The Warrior Women of Islam: Female Empowerment in Arabic Popular Literature

Article excerpt

Remke Kruk. The Warrior Women of Islam: Female Empowerment in Arabic Popular Literature. London / New York. I. B. Tauris. 2014. isbn 9781848859272

We have all heard of The Thousand and One Nights, but stories outside this collection are a different matter, even for specialists, the genre of popular epic narrated by professional storytellers having been rather looked down upon by scholars and hence making only brief appearances in literary histories. Remke Kruk has most usefully prepared accounts of, with occasional translated extracts from, eleven tales recounting the chivalric adventures of various heroes. Or rather, if the word is permissible today, heroines.

Popular epic, sira sha'biya, has existed in the Arab world from the Middle Ages and survives to this day (Kruk heard a Moroccan storyteller narrate one of her selected stories in 1997). The tales center on the deeds of warriors endowed with implausible strength, endurance, and, often, nobility who fight with sword, shield, and lance, win cities and provinces for Islam, make daring escapes, and fall in love. The stories switch focus from the trials and triumphs of one fighter to those of another, Kruk interestingly comparing this manner of narration to the one employed by soaps. Here, however, the chivalric women warriors will refuse marriage except to a man who can defeat them in battle or will distract their opponents' attention by the sudden revelation of their physical charms. …