The World of Aliya Arabesque

Today we’ll dive into a world few westerners know much about–the culture of the Bedouins–with Writing with the Stars finalist Madeline Smyth.

Welcome, Madeline. My blog is now yours.


Thanks, Mia, for having me today, and hello to Mia’s readers.

Many aspiring authors rarely have anyone with whom to share their creations. Critique partners struggle to find the time to read a chapter or two, and let’s face it, most domestic heroes just don’t know what you’re talking about when you talk to them about romance. But since becoming a finalist in the Writing with the Stars Contest, people have asked me about Aliya Arabesque and myself. Wow!

During the past month, among other things, I’ve posted a slideshow and the opening scene of Aliya Arabesque on my blog, and I’ve spoken about the inspiration for this story in an interview with my mentor, Emma Lang, on the Kensington Brava Authors blog. But today, I’d like to touch upon something I haven’t touched upon before—the world of Aliya Arabesque.

Intense world building is essential for genres such as paranormal and historical. After all, readers have no life experience with the periods of a historical or worlds of a paranormal. On the other hand, light world building is all that is typically necessary for a contemporary. With these stories, readers need only a sentence here or there to imagine a story’s setting or understand a character’s behavior. 

Aliya Arabesque is a contemporary, though with the world building of a paranormal or historical. Arabs are a people deeply imbued with the ways of their ancient culture, demanding that a contemporary story set in their world have a historical flavor. More, Western readers tend to know little about the Arab world, requiring that an author do some intense world building. For example, do you happen to know:

•That Shari’a law (the sacred law of Islam) applies to every facet of a Muslim’s life?

•That a  man  may take up to four wives, provided he treats them equally?

•That a woman can’t travel without a mahram (allowable escort)?

•That  a woman  isn’t veiled to hide her beauty from men to whom she doesn’t belong?

•That an unrelated  man and woman can’t look into one another’s eyes?

•That a woman entices a man not with the sight of her flesh, but with the flow of her silky veils, scent of her perfume, and melody of her ankle bells?

•That a man pays a bride price for a wife?

•That one-half of the wealth is in the hands of women?

•That a sandstorm can come with little or no warning, last for hours or even days, and create a cloud of sand as high as 49′ in the air?

•That a camel has long eyelashes  to protect its eyes from flying sand?

•That a Bedouin can survive for days in the desert without water?

Aliya’s contemporary voice is a foil to Sheikh Farūq’s historical voice in this ancient setting. But Aliya Arabesque is more than the story of an American woman swept up into the Arab world. Sheikh Farūq takes Aliya home to New York, giving her the chance to escape his world, and unexpectedly finding himself lost in hers. In a modern setting, Sheikh Farūq’s voice becomes a foil for Aliya’s, turning their conflicting beliefs and views upside down and inside out.

An excerpt from Aliya Arabesque.

The sheikh’s desire for Aliya caused dissension among his tribe and destroyed the harmony of his harem. Fearing some of the tribesmen, Aliya stole a camel from the sheikh and fled through the desert without a mahram. When she stopped to rest, she encountered criminal outcasts from another tribe. Sheikh Farūq saved her from these outcasts and returned them to their tribe, sending them to certain death for other crimes, thereby betraying his world. Now, in his tent, Aliya must answer to the sheikh for her crimes against him.

Aliya looked into the sheikh’s eyes, defying the laws of his land yet again. She’d stolen a camel and traveled the desert without a mahram. Would he now punish her for having violated Shari’a law, freeing her from the chains of his desire? Or would he protect her from the dangers of his world and enslave her?

“Farūq,” she said, using his name for the first time. 

He tugged her hand, and as she lost her balance, he tumbled her into his arms. She lay looking at him, her body turned into the warmth of his golden one, her fingers tangled in the folds of his robes. No, he’d never free her. In that moment, she realized she’d love him and only him forever, whether she belonged to him or not.

“You are my woman—strong in will, but delicate in body—and though you will reap what you sow, you will never provoke me to harm you.” 

“Never will you be my master,” she warned. 

His fingers slid over her cheek, and his head tipped forward, drawing her into the mystery of him. Her heart raced. Her breath came faster. Her body trembled. What should she do—grant her savior the fullness of her gratitude, or deny her protector the sweetness of his plunder?  

His headdress tickled her face. “Kiss me.” 

He lowered his mouth, and although she wanted to lift hers, she turned away at the last moment, denying her desire. His lips brushed her face, trailing a path across her cheek to her ear. She couldn’t hold back a sigh of delight. 

