Sociocultural And Historical Allusions In Aboulela'S The Kindness Of Enemies

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The purpose of this research is to trace out the elements of intertextuality in Leila Aboulela’s novel The Kindness of Enemies to show that how the given fiction runs parallel with sociocultural, political, biographical and historical modes. The phenomenon of intertextuality has its roots in Greek and Roman culture and art when the first human history and the discourses about texts emerged. Julia Kristeva coined this literary theory in 1966 but the concept was also practiced in the twentieth century by theorists like Ferdinand de Saussure (2011), Mikhail M. Bakhtin (2010) and Roland Barthes (1977). T.S Eliot, the poet-critic with his essay “Tradition and Individual Talent” is also considered as the forerunner of this concept but with a semi intertextual sound and limited scope.

This intertextual analysis carries out a sense that even Leila Aboulela runs after the kinetic relational processes and practices instead of static structure and products. Intertextually, every literary discourse must follow the course of language and consequently latter is the direct product of the former. Aboulela’s novel treats language in the frame of society and history with an entanglement of the process of struggle and contradiction and culture intersects discourses to form intertextuality. Circumstantial evidences clarify the situational changes that occur to a novelist while writing a novel and to a critic while criticizing a piece of literature. The novel psychologically makes the people believe that how important is faith in a person’s life who is living a bounded life, nationality by birth or the adopted one, politics which has its many branches but invisible and history with its far reaching and far affecting consequences. Aboulela utilizes fascination as a weapon to differentiate two eras, 19th century story of Imam Shamil from the perspective of Jihad and 21st century condition of the Muslims with the same slogan but with different results intertextually and manually. The intellectuals of working class do debate over the significance of external reality and the literary text to classify the importance of social and historical milieu with the perspective of intertextuality.

Research Objective

The objective of the research is to search out the sociocultural and historical allusions and references from Aboulela’s novel The Kindness of Enemies by applying the concept of Intertextuality.

Literature Review

Yousaf Awad studies resilience, activism, patience and faith under the impact of ideological, ethnic, geographical and academic links to Islam. He believes that the novel The Kindness of Enemies portrays the sketch of the Muslims as victim because of their religious belief and they are being persecuted and forced to withdraw or abandon from it. The war of Faith for the Muslims under these circumstances moves or reacts in two ways; one is the inner conflict and other one is the outer. Oz retaliates against the outer forces but an inner force which belongs to his religious ideology always dominates him and seizes him to stick to his belief. The linage also makes him strong as it does in the case of his mother Malak who does claim the same as an actress; “I’ve never done a nude scene in my life!” (Aboulela 216).

Rebecca K Morison (2015) in her book review of The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela, with the title “A spiritual journey to Dagestan” describes that the novelist has gracefully and skillfully drawn a link between two eras at present the contemporary rural Scotland and historically the condition of the people of wild Caucasus mountains during the Crimean War which makes the reader flicks from present to past and vice versa. Aboulela has touched the idea of jihad, the nature of radicalization, living in English community with different surnames, fraught with association, identity crises, characters linkage of the running time or the first narrative to the second narrative of 1850s Dagestan, Georgia and Russia and the means of wrong accusation or suspicion. At certain point, Aboulela gets inspired from the subject of the last novel of Tolstoy especially at the moving final connection between Natasha and her Sudanese father. A powerful comparison in tracing out the truth either of a young woman in present-day Aberdeen or a chief warrior of 1850s Imam Shamil, may willingly “delve in the hidden truth behind the disguise”, in search of peace lies at the heart of this novel about identity, fitting in and finding one’s place in the world.

This paper tries to find out historical and socio-cultural background in which the present novel was written, linking it to the related detail of the novel and offers an interpretation of the novel in the light of Intertextuality. Aboulela’s writing is highly intertextual and her texts are inspired from the Holy Quran, Tayib Saleh’s writings, Western romance fictions and Arab poets. Her work definitely surrounds three locations in prose: the snowy remote cities of Scotland (particularly Aberdeen), the teeming multiculturalism of London and the heat and conviviality of Khartoum. Aboulela’s heroin or protagonist of the novel Natasha does have certain resemblances with her own self. Natasha’s character functions as a bridge to join two eras socially, culturally and historically. Aboulela’s fiction is linguistically composed, incorporated with Arabic alongside English words, slang of Scottish street and colonial discourse.

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The research uses qualitative research method. The qualitative content analysis has been used for this research.

Procedure of Analysis

This paper takes references from the text to prove socio-cultural and historical parallelism. It finds out how Intertextuality works in Aboulela’s novel The kindness of enemies socio-culturally and historically. The text The Kindness of Enemies has been used because it provides extensive material for the analysis of intertextuality.

Significance of the Study

The study of the novel The kindness of enemies by Abouleila signifies the importance of Intertextuality while reading it in socio-cultural and historical perspective. It tries to show that this study at hand will widen the scope of the reader in understanding the concept of Intertextuality.


