Islamic romance novels set hearts aflutter in Bangladesh

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Bangladeshi novelist Kasem bin Abubakar signs an autograph for a relative at his book shop in Dhaka. (AFP)
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Bangladeshi novelist Kasem bin Abubakar poses for a photograph with a copy of one of his books at his book shop in Dhaka. Kasem bin Abubakar was told nobody would buy his chaste romance novels about devout young Muslims finding love within the strict moral confines of Bangladeshi society. (AFP/STR)
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Bangladeshi novelist Kasem bin Abubakar poses for a photograph with a copy of one of his books at his book shop in Dhaka. (AFP/STR)
Updated 26 April 2017

Islamic romance novels set hearts aflutter in Bangladesh

DHAKA: Kasem bin Abubakar was told nobody would buy his chaste romance novels about devout young Muslims finding love within the strict moral confines of Bangladeshi society.
And yet his tales of lovers whispering sweet nothings between calls to prayer sold millions in the 1980s and proved a huge hit among young girls from Bangladesh’s rural, conservative heartland.
Now his work is undergoing something of a renaissance as Bangladesh slides from the moderate Islam worshipped for generations to a more conservative interpretation of the scriptures.
“Girls write me love letters with ink dipped in their own blood. Some were desperate to marry me” Abubakar told AFP, recounting his surprise at young women making a traditional gesture of intense devotion to a greying author.
His debut novel “Futonto Golap” (Blossomed Rose), written more than three decades ago, has spawned an entire genre of fiction tinged with Islamic values.
Abubakar was inspired to take up the pen in the late 1970s, when as a bookseller he lamented that most novels obsessed with the cosmopolitan lifestyles of modern, elite Bangladeshis.
These secular tales were a world removed from the largely rural and pious village existence lived by the majority of Bangladesh’s 160 million people, and Abubakar sensed a gap in the market ripe for his fiction.
“He tapped into a new readership that nobody thought existed before,” said Bangladeshi journalist Qadaruddin Shishir.
“In rural villages, Abubakar’s novels are the best gift a young lover can give to his fiancee.”
Abubakar wrote “The Blossomed Rose” — a story about two mismatched young Muslims seeking consent for marriage from their families — by hand in 1978, but it took almost a decade for a publisher to even look at it.
“They told me ‘mullah novels’ don’t sell,” he said.
Eventually he sold the copyright to a publisher for a mere 1,000 Taka (USD$12.50), and became an overnight sensation.
Since his breakthrough, Abubakar has written dozens of works, most revolving around the mosque, veiled women and wayward youth abandoning so-called corrupt lifestyles after finding religion.
Secular activists fear creeping conservatism could unwind many of the gains made by the impoverished nation in improving school attendance and gender equality.
An ever-increasing number of students attend madrassas, or religious boarding schools, in Bangladesh, where Abubakar’s books have found “become a favorite,” said fellow author Syed Mazharul Parvez.
“They can relate to these stories and are comfortable with the settings and language their protagonists speak,” he said.
Abubakar has inspired a new generation of Bangladeshi writers who are finding success with their own contemporary brand of Islamic fiction.
Popular writers like Abdus Salam Mitul, Kawser Ahmed and Abdul Alim ecohed Abubakar in their own tales of “piety, conservative attitudes and decency,” said Abubakar’s son Mohammad Saifullah, a Dhaka-based publisher.
Mitul in particular shot to fame in the 2000s with his own story about a burqa-clad girl reminiscent of Abubakar’s breakthrough “The Blossomed Rose.”
“I think a lot of people still think it was written by my father. But it was Mitul’s work and it sold tens of thousands of copies,” Saifullah joked.
Aspiring author Abdul Alim said Abubakar’s works had motivated his own plotlines — moral tales that in the end showed “Islam has answers” for society’s ills.
“He is such a talented story teller. He showed us the way,” Alim said of Abubakar.
For Abubakar, his fans keep him busy even two years into retirement. At a bookstore recently the octogenarian signed autographs for his readers, many women in full-face veils clutching his titles.
The fan mail keeps the postman busy, too. Apart from the marriage proposals and overtures of love, Abubakar has received confessions from corrupt bureaucrats thanking him for steering them down the honest path, he said.
“Everyday the postman would arrive with hundreds of letters. He became a permanent member of our family,” Abubakar said.

Bella and Donatella star in new Versace campaign

Bella Hadid walking in a Versace show earlier this year. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018

Bella and Donatella star in new Versace campaign

DUBAI: US-Palestinian model Bella Hadid stars in a new ad campaign for Italian fashion house Versace — and it’s interesting to say the least.

The model stars alongside chief designer Donatella Versace in the campaign for the luxury label’s Spring/Summer 2019 women’s collection.

In a video, which Donatella teased on Instagram on Tuesday, the designer can be seen giving Bella a tattoo of the word “Versace,” while Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” music plays to dramatic, almost unnerving, effect. The camera pulls out to show Bella, in a blue mini dress, being inked up by a black-clad Donatella, before the 22-year-old model stares at the camera as it zooms back in.

While the tattoo is almost certainly fake, the model’s dedication to Versace is seemingly quite real — she has walked the runway for the high-end brand on more than one occasion and has featured in a number of adverts for the Italian fashion giant.

The theatrical campaign video is just one part of the push to promote the new collection, with Hadid being joined by the likes of model Irina Shayk and 1990s supermodel Shalom Harlow in a series of photographs.

The collection is marked by bold prints, patchwork and leather and was first unveiled during Milan Fashion Week in September.

In the show, Hadid wore a tight one-shouldered mini dress in yellow leather and matching sneakers.

Some of the prints used in the collection include colored stripes, bright flowers over pinstripes, checks, roses and small flowers mimicking animal prints.

“The style of the Versace woman is so recognizable that it need not be explained. She is not afraid of showing her personality and she is extremely feminine and confident,” read a style note by the fashion house, known for its daring designs.

Close-fitting silhouettes, flared trousers and layered looks feature in the collection that is distinguished by its use of orange, violet and lime colors.

The line also features big boxed bags that echo old-fashioned travel trunks and large PVC shopping bags emblazoned with Versace writing. In terms of footwear, chunky sneakers, college shoes, or square-heeled sandals are currently favored by the fashion house.

The brand with the famed Medusa logo said that her “mystic powers and ever-powerful persona are evident now more than ever,” according to the show notes in September.

Fake snakeskin, flowers, polished leather and layer upon layer, the Versace collection has been hailed as eclectic and refined by AFP.