Since I did not receive a back cover or any other information about Normal Calm before reading it, I was very surprised when the main character, Amina, was raped, and especially near the beginning of the novel before any momentum to her story had built up. Normal Calm is the story of how rape impacted Amina and, to a slight degree, her family’s lives. Though Muslims are not immune to the statistical average of one in three or one in four women being sexually assaulted in her lifetime, this is a topic seldom touched upon in the greater Muslim community, so I am glad to see the author, Hend Hegazi, take the subject on.
The rape itself is not graphically depicted. Amina deals with it in a fairly pragmatic way, deciding to go straight into a group therapy programme so that she can get the support that she needs to finish her university studies. Amina reveals her ordeal to her close friends, her family – and then what to do about any potential spouses?
Though I can understand how a rape survivor can technically be concerned no longer a virgin due to having her hymen torn, this story made me consider how grossly unfair it is to condemn a person this way. Amina did not consent to losing her virginity, yet in the eyes of many a woman in Amina’s circumstance is simply seen as no longer a virgin and therefore no longer marriage material. This creates a slippery slope for Amina: should she compromise her own integrity for people who essentially already have questionable values? The virginity issue is the only issue ever addressed with concerns to marriage, which (perhaps naively) surprised me. I found it deeply upsetting, though likely realistic, that so much emphasis was placed on Amina’s ‘loss of virginity’ rather than her well-being. Rape has long term, lasting effects on survivors and, while perhaps not everyone has the potential to be a partner to someone who has experienced this kind of trauma, that is not addressed by concerned parties. One potential husband says, “I have no way of knowing how many other men you’ve been with”, as if Amina’s rape was a possible gateway to promiscuous behaviour.
As a sexual abuse survivor, reading Amina’s mother’s reaction was very difficult for me. You can hope that your family will support you through hardships, especially those inflicted on you by someone else, but you just never know how they will respond and in some cases the survivor ends up having to be a support system for those who should be doing the comforting! Interestingly, one of Amina’s strongest supporters is her non-Muslim best friend. I found this character, Kayla, to be a great inclusion in the story, and especially liked the way Hend depicted Amina’s da’wah towards her friend.
I am so glad that Hend wrote this book and hope if offers some solace and insight to its readers. There is an exclusive SISTERS excerpt of Normal Calm published on page 98 of this issue. The full novel is sold through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Brooke Benoit is an editor for SISTERS magazine, a sometimes visual art maker, a fairly radical unschooling mama to six and a contributor to the recently released anthology Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Violence
This review originally appeared in issue #54 of SISTERS Magazine– the magazine for fabulous Muslim women