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Social Critique And The Importance Of Forward Focused Journey In Zaabalawi

1924 words - 8 pages

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), in his short story “Zaabalawi,” depicts the eponymous sheikh as a spiritual entity. Along his journey to find Zaabalawi, the main character, who remains unnamed throughout, notices many of modern Egyptian society’s flaws. Mahfouz’s main statement is that because religion is no longer held in importance to the point where it is absent in Egypt, such corruptions in the social and political spheres have taken place. The main journey also indicates that, in order to better society and move forward, the people must undergo a similar search for God. Nostalgic views of the past will only affect this progress in a paralytic manner.
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” The second definition describes a religious leader in Sufism who is authorized to teach or to guide novices. Mahfouz has purposely used this word to mean both definitions. In the first, he is generalizing, through their leaders, the people of Egypt. In other words, criticisms aimed toward the Sheikhs are truly meant for the entirety of society. The second definition gives the journey spiritual significance. The character travels from Sheikh to Sheikh not only to find Zaabalawi but also to learn from them what religion means. The second idea of note is Mahfouz’s indirect approach to criticism. Instead of openly calling out social and political flaws, he does so discretely by way of simple description and loaded language. For instance, when the main character, after meeting with Sheikh Qamar, goes to the Birgawi Residence, he describes the neighborhood as being left to nothing but an “antiquated façade and a courtyard that, despite being supposedly in the charge of a caretaker, was being used as a rubbish dump” (Mahfouz 1600). Usage of negative words such as “rubbish dump” and “facade” coupled with the expression of doubt over a positive quality, namely the existence of a caretaker, work as criticism more than anything else. The mention of a caretaker also seems to indicate that although there is action that can be taken to clean up the neighborhood, none is being underwent. This shows laziness among the population as well as a lack of motivation for progress and simple subsistence.
General social criticism takes place along the journey through interactions with people the narrator visits. The Sheikhs themselves are described as practicing impious actions ranging from greed to laziness. Such actions are part of the seventy major sins described in the Quran. For instance, the first Sheikh the protagonist visits is named Qamar, whose office is depicted to be quite costly. Qamar sees the narrator as a potential paycheck and begins treating him, by all standards, nicely. After the narrator reveals that he is not a customer and is rather on a quest to find Zaabalawi, the Sehikh drops all acts and “a certain languor” is visible in his gaze (Mahfouz 1599). From this short interaction, greed and gluttony is apparent. People’s captivation with money and material wealth has displaced their love of Allah and religious piety. Mahfouz’s warning is inferred to be that though such obsessions are not necessarily evil, from the way Qamar treats the narrator, it will lead to hostility and apathy in treatment of other people.
There also exists a common impiety among all the Sheikhs the main character meets in his journey; they have forgotten Allah as well as the importance of religion. This is the issue from which society’s flaws originate. Because of a lack of religious devotion, and thus of piety, the people, represented by the many people the narrator visits, of Egypt has descended into a state of pleasure-seeking chaos. For instance, the majority of the...

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