“Why do you deny us?” His breath fanned her ear. 

She turned her cheek into the caress of his lips, even as she whispered in his ear, “I’m an American woman who must be a man’s only woman, not an Arab girl who can be content with being one of a sheikh’s many concubines.”

Madeline’s Bio: To learn more about Madeline, check out Emma Lang’s interview at You can also follow Madeline at http://www/ or friend her on Facebook.

Madeline’s Brava mentor is Emma Lang whose next release, RESTLESS HEARTS, will hit the bookstore shelves next February.Check it out on

There’s nothing I love better than a story fraught with intrinsic conflict. Madeline’s Aliya Arabeque certainly qualifies. Understanding other cultures, how people think about themselves and their world is part of why I read. Madeline has obviously done a great deal of research into the Islamic world. Do you have any questions for her?

22 thoughts on “The World of Aliya Arabesque

  1. Madeline Smyth says:

    Sharon-br /br /Thank you for your words of /br /People have embraced my story, perhaps for the very reason you mention—love transcends all bounds. Aliya, an Arab-American woman who lost her parents on 9/11, doesn’t want to love an Arab Muslim. Sheikh Farūq, an Arab Muslim man devoted to his faith and people, doesn’t want to love an American quot;infidelquot; (please note that I use this word with caution as Aliya, who is a Christian, is actually a person of the book under Islam, though certain members of the sheikh’s tribe think of her as an infidel). br /br /Yet, Sheikh Farūq and Aliya fall in love with one another despite the conflict of their worlds. His unwavering determination to have her causes dissension within his tribe, while her conflicted heart brings his tribe to the brink of war with her late mother’s tribe. In the end, he is the only one who can heal her broken heart, and she is the only one who can fulfill his. Their love transcends the boundaries of conflict, violence, war, loss, sorrow, and /br /Madeline

  2. Anonymous says:

    I echo Kelly#39;s comments – every story deserves to be told. I do not understand at all the negative response people have had to a story involving a love set in the Arabic world. All cultures have love, lust, violence, war and betrayal – to condemn a story just because a few individuals from a culture have perverted their religion#39;s beliefs is to reveal oneself as no better than those they /br /I am Jewish, so one would think I would have reason to condemn Arabs (or Germans, for another example if one were to judge a culture based on the behavior of a select few). However, I can tell you from personal experience that love and romance knows no bounds – I grew up being taught to judge people based on THEIR OWN actions, not stereotypes – so I traveled the world, experienced multiple cultures and dated men who stirred my heart, soul and mind, their nationality be damned – and that included an Arab, a German, and a /br /I for one cannot wait to read all of Madeline#39;s amazing story of /br /Good luck!br /br /Sharon Prysant

  3. Madeline Smyth says:

    Hi, Kelly-br /br /Thank you for your insightful /br /Madeline

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am of the opinion that everyone has a story, and that story deserves to be told. The story may not fit into the template or mold of a typical romance, but it is no less important than any other love story. Just the fact that your manuscript has made it this far in a competition of this calibur tells me that your writing is extraordinary, Madeline. And obviously it has tongues wagging, which is always good. Controversy spurs dialogue and interest. Good /br /Kelly Fitzpatrick

  5. Madeline Smyth says:

    Saranna,br /br /You have heard the beat of my heart–Aliya Arabesque was a labor of /br /Madeline

  6. Madeline Smyth says:

    Margaret,br /br /Here is the last line of my excerpt: quot;I’m an American woman who must be a man’s only woman, not an Arab girl who can be content with being one of a sheikh’s many concubines.” br /br /You wrote: quot;The number of stereotypes in this line alone, however unintentional, is quite disheartening.quot;br /br /Do you think that Aliya, an American woman, should want to be one of the sheikh#39;s women?br /br /Do you think that it would be realistic if I’d modeled a Saudi Arabian sheikh, who may take up to four wives and as many concubines as he can afford, after a monogamous American man?br /br /Do you think that the sheikh#39;s concubines are actually content with their lot in life, or have you not considered that it might just be Aliya, an American woman, who thinks this of them? br /br /Let me give you a few more lines from the story:br /br /“Although you have Arab blood and rearing, you are an unenlightened Western woman.” Disdain laced his words. “Your American mind is poisoned with racist beliefs that all Arab Muslim men subjugate their women, and your girlish heart filled with romantic fantasies of Arab sheikhs enslaving innocent Western women in harems.”br /br /Her mind tumbled around. Was the West wrong about the Middle East, or was the Middle East just as the West believed? Had he refused to take her to Riyadh because he wanted to protect her, or kept her in his encampment because he wanted to enslave her? Was she ungrateful to refuse a sheikh’s hospitality, or wise to doubt a Muslim man’s intentions? br /br /She stood caught between her American and Arab blood, between the truths and lies of two cultures, between the fantasy and fiction of her head and /br /Do you still find the last line of the excerpt disheartening, or do you now see that Aliya Arabesque might contain surprises you haven#39;t imagined?br /br /Madeline

