By Lora Xie, IV Form
Reflection on Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih
Both Haneen and the Imam are important religious leaders in the village’s spiritual life. While Haneen, a Sufi master, represents the mystery of Islam, the Imam represents the traditions and doctrines of Islam. However, both of them bring God into the village life.
Haneen enjoys unanimous respect from the villagers because he is ascetic, enigmatic, and accredited with the year’s miracles, the most prominent of which being stopping Zein from killing Seif ad-Din and turning Seif ad-Din from a wastrel to a pious Muslim. Haneen also correctly prophesied Zein’s marriage with “the best girl in the village” (64). The marvels’ magic cause even the secular people, such as the “gang,” to admire in awe. Through his unpredictable, spectacular, and uplifting miracles, Haneen gives the humdrum village life a heart-warming magnificence that can derive from nothing but a loving and powerful superior. He strengthens people’s awareness, appreciation, and awe for God by becoming a vessel for the higher power’s love and greatness himself.
On the other hand, the Imam is revered and followed by only the more traditional villagers. To most young men and the influential “gang,” the Imam is “a necessary evil” (92). The Imam’s image is that of an institution: staid, functional, aloof. He presides over the Quranic practices of Islam, some of which – prayers, death, and afterlife – the villagers “sometimes liked to forget” (87). His preaching reminds the villagers of the eternal divinity and the Judgement Day. As a result, every Friday evening, the villagers realize that this life is “incidental, transitory” and feel unable to derive joy from the usually pleasant earthly trivialities. Additionally, memories of past not-so-noble deeds and the interrogation of a guilty conscience are evoked (89). Through these uncomfortably solemn routines, the Imam reminds the villagers to orient themselves to the significant and the eternal – to God.
In contrasting fashions, both men open the villagers’ eyes to the purpose beyond date palms, the Life beyond this life, and the great Power and Love beyond themselves.
This novella suggests that religion, on the individual (as opposed to institutional) level, is personal. Religion’s meaning and implications can vary considerably from person to person: even the two wisest and most pious religious leaders understand and practice Islam differently. One cannot generalize Islam, for everyone has his/her own unique definition of it. Neither is there need to categorize, for the lines of demarcation are so blurred as to be virtually nonexistent. Wad Rayyis, a member of the “gang” who spent the evening prayer time feasting, could suddenly utter a heartfelt “God is living,” while the Imam, at Zein’s wedding, is aroused by the provocative dance of Salama (106). “Where does the lamplight end? How does the darkness begin?” (105). And does it matter? Zein’s wedding is an epitome of the coexistence of contradicting yet interchanging thoughts and individuals, where the singing of the Oasis girls clinks with the recitation of the Qur’an, where “sometimes a group from the dance floor would move across to the chanters’ circle” (117). The human world is a “boiling cauldron” (120) that cannot be defined precisely ― it is a dynamic fluid with smooth gradation within, at the same time integral and turbulent, and both known and unknown to itself. Within the constraints of discrete consciousnesses where each of us is ultimately alone, may we all find solace in each other’s attempt to respect, empathize, and love.
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