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Sells, Michael A. . "The Wedding of Zein: Islam through a Modern Novel." In Teaching Islam. Ed. Brannon M. Wheeler. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Nov 24, 2020. <>.


Sells, Michael A. . "The Wedding of Zein: Islam through a Modern Novel." In Teaching Islam. , edited by Brannon M. Wheeler. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Nov 24, 2020).

The Wedding of Zein: Islam through a Modern Novel

Michael A. Sells

THE NOVELS AND STORIES OF TAYEB SALIH are among the more widely read works of fiction within the Arabic-speaking world. They are also among the more internationally influential works of modern Arabic literature.

Salih roots his fiction in traditional culture as it encounters or is confronted with the disruptions of the modern world. He also ushers the reader into the interior conflicts and controversies over the nature of tradition itself. The reading of a work by Salih opens up central issues concerning religious culture, the diversity within tradition, different modes of being Muslim, and even as it articulates a common humanity that embraces the characters, their stories, and their predicaments.

Salih’s five major novels and many of his short stories take place within a fictionalized locale in northern Sudan. The attention of literary critics and popular readership has focused on his novel, Season of Migration to the North [mawsim al-ḥijrat ilā ash-shamāl], at the expense of Salih’s other, equally valuable works. The short novel, The Wedding of Zein [‘Urs az-Zayn], fits a broad array of courses: introductory courses in world religions, midlevel courses on Islamic literature and civilization, and a class on cultural identity in modern fiction.1 After seventeen years of reading The Wedding of Zein in classroom settings, I continue to discover—and continue to find my students discovering—new meanings, connections, and complexities within the story.2

From the first pages, the story challenges any reified or essentialist assumptions concerning what is normative in a religious tradition. The narrator begins by recounting the effect that the news of the impending wedding of Zein has upon the differing factions within the village. The controversy among the factions, intensified by the effect of the news of Zein’s wedding, offers a microcosmic view of a dynamic Islamic world of competing perspectives and interpretations. It also helps overcome what can be a confining student expectation in courses on religion: the expectation that the instructor and the course will define the essence of a religion and definitively delineate its boundaries of belief and practice. If a living tradition is an extended argument over the meaning and boundaries of that tradition, then the goal of a course on Islam is not to settle the argument but to bring the student into the argument and help the student appreciate its passions and its complexities. The story format employed in The Wedding of Zein plunges us so quickly into a world of competing versions tradition, and so naturally, that the normal expectation for closed definitions is taken by surprise before it can harden into a demand.

The unpretentious quality of The Wedding of Zein, the vividness of the characters, the apparent simplicity of the village, the folksy tone of the narrative voice, and the absence of explicit doctrinal discussion allow immediate access to the book. These same qualities, however, can lead to a reading of The Wedding of Zein that remains oblivious to the subtler allusions that add dimension to the characters and depth to the story. Indeed, I find that my students have thoroughly enjoyed the work on first reading, but when probed about how the novel represents key controversies in Islam—concerning knowledge, authority, love, poetry, and sanctity—they draw an initial blank. Here opens up what has been one of the most consistently rewarding moments in my work as a teacher.

That what is most profound refuses to take itself too seriously is a central theme in The Wedding of Zein. In this essay, I examine how the novella’s artistic combination of down-home unpretentiousness and cultural depth mirrors its interior themes of knowledge and pretension. To find access to the story’s mythic and cultural subtext, I employ a series of questions about different aspects of the story. Examples of the questions and of some of the issues opened up by such questions are given below.

Diverse Worlds in a Single Village

Question: What are the different groups within the village and how do they interact with one another?

The story opens with the news, circulating through the village, that Zein is to be married. The narrative then backs up and displays the reasons why such an announcement is extraordinary. Zein is introduced as a kind of village fool; physically deformed, outrageous in behavior, lacking in steady employment or strong family ties, and utterly ineligible to marry, let alone marry the most beautiful girl in the village. It is not that Zein isn’t interested in women. To the contrary, he is constantly falling in love. When one of his beloveds is married to someone more eligible, he soon finds himself in love with another.

Zein’s personality and behavior become a touchstone for the various factions within the village. The first faction consists of the Imam of the mosque and his followers. The Imam is a man with some formal training who views himself as an educated man among the ignorant, with strong opinions about what constitutes proper Islamic behavior. He supervises the mosque, attends to basic rites of passages such as weddings and funerals, and gives hellfire and damnation sermons during his Friday sermons. Most villagers (and the narrator) show little affection for the Imam and resent his intolerance and aloofness. A circle of particularly observant older men supports him, however, and comprises his more attentive audience.

Another faction is formed by a group of pragmatists called “the gang,” led by a certain Mahjoub, who supervises projects central to village welfare, such as flood control, irrigation, and health care. This group supports the mosque and the Imam financially, although they themselves are not particularly observant of ritual obligations and mosque attendance. Further from the Imam’s orbit is a group of rebels, mostly young men, but led by an old poet. This group uses a vocabulary sprinkled with revolutionary expressions such as “dialectical materialism.” They also frequent the “Oasis,” a bar and bordello on the edge of town.

Juxtaposed to the social order of males in the village is a group of young women, along with their mothers who enter the narrative through their efforts to secure a good match for their daughters. One of the young women, Ni‘ma, “the most beautiful girl in the village,” challenges expectations involving suitors and marriage, and by doing so, takes on a role that, although it is less public, is as important to the outcome of the story as that of Zein.

Finally, there is the “holy man” Haneen, a mystical personality who comes and goes mysteriously and wanders alone through the desert for months at a time. Haneen is both marginal to village life as it is normally perceived and central to the unfolding of the story. Because of the enmity between Haneen and the Imam, the reader may be tempted to generalize that Haneen represents an antiritual element in Islam. When I ask the class what Haneen takes with him on his journeys, the usual answer is a bit of water. When I ask what the water is for, most students reply with the assumption that it is drinking water, having missed the narrator’s remark that Haneen’s only provisions are a container for ablution water and a prayer rug. A discussion of this point allows a comparison with that tradition of Sufis who are both “lost” in meditation and at the same time observant of ritual—such as the classical Sufis who would know, from within their state of being “absent,” to wake themselves at the proper time for performing the prayers, before going back into their trance once again.

The relationship between the Imam and the villagers is particularly important. The villagers are caught up in the rhythmic cycles of the Nile and the harvest—pastoral cycles that are portrayed in vignettes of masterful lyricism. Once a week the Imam’s harsh sermons break the rhythmic spell and force each villager to confront mortality and the terror of the day of judgment or moment of truth, when what a person has made of his or her live is revealed, without the possibility of change. After the jolt of the sermon’s apocalyptic urgency wears off, the villagers, to the Imam’s frustration, revert back into the agricultural rhythms and daily preoccupations of their lives.

