House of Obedience

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The Bait-al-taa or House of Obedience is a provision in Islam law which gives husbands the right to demand obedience from their wives. If a woman leaves her husband’s home without his permission he has the right to force her to come back. The husband can claim “nushaz” or disobedience and order her to come back with a qadi (judgement.) Once the woman returns she stays either at her husband’s home or in another living area (House of Obedience) which provides the woman with essential necessities. Divorce is not allowed unless the husband decides that is what he wants. In her short story “House of Obedience” Ihsan Assal rejects the idea of Bait-al-taa for it only hinders the progression of women in Islam.

The short story “House of Obedience” by Assal follows the life of a young Egyptian girl named Nabila. Nabila is married off to a man at the age of fifteen and is very unhappy, she therefore runs away only to find herself living in the House of Obedience. The story opens in a court room where Nabila’s father gets exonerated for marrying Nabila off at such a young age. Nabila returns home to her parents but soon after learns that her court case has been reopened by her husband. She is taken away by a police officer, a soldier and a woman and is brought to the House of Obedience where her husband awaits her.

The House of Obedience had a “sofa that was more like a swing. On either side was a cane chair, and in front was a small table” 12 other furnitures included “a wooden bed, large cupboard, a clothes peg.”13 Nabila is upset and saddened right away and cannot believe that she is being forced to live in the legal house. Her husband, Adil tries to reaquaint himself with Nabila but Nabila does not stand for it. She tells him that she will never like him and pushes away his advances. She refuses to eat the food he gives her and ignores him to the best of her abilities, “You think that the obedience verdict means that I have to give myself to you against my will? Adil, whatever you do I shall never in my whole life be yours.”14 Although Nabila gets visits from her parents and shares the misery and difficulties of living in a house of obedience with her mom she feels alone and trapped. One day, when the door was unlocked Nabila runs away from the House of Obedience and returns to her parents’s home. This attempt however, as well as her second attempt are not successful. Her husband comes with police to look for Nabila and makes her return to the House of Obedience.

After carefully analyzing her options Nabila goes to her husband and asks for nushuz. This would certify Nabila as being disobedient and would relinquish her rights to divorce and alimony, the only right she would have left would be to leave the house of obedience. Although these are rather harsh conditions Nabila agrees to them for she is miserable living under the House of Obedience. Happy with the prospects of freedom, Nabila goes on about her day, this happiness however quickly fades. Adil returns to the legal house with papers that registered Nabila’s nushuz for the rest of her life and gave Adil the right to impose obedience whenever he felt like it. In other words, Adil could have Nabila return to the House of Obedience whenever he pleased. Nabila becomes angry and runs away to her parents’s home. Adil follows her and grants her a divorce for he realizes that no matter how hard he tries no House of Obedience will make Nabila love him. In the end, Adil and Nabila divorce one another, leaving Nabila to question her true feelings for Adil- did her anger towards the House of Obedience block her judgement and view of how Adil truly felt for her? Regardless, Nabila moves on with her life.

This story captures the determination and strong will of a young female. It is only because of her wits she is able to leave the House of Obedience. This story shows us the difficulties living under the House of Obedience. You have no say in practically anything, you are a...
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