At that time Lebanese coins had a hole in the centre. I threaded some into a bracelet and, each time my hand brushed against a table, their jingling sound promised me maturity, control, freedom; promised me that I could cope with the neighbourhood children's taunts about my absent mother. The voice helped me to seduce them. I was like a magician: I told stories and did funny imitations. I could make them laugh.
Al-Shaykh was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1945 where she lived and studied before moving to Egypt's American College for Girls in Cairo. Al-Shaykh moved back to Beirut and worked as a journalist for Al-Hasna, a women’s magazine and later for an-Nahar, an Arabic newspaper, from 1966 to 1975.
In 1975, Al-Shaykh left Beirut at the onset of the Lebanese Civil War, a tragic period of Lebanon’s history that influenced Al-Shaykh’s writings. In a 2011 interview with “The Daily Star,” Al-Shaykh said that the war lead to a shift in her way of thinking of life. “Instead of thinking, ‘What am I going to wear today,’ ‘Is it going to rain,’ or ‘Is it not going to rain,’ you start asking yourself questions like ‘Am I going to live or am I going to die,’ ‘Am I going to drop dead this second,’ or ‘am I going to celebrate life?” she said.
Al-Shaykh is known for her writings exploring the role of women in society, gender roles, love, sexuality and patriarchal structures that act as obstacles for women. In “The Story of Zahra,” Al-Shaykh tells the story of a Lebanese women struggling to live through war-torn Beirut while dealing with love, marriage and abortion, among other things. Al-Shaykh independently published the book because publishers in Lebanon did not agree to print the novel and several Arab countries banned the book due to it's discussion of traditionally taboo topics. In one of her more recent novels, “The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story,”Al-Shaykh shares the personal story of her mother, who fell in love with a man and continued to love him, despite an arranged marriage. The novel explores the themes of love, marriage, divorce and family.
The Empowered Arab Sisterhood respects Al-Shaykh’s talent in sharing both non-fiction and fiction stories that encounter the genuine difficulties and triumphs that women face when maneuvering through daily life in war-torn regions. We are honored to acknowledge Al-Shaykh as our February Empowered Arab Woman of the month and admire her work in helping empower women of all walks of life.