It is common for the reader to share the general dislike for the Imam they find in the narrator’s tone and in the villagers’ reactions. Yet those same villagers view him as indispensable, presiding over weddings, funerals, and over other central functions of life and death, a function they realize no one else could perform—a point easily lost, particularly in societies with a built-in bias against organized forms of religion and ritual.

The discussion can first hone in on how the tension among the different factions and personalities threatens to pull the village apart, as well as the agent and event that catalyzes their dramatic reconciliation. The portrayal of these issues of tension, diversity, and unity within the microcosm of a fictional village in northern Sudan can then be extended to a discussion of similar issues in the wider world of Islam as a religion and Islam as a civilization.

Faces of Zein

Question: What are the different aspects of Zein’s personality and how are those aspects dramatized in the story?

Zein constantly transgresses the normal boundaries of village propriety and decorum. He enters the women’s quarters at will. He is a glutton at wedding feasts. He laughs inordinately. His naiveté allows the mayor or Umda to exploit him with false promises that if he carries out tasks for him he will be able to court the Umda’s daughter. Like a jinni, he can take on traits of various animals. His teeth were lost when he was riveted to the ground in a haunted area near a graveyard—probably an encounter (and perhaps an initiation by) the jinn. He has a deformed spine and long “ape-like” arms. His voice is compared to the braying of an ass.

Yet many of these same physical deformities are bound up with Zein’s extraordinary, at times even superhuman, strength. He is known, for example, for his feats in swimming the Nile. The combination of a physical deformity with inordinate strength is found in folklore and mythic tales from a wide variety of cultures. Zein’s inordinate strength, although it does not seem important at first, will play a central role in the climactic turning point in the story.

Like the hero with both a deformity and inordinate strength, the wise fool is a common feature in traditional literatures and here is given its own original twist. Despite Zein’s foolishness, he is recognized as having some mysterious connection to the realm of sanctity and wisdom. Some of his physical defects are attributed to the moment when as a child he was violently possessed by a jinni; the jinn in Arabic tradition have both destructive and constructive roles, and can bring inspiration as well as evil. Zein’s mother insists he is a blessed and chosen person. His interactions with the socially marginalized such as Ashmana the deaf and Mousa the lame bring him special regard. The deeper point here is not that he is kind or charitable to them in bringing them food and firewood; that would be seen as virtuous but not extraordinary. Rather, he alone is able to enter into a genuine relationship with them as human beings. With Ashmana, for example, who is terrified of all others—even those who are kind to her and bring her provisions—he establishes a friendship and is able to reach and be reached by her humanity. For the community, Zein’s ability to touch the humanity of such characters is not the only clue that there might be something blessed about him. He is also the only confidant of the reclusive mystic Haneen. Haneen maintains personal relations with no one else, singling out Zein for sudden and unexplained visits.

Zein is also a lover. As he recognizes and falls in love with each new beauty in the village, he becomes a comic version of Majnun Layla, the poet and lover driven mad (literally “jinned”) out of his love for Layla who ultimately perishes in unrequited love for her. Zein becomes the prophet of love. His histrionic proclamation, “I am slain out of love for so-and-so,” becomes a treasure for each potential bride, raising her status and value. When the narrator refers to the women he is slain for as his “Laylas,” it offers a perfect opportunity to lead the students into a discussion of allusion. (Even in classes where we have read poetry attributed to Majnun Layla, these allusions can pass by unnoticed on first reading).

Zein’s remarkable ability to recognize beauty in a girl before it is apparent to others brings him the attention of the mothers of potential brides, each of whom wishes him to proclaim publicly the beauty of her daughter, thus increasing her status among potential spouses. His sensitivity to beauty reveals itself in other ways at well. Zein, for example, can recognize from afar the voices in a group of women ululating at a wedding and distinguish within the blend of voices, the individual style of each woman. A short recording of ululation can help students who have not heard ululation before to understand more vividly what Zein’s unusual ability to parse it reveals about his heightened awareness.

Zein is both a boundary breaker and a boundary crosser. He has no fixed role in the village. He wanders from one place to another, sleeping in different parts of the town with a rock as a pillow. As mentioned earlier, he not only wanders physically but also socially, transgressing the class, gender, and group boundaries within the community. He is invited for tea to the women’s quarters (a prohibited space for males outside the family)—in the hopes that he will recognize the beauty of a young woman, a place from which any male considered eligible for marriage would be strictly prohibited. Zein befriends the bedouin and attends their weddings, despite their uneasy and often mutually hostile relationship with the villagers. He also links different factions within the village, spending time with Mahjoub’s gang, with Ashmana and Mousa, and with Haneen—with almost everyone, in fact, but the Imam.

At first, Zein is marginal to the community, without a respectable role and apparently ineligible for marriage and responsibility. Then, he is portrayed crossing boundaries, linking the various feuding factions together and bridging the male and female domains. By the end of the story, this marginal figure has moved to the center, becoming the axis around which the community turns.

Wisdom and Language

Questions: What is the effect of the interplay among dialect, formal Arabic, and words from Western languages? What is the attitude of each faction or major character toward language, authority, and wisdom? How are these attitudes dramatized in the story? In particular, what are the attitudes of Ni‘ma toward learning and how does her commitment to learning put her in jeopardy?

Tayeb Salih is one of the pioneers in the use of Arabic dialect in the novel and short story. In the case of The Wedding of Zein, the use of dialect also reflects (and performs) a central theme within the story, the relation among language, authority, and knowledge. Before the work of writers like Salih, dialect had been used in comic theatre, but fiction (both narrative and dialogue) was composed entirely in Modern Standard Arabic. Gradually, authors and readers began to feel confined by dialogues composed in a language that no one would ever speak in such situations. They sensed that a fiction limited to Modern Standard failed to capture the difference in linguistic registers central to Arabic cultures, and in the subtlety, ironies, and social negotiations within Arabic civilization. Yet the use of dialect in fiction carries risks, beyond offending the literary conservatives, who judged it too lowly a discourse for “high” art. One risk was that use of a dialect might limit the potential readership of the work to those speaking the dialect it employed. In contrast to the Cairene dialect of another dialect pioneer, Yusuf Idris which—due to the Egyptian radio, television, and film industry—is understood throughout the Arabic world, some expressions from the local Sudanese dialect of Salih’s novels can be obscure even to many Sudanese, making his innovation particularly daring. The gamble paid off, however; not only were his books not marginalized because of the dialect, but they have also reached an unusually large and international readership.

