I never expected that one day I would see Cinderella wearing a hijab. Indeed, the story of the beautiful girl who is mistreated by her stepmother but ends up marrying the prince has nothing at all to do with an Islamic veil.
It was at last month’s Cairo Book Fair that I first glimpsed the Islamic version of Cinderella. I couldn’t believe my eyes; I took a good look and, sure enough, there it was: published by Dar al-Yanabee, compiled by Massoud Sabri and with illustrations by Ra’fat Mohieddin. The illustrations are especially shocking: they show Cinderella in full Islamic garb, as were all the female characters in the story. The male characters are in mediaeval Islamic costume.
What a weird sense!
Cinderella is still the young woman badly treated by her father’s wicked wife, but she prays to Allah to give her patience. She never says a bad word about her father##s wife, despite her cruelty. The fairy godmother—a very non-Islamic figure—who helps Cinderella is replaced in this version by a more commonplace old, rich lady. The two ugly sisters have glaring African features and colour, which reeks of racism. When Cinderella finally marries her prince, it is explained as her heavenly reward for being patient in her suffering.
After my initial distaste for the Islamised version of Cinderella—the name ‘Cinderella’ has not been changed, which lends a weird overall sense to the story of the allegedly Muslim girl in hijab with such a western name—I must admit to being intrigued. Is it acceptable to manoeuvre literary heritage to suit a different culture?
Manoeuvering world literature
I took the question to the writer and critic Gaber Asfour, who could not help expressing his deep shock at the idea of Islamising world literature. “This is deliberate distortion of literary works, and it exposes a lack of creativity,” Dr Asfour said. “But in any case, no one can wipe out the original story of Cinderella. Children who read the Islamic version of Cinderella are bound to come across the original at one point or another.”
Novelist Mahmoud Abu-Hasha disagrees with Asfour. In his opinion, world heritage is there for everyone, and people everywhere can make use of it according to their culture. This happened with the world-famous Arabic collection of tales Alf Layla Wa Layla (known in English as The Thousand And One Nights or the Arabian Nights). Mr Hasha is concerned, however, about the importance of mentioning that it is an Islamic version of Cinderella. This should be mentioned clearly so that the reader realises that it is one version among many variations and the dozens of re-tellings. Also, he says, the main theme and spirit of the story should remain unchanged.
Another writer and intellectual, Hala Fahmy, criticised what she termed “a deformation of children’s world literature”.
“We could have presented something similar from our own Egyptian, Coptic or Islamic heritage instead of affecting children’s sentiments in a negative way. We must tell the original stories in the same way as they were told to us.” She added that Islamising world heritage was totally unacceptable since it merely served to confuse children’s minds.
None other but Islamic
However, the writer and critic Moustafa Bayoumi believes that any writer can present world heritage through his own perspective. Any writer is free to rewrite any novel according to his artistic and intellectual view. The controversy will be on his ability to present a comprehensive vision.
“For instance,” Mr Bayoumi says, “Jesus Christ has been depicted in many ways by various peoples, but no one can object because Jesus is for all. It is also a historical fact that Adham al-Sharqawi was a robber, whereas the Egyptian folkloric mawwal (ballad) and the film made about him depict him as a folk hero. The same applies to the story of Cinderella. However the question that begs an answer is: did the writer add any value to the world literature heritage or did he merely Islamise it? That judgment is left to the reader and the critic.”
Mr Bayoumi reminds us that Islamisation emerged in the middle of the 1970s, so there was Islamic psychology, Islamic history and Islamic economy. “The original story of Cinderella will definitely not be affected by presenting her wearing a hijab. The problem is with refusing to present her in any way other than in an Islamic light,” he says.
17 February 2013