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      Political Engagement: The Palestinian Confessional Genre



            The personal struggle and creative achievement of Fadwa Tuqan (1917–2003), one of the most celebrated poets in the Arab world, signify the plight of the Palestinian people in the twentieth century. Her autobiography, A Mountainous Journey, An Autobiography, integrates the personal and collective struggle within the context of Arab-Muslim history. This article will explore the established poet's shift to the confessional genre as the Palestinian Muslim woman writer investigates the historical events that befell her people. Inspired by “Poets of Resistance,” I argue that the underpinnings of Tuqan's investigation of the Arab-Muslim tradition proffer an authentic, commanding voice that constructs an alternative history, challenging the dominant patriarchal paradigms. What emerges is a singular feminine voice that forges an identity that goes beyond the nightmare of history. In both the poetry and personal memoir, Tuqan's career and groundbreaking voice signify an early empowerment of women agents in the cultural production of the Arab-Muslim world.


            Author and article information

            Arab Studies Quarterly
            Pluto Journals
            Fall 2013
            : 35
            : 4
            : 360-377
            © The Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies 2013

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            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            confessional genre,Arab-Muslim tradition,Palestinian literature,Fadwa Tuqan,Palestinian identity,gender and Palestinian literature


            1. Trans. Olive Kenny, ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and introd. Fedwa Malti-Douglas (St. Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 1990). All references are from the English translation and will be textually cited. Originally published in Arabic as Rihla Jabaliyya, Rihla Sa'ba, introd. Samih al-Qasim (Acre, Palestine/Israel: Dar Al-Aswar, 1985).

            2. Halim Barakat, “The Arab Family and the Challenge of Social Transformation,” in Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, ed., Women and the Family in the Middle East: New Voices of Change (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 32.

            3. Magida Salman, “The Arab Woman,” in Magida Salman et al., eds., Women in the Middle East (London: Zed Books, 1987), 6–11.

            4. Lebanon's demographics and mixed religious and ethnic population dictated a different constitutional establishment. Ibid., 7.

            5. Ibid., 7.

            6. Reem Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, naqd al-dhat, qira'at al-sira (Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self: A Reading of Autobiography) (Cairo: Al-Dar al-Masriyah al-Lubnaniyah, 1999), 38, 89; all translations from the Arabic are mine. Al-Isawi mistakes the paternal aunt for the grandmother.

            7. Fadwa Tuqan: Thill al-kalimat al-mahkiyah, Hiwar maa Liynah Badr (A Conversation with Liynah Badr) (Cairo: Dar al-Fata Al-Arabi, 1996), 39; all translations from the Arabic are mine. Hereafter referenced as Conversation.

            8. “Problematic Birth: Fadwa Tuqan and the Politics of Autobiography,” in Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Woman's Body, Woman's Word: Gender and Discourse in Arabo-Islamic Writing (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 165.

            9. Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self , 38.

            10. Salman, “The Arab Woman,” 9.

            11. Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self , 47.

            12. The British Mandate, which included a preamble of the Balfour Declaration, was approved by the League of Nations. On November 2, 1917, the British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arthur James Balfour, sent a letter to Baron Lionel Walter de Rothschild, a British politician and influential Zionist. The letter states that Britain supports the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”: “His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Quoted in Michael Ionides, “Zionists and the Land,” in Walid Khalidi, ed., From Haven to Conquest , 2nd printing (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), 256.

            13. Malti-Douglas, “Problematic Birth,” 174.

            14. Barakat, “The Arab Family,” 25.

            15. See Salma Khadra Jayyusi, ed., Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 236–237.

            16. Malti-Douglas, “Problematic Birth,” 174.

            17. See also Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self , 67.

            18. Malti-Douglas, “Problematic Birth,” 176. Al-Isawi also mentions the same point about the inverse correspondence between Tuqan's career and Palestine's history; Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self, 53.

            19. Quoted in Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self , 93.

            20. Jayyusi, “Introduction,” Anthology , 60.

            21. Ibid., 66–68.

            22. Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self , 47–48.

            23. Ibid., 49–50.

            24. Abu Iyad with Eric Rouleau, My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle , trans. Linda Butler Koseoglu (New York: Times Books, 1981), 10; originally published in Arabic.

            25. Al-Isawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Critique of Self , 98–99.

            26. Ibid., 98.

            27. Ibid., 53.

            28. Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 25.

            29. Terri DeYoung, “Love, Death, and the Ghost of Al-Khansa: The Modern Female Poetic Voice in Fadwa Tuqan's Elegies for Her Brother Ibrahim,” in Kamal Abdel-Malek and Walid Hallaq, eds., Tradition, Modernity and Postmodernity in Arabic Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 52.


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