The Wedding of Zein is grounded in the tensions and subtleties of Arabic diglossia (the double-language phenomenon characteristic of many cultures, including almost all Arabic-speaking cultures). The themes of diglossia in Salih’s story, as well as the use of diglossia in his writing, exemplify the significance of polysemantic performance in a culture and the role of that performance in almost every aspect of a society in which it is embedded.3

The school headmaster dramatizes the relationship of dialect, knowledge, and authority within the novel. The headmaster prides himself on his education and his ability to read some words in foreign languages. His view of knowledge is instrumental; he uses knowledge as a weapon to put other people in their place, particularly his students whom he calls “dumb asses” and his friends to whom he is constantly condescending. His intellectual stance is exposed through his contextual misuse of classical Arabic, his use of formal Arabic (which only a school-trained person would know) in contexts where it is inappropriate, such as everyday conversation in the coffee shop of one of his friends. The headmaster’s deflation, caused and deserved in part by his abuse of language, is performed with a play on the same language issues, even as it exemplifies and parodies his own attitudes toward knowledge and authority within the village.

Ni‘ma is the headmaster’s opposite in her conception of learning. Early on, she demands to be sent to school along with the boys. Her unusually strong commitment to learning and her academic excellence leads to expectations that she would pursue higher professional training in medicine or law. At this point, Ni‘ma decides that instead of educating herself for a profession, she will aspire to another kind of knowledge. She devotes herself to the study of the Quran. The Surahs of the Compassionate (Q 55), Maryam (Q 19), and the Recounting (Q 28) are among her favorites.4 Students who take the initiative to read and contemplate these surahs find clues to Ni‘ma’s behavior and character, as well as to the symbolic ramifications of her role in the village.

Ni‘ma’s devotion to learning leads her to refuse a succession of suitors who, in the view of the village, are more worthy than Zein in character and family stature. Her family is vexed. If she does not marry soon, gossip will start. In addition, her younger sisters will be delayed in their marriage plans. After one of her refusals, her father raises his hand to strike her. Then something holds him back, some sense that her refusal did not result from willfulness or rebellion. That deeper something protects her throughout the novel.5

Eiron and Alarzon

Question: What happens to the headmaster in the coffeehouse of Sheikh Ali? What are the various jokes involved? What is the big joke on the headmaster? What does the headmaster’s increasing discomfort reveal about the struggle in the village over issues of stature, knowledge, language, and power?

The struggle over knowledge is performed in one of the story’s comic vignettes. The mordancy of these vignettes is even easier to underestimate than the story as a whole. A particularly complex vignette takes place in the coffeehouse of Sheikh Ali where a friend, Abdul Samad, has come to try to extract a debt payment from Ali. Another friend Hajj Ibrahim is also present. The headmaster drops by and the conversation among the four turns to the upcoming wedding of Ni‘ma—to whom, like many others, the headmaster had proposed, and by whom, like many others, he had been turned down.

It is never stated that Ali, Abdul Samad, or Ibrahim know that the headmaster had proposed to the parents of Ni‘ma. When someone mentions the “news” everyone is talking about—the impending wedding of Zein and Ni‘ma—the headmaster loses his self-control. He shouts his disbelief that Ni‘ma could marry “that dervish of a fellow.” The headmaster uses the term “dervish” as a pejorative, the equivalent to an American slang term (such as deadbeat) for a person without a job, a role, or status. Yet the term also applies in a sense which he did not intend—one who has renounced mundane preoccupations such as status and career to pursue the path of mystical devotion.

The headmaster’s uncontrolled exclamations reveal his emotional investment in the issue of Ni‘ma’s upcoming marriage to Zein. Ali, Abdul Samad, and Ibrahim sense an opportunity to avenge themselves for countless put-downs by the headmaster. They expand on the tale of Zein’s wedding, dwelling on every aspect of the strange news. Then they recount, at length, oral traditions from Arabic poetry and legend of similarly unusual marriage choices. Once they have impaled the headmaster on his own pretensions, they suggest to the headmaster that he himself might wish to take a second wife, a divorcée perhaps, who might be appropriate for the headmaster’s advanced age. Then, seeing the headmaster’s anger at the mention of divorcées, they proceed to twist the knife:

“Do you mean to say that his honour the Headmaster, when wanting to marry another wife in addition to the mother of his children, should marry a ‘second-hand’ woman?” said Sheikh Ali, fanning the flames. “Really, Hajj Abdul Samad, you are a proper oaf.” (p. 93/85)

Abdul Samad then picks up on the English expression used by Ali, “second-hand.” He proceeds to berate Sheikh Ali for using foreign words. As throughout the vignette, however, the various barbs that Sheikh Ali, Hajj Abdul Samad, and Hajj Ibrahim hurl at one another are directed at and land upon the headmaster. After all, it was the headmaster who had so often used foreign vocabulary and overly formal Arabic to show off his learning and put his friends in their place. With wicked timing and an ironic self-deprecation, his interlocutors have turned the pretentiously formal language (“a proper oaf”) and the foreign terms (“second hand”) back onto the headmaster. Within the verbal mimicry of the headmaster is embedded a mimicry of the headmaster’s values:

Abdul Samad seized hold of the English word ‘second hand’, which Sheikh Ali had employed, and proceeded to tease him about it. “What’s that you said, Sheikh Ali” ’Sakan Dahan’—and he pronounced the words as if they were Arabic. “Wonders will never cease—Ali Wad Shayeb using foreign talk!” (p. 93/85)

As Abdul Samad repeats the English expression “second hand,” he rubs salt into the wound to the headmaster’s pride by mimicking the headmaster’s view of women as objects that can be possessed and presenting them with analogies to new and used cars—all through a mock criticism of his friend based upon the headmaster’s view of language.

Sheikh Ali then proceeds to expound on women in the past who married homely men, evoking figures from the past, such as Shajar al-Durr, on Kuthayyir Azza, as well as a famous marriage that occurred in the Ibrahimab tribe. The headmaster had always considered his three tormenters to be uncultured and ignorant because they had no formal education. Now, having exposed himself by his anger and disarmed by his own discomfort, he is confronted with the previously unsuspected erudition of Sheikh Ali, discoursing on classical heritage from a seemingly inexhaustible well of oral tradition. A new aspect of the tensions over knowledge and authority is revealed, as the oral tradition takes its revenge upon the pretensions of formal education and book learning.

At this point in a discussion, I ask the students about the literary roles of the headmaster and his three interlocutors. These characters offer parallels to the Graeco-Shakespearean comic tradition of Alarzon (a pretentious and puffed-up character) and the Eiron (a humble and common character who ultimately turns the table on the Alarzon). In Shakespeare, the Alarzon and Eiron characters can appear in side vignettes, as they do in The Wedding of Zein—where the Alarzon (the headmaster) is exposed and deflated by the seemingly naive and ignorant Eirons. The vignette becomes an occasion for the discussion of irony as an aspect of literature, an aspect that can be particularly difficult for many undergraduates to grasp. It also allows for a discussion of the distinctions between comic irony and other forms of the ironic.


