Alya Mooro is a Cairo-born, London-raised journalist who is passionate about changing assumptions and preconceptions about Middle Eastern women. She talks to us about her book The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes, which is described as part memoir and part social commentary, below.
What is The Greater Freedom about?
The Greater Freedom is about being an Egyptian woman raised in the West, but in many ways, it’s about being a woman – about the standards and ideals that women are held to, all across the world. The Greater Freedom is my journey in unpicking the cultural and societal expectations, interspersed with interviews with other Middle Eastern women as well as abundant research, to explore everything from beauty ideals to behaviour, relationships, religion and more.
What inspired you to write it?
As I grew older and began needing to make more grown-up, life-altering decisions, I began to increasingly feel the pull of both cultures. I wanted to explore that, to understand what impact these at times opposing messages were having on my life. I also wanted to contribute to the currently extremely reductive messaging of what it means to be a Middle Eastern, or a Muslim woman, to provide an alternative narrative, one that is true to myself and my friends – a narrative I have never seen in the mainstream media.
What research did you conduct while writing the book?
I read everything I could get my hands on, from books about dual-nationality, identity, Islam and more, to research papers and articles in magazines and newspapers. I also interviewed many other Middle Eastern women and even my parents, opening up topics that were previously taboo or that we had never broached before.
What messages do you hope readers take away from it?
I hope readers feel like they can be free to make their own decisions about what’s best for them, about what kind of life they want to live. That it helps us all unravel the cultural and societal expectations that we can so often just see as normal. That it enables us to really think about why, and whether that’s something we agree with, or not. I also hope readers –especially those who are not from Middle Eastern backgrounds – can see the similarities that we all share as humans, that it serves to humanise the groups that can so often be dismissed as ‘other’.
What do you think about the representation of Middle Eastern women in UK media?
I think it’s super reductive, although there are an increasing number of writers and creatives who are beginning to increasingly provide alternative narratives.
Are there any other books you would recommend for readers of The Greater Freedom?
Zeba Talkhani’s My Past is a Foreign Country, Amal Awad’s Beyond Veiled Clichés and Nawaal el Saadawi’s The Hidden Face of Eve.
The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes by Alya Mooro is published by Little A on 1st October.