  7. Saranna DeWylde says:

    I found your post to be interesting and the excerpt hooked me. It#39;s obvious this was a labor of love for you, not just the writing, but using your research and how it threads through the story. br /br /Congrats on being a finalist!

  8. Madeline Smyth says:

    Carol,br /br /I apologize that you got lost in the shuffle, especially as you hit upon the one fundamental truth of the day. Aliya Arabesque is not memoir or non-fiction, but a fictional novel with strong romantic elements. As you said, you read the excerpt for the purpose of enjoyment and entertainment. Thank you for your expression of this excellent /br /Madeline

  9. Madeline Smyth says:

    Anonymous,br /br /I don#39;t tend to rely on Wikipedia, but I referred to it today for certain points because I was familiar with the citations. For example, I#39;ve seen references to Al-Munajjid, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh (14/March/2004) quot;Twenty Tips for Lowering the Gazequot; on Arabic sites. And of course, the Qur#39;an is…well, the Qur#39; /br /Madeline

  10. Madeline Smyth says:

    Margaret, br /br /And I would argue that Muslims who believe in jihad (the unofficial sixth pillar of Islam) and those at the other end of the spectrum who publicly violate Shari#39;a law (such as the ones you referenced in a prior comment) are both extremists. These two groups do not make up the bulk of the more than one billion Muslims in the /br /By the way, I am not confusing Shari#39;a and Saudi law. I am an attorney and student of comparative religions. “The basic law of Saudi Arabia is a constitution-like charter divided into nine chapters, consisting of 83 articles. It is in accordance with the Salafi understanding of sharia and does not override Islamic laws.” See As to the driving ban, women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia per a 1990 fatwa (religious ruling).br /br /Madeline

  11. Anonymous says:

    Wikipedia, really?

  12. Margaret says:

    I would argue the extremists are the exceptions rather than the rule.

  13. Madeline Smyth says:

    Hi to All-br /br /Earlier today, I didn’t have time to add independent authority regarding the prohibition under Islam against an unrelated woman and man looking into one another’s eyes. So, here is a quote:br /br /“In the Islamic faith, Muslims often lower their gaze and try not to focus on the opposite sex#39;s faces and eyes after the initial first eye contact, other than their legitimate partners or family members, in order to avoid potential unwanted desires.” See, citing Al-Munajjid, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh (14/March/2004) quot;Twenty Tips for Lowering the Gazequot; and Group of Islamic Researchers (10/July/2004) quot;Lowering the Gaze: Summer Combat!quot;br /br /Lustful glances to those of the opposite sex, young or adult, are also prohibited. This means that eye contact between any man and woman is allowed only for a second or two. This is a must in most Islamic schools, with some exceptions depending on the case, like when teaching, testifying, or looking at a girl for marriage. If allowed, it is only allowed under the general rule: quot;No-Desirequot;, clean eye-contact. Otherwise, it is not allowed, and considered quot;adultery of the eyesquot;. See, referencing the following: br /br /The concept of quot;adultery of the eyesquot; comes from a well known hadith: quot;Narrated Ibn #39;Abbas: #39;I have not seen a thing resembling lamam (minor sins) than what Abu Huraira narrated from the Prophet who said #39;Allah has written for Adam#39;s son his share of adultery which he commits inevitably. The adultery of the eyes is the sight (to gaze at a forbidden thing), the adultery of the tongue is the talk, and the inner self wishes and desires and the private parts testify all this or deny it.#39; quot; (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Number 260). As to what is considered quot;to gaze at a forbidden thingquot;, reference is made to the Quran quot;Tell the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make far greater purity for them; And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And tell the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.quot; (Quran 24:30-31)”br /br /Yes, one can find Arab people violating Islam on the internet, but true believers of Islam would argue that those people are the exception rather than the rule. br /br /Madeline