Question: What is the turning point in the story?

To raise the question of a turning point may seem out of fashion in view of much of modernist and postmodern subversion or deconstruction of plot. Yet as a work molded in part on traditional fable forms, The Wedding of Zein does indeed offer a clear and dramatic moment, when the entire set of tensions and factions within the village is transformed and realigned, a moment the significance of which is revealed only in retrospect, at the end of the story.

Earlier in the story, Seif ad-Din, an abusive young dissolute, had attacked Zein for behaving inappropriately at his sister’s wedding. Zein was sent to the hospital where in addition to recovering from Seif ad-Din’s attack, he was given a new set of teeth. The new teeth and his improved appearance allowed the villagers to see him and regard him as more of a person in his own right, one who might even be eligible for marriage.

When Zein later crosses paths with Seif ad-Din, he leaps upon his former attacker and begins to choke him. Zein’s quasi-superhuman strength becomes apparent when Mahjoub’s gang attempts but fails to pull him away from Seif ad-Din. When it seems inevitable that Zein will choke his adversary to death, the quiet, slight, gentle Haneen appears and places his hand on Zein’s shoulder. At Haneen’s touch and the sound of his blessing, Zein’s iron grip softens and Seif ad-Din falls gasping to the ground. Haneen utters the phrase “Zein the Blessed” (az-zayn al-mabruk) (p. 65/63). Haneen uses the same occasion to announce that Zein will marry the most beautiful woman in the village. Zein and Seif ad-Din reconcile with one another on the spot. Then Zein kisses Haneen on the head, referring to him as our blessed shaykh, our blessed father (shaykhuna al-mabruk, abuna al-mabruk) (68/65). Haneen then pronounces blessings on all present, and by extension, the entire village, with a dual invocation: “May our lord bless you. May our lord bring about blessing for you” (rabbina yibarik fikum. rabbina yaj‘al l-barakah fikum) (p. 68/65).

Haneen’s miraculous intervention and its effects are given a textured narrative. Miracle after miracle is recounted, but with increasing narrative acknowledgment that with the passage of time some may recall these past events in an exaggerated fashion. First, the inhuman strength of Zein, that had thwarted the combined efforts of the gang, melts away with the soft touch and voice of Haneen. Furthermore, according to Seif ad-Din himself and another character (who, the narrator admits, has a tendency to exaggerate), Seif ad-Din was already dead, had already passed through the “alligator jaws” of death; Haneen’s intervention had raised him from the dead. After the incident, the village harvested the finest crops in recent memory. Yields doubled and quadrupled. New development projects, such as the construction of a hospital, brought employment opportunities. This sudden prosperity, along with other unusual occurrences such as snowfall, was attributed to “the year of Haneen.” As these miracles are recounted, the narrative voice shows a range of stances, from credulity to skepticism.

Meanwhile, not only are the mortal enemies, Zein and Seif ad-Din, reconciled, but also Seif ad-Din is converted, repents, and becomes the most zealous follower of the Imam. The voice of the former dissolute now can be heard wafting over the village five times a day as the new Muezzin, Seif ad-Din calls villagers to prayer. Seif ad-Din’s newfound zeal is also shown through his attack on his old haunt, the Oasis, which, when it refuses his demand to close down, he burns to the ground. This “miracle” of Seif ad-Din’s conversion is not without a certain ambiguity. Seif ad-Din (Sword of the Faith) has radically and miraculously changed his behavior and allegiance. In another way, perhaps, his personality has not changed at all. He is still an extremist, having moved from extremist rejecter of religion to zealous defender of the faith. As evidenced in his burning down of the Oasis, he is still violent. In view of the violence committed in the Sudan in the name of religion at the time of the writing of The Wedding of Zein and since, the violent implications in Seif ad-Din’s zeal may offer a sense of foreboding.

Greater than all of these aspects of the miracle, is what for the village is the miracle of miracles. Ni‘ma, the most beautiful woman in the village, had firmly refused the most eligible young men of good family, substantial means, and personal charm. She is now to marry Zein, the dervish of a man, considered a fool and a freak by many and an unlikely candidate for marriage to anyone, let alone Ni‘ma (although, being Zein’s cousin, it is acknowledged that there is no technical impediment to such a wedding).

The artfulness of the narration allows the barakah scene to proceed in a vivid fashion, without calling explicit attention to the conceptual world of popular Islam that underlies it. In the first discussion of the episode, I prefer to focus on the story proper. Then, with the vividness of the story on our minds, we can enter into an examination of the role of barakah as a quasi-tangible force residing in the body of shaykhs and in their tombs; of the miracles [karamaāt] that barakah can bring about through the personality of the shaykh; and the local visit or pilgrimage [ziyaārah] to the shrine of the holy person. From here, it is possible to briefly explore the inscription of barakah language within everyday idioms, from barakat llah fik (the blessings of God on you, thank you), mabruk (you’ve been blessed, congratulations), allah yibarak fik (God bless you, as equivalent to thank you or you’re welcome).

Once the role of barakah in popular Sufism and popular Islamic culture (many who engage in ritual ziyarah do not consider themselves Sufis or categorize themselves as practicing any particular aspect of Islam) has been introduced, the controversies over Sufism and popular Islam can be engaged, from the early attacks of Ibn Taymiyya to the extreme anti-Sufi ideology of the Wahhabi version of Islam now dominant in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the tension between practitioners and opponents of popular Sufism or popular Islam is at the heart of the tension between the Imam (with his connections to the larger world of officially recognized Islamic leadership) and Haneen.

The night of barakah contains two other aspects of the miracle that are only revealed at the story’s end. At the wedding, the factions of the village that had been in tension and conflict with one another join in celebration. This is the moment when “opposites come together.” And, as Zein leaves the final wedding in midcelebration, the reader begins to understand something else about Haneen’s blessing that had been only obliquely raised earlier in the story.

Modes of Identification with Islam

Question: Discuss the religiosity of the gang. In what sense are they religious?

