THIS year’s Al-Madinah Festival invited a number of reformed Egyptian actresses. These are women who were film actresses but who then decided that their work was not in keeping with Islamic values and so they decided to stop. The purpose of the invitation by the festival’s women’s section was to interview the actresses and ask them questions about what had initially prompted them to become actresses and what had then caused them to leave so lucrative a profession.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the meeting in Jeddah with former actresses Shams Al-Baroudi and Afaf Shouaib. Both discussed their childhood, how they began working as actresses and why they later stopped. When talking about her career as an actress, Shams referred to those days as “the time of ignorance” — as we refer to the era before Islam. I admired the way she thought, her mentality and the volume of Islamic knowledge she possesses. She showed remorse and regret and wept when she recalled those days. She said that she feels happy now that she has chosen the right path — the path of God. It is worth mentioning that Shams was the first Egyptian actress to abandon her acting career, put on the veil and convince others to follow her example. When she left acting, 20 years ago, she was in the prime of life, beautiful, famous and sought-after. She remembers how movie producers took advantage of her beauty and her youthful attractiveness and used her in provocative scenes as well as in suggestively immodest scenes. “I was no more than a popular toy, much in demand. I married a prince and my clothes came from Paris or other European fashion centers. I was not thinking so I allowed myself to be unaware of what was really happening. Now those days are behind me and I have no desire to return to them. I am content and happy with the blessings of God,” she said.
Shams also responded to rumors that these actresses were paid millions of pounds for giving up their careers and dressing as a modest Muslim woman with a veil. She denied these rumors and said that they were baseless.
I am writing on this subject for a good reason. The Egyptian secular magazine, Rose Al-Yusuf, published an article a month ago in which it referred to the Madinah Festival’s invitation to the reformed actresses. The writer, Wael Al-Abrashi, gave the impression that the festival’s management had arranged for more than 3,000 Saudi women to hear the stories of the actresses. Moreover, Al-Abrashi said in his article that these kinds of meetings were banned in Saudi Arabia and he wondered why the Saudis were involving themselves in purely Egyptian issues. “The Arabs have more important issues to deal with than interviewing reformed actresses. This is a conspiracy in the name of religion and the veil against the arts in Egypt,” he concluded.
Al-Abrashi’s lies are evident. According to my sources, there were only about 300 Saudi women at the meeting in Madinah. It was a normal meeting, held at a hotel. In Jeddah where I myself attended the meeting, it was at Dar Al-Hikma Girls College and there were about 150 women present. I refute the writer’s cheap attack on Saudi Arabia and his insinuations.
Some Saudi businessmen invest in Egyptian films and are saluted by journalists even if the films include improper and immodest stories and scenes. These same journalists, however, seem to be unimpressed and uninterested in what reformed actresses might have to say. I feel happy when I hear of reformed actresses who have given up the world of cinema and its scandalous night life. By the same token, I feel sorry if one of them returns to films or singing on the pretext that they could not find another job. Some of the actresses who have returned to films have come up with an explanation. They say that by wearing modest — instead of immodest — clothing and avoiding excessive make-up and provocative hairstyles, it is all right to work as actresses or singers. I think it would be good if we paid more money to a reformed actress than is paid, for example, to a striptease artist. This might well save her from a disgusting life and help her receive the blessings of God. Further, we must be aware that many of these actresses have no education or qualifications for work except in the films. We must, therefore, consider how they can make a living and so guarantee that they will not return to what they have left. My last comment: I strongly recommend and hope that Arab TV channels will support these reformed actresses by not broadcasting the films made in earlier days. Do you think I have any chance of getting cooperation from the channels?