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  • L'histoire sacrée de l'Islam dans la fiction maghrébine by Hanan Elsayed
  • Touria Khannous
Hanan Elsayed. L'histoire sacrée de l'Islam dans la fiction maghrébine. Paris: karthala, 2016. Pp. 180.

Hanan Elsayed's book L'histoire sacrée de l'Islam dans la fiction maghrébine analyzes four key Francophone novels and shows how each text draws on diverse religious, historical, and philosophical sources and legacies to prefigure the authors' own imaginative perception of the early Islamic period. These narratives, written by Assia Djebar, Anissa Boumediene, Driss Chraibi, and Salim Bachi, reimagine early Islam as they reinterpret and reread original Islamic sources. The book examines how these authors translate early Islamic texts into new kinds of readings that unsettle hierarchies, reimagine the Muslim tradition to make it more embedded in contemporary local settings, and position fictions at the center of history. Elsayed argues that while all these texts challenge original sources, they at the same time highlight the authors' degree of familiarity and partiality in their thematic and stylistic choices.

The first chapter examines representations of early Islam in three narratives, notably the Islamiyyat, a multi-authored corpus produced in Egypt during the 1930s in order to challenge the misrepresentation of Islam in colonial discourse. Chapter Two examines Djebar's reading of the original sources of Islam in her novel Loin de Médine. Elsayed argues that it is ironic that Djebar relies on an interlocutor and attempts to recover the voices of women, while overlooking the figures of women in these sources themselves. Chapter Three centers on Anissa Boumediene's La fin d'un monde, questioning the accuracy of its historical sources, as well as the novel's recreation of the rule of the third caliph othman. what is remarkable is Elsayed's allegorical reading of the novel's reconstruction of othman's rule. Elsayed argues that the civil wars of early Islamic history are an allegorical representation of the civil war that engulfed Algeria in the late 1990s. Chapter Four examines Driss Chraibi's novel L'homme du livre, which takes place in the twenty-four-hour period prior to the angel Gabriel's revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. The revelation begins, as Elsayed notes, with the command to read, to which the Prophet responds that he cannot read. Elsayed's astute reading of the influence of Sufism on Chraibi's interpretation of the act of reading as a movement from the letter to the essence of meaning is commendable. Chapter Five focuses on Salim Bachi's novel Le silence de Mahomet, which draws upon four distinct narrative voices corresponding to historical figures from early Islamic history. Elsayed questions the reliability of the novel's sources, as well as the prejudices of its author.

In L'histoire sacrée de l'Islam, Hanan Elsayed cogently analyzes important narratives from the Maghreb and beyond in a rare and timely study that explores representations of early Muslim history in texts shaped by a diversity of sources. The author's compelling presentation of a broader historical and political context sheds light on these texts' diversity of themes, voices, and generic forms, and she challenges their omissions, prejudices, and misrepresentations in a way that makes this book pertinent for a wide audience. Her contribution is a significant one, providing an important framework for further work on Islam and Francophone Maghrebin narratives.

Touria Khannous
Louisiana State University


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