Just after the episode of the miracle and preceding the explosion of energy in the wedding, is a moment of calm. The “gang” is gathered outside Sa‘eed’s shop toward evening, after a day of hard work. Although they are ritually nonobservant for the most part, the gang both support and make possible the formal institutions centered around the mosque on the one hand, while reflecting on Islamic ritual patterns of time and space on the other. As the evening prayer time approaches, they are gathered together for their evening meal—;a communal act that parallels communal prayer being performed by the observant Muslims in the village. After the meal, they turn meditative, citing aphorisms, proverbs, and other expressions from both the poetic and the Islamic tradition, bearing on destiny in both its Quranic and its classical poetic contexts. The narrator depicts the moment of deepest calm as follows:

By then the people would have finished the evening prayer. They would talk quietly and contentedly, enjoying their warm, tranquil feeling which is also experienced by the worshippers as they stand in a row behind the Imam shoulder to shoulder, looking at some faraway point at which their prayers will meet. At such times the vehemence in Mahjoub’s eyes lessens as they idly roam along the faint, fading line where the light from the lamp ends and the darkness begins (where does the lamplight end? how does the darkness begin?) His silence takes on great depth at such moments, and if one of his friends asks him something he neither hears nor makes answer. This is the time when Wad Rayyis suddenly breaks out into a single phrase, like a stone falling into a pond: “God is living.” Ahmed Ismaeel inclines his head a little in the direction of the river as though listening to some voice that comes to him from there. At this hour, too, Abdul Hafeez cracks his fingers in silence and Taher Rawwasi gives a sigh from deep within him and says: “Time comes and Time goes.” (p. 114/105)

This passage opens up the range of ways, in which people can adhere to a religious tradition, and breaks the common assumption of two fixed and rigidly bound categories of religious and nonreligious. Taher Rawwasi’s expression (“Time comes and Time goes”) evokes the concept of time/fate [dahr] that grounds the poetic tradition and that is partially incorporated into Islam. Wad Rayyis “breaks out into a single phrase, like a stone falling into a pond: ‘God is living’.” His exclamation opens up a discussion of the relationship of the evocation of the divine name in the phrase “God is living” [Allāhu ḥayy] and the theme of life (represented by the wedding that is about to be announced) at the heart of the story. Wad Rayyis also exemplifies the effect of religious patterns on those who may not deem themselves religious or who may not appear religious or regularly observant to others. The gang responds not only to the cycles of pastoral life (the tranquil moment occurs after a day’s work in the fields and a robustly enjoyed meal) but also to the rhythms of Islamic ritual life—in sustained and personal ways, even if by the standards of strict orthopraxis they are negligent.

Wedding as Hieros Gamos

The calm is broken by the ululation announcing the wedding. The wedding dramatizes in a particularly comprehensive manner the coming together of opposites that was said to be one of the signs of Haneen’s miracle. The bedouin and the villagers offer one striking example of such a coincidentia oppositorum. The villagers had considered the Koz bedouin to be uncouth bumpkins, while the bedouin considered themselves to be the authentic upholders of the classical Arab ideals—illustrating in a local example a creative tension that has been the warp and woof of Arabic society for centuries. The simultaneous presence at the wedding of these two, normally mutually exclusive groups is paralleled by the marriage of Quranic religiosity with secular entertainment. A group reciting the Quran together is found next to a group forming a circle around an erotic dancer, with many moving back and forth between the two worlds. During the dance, the Imam happens to let his glance wander toward the cleavage (described in hyperbolic terms) of the dancer’s breasts. His eyes “become cloudy as muddied water”—perhaps a moment of humanization of the otherwise self-righteous and rigid figure, who had shortly before exasperated the community with his grudging and insulting remarks at the wedding ceremony. The entire village (with the possible exception of Seif ad-Din) celebrates side by side, as Zein moves from one circle to the other, dancing at the center of each.

Ni‘ma is a principal actor and agent of change within the novel. Ni‘ma chose Zein for marriage and Ni‘ma’s choice precipitated the subsequent events that transformed the village dynamic. In depicting her choice, the narrator refers to her conviction that she had been chosen to make a sacrifice. Her readings of the Quranic passages on strong women (Mariam and the mother of Moses) have deepened her determination to follow her sense of destiny, wherever it should lead her, at whatever sacrifice. What exactly the sacrifice entails is never made explicit, although we can infer certain aspects of it. She sacrifices her professional possibilities by choosing to remain in the village and by choosing Quranic knowledge over technical training (a choice that is frequently a cause of discussion and argument among the students). She sacrifices possibilities of marrying a handsome and relatively wealthy suitor, who might have lifted her and her family several notches in social status. The name, Ni‘ma [Na‘ima], is based on an Arabic radical [n/‘/m] with connotations of bounty, fertility, and lush life. And by marrying Zein, Ni‘ma has clearly helped bring to the village these very qualities—which are evoked with such power in another of her favorite Quranic passages, the Surah of the Compassionate.6

Along with Ni‘ma, Haneen is a major agent of change within the story. By announcing Zein’s blessedness, by touching Zein, and through the miracle of overcoming of Zein’s strength with his own gentleness, Haneen not only proclaims Ni‘ma’s choice of Zein as spouse but also saves Zein from destroying the prospect of the marriage. And Haneen plays a central role in the wedding. When Zein vanishes from the festivities, they search for him throughout the village. They follow him past the fields, past the mosque, past the residences, offering an intimate and closely knit last view of the important sites of the village, each of which evokes the characters and the drama associated with that site earlier in the story. In the end, Zein is found weeping at the tomb of Haneen. The tombs in the graveyard are described as standing in the darkness like ships on the ocean swells. Before this moment, the death of Haneen had been mentioned only in an artfully disguised parenthesis, so we arrive at the tomb of Haneen with a certain sense of surprise. Here we sense a final intimation in Haneen’s touching of Zein’s shoulder during the night of the miracle: the possibility that he was transferring to Zein the spiritual leadership along with his barakah.

Zein is persuaded to return to the wedding. Once again he enters the ring of dancing and stands in the heart of the circle, like the “mast of a ship” (p.128/119). At this point, the class can discuss the classical Sufi idea of the qutb, the “pole” that holds the cosmos together, and then ask if Haneen and then Zein carry out an analogous role on the microcosmic level of the village. Zein—who had been the marginal character throughout the novel, hovering at the edge of the community, transgressing its conventions and boundaries but never having a role—now has been transformed into the very center of the community bond and life, the axis mundi of this fictionalized Sudanese village. At this moment, there are revealed two other aspects of the coincidentia oppositorum: the coming together of death (represented by the tombs) and life (by the circle of dancers), as well as the joining of celebration (the wedding) with grief (the graveyard remembrance of Haneen that occurs temporally within the wedding).

