Arts and Theatre, Colombo, Fiction / Creative Writing, Identity, Language, Media and Communications, Religion and faith

Interview with Ameena Hussein

Ameena Hussein is one of Sri Lanka’s best known English authors. She is also one half of the Perera Hussein Publishing House, that since 2003 has published some of the best new English writing in the country. The Moon in the Water, Ameena’s first novel, was long-listed for the first Man Asian Literary Award in 2009. Zillij, a collection of short stories I reviewed four years ago, won the State Literary Prize in 2003.

Our discussion touched on Ameena’s tryst with cancer and how this influenced her writing and outlook on life. We also talked about English literature in general, and the quality of contemporary English fiction in Sri Lanka. Ameena also talked about identity, gender and violence – both in and through her fiction and their manifestations in the real world. We spoke at some length on the politics of representation and the contested space for women in Islam, harking back to two articles on Groundviews published last year in a similar vein – Hijab whereforth dost thou commeth? by Nazeeya Faarooq and The Hijab unveiled – a response to Nazeeya Faarooq by Aufidius.

Ameena herself has written cogently on religion, gender and identity in Islam and We, an article in quote from in the interview. As she notes in this short article,

As a Sri Lankan Muslim supposedly descended from Arab traders who married Sinhalese and Tamil women, as a Muslim whose descendents have lived in Sri Lanka for more than ten generations, I want to talk about the limitations of being a Muslim. I want to talk about apostasy. I want to talk about the spiritual inequality of non-Muslims in Islam, I want to talk about interpretation, I want to talk about re-birth. As a Muslim woman I want to talk about gender, inheritance, marriage, female circumcision, sexuality, and polygyny. I want to talk about freedom and free will, and equality.

But I have no space.