In Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, the novel follows an Islamic couple from an unknown location. They are trying to escape from their country since there is a war outbreak. Saeed is highly religious, but Nadia was not, even though she was brought up in a religious household. In their city where it was extremely common to be religious and follow the rules of religion, Nadia is shown as rebellious to their standards throughout the novel.
Right at the start of the novel, Nadia says to Saeed, “I don’t pray” (Hamid 5). In the Islamic culture they pray five times a day (Huda). Saeed does not pray five times a day in the beginning of the book, but he does pray and go to church unlike Nadia. Saeed and Nadia had coffee together, which is when Saeed asks her, “why do you wear it?” (Hamid 16). In this quote he was asking why does she wear her black robe if she does not pray. Nadia’s response to his question is, “So men don’t fuck with me” (Hamid 17). In the Islamic culture it is forbidden to swear, so this quote also shows Nadia’s character. Also, some Muslim women believe that the wearing of a religious garment, like the burka, is a way of protecting themselves from what they see as an over-sexualised society. They feel that society portrays women as sex objects and places too much importance on a woman’s physical appearance (Human Sexuality and Relationships – Revision 4 – GCSE Religious Studies). Which the author incorporates when Nadia goes to the bank she is sexually assaulted, “…she was groped from behind, someone pushing his hand down her buttocks and between her legs, and trying to penetrate her with his finger, failing because he was outside the multiple fabrics of her robe and her jeans and her underclothes…” (Hamid 63). Nadia also owns and rides a motorcycle which a man in the novel yells and harasses her over.
In the Islamic culture women must marry before moving out of their families home. Single women do not live on their own. Nadia on the other hand, moved out of her parents house as a single women. Due to this unfathomable idea her family disowned her (Hamid 22). Another thing that Nadia did was sneak Saeed into her home. Which is something she is not supposed to do, so she had to throw down a black robe and a key for him to get in. That way with Saeed wearing the black robe, people would think he is a female and not think twice when entering a single women’s home (Hamid 28).
Nadia also smokes marijuana throughout the novel and she does magic mushrooms at least one time. Islam prohibits the ingestion of khamr which is any substance that intoxicates, in whatever form or under whatever name it may appear. This also includes alcohol, drugs and inhalants, as these intoxicating substances can affect their faith on Allah the Al Mighty and the development of their family and the Ummah in general (Marican).
In the Islamic culture sex is seen as a gift from Allah and sexual relationships should be restricted to marriage between a man and a woman. Meetings between unmarried couples are traditionally chaperoned. In the Qur’an, unmarried Muslims are advised against sex before marriage (Human Sexuality and Relationships – Revision 4 – GCSE Religious Studies). To show that people do follow this, the author mentions Saeed’s parents relationship and how they followed the Islamic culture. “Saeed’s parents did not have sex until their wedding night” (Hamid 13). Now Nadia on the other hand, met a musician from a concert, “…and she had shuffled off the weight of her virginity with some perplexity but not excessive fuss” (Hamid 33). They were not married and this was not the only time she had sex as an unmarried woman. She later tries having sex with Saeed more than one time,but he wants to marry her first which she rejects his proposal. He turned down the offer the first few times, but he later agrees and they have sex. This was put in the novel to again show Nadia’s character that she is an unmarried woman having sex again and how she not following the Islamic culture.
In one of the last few chapters of the novel, it starts hinting Nadia may be interested in women, “…and when she pleasured herself she thought increasingly of the girl, the girl from Mykonos, and the strength of her response no longer surprised her” (Hamid 200). In chapter eleven Nadia “makes love” with a female who was the head cook at her work. Throughout the novel sex is mentioned many times, but this was the only time the author called it making love, so Nadia must have really felt something for this woman. Islamic culture does not tolerate homosexuality, because there are teachings in the Qur’an which argue that it is unnatural and against the will of Allah. Most schools of Shari’ah Law view homosexual sex as deserving the same punishment as adultery, which is death (Human Sexuality and Relationships – Revision 5 – GCSE Religious Studies).
In the end, Nadia does not abide to Islamic culture and would be seen as rebellious. She is a strong individual who faced a lot throughout the novel and could possible be seen as an inspiration to someone. She is not in the wrong by any means, it is just different than what her culture expects and perhaps the author was trying to send a message through this character to be yourself. Nadia was her own person and her own family even disowned her, but she kept being herself and did not let anyone change that.