What would one be without a religion? How different would he/she be from the rest? Religion and culture are both vital ingredients in one’s life. Even though they don’t relate to one’s personal life directly, but act as the identity of a person. This can be observed in the two novels, The Dark Child by Camara Laye and Women at Point Zero by Nawaal El-Saadawi. In both the novels, the protagonists are directly and indirectly related, and bound to their common religion, Islam. Firdaus, a prostitute living in Egypt and Laye living in a village in French Guinea, sharing us his life, are both affected by their religion. Laye is more bound to his culture and shows respect to his society and religion, whereas Firdaus does not care about her religion even though she is directly influenced by the rules of her society.
Laye, the author himself describes about his religion and its tradition in great detail in his novel. He has great importance and respect for his religion, Islam. Laye knows that because of his religion and its traditions, he, his family and his society are bound together like one big family. They all share their emotions and thoughts with each other. The Islam religion has a variety of traditions and rituals. One of these is the circumcision. Laye, like all other Islamic males goes through the process of circumcision. This was an important and immense in change in his life. He turned into more of a different person after the process. Laye gets circumcised when he was in his senior year at school.
The process of circumcision is carried out by ear splitting ceremonies in the Kouroussa society. Every single heart in the village takes part in the ceremonies in order to show their belongingness to the ones going through the process. This love and warmth helps to bring down Laye’s anxiety. “It was almost as if the noise and activity and dancing and merry-making were contrived to make us forget the approaching ordeal.”(Laye, 112) Laye here understands the purpose of the ceremonies and clearly means that the deafening ceremonies were actually only and only for the ones getting circumcised. He knows that everybody participates in order to show that they are all family and completely make them forget about the approaching suffering. This shows that how connected and bound everybody is to their culture and its traditions.
The process only makes Laye a man officially. It is actually Laye who makes himself a man by going through this pain and suffering. He becomes a man only after he starts to think like a man and not because of the operator who gave him the cut. The ritual is actually a test, a test that Laye passes by controlling his fears and having a strong will power. “I did not have time to be afraid.” (Laye, 123) Here it shows how just before the process, Laye actually starts to think like a man. This shows that how a ritual has a direct impact on one’s thinking and the life style. Laye without a doubt accepts the process and respects the tradition.
On the completely different side, Firdaus is actually an outcast to her society. She has the complete opposite characteristics than Laye. She is the kind, who lives differently, thinks differently and acts differently. She is a high class prostitute, but in the society, a prostitute has more of a low class position. She is the kind who can be put in the “use and throw” category. Being an outcast, she is detached from the world around her. She thinks and asks questions that no one even tries to do so in an Islamic society. Being a woman, she tries to emerge as a fighting figure, even though women are not given the same respect and rights in her society. In other words, she tries to ignore the rules of her religion and acts against it. She does what she think is right and not what her religions says so, even though her life is indirectly effected by her religion. All her life, whether her childhood or as a prostitute, she wasn’t treated equally. Beatings were scheduled in her daily life. She had a rough childhood in her village and wherever she went, she found out that she wasn’t given equal rights compared to men. This all is directly related to what actually happens in an Islamic society.
Firdaus obviously did not have a dream to become a prostitute. She had a better dream like all other women. According to her, she was actually dragged into becoming one. But later she started enjoying the position as she gained respect. She didn’t want to have a normal ‘nine to five’ job without gaining some respect. All her life, she searched for some respect as a woman and by becoming a prostitute she was getting plenty of it. Throughout the book, there wasn’t even one instance where she talked about the importance of her religion. She was just amazed by the fact that she never understood how men could easily become superior to women without any reason. As soon as she found out what every man wants, she overlooked her religion and became an outcast.
One important role in the Kouroussa society is played by the praise singer. As the name suggests, the praise singer praises about a person in a musical tune. As it is more of a song, it has a direct impact on one’s mind. Effect on the mind has an effect on thinking. “But I had stopped listening to her and smiling at the chants of the praise singers. My sadness had returned.”(Laye, 144) Laye said these lines when he was leaving Kouroussa for further studies. Laye was attracted by the chants of the singers. It made him feel sad about leaving for Conakry. So in other words it is safe to say that the traditions in his society affected him psychological and made him more of a calm person.
By ignoring and not accepting the rules of her society, Firdaus had to face some consequences. She was always left alone and never had any good friends. This loneliness brought her time that popped questions in her mind that had no answers. This made her search for the answers all her life. Reading books actually made it worse. She read about the historical cruel men who desired only power. Hence she got deeper into solving problems, which later got her into depression. This also cost her her life.
Religion and culture are connected to man’s life and his faith. They play a vital role in one’s life by nurturing them and are the identity of a person. Without it one is like a flower without its petals. It’s the petals that bring in the prettiness in a flower and make the flower different from the others. Similarly, it’s the religion and culture that makes one’s life beautiful and different from the others. If he/she chooses, they can make there life better and more joyous by accepting and showing eagerness towards their religion. It can be seen how it played on the side in Laye’s life and not in that of Firdaus’. Firdaus chose to ignore and overlook her religion and acted the way she thought was right, but this path gave her serious consequences, that cost her her life. On the complete different zone, Laye was always eager to learn about his religion and participate in the traditions. He showed great respect and had a positive attitude towards his religion. It was because of this, that Laye was a successful man in his life.