Aboulela’s perception about writing this novel is greatly affected by the surrounding circumstances of the time, place and conditions. Her sense of assessing the things developed with the changing circumstances of the time and places as well as the ever increased miseries of migrants who were fighting against the odd upcoming troubles for their survival in England soon after the terrorist activity of so called Muslims. On 7/7/2005, four Britain born Muslims launched terrorist attacks on London’s public transport system, 52 people died and more than 700 people got injured. In British history, such attacks had never been reported that’s why Muslims were taken into task. Identity was the major issue for all those Muslims who were fighting on both borders either it concerned to their survival of self or religion. This very event was one of the most important events which brought the Muslims from all over the world into trouble and made Aboulela to write on. In an interview Aboulela herself claimed; “There was the Gulf war and a lot in the papers criticizing Islam and it used to hurt me. Now I’m hardened to these things”. Fiction is a source of exploring the questions of faith and identity as she mentioned while addressing to audience at the ‘Festival of Faith and Writing’ at Calvin College in 2012, “One day… I tried to write a letter to the editor. Fiction came out of it” or “I found myself praying in a place that had stopped praying”. Culture shock was the very thing which made her to write while moving to Scotland from Sudan.

Aboulela opposes orientalist writers who wrongly presented Shamil’s character as villain in history socially, politically and culturally on the basis of gender and his application of Shari’a law. Orientalist writers presented Shamil as opportunist, solipsist, selfish and brutal who did not understand the need of Russian salvation and continued the war for his personal benefits. Aboulela rejects the established notions of the orientalist writers and scrutinizes their facts historically, socially, politically and culturally by drawing the positive aspects of his life and criticizing the wrong established views and partiality of the orientalist writers against him. Her purpose of rewriting historical anecdote is to compare and contrast the situations of the Muslims in the past as well as at present. In her understanding, Imam Shamil is as prominent, loveable and reverend, a protagonist for the Muslims as William Wallace is for Christians. Peace was his sole concern and as a goodwill gesture, he handed over his son to the Russian forces but denied to accept slavery for his own self as well as for his nation. He believed to negotiate with imperialist Russia but not at the cost of slavery and he did it when it was required on equality basis.

Aboulela’s novel represents temporal barriers whereas Tolstoy’s narrative runs after the ultimate conclusion while handling the contemporary characters of Shamil and Hadji Murat. Tolstoy blames the struggle of Shamil similarly as his contemporary used to do under the impact of imperial Russia and its Caucasian enmity. Orientalist writers used to avoid in exposing the profound ideological bias to promote their own narrative. Aylmer Maude, biographer and translator of Tolstoy, refers a letter which was written by Tolstoy on December 23, 1851, just before he started the service as an artillery officer in the war against Shamil: “If you wish to show off with news from the Caucasus, you may recount that a certain Hadji Murad (the second man in importance to Shamil himself) surrendered a few days ago to the Russian Government. He was the leading daredevil and “brave” in all Circassia, but was lead to commit a mean action” (Bloom 338). Aboulela utilizes ideological bias as tool to expose the reality of the Orientalist writers. But the later work of Tolstoy tells a different tale about Hadji Murad which weakens the strategic stance of the Orientalist and authenticates the position of Aboulela. In ‘The Kindness of Enemies’ Aboulela describes how Hadji Murat succeeds in gaining the sympathy of Russians for his anti-Shamil struggle and how they promoted their narratives of the conflict even after having a complete knowledge of it.

Tolstoy’s relation to the character or hero seems very common, therefore, the final scene of Hadji Murad’s death makes the reader astonish because even having an identification with the hero, Tolstoy does not express any shock, elegiac regret and metaphysical horror. Herald Bloom has rightly commented on such condition that the corpse of Hudji Murat “had no longer anything in common with him” (348). The same situation prevails at the news of Prince Andrews’ death in Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, Natasha’s reaction was not more than that where is he and who is he now. John Bayley rightly considers it Tolstoy’s power of identity; “Solipsism is an index of immortality.” In case of Aboulela, a different situation prevails because she stays with the characters and lives with them and certain characteristics of her characters belong to her own personality. She expresses her own feelings through these characters and the characters are her own mouthpieces to convey her massages to the readers. Though she is inspired from Tolstoy’s narrative yet her point of view of assessing the situation is totally different and striking. She writes within the space and utilizes time, places, circumstances and her own personal experience.


Aboulela talks about the perception of mistaken belief for the correction of the present mishandling of the West to the migrant Muslims historically, socially, politically and culturally. The discussion of the historical contexts indicates that the orientalists unfairly judged the heroes of the Muslims as villains and being seculars supported secularism against spiritualism and Sufism. Therefore, Aboulela rewrites the story of Imam Shamil as spiritual and Sufi imam of the Muslims to answer the wrong assessment of the authorities of the present West against the migrant Muslims.

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