  14. Margaret says:

    Madeline,br /br /You have set your story within the most extreme interpretation of Islam. You also seem to confuse Sharia law with Saudi law such as the case of women not being able to drive or staying in a hotel without permission. Perhaps it was not intentional but by referring to your characters as Arabs instead of Saudis you confuse the issue. And, of course, some Arab Muslim girls flirt! Not only with their eyes, but also with the swing of their hips, the toss of their hair, all part of the universal language of attraction. All one has to do is Google some Arab music videos and you will see plenty of Arab /br /“I’m an American woman who must be a man’s only woman, not an Arab girl who can be content with being one of a sheikh’s many concubines.” The number of stereotypes in this line alone,however unintentional, is quite /br /We could probably debate this forever, but ultimately, we probably agree there should be more of this kind of discourse to promote mutual understanding. Thanks for the opportunity.

  15. Madeline Smyth says:

    Hi, Mia-br /br /Under Islam, the man pays a bride price (the mahr). As with many other subjects involving Islamic law and tradition, the subject of the bride price is one open to argument. Some would say that the payment of a bride price reduces a woman to the value of a chattel, while others would say that it is a way for a woman to gain value and independence through /br /Here is a quote from the blog of a Saudi Arabian woman:br /br /“The mahr is a compulsory part of an Islamic marriage contract. It can be a gift of money, gold, property or possessions. The mahr may be paid in full at the time of the marriage (mu#39;ajjal) or delayed and paid after a period of time (mu#39;wajjal). The gift becomes the exclusive property of the woman. It is an admission of her independence, for she becomes an owner of that money or property immediately, even though she most typically has never owned anything before. It is also intended as a token of the husband#39;s willingness to accept the responsibilty of providing all the necessary expenses of his new /br /There is no upper limit for mahr, however, it is un-islamic for a woman to demand a huge mahr for herself with the intention of discouraging suitors of limited /br /The mahr should be fixed taking into account the bridegroom#39;s position in life. The Prophet said, quot;the most blessed marriage is one in which the marriage partners place the least burden on each other.quot; (Al-Haythemi, Kitab an-Nikah, 4:255)br /br /However, in many Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, the woman and her parents request extremely high mahr. This practice has led many young men to forsake marriage, to postpone marriage or to marry outside the country (dare I say, because the women are less expensive). This has resulted in a large number of young women not finding a /br /Young women and their families need to have a realistic expectation of what should be paid: an equitable amount that makes the woman feel secure, but marriage shouldn#39;t be used as a ticket to quot;get rich quickquot;.quot;br /br / /br /However, in recent years, a number of cases have drawn attention throughout the Arab world to the subject of the payment of a bride price. In these cases, fathers gave young daughters as brides to much older grooms in exchange for the receipt of a bride price. Certainly, the payment of a bride price in a cases such as this reduced the girl#39;s worth to that of /br / / / /br /Best, Madeline

  16. Carol L. says:

    Hi Madeline,br /I just have to say I really enjoyed the excerpt. I know I read for the entertainment and history of that particular story.I can#39;t ever recall reading any book and thinking it biased and I certainly can#39;t imagine nor have I ever come across any Author putting so much of themselves into their creative results to insult anyone. I don#39;t go into reading a book with those thoughts but rather the characters and storyline. I read for the purpose of enjoyment and entertainment.And I have to say I have learned more from the Author#39;s I read as far as History then I ever did in school. :)Thanks for /Carol /

  17. Madeline Smyth says:

    Helen,br /br /Thank you for your /br /Some Arab Muslim women say they wear the veil and abaya in religious devotion or piety. Some say they wear them as a matter of pride in family traditions. Others say they do so in furtherance of their right to modesty under Islam. Recently, a group of Arab Muslim women told me they wear the veil and abaya as an identification of themselves as Islamic and an assertion of the dignity of Islamic culture. Interestingly, none has told me that she wears them because she belongs to some man and thus, must conceal her beauty from other men. In other words, none has told me they are articles of oppression, contrary to the thinking of some /br /Madeline

