by Shirley W. Madany
A movie produced by Muhammad Choueikh, an Algerian, and reviewed by Faysal Qassem in the Arabic magazine of the British Broadcasting Corporation--HUNA LONDON, was shown at the thirty-third London Film Festival. It attracted the attention of the reviewer who naturally was writing for his Arabic-speaking audience. Said audience being a cross-section of the entire Arab world now numbering in the 200 millions. Not many westerners will ever have the opportunity to go to an Algerian movie, but Al-Qala'a (the Citadel) was heavy with content and social message and worth passing on to all who are interested in missions to Muslims.
How many of us are aware of the fact that there are these tremendous language blocks in the world and that they are serviced in so many ways by magazines and programs not unsimilar to what we have in English. HUNA LONDON, for example, is a fascinating companion to the BBC Arabic programs. It gives details about the Arabic broadcasts, past and present, and has the added advantage of being pictorial so that travel articles can supplement what comes over the air. Reviews of books and films are included because they are of interest to the readers.
What is so important about this particular movie? Well, the producer has endeavored to give his audience a microcosm of present-day Muslim culture in order to have a confrontation with it. Just as we are similarly concerned as Christians about the state of our secularized culture, he wants to see some changes in his own society. Freedom to produce the film is noteworthy in itself. (Probably in France).
Mr. Qassem quotes Mr. Choueikh: "As I was producing the film, I thought about my three daughters. I really fear for them as they grow up to become wives in the Algerian society. They could so easily be exploited and maltreated."
So what is the story which projects the message? The setting is a typical Algerian village. The producer tries to make several points but the main one is that polygamy is no solution for lust. The husband in Al-Qala'a is a strong, authroitarian figure. His name is Sidi. He has married three wives and his children are so numerous they could form two soccer teams or more (12 on a team). And still he is to be seen chasing after a young married woman in the village. Hypocrisy takes many forms.
A central figure in this story of village life is a young man named Qaddour who has been adopted into this large family but for some reason has become the brunt of practical jokes and worse. Thus you have this threat of cruelty. Unfortunately there are people who seem to attract bullying. And always you have the jokers who take advantage of such people. It seems that Qaddour is an excessively romantic young man who is perpetually flirting with the young women of the village. He even goes so far as to consult a magician in order to have better success. Considering his own behavior, it is no doubt comical to see Sidi getting exasperated with the young man. He treats him like an animal--tethering him to one of the walls of the house. Finally he hits on a scheme to teach this Qaddour a lesson he will not forget. He decrees that the young man must be married before sunset.
Then follows what probably is a comedic aspect of the film but it is one that ends in tragedy. The wedding proceeds with the bride totally invisible, covered from head to toe. The married couple are left to themselves and the traditional inquisitive questions are thrown at them. But Qaddour cannot get his new bride to utter one word or to talk to him. Finally he discovers he has been tricked and that he is married to a mannequin from a store window! In desperation he flees to the top of a nearby mountain and leaps to his death after first throwing the mannequin over the cliff.
Muhammad Choueikh, the producer of this film has painted a picture of society built on persecution, repression, hypocrisy and disdain for women. They are treated as toys. Every time Sidi's wives complain about the tyranny and authoritarianism of their husband they are quoted verses from the Quran and sayings from the Hadith (the traditions), in order to silence them.
It is not enough that the movie is a shocking protest against the mistreatment of women in the Muslim culture, but it has to bring in many sub-points, not least of which is the hypocrisy of men who can be so cruel and unfaithful and yet they assume a prominent position in the religious life of their community. Sidi becomes more and more religious and eventually you see him preaching in the mosque and talking about ethical themes and virtue!
So Choueikh, the producer, has given the Arab world a film with a social conscience. He wants to help Algerian women who are trapped in situations which seem insurmountable. In the form of drama, tragedy and comedy mixed together, you see a typical village and view of life which needs to be changed.
For us as Christians it is useful. As radio missionaries we are continually getting mail from all over the Arab world and we can vouch for the authenticity of this portrayal of repression. We get a growing number of leters from Arab women who are brave enough to write. Often they must receive their mail through a brother or a friend. Some of them tell us of their circumstances and how they are virtually prisoners in their own homes--until they are married. And then, according to the message of Al-Qala'a they are still to be pitied. Mail usually ceases after marriage.
Probably the most encouraging thing about seeing this article in a popular magazine is to realize that this is a new kind of radicalism in Islam. Things are being discussed critically which have gone unmentioned for centuries. The plight of women in the Arab world is becoming a "cause". There are increasing signs that their emancipation is in sight.
Young men and women are longing for guidance for their future. The Christian concept of marriage has a tremendous appeal. There is a fervent desire to put an end to the two- facedness of life with its excessive piosity covering up so much harshness and injustice. Prayer may be five times a day and the name of "allah" on everyone's lips, but this does not give peace of heart and soul. Only the Messiah can bring true peace and only Christian love can exalt the individual and in that way bring equal status to the women of Islam who have always been regarded as inferior. We thank God that many young Arab women are deeply grateful to hear the message of the Good News of Jesus, the Messiah. They find in Him a hope for their future.
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