Daughters of Arabia

“Daughters of Arabia” by American author Jean Sasson is a sequel to the international bestseller Princess and is the second book in the Princess trilogy which also includes “Desert Royal.” The book is a true story of life behind the veil and exposes the claustrophobic and inhumane treatment meted out to women in Saudi Arabia. Though it is a real story, but certain events and names have been altered to protect the identity of the protagonist, Princess Sultana.

The story is set against the rich backdrop of Saudi royalty and the complete opulence and luxury which encompasses the members of Sultana’s family. Readers across the globe had commiserated and expressed shock at Princess Sultana’s brutal expose of her life in Princess but this book shifts the focus on Sultana’s children Abdullah, Maha and Amani. Needless to say the underlying theme of both the books is the same; the atrocities committed on the weaker sex.

Throughout the book we see Sultana’s inherent frustration with the misinterpretation of the words of the Holy Prophet and her fervent endeavour to improve the status of Saudi women. Her battle is not easy as she has to fight against the men of her own family; a father who never loved her, a brother ( Ali) who is the model example of despicability at its worst and a husband ( Kareem ) who though a shade better than other men, is still a product of his times.

It becomes a nightmare for Sultana when the fiends from whom she tries best to shield her children come to haunt her. The startling discovery she makes about her teenaged daughter Maha and her friend Aisha and the journey she embarks upon thereafter, to protect the one she nurtured, is totally heart wrenching. The incident is just one among many and throws light upon how women in bondage rebel and react unnaturally to their pitiful and dreary lives.

Amani, her youngest and one so unlike her becomes a perpetual source of worry for Sultana when she begins to exhibit fanatical behaviour. How the unusually mellow, quiet and reticent Amani transforms into this creature unrecognizable and unknown by her mother is absolutely riveting! As the dark horrors of Arabian lives unfold through Sultana’s eyes, one is filled with a sense of abhorrence and repugnance.

Sultana’s Haj pilgrimage along with her family is a turning point in the story. At the heart of this journey is Sultana’s desperate attempt to showcase her faith in Allah and her fervent plea to Him to put an end to the subjugation of women and distortion of the words of the holy Quran. How can the efforts of just one woman untangle the cobwebs but Sultana’s persistence is just a bleak ray of hope which may enhance the position of women from their otherwise subservient roles in years to come.

What is even more incredible about the book is the fact that it’s true. No where in the narration does the plot lose its grip but in fact leaves the reader with an unsettling feeling. We are living in the twenty first century, are modern, liberated and educated but there are people elsewhere in the world, especially women who do not even have access to basic human rights. No religion perpetuates violence and injustice on the weaker sex and Islam is no exception. It is high time that the morally corrupt Saudi men treat women as their equals and not just as sexual exploits because change is in the air and if they don’t relent they would be very soon dethroned.

Tanya Saran

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