  18. Madeline Smyth says:

    Margaret, br /br /I’m sorry that you’re offended, but although you’ve traveled throughout the Arab world, you seem to have little knowledge of Saudi Arabia. With your travels to other Arab countries, though, I’m surprised you haven’t discovered that all things in the Arab world are subject to interpretations and variations. Even Islamic scholars argue about the requirements of Sharia law. br /br /First off, I do not use the words quot;Arabquot; and quot;Bedouinquot; interchangeably. I use the word quot;Bedouinquot; only once in my post as a statement of wonder and awe of Bedouins who can survive in the desert without water for so long. My heroine is an Arab-American, my hero is an Arab Muslim, and my novel is set in Saudi /br /In Saudi Arabia, women can’t go outside unveiled, can’t be alone in the company of a man not mahram, can#39;t travel without a mahram, can’t drive a car, can’t leave the country without permission, can#39;t practice certain professions, and can’t do many other things. Not long ago, they finally obtained the right to stay at a hotel if they have permission and notify the authorities in advance of their stay. This is a statement of Sharia law, not a racist /br /Perhaps you missed the Saudi Arabian case a few years ago involving a young woman who was in the company of a young man not mahram when a group of men raped her and sodomized him. A judge sentenced the rapists to prison and the two victims to 90 lashes each for having been in one another#39;s company. When I last read about this case, many hoped that the king would pardon her. I could direct you to other controversial cases throughout the Arab world, not just in Saudi /br /Yet, for all the restrictions imposed upon Saudi Arabian women, they make their mark in their world. Recently, a Canadian woman, who#39;d been sent on company business to Saudi Arabia, mentioned that a woman passed her in the street (with ankle bells tinkling, expensive perfume wafting, and silky veils flowing). Several men paused and turned, making her realize that a woman doesn#39;t need to show flesh to be sexy. I think that an Arab woman#39;s ability to entice without showing flesh is quite /br /By the way, you change my word quot;ankle bellsquot; to quot;ankle bracelets.” An ankle bell is a piece of jewelry, whereas an ankle bracelet sounds more like a shackle. I think you take my words and twist them to suit your purpose. Hence, you accuse me of quot;promoting negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in almost every sentencequot; when you seem to take issue with only 3 of 27 sentences in my post. I know that some Arab countries are more liberal than Saudi Arabia, but I#39;ve never heard of or seen any Arab Muslim woman displaying her flesh or flirting with her eyes in public to attract an Arab /br /Madeline

  19. Margaret says:

    Thank you Mia,br /br /I am no expert, but Arab woman are like woman all over the world. They run the gamut from a professor with a PhD to a woman who stays home with her children. Some Arab/Muslim women I know are among the most engaging, intelligent, and stylish ladies one could meet, not unlike Queen Rania of Jordan. She is the prefect example of a modern Arab woman and not unlike many women you would meet if you traveled /If only we could see a book with a model like that for a heroine instead of a regurgitation of /br /As for the Bride-price, perhaps one could equate it with the woman#39;s family paying for the wedding in Western cultural. While historically a bride price had another purpose, today it often goes to the bride so she can purchase jewelry and clothes before the wedding.

  20. MiaMarlowe says:

    Margaret–It sounds as if you have a wealth of information about Arab culture. I envy your extensive travel. Would you have time to share more with us? Perhaps debunk some misconceptions. br /br /I was impressed with Madeline#39;s assertion that 1/2 the wealth is in the hands of women, which seemed quite egalitarian, but then the idea of paying a bride price seemed to reduce them to chattel. It would be interesting to learn more.

  21. Margaret Grisham says:

    I am so offended by this entry. Despite supposed self-described good intentions, this author promotes negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in almost every sentence. By using the terms Arabs and Bedouins interchangeably, it indicates to me a real lack of understanding of the Arab world. br /br /Women can#39;t travel alone? Can#39;t look a man in the eye? quot;Use veils and ankle bracelets to entice?quot; And her book is contemporary…set in modern day. Perhaps these are Bedouin rules but she implies they apply to all Arab women. And maybe this happens in Saudi Arabia but nowhere in the Arab world I#39;ve been (Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, United Arab Emirates)or other Muslim countries (Pakistan, Indonesia (the world#39;s largest Muslim country-, or even most of /br /There are hints of Rudyard Kipling#39;s racist poem quot;Take up the quot;White Man#39;s Burdenquot; sprinkled /br /These stereotypes will do far more harm than good in spreading cultural understanding.

  22. Helen Scott Taylor says:

    Hi Mia and Madeline,br /br /I find other cultures fascinating and love the sound of this book. The excerpt is great. Madeline, in your post you mention that Muslim women don#39;t veil themselves to hide their beauty from men other than their husband. I#39;m interested to know why they do they veil themselves.

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