Haneen and Zein form yet another set of opposites brought together at this wedding. Haneen as a holy man is ascetic, gentle, restrained, mysterious, and slight of build. Zein is exuberant, uninhibited, gluttonous, large, and inhumanely strong. Yet Haneen chooses Zein as his only confidant and eventual successor. Similarly, Zein and Ni‘ma represent two opposites, brought together in the hieros gamos. Ni‘ma is both beautiful and the epitome of ‘aql (a quality that combines reason, judgment, and maturity). Zein is physically ugly, lacking in self-control and decorum. Yet, of course, Zein’s name means “beautiful,” and it was Ni‘ma who sees beauty in the seemingly ugly connoisseur of the beauty of others. Ni‘ma brings her seriousness and sense of destiny to the powerful, spontaneous, and unfocused energy of Zein. Ni‘ma’s sense of vision, destiny, and sacrifice lead her to determined action. She realizes the vision for herself (through her marriage) and for the community (through the marriage of the various factions and through the year of bounty), thus reflecting in subtle ways the themes of her favorite Quranic passages.

Meaning and Boundaries

In the blurb on the back-cover of the book, Kingsley Amis writes of Salih’s characters that “the reader is invited to laugh at them, or at least to smile. And yet his humour is fundamentally kind; even at their most ridiculous, all the characters retain an essential dignity.” Publishers are notorious for picking out the wrong quote to describe a novel, and it may be that Amis went on to deepen his comment. As it is, although grateful for his support of this work, I find myself in sharp disagreement with Amis’s remark. The significance of The Wedding of Zein resides in what it reveals not only about a particular fictional village in the Sudan but also about community and human nature generally. And—unless we take the headmaster’s condescending view of these villagers—when we laugh, we laugh at what we recognize in ourselves.

The Wedding of Zein presents a plurality of human types. Though the types may be sketched in the broad, artistic brushes of folklore and fable rather than filled out in sociorealistic detail, they nevertheless offer a supple sense of humanity, both local and universal, and a vivid portrayal of chance and growth within the protagonist Zein. In addition, they offer a complex yet accessible portrayal of “popular Sufism,” or barakah Islam, and show the cultural agency of barakah by making it key to the turning point of the story. In their various stances toward religion, knowledge, and community, these types offer a microcosm of similar difference throughout the Islamic world. The story is a comedy, that is, it ends on the happy note of idealized community and an Islam that is vital, open, and not only tolerant but also celebratory of its diversity. This happy ending mirrors inversely the tragedy of Season of Migration to the North, where individual and community identity falls apart. Finally, the novel allows us to engage the characters as human beings and to see in them—whatever our own multiple religious, ethnic, and national identities—the reflection of a common humanity.

Wider Questions

1. Examine the role of knowledge in the novel. What are the various views of knowledge in the village, the sources of prestige and status, and competing worlds of knowledge? Relate these village positions to position in readings of classical texts.

2. What is the role of barakah in the novel and popular Sufism in general? Compare the function of barakah in The Wedding of Zein with its more explicit role in “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” which occurs in the same volume. View the film Ways of Faith (“The Arabs” series) on religion in the Sudan, and read Trimingham, Islam in the Sudan, on the tension between popular Sufism and self-declared orthodox Islam.7 Read selections from Ibn Taymiyya’s attack on popular Islam and modern Wahhabi criticisms of the same practices.8

3. Compare the presentation of popular Sufism in The Wedding of Zein to similar practices in other Islamic cultures, employing scholarly case studies, of a Sufi shrine in Tunisia, for example, or Sufi shrines in India, or the shrine of Bawa Muhayyidin near Philadelphia in the United States.

4. How do themes from classical Islamic and Arabic literature guide what seems to be on the surface a simple, country folk story? And how do elements of folk literature transform themes of the high literature of Arabic and Western classics?

5. How and why is Ni‘ma able to act in a way that allows her to transcend what appears to be normal gender boundaries and limitations in the village? What quality validates her actions for the villagers and protects her from coercion or retribution?

6. The name “Zein” evokes beauty. Zein is initially portrayed as ungainly, even ugly. How is beauty defined and valued by different elements within the village, and what is Zein’s role as the prophet of beauty?

7. Tayeb Salih worked as a drama critic for the BBC in London. Read the section on comedy in Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism.9 In what way does The Wedding of Zein correspond to the categories of comedy given by Frye for Western Shakespearean and Greek comedic traditions? How does he employ Islamic and Arabic classical tradition and more localized Sudanese culture and folklore?

8. Is Zein in any way a Trickster? Examine the Trickster literature in African and Native American cultures and explain in what ways Zein conforms with or diverges from the construction of the Trickster in contemporary scholarship.

9. Compare issues of barakah and popular Islam as presented in The Wedding of Zein to the two short stories by Salih, “A Handful of Dates” and “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” (published in the same English version) or to Naguib Mahfuz’s story “Zaabalawi.”

10. Reconstruct the village by taking out one of the principal groups or individuals: Haneen; the Imam and the observant elderly men; the gang; Ni‘ma; or Zein. What would be the effect on the village? How might the removal of a character or group affect the village?



Below are some other selected works I have found useful in courses on Islam or, more specifically, Islamic Literature and Civilization. In a more general introduction course on Islam, I use only one or two selections. This sampling represents my own experience and my own priorities in teaching. It is not—emphatically—and does not attempt to be either comprehensive or representative. It is radically unbalanced in its focus on works written originally in Arabic, a focus that reflects my own scholarly background and literary focus and works that I have used successfully in the classroom. I look for modern works that combine a modern fiction-writing style—often heavy with irony and sometimes with disillusion—with significant allusions to the Quran, hadith, classical Islamic theology and philosophy, and the poetic tradition. Of the many novels written in the Islamic world, or written by Muslims, several have combined modern sensibility with a sustained grounding in the classical religious tradition. These works challenge students to find classical themes, where they might tend to focus simply on the psychology of the protagonist. They also demonstrate how the classical themes live within and inform the modern world. I’m sure to this partial list others could add some excellent suggestions from within or outside the Arab world.

1. The Heinemann/Three Continents edition of The Wedding of Zein, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies and illustrated by Ibrahim Salahi contains two outstanding short stories that work well with the long novel or novella. “A Handful of Dates” is the story of the disillusionment of a young boy, who had idolized his grandfather as the embodiment of Quranic values. The grandfather had taught his grandson the Quran, but by the end of the story was engaging in precisely the kind of predatory business practices most scathingly condemned in the Quran (“Do you think your wealth will make you immortal?”). This short story is filled with literary subtlety and the ending is complex. I ask the class to discuss both the grandfather and Masood, the romantic spendthrift who loses his property to the grandfather, in the context of Quranic values of generosity, responsibility, and self-control. I have found particularly intriguing the metaphorical implications of the young boy’s vomiting of the dates acquired by his grandfather from Masood to be a particularly rich discussion. Is one aspect of the boy’s disillusion and nausea his realization that through, eating the date, he was participating with his grandfather in consuming Masood himself who had identified himself with the date palms?

