The story of Qabila and Rashid is not an unfamiliar one, yet it left me feeling uneasy and engrossed at the same time. In Kharnita Mohamed’s novel, Called to Song, Qabila is introduced to us as an independent woman simply looking for love and affection from her distant husband. Her mother has passed away and she is still in mourning.
From Cape Town, Qabila and Rashid are of Muslim faith and are going through the difficult task of navigating their way through a seemingly loveless marriage.
The pair were married in a rush, after Qabila had fallen pregnant while they were in university. In the Muslim community, this was quite the scandal and a quick-fix marriage was seen as the solution. Fast-forward 17 years and the pair eventually agree to part ways and Qabila summons up the courage to ask Rashid for a divorce.
Called to Song
By Kharnita Mohamed
The agony and pain that Qabila carries with her is layered and needs time to be unpacked.
The pair’s son passed away, and the pain of that both separates and brings them together in their own ways. Rashid, who appears to be a kind and generous man, has always kept his distance from Qabila. She attributes this to his supposed ongoing affair with Thandi, whom he was seeing when she had fallen pregnant. Her insecurities as a woman are only amplified by the thought of her husband having another woman in his life, someone whom he perhaps showers all of his love and attention on, which she so badly craves. Throughout their marriage, however, Rashid denies ever continuing his relationship with Thandi. Qabila’s father was an abusive man who was known for his extramarital affairs, and Rashid uses her strained relationship with her father as an excuse whenever she accuses him of having an affair. It is a mentally challenging game of cat and mouse, as Qabila tries to quell her “irrationality” with logic in order to give Rashid the benefit of the doubt.
Rashid, who always knows what to say, is quite the smooth-talker and knows how to calm her nerves. Even throughout the divorce proceedings, he seems to not want to let go of her, despite Qabila finally feeling at ease with being away from him. Her curiosity about the broken pieces of their life is too strong for her to resist, however, and she hires a private investigator to look into Rashid’s past and present life. Shocked to the core by the investigator’s revelations, Qabila finally has the courage to take back complete power and turn over a new leaf in life.
As the story unfolds, Qabila relays strange and magnificent dreams which she often thinks about during quiet moments in the day. The dreams, she feels, are sending her a message, but she does not know how to unpack them.
Without giving too much of the story away, Qabila’s growth is one that is empowering and uplifting to any woman or man who has experienced the insecurities that wrongdoers often bring on us. Sometimes following one’s instinct is the best route to take, as we are reminded by Qabila’s character. In this book, Mohamed addresses not only the stigma of divorce within the Muslim community, but also race and mental health challenges. It is a story that has been beautifully written with real phrases from the Muslim community of Cape Town, and seeks to shed light on social paradigms that are interwoven into a society that is ever-changing. It will perhaps resonate with the majority of society, and would make for a great December read.