Non-Western Literature

Paper Example


This example is designed to show you what a typical long writing assignment for ENGL 237 should look and read like.

This example should NOT be seen or used as a form or guide. Every individual's responses and answers to assignments will differ, but this example at least gives you a headstart towards understanding the TYPE of writing and answers that we are anticipating from you.

Religion is a concept that has united, divided, created, and destroyed many peoples and cultures throughout the world since the beginning of time, yet it is something that many people disregard and never think about six out of seven days of the week. In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley, and al-Shaykh’s Women of Sand and Myrrh, religion plays a very central role in nearly all of the characters’ lives and has integrated itself into the area’s culture, whether that religion is one that is widespread and practiced in many regions of the world or is only found within a single clan, well-secluded from the eyes of the outside world.

The daily life of the Ibo people as described by Achebe was structured mainly around their religious beliefs. The people were constantly worried about appeasing their gods in order to assure a good harvest and prosperity in their life, and their personal chi, or personal god, was obviously very important to them. Okonkwo’s misfortune in inadvertently killing the 16-year-old boy is a prime example to see into a few of their beliefs and how some of the clansmen would question them at times. The day after the killing and after Okonkwo had fled the village,

a large crowd of men from Ezeudu’s quarter stormed Okonkwo’s compound, dressed in garbs of war. They set fire to his houses, demolished his red walls, killed his animals and destroyed his barn. It was the justice of the earth goddess, and they were merely her messengers. They had no hatred in their hearts against Okonkwo. His greatest friend, Obierika, was among them. They were merely cleansing the land which Okonkwo had polluted with the blood of a clansmen. (p. 125)

After this act has been carried out, Obierika sits in his obi and mourns for his friend and is seen questioning the law of the earth goddess. He questioned why someone should be punished so harshly for this sort of accident, “but although he thought for a long time he found no answer” (p. 125). Okonkwo blamed his misfortune on his personal chi thoughout the rest of the novel (ps. 131, 152).

The life of the Ibo revolved around their religion in other ways too. They offered their gods gifts such as kola on a regular basis, they payed respect to their family gods and built them alters or shrines, and in short they never did anything without the consent of the gods and justified everything that they did as being the will of or for the good of their gods. One thing about the Ibo people that I found interesting and very different from any of the characters of the other two books was that when strangers came to live amongst them, the Ibo people did not force any of their religious beliefs onto the strangers. They were able to recognize that the strangers did not share their beliefs, and they left them in peace. The strangers were even allowed to become a part of the Ibo culture to an extent, they lived side by side, shared the water and the market, and got along peacefully for the most part. It was not until the strangers began trying to convert all of the Ibo people and had begun to successfully do so, that conflicts began to arise. Even then the Ibo people left their vengeance and the problems caused by these strangers and the converts to their gods and they continued to live in relative peace.

The difference that can be seen by Okonkwo in the nature of his people at the end of the novel is another indicator of how the religion of the Ibo people affected their culture. He said to himself, “worthy men are no more, Isike will never forget how we slaughtered them in that war. We killed twelve of their men and they killed only two of ours. Before the end of the fourth market week they were suing for peace. Those were days when men were men” (p. 200). This thought of Okonkwo’s alone does not give us much insight into the relationship between the religion and culture of the Ibo people, but it shows how the Ibo people at the beginning of the book (represented by Okonkwo who has been in exile) were far removed from the Ibo at the end (represented by the rest of the village who have been affected in one way or another by the strangers and their new religion). The only thing that changed in his village while Okonkwo was in exile was the religious beliefs of the clan; the missionaries had come in and broken the clan apart using religion, and even those who hadn’t converted were changed by the overall change in religion around them. The end lesson learned could be stated: change their religion and you will change the people and potentially kill a culture. Religion and culture were strongly dependent upon each other within the Ibo people.

The religion presented by Mahfouz and al-Shaykh is even more prevalent in the culture and traditions of the region than the religion presented by Achebe. You pointed out in your response to one of my essays that I failed to make a clear distinction between Muslim faith practiced by only some of the characters and the Arab culture in which they were all living, and it’s this lack of distinction that I find to be extremely intriguing. Being raised in a small, mid-western, and predominantly Christian town, I’m baffled by the lack of distinction, the grey area between this religion and the Arab culture. I can hardly fathom visiting this culture and having virtually no choice but to follow the rules presented by a culture that are tied directly to and mixed into this other religion. When she was defending Suha’s choice not to wear an abaya and cover herself, Tamr made a very interesting comment, “She’s foreign, isn’t she? They have their religion, we have ours” (p. 28), but for the old man this isn’t just a matter of religion; this is his way of life and part of his culture.

