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Why Qaisra Shahraz’s “The Holy Woman” is a must read for all

The Holy Woman is fascinating family drama, a romantic story of love and duplicity in a prosperous Muslim community, with all the burdens of modern life and old traditions. The novel is perfectly composed with sensible and relatable characters and issues that are a piece of our general society, but what I also came across was that unlike other writers she has shown significant interest in the emotional development of her characters which makes her characters almost like the people we know in real life.

The Holy Woman is Qaisra Shahraz’s first novel. The protagonist of this novel is a liberal glamorous, intellectual, modern feminist, Zarri Bano who lives in interior Sindh and belongs to a family of land owners. She is the eldest of two young siblings Jafar and Ruby. Zarri Bano well known for her style and auSra falls in love with a businessman Sikander.

Being the eldest of her siblings, her father had a liking towards her and felt irrational distaste against the man therefore ends up breaking their relationship after his son’s death. He psychologically abuses his daughter into accepting an old family tradition and forces her to marry the Holy Quran and become the holy woman.

The plot of the story is interwoven with subplots. The book takes us to rural Pakistan and many other Muslim lands, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. The minor characters are also built with great mastery and precision. The psychological development of her minor character is award winning.

Qaisra Shahraz‘s The Holy Woman belongs to the trends of Pakistani fiction in English which depicts the inhuman treatment meted to women in the society. It is an example which shows similar trends pertaining to women and feminism in Pakistan.

Zarri Bano and her mother Shahzada are among the chief characters. Zarri Bano is forced by her father to become a holy Woman ‘to protect the land and honor of the family. Zarri Bano sacrifices all she had in her life, including her love and freedom. She becomes a holy woman to challenge this custom and fulfills its requirements, but ultimately wins in defeating the myth of the custom. This is Shahraz’s particular way to show common women how they can learn from the lives of rich women and change their lives for the better.

After reading the book and going through it the second time for analysis the reader comes across many modern themes throughout the novel. Gender stereotypes are clearly seen in this novel. Through her writing Qaisra Sheraz tends to show the readers that how the minds of men and women are brainwashed and how they are expected to carry out certain roles. It is as a result of these rules that our society has become a male dominant patriarchal society and women are oppressed and suppressed as they have been assigned weaker roles in the society. This analysis will be aimed towards making the readers aware of this internalized misogyny and the effects of it on others. The readers will come to know how patriarchal dogmata and general gender biasedness have been shown through the male and female characters of the novel the Holy woman.

The most appealing aspect that I found in her writing was that she didn’t restrict herself to only talk about women in their respective gender roles but also talked about men. She throws light on how men are burdened by the society’s idea of masculinity and how women are reduced to a mere backdrop of households due to the idea of ideal femininity. She further shows how these traditions have been passed on to our generation and that no matter how much we try to act modern and liberal at the end of the day everyone, male or female falls into the group that the society has allocated for them.

In the very beginning of the novel the writer Qaisra Sheraz shows us how men dominate the social outdoor activities and how women are restricted to the four walls of their houses

“There were no other women present at the mela, apart from three elderly ladies, for it was not common or socially acceptable for young women to join openly in an all-male set of activities.” (pg. 9)

We also see how male members of the society make life altering decisions for women in Pakistan and even though some families may show that their women have a choice in who to marry it is mostly a disguise. When it comes down to the decision even the most liberal of families psychologically interfere with the decision.

It is never a woman’s decision all in all. The concept of sacrificing herself for the sake of so called “izzat” is always in the mind of a woman no matter how modern she may seem.

When a woman has the boldness to choose a suitable suitor for her “I have, at last, found the man I want to marry.” She is always burdened by her social duty to fulfill everyone’s dreams but hers.

“Your father …’ Shahzada swallowed, finding it hard to say the words, ‘… wants you to become his heiress, and our Shahzadi Ibadat, our “Holy Woman”, in the trasditional way”

A woman always comes second to land no matter what the case. A woman is thought to be the savior of a home, in the process of giving her this so called privilege the society expects her to trod over herself and fulfill what the men of her house have thought of her future

The moment a woman stands up for her rights or the rights of another woman she is always snubbed and shown her place, where she belongs.

What happened to Zarri’s mother happened to her, the decision of her life was taken for her.

“There will be no marriage for you, my daughter. Instead, there will be a ceremony of a different kind. We have decided that you should become a Holy Woman, a Shahzadi Ibadat.”

She was painted as a vicious by her own father and psychologically abused into approval of his decision even if she had to kill herself, her identity and her spirit to do as he asked. Later on when her family wants her to marry, they again try to mold her to their wishes again.

Another theme that came across while reading the book is the objectification of woman and the normalization of the idea. The dominant power has perpetuated it to an extent that it has become a part of our upbringing.

In this book we see how both educated and uneducated men in the society firmly believe in the myth of male superiority and how they subject women to certain roles and etiquettes which if not fulfilled are looked upon as insolence.

Along with conventional attributes that are assigned to man Qaisra Sheraz also talks about how the modern man is deviating from the conventions and how unconventional characteristics are also becoming the part of the Pakistani man in transition.

In a patriarchal society the definition of a bad woman and a good woman are both defined by the superior power and it is in that case the laws are made by men, prosecuted by men and judged by men from a man’s viewpoint.

We see how the characters of The Holy Woman develop with regard to personality for example Shahzada disapproving attitude towards his husband, after Zarri Bano is forced to become a Holy Woman, has gradually changed Habib Khan who at last gives his approval for Zarri Bano’s marriage to a man.

The content exploration of the novel, The Holy Woman, gives confirmation of the changed gender roles and difficulties the generalizations of a male playing an assortment of parts and a female simply playing the controlled parts; a male being certain, striking, overcome, free, sound, safe, predominant and so forth while a female being bashful, resigned, passionate and submissive. Zarri and Shahzada demonstrate dutifulness and accommodation at an early stage yet later on they develop as sure, legitimate, autonomous and predominant people. Sikander, Musa and Khawer straightforwardly express their sentiments and feelings of affection. Zarri then again indicates extremely save and chilly conduct. At last, she turns out to be thoroughly allowed to settle on her own decisions and she is constantly occupied in religious and instructive exercises, serving and teaching the Muslim ladies of her general public. Fatima and Naimat Bibi are other examples of the changed gender roles as they are working women and live independently.

Analysis of the male and the female characters in this novel has revealed that there is stereotyping of male and female characters and gender-biasedness as seen in the main characters.This novel deals with an important issue,that of woman’s rights and freedom in Pakistan.

The style of writing is especially disclose to me rather then show me and the greater part of the discourse is unrealistic in wording,as it was translated straight from urdu to English. I found the style as a genre romance at odds with the important content of a lovely young woman power to wed the Quran to wind up her dad beneficiary.

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