My story with Dr Nawal El Saadawi

By Dr. Farah Al-Hashimi

Today is supposed to be the birthday of Dr Nawal El Saadawi, who was born on 27th of October 1931 and left us on 21st of March 2021

On this occasion, I decided to share an article I wrote about her in March 2021

When I lived in Nottingham, I put Dr Nawal El Saadawi’s picture on my wall; when my friends would visit, they would think she is my grandmother. I would then explain to them who she is.

In 2015, in London, I met Dr El Saadawi for the first time; and then in Manchester I attended her lectures and events. She was the one who encouraged me to share my personal story publicly, by telling me that when she was in India, she decided to write about the incident that left her feeling ashamed, and that was buried deep inside her, almost forgotten – her genital mutilation in her childhood. The moment she shared it, she felt liberated. This encouraged me to share my personal story among a small group of people. When she heard what I have been through in my early 20s, and how I overcame it, she opened her eyes wide, saying “You?”. She smiled and looked at others that were present, and said “You turned out to be braver than me!”. This testimonial left me in awe; I was uplifted, and I promised to email her, but I NEVER DID. I wrote an email but I didn’t send it, as I thought of revising it, and I kept postponing it. Maybe deep inside I wanted to achieve more, and to tell her what I have done. In my PhD thesis I wrote about her opinion when I wanted to justify why I would not use the term ‘Middle East’, as she always raised the question “Middle East to whom?”. She is against the terms ‘Middle East’ and ‘Far-East’, that were introduced by colonial powers, and reflect the location of those colonial powers. She believed that we all live in one world; there are no first, second and third worlds. 

In 2015 I won an architecture prize, I finished my PhD research, and I moved to live in London. I then started to express myself and my ideas through different media. I participated in several art exhibitions, wrote short stories, wrote and performed songs and poems. I delivered speeches and wrote articles. But I realised that deep inside, these were not fulfilling, because I was not working in architecture as a qualified architect in the UK; although back home, in Iraq, I am an architect. Here in the UK the journey is long, but I am on my way.

The day I decided to send her the email, she was not able to read it. She crossed to the other side. On 21st of March I received an email from the literary activist, and poet, Kadija George, saying:

Dear Farah, 

Sadly, Nawal passed away this morning.

I’m sorry. 


This left me in shock! I felt I wanted to cry, but tears were not coming out. I received another email from Kadija telling me about two memorial events for Dr Nawal, one organised by professor Fawzia Afzal-Khan, and the other by professor Miriam Cooke at Duke University. Both were very touching, especially the first, because photographs of Dr Nawal were shown, and this was the time when I really burst into tears.

Dr Nawal El Saadawi and Dr. Farah Al-Hashimi

Dear Dr Nawal,

What a wonderful day you chose to leave us! It was the 21st of March, Mother’s Day in South West Asia and North Africa, and Newroz – New Year – for Kurds and Persians. In addition, March is Women’s History Month all over the world.

‘Women’: you devoted your life to clarifying the meaning of this word, unveiling the mind to liberate men and women. You were a goddess spreading love and knowledge, and fighting for justice, and standing truthfully with what you believed. I hope your spirit will be around me. I can feel it now when I am writing these words. I am sorry that I kept postponing my email to you, waiting for a better day. I learned the lesson very well. The better day is NOW. 

You are immortal with your deeds, the love you gave and the legacy you left.

In the ancient Sumerian epic, Gilgamesh was looking for the immortal herb to avoid death, but he finally realized that he must accept death and become the person he wants to be in his remaining life. When he asked about the afterlife, he was told that the richer life is attained here on earth, through children, friends and reputation. You have it all dear Nawal (if I may say). 

You left us when the fragrance of the bloomed flowers is everywhere, reminding us of the beauty of this life, and how to live it fully, and to embrace both the dark and the light we experience, and to fear not.  I am sending you love wherever you are.