In the Arab culture nearly every aspect of life is structured around their religion, even for those people who are not Muslim followers. Suha lived in fear of getting caught working, she didn’t even feel safe at the Institute any longer, but she was neither Muslim nor did she grow up in the Arab culture; although she was a complete outsiders with no ties to the area’s culture and religion, she had no choice but to adhere to certain cultural standards now that she was in their land. In Midaq Alley, I personally wouldn’t have considered Hamida a follower of the Muslim faith, but she adhered to the culture around her that that religion had directly influenced. For that matter, I wouldn’t have considered many of the residents of Midaq Alley to be Muslims even though they claimed to be. Most of them only did what they did and practiced some of the traditions because that was what was culturally acceptable, not because they had a firm faith in what they spoke and practiced.

The strong connection between religion and the culture and everyday life of a region that was presented in these three books made me stop and consider the society in which we live today. Here in America we often treat the topic of religion as something to shove under the bed and never mention in respectable company. We exert great efforts to separate religion from everything we do in our public lives, we pass laws against religious discussions of any sort in our public schools, and we take great strides in making sure that everyone feels accepted and no one religion is forced onto any person in any way. Yet every week as a society we are imposing at least one aspect of our predominately Christian culture on all of the American society, and I have not ever heard anyone complain. Sunday is the one day that many businesses will either not open or will remain open for shorter hours. Sunday is the one day during which you cannot buy alcohol in many towns. Sunday is commonly known as the day of rest, not because we start another work week on Monday, but because we set up our work week according to the Christian religion once upon a time and as a society we still tend to hold Sunday as our day of rest.

I find the supposed separation between school and religion to be another very interesting concept. Laws forbid us to pray in school or to discuss ideas such as creationism and religion within the public school system, and the public school system is not supposed to have a single thing to do with religion. Yet as far as I know, school activities cannot be scheduled for Wednesday evenings or Sundays because of an allowance for “family-time.” One should note that the one thing that Wednesday evenings and Sundays have in common is that they are the standard meeting times for the Christian religion and their religious education programs and worship times. If public schools aren’t supposed to have anything to do with religion, then why does this coincidence exist? They could have picked Monday and Thursday evening or any other combination of times if the sole purpose of this time free from school activities was “family-time.” Another point to consider is national holidays and standard breaks from school and work. Each year many school systems that work on a two-semester schedule take both Christmas vacation and an Easter break, and again it’s a breach in the separation of school and religion. Even for businesses, if you are Christian, you stand a very good chance of getting religious holidays and days of worship off, but if you are Bahí for example, you have to take your religious holidays out of your personal time. If our schools and businesses are giving everyone time off so that the Christians may celebrate and worship on their holy days and at weekly gatherings, then we should be observing the same consideration for the other religions present in our culture.

An area’s religion and its culture are directly related even if the society goes to great lengths to attempt to separate the two. Religion is the driving force behind the actions of most people in the world, and religion has played a leading role in the formation of every culture and society of man today. Why then should we in America try so hard to deny this great power that lies behind everything we ever have done and ever will do? Instead of ostracizing religion, we should embrace it and learn about it. Religion also is not something that should be forced; it’s all a matter of acceptance and respect. If religion was something that was openly shared and learned about instead of forced onto others or hidden in a locked closet, the problems faced in all three of the books, Things Fall Apart, Midaq Alley, and Women of Sand and Myrrh, may not have caused the pain and hardship that was felt by all of the characters. The religion and culture of the Ibo people could have been preserved and the two religions could have lived in peace as neighbors and friends. The residents of Midaq Alley could have seen and known that alternatives to the lives they were living in the alley did exist, and characters such as Hamida could have found a happier ending in life. Suha could have carried on her old way of life if the culture she had moved into had been more accepting of other religions and cultures. I’m not saying that understanding will cure the world of its hardships and problems, but it could improve the lives of many people around the world, and it has the potential to make this world just a little better and more enjoyable place to call our home.

Note that this example is not meant to be an absolute form for you to follow. Every paper will require different topics to be addressed and different aspects of the stories to be analyzed. Use this example as simply ONE example of how ONE writer approached the topic.

Be sure to note the clear introduction, conclusion and transitions between paragraphs. Spend some time organizing and constructing your paper before handing it in or even beginning to write it.