Sex, Virginity and Anti-Blackness in The Middle East – A Memoir

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Through fourth-wave feminism, identity politics and this moment in a society where we are questioning our leaders, the idea around the limits of personal freedom and freedoms overall, has become a common talking point.

It’s as ordinary as divulging over what you’re going buy in the Black Friday sales. What isn’t as popular to discuss is the greater freedom beyond yourself, culture and any concepts we deem as frameworks across our lifestyles.

From the expected trajectory of being a daughter, a single woman, wife and then mother, the question lies here in what is what you want versus what you’ve been told to want.  
Alya Mooro is a British-Egyptian author based between Cairo and London and the first British author under Amazon’s new publishing imprint, Little A.

The Greater Freedom is her debut part memoir, part collection of essays exploring the stereotypes that confront Middle Eastern women across the world. From tackling the taboo of sex, virginity, anti-blackness in Middle Eastern homes, beauty ideals and frankly, how a Middle Eastern woman ‘should’ be from both the Eastern and Western lens, it’s no wonder the title has already sold over 14,000 copies worldwide and it’s not even three months old. 

“Every single day I receive messages from all ethnicities, beyond Middle Eastern women, from East Asian to Indian to African, with women from across the world saying that The Greater Freedom has helped me unpick my own ideas,” Mooro said.

“We’re in an exciting time where we feel more empowered to have these conversations and people are able to think about their identities in a way older generations couldn’t.”

What I find personally interesting about The Greater Freedom are the doors it has opened. For example, Mooro coins the term ‘the invisible jury’ – those who we are told to think about when we’re making any life decisions i.e. the phrase ‘what will people think?’ is an example of ‘the invisible jury’. It’s something that has been echoed in the ear of many ethnic minority children. 

Recently, Mooro spoke at an event that wasn’t just any regular panel. “I did a talk with my mother and many of her friends – essentially the invisible jury – and it was a special moment to undo these expectations on who we’re supposed to be. We were able to come to our own conclusions and you realise the ‘invisible jury’ has their own version of the invisible jury.” 

Another popular phrase that’s been circulating due to the release of The Greater Freedom, are those who are the ‘invisible middle’, those that Mooro describes as “people who are not immediately pinpointed to belong to a certain group. Those with ambiguous ethnicities so people can’t tell ‘where you’re from’, which then makes you and your experiences invisible”.

From having upper-middle-class parents, those who ‘blend’ into society easier than other minorities (like growing up with having alcohol and pork in her fridge to not fasting during Ramadan), throughout Mooro’s book, she clearly recognises what others may deem as privileges in order to even be able to write a book like The Greater Freedom.  

“When you’re a minority (in the UK), you’re almost an example. It also makes you feel like you have imposter syndrome if you don’t follow the stereotype of what classes as a Muslim family.

“But in Egypt, I’m not an exception, many families drank and didn’t fast. In these countries, you can see the whole spectrum of people, not just those who are practicing and non-practicing.”

Nonetheless even when growing up in an environment where Mooro’s race and religion were ‘digestible’, she still felt othered.

“Something as small as being labelled Scary Spice when I was little is telling of what box [you’ve] put me in,” the author adds.

The variety within diversity is the raison d’etre behind The Greater Freedom. The fact that we have a lot more room nowadays to be who we are.

Although everyone’s identities are in a state of ever-changing, when asking Mooro, what self-care advice she had for those who are struggling with being ‘both and neither’ (another term that has resonated with many readers), the response was to embody as much from both cultures. 

“I have a life in London but also a full life in Egypt, in a way that’s made me feel at home with both of them. But if you can’t do that or feel ‘rootless’ for whichever reason, I would say do not try to live a specific copy paste idea of who you ‘should’ be and do whatever feels right to you.”

She goes on to say, “You can make a home with a person purely out of interests. It’s something I would say to my younger self to do more. Our home is not just where our parents have come from.”

While it’s great to see the boost of both Muslim and women of colour authors being published this year, The Greater Freedom charts difficult conversations from women all over the globe, from de-mystifying gender norms to representation and the timeline women are supposed to follow in order to be considered a good Middle Eastern Muslim woman. 

“I didn’t want to pander to the idea that Muslim women globally are oppressed and to prove the West right so to speak,” says Mooro.

Especially as The Greater Freedom was born when a taxi driver couldn’t believe the author was Egyptian, thinking all Middle Eastern women are always veiled and look the same.

“But then again I didn’t want to dismiss the experiences of Muslim women whose story is that – to then only be told I was putting Arab Muslim men in a bad light,” explains Mooro.

“I was tackling both the misogyny within and outside of the community but the common enemy here is the patriarchy. That doesn’t mean man, woman, East or West – it’s beyond that.” 

So what does Mooro want readers to take away from The Greater Freedom?

“I think the main message is to be free to be whoever we want to be and what is right for us and what we want our lives to look like.”  

There’s a quote at the front of the book by James Merrill which says, “Freedom to be oneself is all very well; the greater freedom is not to be oneself.” Something that is an ideal way to describe the journey Mooro’s writing is.

The best thing about the book? The balance in its tone as she’s no stranger nor is she a tourist to these topics. This is Alya Mooro’s story and she’s inspired us all to write our own. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.    

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