2. “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” offers a sustained portrayal of barakah Islam at the intersection of traditional, formalist, and modernist-development worlds. The wali Wad Hamid and the tree that contains his barakah are shown in dreams, mythopoesis, social practice, personal and collective psychology, political manipulations, personal and communal understanding of healing, and the struggle to balance tradition and identity with progress and modernization.

3. Mahshid Amirshahi, “The End of the Passion Play.”10 Of the modern Persian stories, this story makes particularly effective use of a classical theme, in this case the ta‘ziyya passion play reenactment of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala in 680 C.E. In her treatment of the ta‘ziyya, Amirshahi uses the centrality of the event and the idealism associated with Husayn in a mordant exposé of hypocrisy and repression. The narrative voice is supple, shifting, and unreliable. Thus, the unwary reader may tend to accept at face value the narrative voice when it presents the common-sense judgment of the village concerning the central protagonist, Abu al-Canfoot. Abu al-Canfoot, who has a can (actually a rough piece of corrugated iron) replacing his amputated foot, is the stepfather of a young and idealistic boy. The central question is whether Abu al-Canfoot’s severity, including beatings and practical enslavement, illustrates the tough love of a caring stepfather, as suggested at times by the narrator, or something else. The narrator hides a clue in cryptic comments on how Abu al-Canfoot appropriates the boy Taghi’s inheritance.

For contextualization, I have found most useful the last section of the life of Husayn by Sheikh al-Mufid.11 The account by al-Mufid of Husayn’s passion and death offers a thick and challenging version of passion literature and sets a literary and mythic context for the discussion of the ritual of the ta‘ziyya.

4. Naguib Mahfuz, “Zaabalawi.”12 This short story tells of an unnamed narrator who seeks the semi-mythical Shaykh Zaabalawi to cure him of an unspecified illness. The central story is taken up in the narrator’s meeting with seven intermediaries, each of whom has a different perspective on where Zaabalawi might be, and—crucially—each of whom represents a different stratum of traditional society and adab (or lack thereof). The penultimate intermediary is a singer and poet who chants verses such as “I have a memory [dhikr] of her” until the walls “dance with ecstasy,” and appears to exemplify the classical ideal of cultivation, hospitality, and artistic achievement. The last guide is a drunkard, Hagg Wanas, who insists the protagonist get drunk before he will speak to him. When the protagonist feels the effect of the wine, he goes through a series of Sufi-like states, ending in a state of bliss. He wakes up to find that while he had been sleeping, Zaabalawi had been there, sprinkling water on his temples.

The challenge for the student reader is to avoid focusing entirely on the protagonist—blaming him for not realizing he was already cured, accepting without further questioning the claim that “the search was the cure,” or engaging in other purely psychological interpretations. Such a focus ignores the worlds represented by the various Cairene characters encountered in the quest and the cultural realms they represent. One reward in teaching such a work is to see students, when asked what each intermediary was like (what was his view of reason, what was his view of adab, what was his view of creativity?), come alive to the social and cultural aspects of the story. They can then entertain the thought that the alienation from traditional culture (or the ideals it represents) that is symbolized, in varying degrees, by the characters in the story, may be itself part of the illness. If Zaabalawi as healer represents ties to traditional culture and ideals, the fact that he is now being pursued by the police (for practicing medicine without a license, perhaps) may be an indication of the wider cultural aspect of the narrator’s illness. After his ecstatic encounter with Zaabalawi during his drunken stupor, he wakes to find consciousness hitting him like a policeman’s fist.

A second temptation is to read the last encounter with Hagg Wanas as pure Sufi allegory for mystical union. The problem, of course, is that Mahfuz has located Hagg Wanas with too much sociorealistic detail as a real drunkard, in a real tavern, in a real section of town, not in some mythical or symbolic tavern of a medieval Sufi poem. The Sufi themes are profound, but the portrait of the protagonist, waking up drunk to the concerned look of the bartender, carries with it an irony and a complexity beyond the one-for-one allegorization of wine.

For context, I use selections of Sufi writings, such as Qushayri’s discussion of intoxication, absence, presence, and fana’. I also use samples of Mi‘raj literature from the collection of Muslim and the Sufi Mi‘raj of Bistami and ask the students to compare the protagonist’s voyage through the seven circles of Cairo to the Mi‘raj voyage through the seven spheres.

5. Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North. This work is an inverted mirror image of The Wedding of Zein, a tragedy embodied in a protagonist (Mustafa Saeed) who is, among many other things, a self-created personification of Orientalist stereotypes about the East. Indeed, the work can be read in conjunction with Edward Said’s Orientalism.13 The tragedy Mustafa Saeed provokes is embodied in the fate of women in England and in the Sudanese village who are destroyed in the intersection of the different cultural worlds. The story raises issues from Shakespeare (with its explicit allusions to Othello) and the practice of clitoridectomy. The latter issue and the general portrayal of violence against women both in the East and the West can raise in the classroom sudden emotions in a manner that requires some pedagogical strategy. If the class or instructor is taken too much by surprise, the intensity of feelings can close down discussion rather than opening it up. The eerie relationship between the unnamed narrator and Mustafa (who collapse into one another at a particular moment), as well as the scene in which the narrator is paralyzed and cannot act to save the woman he loves, make the novel a particularly gripping read. There is a large critical literature on The Season of Migration to the North, allowing the student to explore various aspects of the novel as appropriate.14

6. Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories, translated from the Arabic by Hillary Kilpatrick (London: Heinemann Educational; Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1978); and Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa and other Stories, translated by Barbara Harlow and Karen E. Riley (Boulder, Col.: Lynne Reiner, 2000). While not specifically grounded in religious themes, these novels offer a deeply human portrayal of the Palestinian experience of nakbah and exile, an experience that has impacted not only the Arab world (both Christian and Muslim), but also the Islamic world as a whole. The novel humanizes the Palestinian, brings us into his struggles, dreams, and aspirations—without polemic and without generic demonizing Israeli Jews—in a way that can help dispel anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic stereotypes, which are often tied up, in part, with the Middle East conflict.

7. Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure, translated from the French by Katherine Woods (London: Heinemann, 1972). This book offers a compelling account of a traditional Quranic education and the culture shock upon arriving in Europe of a Senegalese steeped in such a world.

8. Emil Habibi, The Secret Life of Saeed, The Ill-Fated Pessoptimist, translated from the Arabic by Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Trevor Le Gassick (New York: Vantage Press, 1982). Habibi’s work is filled with subtle ironies, linguistic extravaganzas of dialect and pun, and a sense of the comic within the tragic.

