Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sophia - a novel by Shafinaaz Hassim

Shafinaaz Hassim is an artist who dabbles in words and colours. She lectures in Sociology. Being an avid fan of Rumi, it is not surprising that she is an accomplished poet as well as a women's rights activist. She is also the author of Daughters are Diamonds (2007), Memoirs For Kimya (2009) and Belly of Fire (ed 2011). Her latest book Sophia- a novel has received critical acclaim all over South Africa to the point that during the premiere night of the movie Race II, at Avalon Suncoast South Africa, the group director, AB Moosa made special mention about the book in lieu of his links to the Real Men Campaign against gender-based violence, and presented a copy to the Indian Consul-General. Having received full coverage with regards to the launch of her latest book in the Sunday Times, The Post and various other national publications, I am truly honoured to be able to interview a charismatic and dynamic woman who has chosen to highlight pertinent and hard hitting social issues that undoubtedly affects all societies across the globe through her books. Read on to find out more in her own words.


Nationality: South African

Education Background
: I studied undergrad Bachelor of Architectural Studies at Wits, and then changed course and undertook an Arts degree instead. I completed a Masters in Social Science at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2003

Pet Peeve: People who don't have basic social ettiquette and respect, and who display racism, sexism, superiority etc.

Drink that you would order at a coffee shop: Cappuccino or Chai Latte

1. Firstly, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed despite your very hectic lifestyle.So tell me who is Shafinaaz Hassim? Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born? Basically a brief synopsis of your life from a child up until university.
I grew up in a small city called Polokwane and went to a local school in an area that was under apartheid times, reserved for children who came from Indian families. Growing up in a close-knit community meant that everyone knew everyone else, and im grateful for the nurturing environment that familiarity provided. I moved to Johannesburg when I was 18 in order to study Architecture at Wits, before I found my delight in the Arts faculty. I had always enjoyed writing, but only once I had the choices of psychology, sociology, african literature, philosophy and political science, did I realise that I'd found my place. My Masters thesis provided the inspiration for my first book which was published in 2007, dealing with women's biography and aspects of how women are objectified and the stigma of perceived deviance that they face in traditionalist societies.

2. Focusing on your latest book Sophia, the main theme of the book highlights domestic violence within a typical South African Indian family. What inspired you to write a book about a pretty much taboo subject within the Indian community? Have you been a victim of abuse or have you come across family members or friends that are a part of an abusive relationship?
As a trained sociologist, with a specific interest in women's narrative my first book, Daughters are Diamonds, really documented the begins of my research into womens lives, and the various themes that came about as a result of being subjected to the honour code. And from the courses taught based on the book, and writings that developed afterwards, I realised that the issue of domestic violence needed more debate and in order to do so from within the Indian Muslim community, I started writing it using fiction instead of analysis. I wanted to reach an even larger audience with this topic, taking debates beyond the realm of academia. The characters in the book are constructed of various interview data from stories of abuse.

3. Was writing always your passion? When did the realization set in that you wanted to pursue a career in writing?
I've kept a journal since the age of about 12, and delighted in making regular notes of my thoughts and experiences. these written journals soon became yearly cd's with documents copied off my computer, and then i began a blog called http://memoirs4kimya.blogspot.com in 2005. When the writings began to collect an audience (something I hadnt anticipated) the writing changed from personal reflections to poetry and prose that reflected the work that i was doing. In 2009 i published a blog to book collection of poetry and prose, called Memoirs for Kimya. It is a tribute to the spiritual reflections of Rumi's adopted daughter, Kimya.

4. Your books have received international recognition.I am sure that the journey though was not all smooth sailing. What were some of the hardships you faced in terms of following your dream and wanting your books to be recognized on a national as well as an international level?
Well, when my first book was launched, I could never have anticipated that it would turn national bestseller of its own accord. The intention was merely to take research that may have stood on a library shelve and put it out onto the public domain so to speak in order to allow people to read and comment on its findings. A year later I was invited to present a course based on the book at UKZN, and while presenting courses, seminars even at Humboldt in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand, I began to write up the stories in fiction, either short stories, a collection of which was published as part of a collaborative work in 'Belly of Fire' in 2011 and this novel, 'SoPhia' in 2012. The response and demand for stories has taken a snowball effect, and has been able to penetrate even commercial spaces in a rather small reading market as is South Africa. Internationally, books and ebooks are sold online via the various Amazon portals as well as in the bookchains in the Emirates, and in India.

5. What topics and subjects are you the most passionate about?
Women's issues, the cultural laws that administer womens lives, and issues that pertain to how Muslim women are perceived and portrayed by media, are topics of great interest to me. I also take a great interest in ways to improve literacy in general.

