The team at sister-hood requested that I write about my legacy. I did not understand the word: my mother tongue is Arabic, not English. I looked it up, and found that it means a gift, or a message, handed or conveyed from me to others. Simply, it means how I want people to remember me after my death.
I have never thought about what will happen to me after my death. In fact I have never believed that I would die. I hear, every day, about many people dying, except myself. During the fifties, I studied neurology in the faculty of Medicine, where I dissected the human brain. I discovered that the human mind can grasp any idea, except for the idea of its own death.
If I want to be remembered by others, I think it would be best if they remembered me as a freethinker and a creative dissident writer who challenged the existing dominant powers, values and beliefs.
Not a god-fearing child
I have, since childhood, been dreaming of a better human world, with more justice, more freedom and equality between all peoples, regardless of their gender, religion, class, nationality, race, creed, colour, sect or other. I want to be remembered for being fearless, unafraid of punishment by authorities, on earth or in heaven. In childhood, I discovered that God was unfair to me. He gave my brother more rights than me just because he was a boy. In school the teacher said that God would burn me in hellfire if I did not believe in His justice. I found many verses in the Bible and the Koran discriminating between boys and girls. So I wrote a letter to God saying, ‘Dear God. If you are unfair to me because I am a girl, and prefer my brother to me even though I am better than him in school, can I believe in your justice?’ I was just an eight-year-old child. Now I am eighty-seven years old. I have not received an answer from Heaven yet.
I spent many years of my life studying medicine, philosophy, religion, the history of polytheism and monotheism, physics and the history of the universe. I do not believe in the Creation Theory, which says that the universe was created in six days by a male god, and that male believers will be rewarded in paradise with enormous sexual pleasures with many young virgins. Above all, I want to be remembered as a child who was not afraid of being different from other children, who were obedient, docile and god-fearing girls and boys.
Different and confident
I was born into a big family. I had three brothers and five sisters. I was different from them. I do not know why. Maybe I inherited some genes from my paternal grandmother. She was a poor peasant who lost her husband very young. He died, bleeding, of bilharziasis, a tropical disease which killed many peasants at a young age. My grandmother became a widow, with six daughters and one son, who was to become my father. She was young and strong. She worked in the fields with her own hands. She starved herself in order to send her son to schools and universities in Cairo.
He became a highly educated man, suitable to marry my educated mother, who came from the upper middle class. His hard-working peasant mother decided that her son would become a respectable educated man who would not die young like his father. She rebelled against the village authorities who exploited her and the other peasants, and who robbed them of their cotton harvest, and shipped it to Britain. She led the men and women in the village in a rebellion against the mayor, and the king. Her grandmother had been killed by village police because of her rebellious behaviour. But my grandmother was more intelligent. She understood that she should mobilize men and women in the village to revolt against injustice and dictatorship. She survived, because she was supported by the peasants. I inherited her self-confidence. She was sure that she would win, in spite of many obstacles and handicaps. I learned from her that solidarity between women and the poor is crucial to overcoming oppression. But above all, I learned to believe in myself.
My mother came from an upper middle class family, but she rebelled against her family and her class. In school, she participated in student demonstrations against the king and British colonisers. Her military authoritarian father forced her to marry my father, who was a good husband. But my mother had other dreams, unrelated to marriage and motherhood. She wanted to be a creative scientist: to invent something which would end poverty or disease in Egypt. All her dreams were aborted. She died young, at forty-five years of age, after giving birth to nine children.
I learned from my mother that marriage would never be my career. I only gave birth to two children, each from a different husband. I divorced three husbands for the sake of my creative writing. In my country, divorce is a stigma upon women, but I was confident in myself. I want to be remembered as different and confident, and that nothing can stigmatise nor honour me – except my own work.
I worked as a medical doctor for many years, but I was critical of the medical profession. In a patriarchal capitalist system, everything, including health and human beings, becomes a commodity, to be sold on the so-called Free Market. Doctors gain more money and poor people become sicker. Medical education is very shallow and does not teach humanity or creative thinking. I wanted to create some remedy for tuberculosis, which was an incurable disease at that time, but the health authorities discouraged me. Creative writing saved my life, despite the dangers of creative thinking under an oppressive system.
When I was a child I was exposed, like all children at that time, to the operation of circumcision, known today as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital mutilation (MGM). Most doctors do these operations routinely because they believe there to be hygiene benefits. But common sense prevented me from believing that to clean an organ you have to cut it. I never did such operations to girls or boys. I started fighting against doctors performing them from the 1960s onwards. I was punished by religious and health authorities, and lost my post in the ministry of health in 1972. But today, after forty-five years, many doctors in Egypt and the rest of the world are fighting against these crimes.
I want to be remembered as a medical doctor and as a writer who believed in common sense. In fact, common sense, to me, is the road to creative thinking, in science and art as well. Science and art are inseparable, just as body and mind are one.