Sheikh, well versed in the teaching of religion, and he, therefore, could not possibly be in the habit of beating his wife. She replied that it was precisely men well versed in their religion that beat their wives. The precepts of religion permitted such punishment. A virtuous woman was not supposed to complain about her husband. Her duty was perfect obedience. [emphasis added]
Then Firdaus is escorted from her uncle's house back home to her husband's house, before even being served lunch. Sheikh Mahmoud's only welcome is first, to give Firdaus the silent treatment; and second, to remind her that she ought actually to consider herself lucky to have married him, since he alone, he reminds her, "can put up with you, and...is prepared to feed you" ("Read an Extract from Woman at Point Zero (first published 1975), 2007)." After that Sheikh Mahmoud's next welcoming act is to rape her. Sheikh Mahmoud beats Firdaus so severely again that she runs away for a second time, this time for good.
But this time, knowing better than to seek out her uncle for sympathy again, but also having nowhere else whatsoever to turn, or no other person at all that she can turn to for either sympathy or for help:
walked through the streets with swollen eyes, and a bruised face, but no one paid any attention to me. People were rushing around in buses and in cars, or on foot. It was as though they were blind, unable to see anything. The street was an endless expanse stretched out before my eyes like at sea. I was just a pebble thrown into it, battered by the waves, tossed here and there, rolling over and over to be abandoned somewhere on the shore (El Saadawi, (Woman at Point Zero, 1997).
Shortly thereafter, Bayoumi's help and brief friendship offer only temporary respite. By now, Firdaus is already sliding fast toward "point zero," and release of the desperate pent up anger that will cause her to kill. Firdaus at this point in the story knows that she is profoundly alone in life. She has no family, no friends, and no confidantes. She has no way, either, to use her education in order to help herself. She is degraded by the men she services; by the pimps who exploit her, and by society, generally. At this point in the story it has grown abundantly, poignantly, clear that Firdaus is and has been used by men continually, for either sexual gratification or for financial gain. "Point Zero," then, is also Firdaus's point of being and realizing that she is completely alone in the world, and that the world itself also severely frowns on her and will consequently offer her no respite from misery.
For these same reasons, Firdaus receives no second or third chances: from society, from her family, or from anyone else she knows or has ever known or even briefly encountered in her life up to now, the time of her being interviewed at length. In fact, as El Saadawi starkly, vividly, and powerfully illustrates, throughout Woman at Point Zero (1998); and as we also become even more fully convinced ourselves by the end of this novel, Firdaus's severely gender-biased; religion-dominated society has never even granted her a first chance. By the end of this book, then, the reader is left to wonder (not all that much, though) whether there are also indeed myriad other Firdauses, here and indeed throughout the Islamic world, whose very similar stories simply vanish from the earth along with them: from within the walls of dangerously abusive homes; from the streets onto which they are forced; or from the prisons, within which they are thoughtlessly, non-reflectively swallowed, like Firdaus herself.
El Saadawi, Nawal. Woman at Point Zero. Sherif Hetata (Trans.).
Zed Books Ltd., 1998.
Esposito, John, and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad. Islam, Gender, and Social
Change, Oxford University Press, 1997. xii.
Read an Extract from Woman at Point Zero (first published 1975)." African