6. If someone could grant you one wish and you could choose to have any skill or talent in the world, what would it be?
  I wish that I could heal pain. We're a world so filled with trauma, that I wish I could help to dissolve and erase some of it.

7. What are your favourite websites?

Twitter of course :) I get all my headlines, updates, news and interaction at Twitter.

8. What are your thoughts on polygamous relationships?

  I think that transparency is important. In many instances, women are unaware of their rights and men are not mindful of their responsibilities and so then, instead of working towards strengthening our social structure, as is the case with numerous examples in SA society, women and children end up being put to a disadvantage in terms of inheritance, issues of care, etc. if men claim that their right to remarry is a sign of Righteousness they need to also be made conscious of their responsibilities, the implications of equal treatment and fairness and not use it to exploit the women.

9. If you were not a poet/lecturer/author what would you be doing?

 I would be living on an island or at the coast, painting, of course...

10.What is your opinion about interfaith marriages?
 People make decisions on how to live together based on mutual understanding, and interfaith marriage is largely dependent on the intention of each partner and the responsibility to each other as well as their belief system. If how you felt about something as defining as a life philosophy or belief was greatly opposed to how your partner felt, the long term status of that relationship might not be guaranteed. But I believe that early on, they would need to communicate what their marriage would mean in bringing up children, etc. If they're able to define and agree on the parameters, it can work.

11. Define success...What does success mean to you?

  I may figure this out when I arrive there someday...for now, there's still much work to do

12. Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are your future plans?

I continue writing, without a timeline, as long as a shift in thinking can happen with every project, the future will take care of itself

13. As you do know that Saudi Arabia is a country where limited women's rights exist. Women are not allowed to drive and can only pursue a career path within specific sectors mainly teaching and healthcare. Only recently the King has afforded women the right to vote and be a part of the Shuraa Council. What advise would you give to Saudi women who are trying to make their voices heard within a dominant patriarchal society?

Saudi women should be writing more, making their voices heard in online and print media, and speaking in forums of engagement where womens issues can be raised and discussed, as well as where women are able to learn and be empowered around their rights.

14. What advice would you give to a young student who wants to pursue a career in writing?

Best advice if you want to be able to write, is to read! Read in every genre that you enjoy, and keep a creative journal to write in. But first, read.

15. Through your books you have given the public an opportunity to change their mindset with regards to domestic violence and abuse. What other methods could we as a society adopt in order to bring about effective change?
I think that as a society, we need to stop thinking that crime affects someone else, and that domestic violence is a private issue. another problem we encounter is victim blaming. we need to take responsibility as a society, and instead of standing back, we need to get involved wherever we can in order to find solutions.

16. I assume that you follow the Islamic faith. Do you think that our Imaams in the masjid can play a bigger role in terms of highlighting social issues such as violence against women, drug addiction and abuse against the elderly?
I definitely think that raising the issue in the mosques will do much to create a greater awareness of social ills and more than that, the lobbying of our Imaams around community issues, and their ability to bring the community together with the intention to put proactive programmes together to eradicate the problems can be a progressive and effective method. It can already be seen that faith based organisations garner much support for various forms of activism around political and societal issues.

Once again, thank you Shafinaaz for taking the time to answer these questions. Desert Moon wishes you all the best in your future endeavours!!!
If you wish to get in touch with Shafinaaz you may contact her through her twitter and facebook pages.
Twitter: www.twitter.com/shafinaaz or @shafinaaz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ShafinaazHassim

You may also interact with her through her blog. I highly recommend you to visit her blog. Her writings are filled with inspiration and her poetry is simply thought provoking.
Blog Address: www.memoirs4kimya.blogspot.com


A brief review of the book Sophia - a novel in the authors own words.


The book's main characters, Zarreen and Akram, are a 30-something married couple, with three children, living in Johannesburg. Their marriage is an extremely violent one, but Zarreen believes it is her social duty to keep silent for the sake of her children. Her parents think she's happy. Akram is a successful businessman who likes to win. As a foil to the main couple, Zarreen's brother and his wife experience the typical ups and downs of married life, but misunderstandings never turn violent. We are made to see the impact that events have on each of the children. Zarreen relies on her sister for advice, and mostly she confides in her housekeeper, Selma, with whom she shares a friendship, but she in turn dispenses advice to Selma to leave an abusive boyfriend - advice she doesn't take in her own marriage.

SoPhia was written not only to tell a story, but to move beyond the assumptions we make about abusive relationships and to reveal avenues for healing both victims and perpetrators. It is about what we expose young children to, and how we treat each other, and ourselves.

'Sophia' is published by WordFlute, and is retailing at R180. The book is available at selected stores in South Africa but can be purchased online as well.

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