Purdah and Polygamy

29 Jun 2018

At a time when more diverse voices are being heard and celebrated in the creative industries and beyond, the LSBM Lighthouse Programme was delighted to host a special event yesterday evening on the re-publication after 74 years of one of the first novels in English by a Muslim woman: Iqbalunnisa Hussain.

The evening took the format of introductory remarks, followed by an open discussion and a reception.

The speakers and topics discussed at the event were:

  • Arif Zaman: Who was Iqbalunnisa Hussain?
  • Muneeza Shamsie: Why Purdah and Polygamy is a pioneering work of feminist fiction and of particular significance in the literary history of South Asian English literature
  • Nick Hillman (Deputy Academic Principal, LSBM): A response to Iqbalunnisa Hussain’s essay on ‘My Experience in an English University’ in “Changing India - A Muslim Woman Speaks” (1940 and republished with new material by OUP in 2015)

In 1944, the noted Indian feminist, Muslim reformer, and advocate for female education, Iqbalunnisa Hussain, published the novel Purdah and Polygamy: Life in an Indian Household, a trenchant critique of the practices of purdah and polygamy wrapped within the pages of a sophisticated and compelling modernist novel. 

In 2018 Oxford University Press re-issued a new edited edition with an introduction by Jessica Berman (University of Maryland) and essays by Muneeza Shamsie, (International Advisory Board, Journal of Postcolonial Writing), Suvir Kaul (University of Pennsylvania) and Arif Zaman (LSBM).

The Karachi Times in March 2018 reviewed the book in the following terms:

"Originally published in 1944, this novel is a virulent attack on the traditional system of purdah and polygamy in which man is treated as a virtual god and women as chattel - and are barely literate. It also shows how the unlettered mother of the man concerned becomes complicit in this patriarchal system because she is able to exercise power through her son, which is denied to her as a wife and as an unmarried girl. In some ways the book is an extension of her ideas on Indian life and she translates these into fiction extremely well."

We'd like to thank everyone for coming along to the event yesterday.

You can find out more about the book here.


Stuart Brown
Media and Content Manager

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