are not incompatible with her responsibilities as a wife. Otherwise, she needs permission from her husband. Article 1133, states that a man can divorce at any time he wishes, while a woman can request divorce only for “exceptional reasons.”

Betty’s non-fiction revolves around how she fought her own husband for her own freedom, for some basic rights that every individual deserves but is deprived of in some parts of the world. She finally manages to escape with her daughter and starts her journey to the states indicating that women are not the weaker sex and can do all they need to when it comes to their own identity.

-Pooja Madan




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