9. Jamal al-Ghitani, Incidents in Zaafarani Alley (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 1986).15 This novel contains within it a wide range of classical and modern culture. My understanding is that a more complete translation, better able to reflect the play and wit of Egyptian dialect, may be in the works.


1. I refer to The Wedding of Zein as a novel, though it might also be called a novella. The categorization would depend upon the definition of the novel as opposed to novella, a question that does not concern the issues addressed in this essay. All page references include the pagination in the Arabic edition followed by that in the Johnson-Davies English translation. See al-Tayyib Salih, ‘Urs az-Zayn (Beirut: Daār al-‘Awda, 1970); and Tayeb Salih, The Wedding of Zein, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies (London: Heinemann, 1969, 1982). I have used the spelling of personal names employed within the translation. The English edition of The Wedding of Zein also includes two stories by Salih: “A Handful of Dates” and “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid,” also translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, along with evocative illustrations by Ibrahim Salahi.

2. For a recent bibliography of scholarship on the works of Tayeb Salih, see Ami Elad-Bouskila, “Shaping the Cast of Characters: The Case of al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ,” Journal of Arabic Literature 19 (1998): 59–94. For the wider literary context, see Roger Allen, The Arabic Novel: An Historical and Critical Introduction (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1995).

3. The use of dialect offers a special challenge to the translator. The local dialects of the host language (in this case English) contain a very different set of cultural associations. Thus, to choose a particular local dialect of English would reduplicate the tension between formal written language and spoken language, but the specific regional and cultural associations of the chosen dialect would be distracting. Denys Johnson-Davies used a variety of strategies to reflect the diglossia within the dialogues of The Wedding of Zein, with various forms of overly formal or somewhat archaic English being used, for example, to represent the headmaster’s inappropriate resort to formal Arabic in conversation. Of course, to say that dialect represents a special difficulty in translation is not to suggest a work cannot be appreciated in translation. All literary translation poses extraordinary obstacles and engaging such obstacles is not only a difficulty but also a source of richness for both translator and reader.

4. Page 52 in both the original Arabic and the translation. The translation renders sūrat al-qaṣaṣ as “The Retribution”; a mistake evidently resulting from a confusion between qaṣaṣ (story, narrative, recounting) and qaṣāṣ(the equivalency of punishment to crime). The translation as “Retribution” is significant in that the English-reading audience will be thrown off track by the theme of retribution, a theme decidedly not one of special interest to Ni‘ma.

5. The difficulty posed, to herself and her family, by Ni‘ma’s continued rejection of suitors reflects a reality faced by students in my classes whose families adhere to the paradigm of arranged marriage. Whether Muslim or Hindu, for example, some of my students of South Asian heritage will be facing similar pressures even as they read the story, whether they are studying in the United States on a student visa or are the children or are of South Asian American background. Their families may expect them (if they are women) to marry soon after graduation. In some cases, the marriage of younger sisters will be put on hold until the older sister, about to graduate from college, is married—leading to increased stress on the student, her parents, and her siblings. While Ni‘ma’s choices lead to a celebratory conclusion of the story, the story does not offer (nor could it offer) a solution to the problems of young women in a similar predicament—but complicated by the differing mores and general societal expectations in the industrialized world.

6. Ni‘ma’s choice, while it results in the rebirth of the village, also strikes some students as unsatisfying from the point of view of women’s role in society. While The Wedding of Zein is a novel that features a female character, whose agency is central to the story, the happy ending of the wedding finds her receding from public view into the private space of the life of a married woman in a traditional village culture. Had Ni‘ma chosen to go north to Cairo to study medicine or law, she might have found herself navigating the tides of gender and cultural difference that are the subject of Salih’s The Season of Migration to the North.

7. Ali el-Mek, Ways of Faith, in The Arabs: A Living History series (1990). This outstanding film centers on the religious center of Umduban. It focuses on issues of healing (both traditional and modern), Quranic schooling, popular education, and the role of the sheikh as religious leader, all central themes in the works of Tayeb Salih. J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in the Sudan (New York : Barnes & Noble, 1965). Though marred by gratuitous expressions of contempt for the alleged decadence of much of Islamic popular belief and practice, Islam in the Sudan is nevertheless useful for its wealth of detail, especially if used in conjunction with Constance Berkeley’s fine article, “Popular Islam in aṭ-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ,” Journal of Arabic Literature 11 (1980): 88–104. Berkeley has also written one of the few articles in English dedicated solely to The Wedding of Zein. See her review article on the Denys Johnson-Davies translation: “El Tayeb Salih, The Wedding of Zein, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies,” Journal of Arabic Literature 11 (1980): 104–114. See also Ali Abdallah Abbas, “Notes on Tayeb Salih: Season of Migration to the North and The Wedding of Zein,” Sudan Notes and Records 35 (1974): 46–61.

8. Muhammad Umar Memon, Ibn Taimiya’s Struggle against Popular Religion, with an annotated translation of his Kitāb iqtiḍā’ aṣ-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm mukhālafat aṣḥāb al-jaḥīm (The Hague: Mouton, 1976).

9. In essay three of Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957).

10. Mahshid Amirshahi, “The End of the Passion Play,” in Modern Persian Short Stories, trans. Minoo S. Southgate (London: Three Continents, 1980), 161–172. The story originally appeared as Akhar-i ta‘ziyah in Mahshid Amirshahi’s collection of short stories Ba‘d az ruz-i akhar (Tehran, 1969).

11. Muhammad b. Muhammad Mufid, The Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams (Kitab al-Irshad), trans. I. K. A. Howard (Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 1981).

12. Naguib Mahfuz, “Zaabalawi,” in Modern Arabic Short Stories, selected and translated by Denys Johnson-Davies (London: Oxford University Press, 1980), 137–147; the Johnson-Davies translation also appears in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 2:1961–1965 (New York: Norton, 1992); and The Harper Collins World Reader, 2:1620–1627 (New York: Harper Collins, 1994). The original appeared in Al-Ahram, 12 May 1961, and was incorporated into Mahfuz’s collection of stories, Dunya Allah (Cairo: Maktabat Miṣr, 1963), 135–150. For a recent critical study of the story, see Ami Elad, “Mahfuz’s Za‘balawi: Six Stations of a Quest,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26.4 (November 1994): 631–644.

13. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

14. See the references in Elad-Bouskila (above, n. 2), especially Mona Takkieddine Amyuni, ed., Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (Beirut: American University of Beirut Press, 1985).

15. Jamal al-Ghitani, Waqā‘i’ Ḣārat al-Za‘far#x0101;nī (Cairo: Dār al-Thaqāfah al-Jadīdah, 1976). A second edition was published in Cairo by Maktabat Madbuli in 1985.

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