As a teenager in the 1960s, Ellen Mary Wilton (pictured), spent a year at a Muslim girls boarding school in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria. For years Ellen has fascinated audiences with her insights and experience of Islamic culture in the Middle East. But up until now, she has resisted all calls to retell the events of that year in a book. Now that she has, the author admits she is ‘a bit worried’ how DAUGHTERS OF ALLAH, will be received by the Islamic community in Australia.
With revelations of lesbianism and highly critical of the treatment of women and girls in the Middle East, Daughters of Allah is sure to ruffle a few feathers. But the author makes no apologies for telling the truth.
Ellen Mary Wilton told Australian Women Online, “I say in the appendix [of the book] that the honour of the men is buried in the vaginas of the women. The men can murder, cheat, lie, steal and the honour of the family’s not lost. But some little girl can look the wrong way and even the suspicion that she’s done the wrong thing and the honour of the men is lost – the father, the brother, the uncle – they won’t give in until they kill her.”
Ellen wrote the first draft of her revealing memoir in the 1970s and when she was done, it sat on a shelf untouched for more than 30 years.
“I’ve been telling this story as a public speaker for twenty-five years and people have been telling me to get the story out there. So I went back to the school again in 2008 and when I came home, I rewrote it in two months. It worries me that the story is so old. But I really think it’s still relevant today,” she said.
After being rejected by several major publishers in Australia, Ellen approached a small independent publisher who agreed to publish the memoir, but only if the author was prepared to accept all legal liability.
“I had to sign a contract with the publisher so that if they were sued I would have to pay all their legal costs. But my husband wouldn’t let me do that because we could lose everything. So we made up a publisher name so that only I could be sued and I had to pay for all the printing costs as well.”
What concerned the publisher and what still keeps Ellen up at night, is how the book will be received by the Islamic community.
“I’m not sure that the Muslim community would like the book and I am a bit worried. There’s a lot of lesbianism that goes on in harems and I can’t help the fact there was lesbianism in the boarding school. They couldn’t go out with boys, so they experimented on each other. I also remember very clearly that they use to cover the mirrors at night against vampires.”
The fact that these girls were frightened by a horror movie and curious about the human body, looking at pornography and engaging in sexual experimentation, tells us that teenagers in the Middle East are not so different from young people in the west.
Often viewed by the western world as timid and submissive, Muslim women are very strong, capable women says Ellen.
“The reason I wrote the book was because what you see with a Muslim woman is the black veil, but that’s not what you get. They’re very emotional, very friendly, big personalities and very strong women. If they get hold of their household, they dominate everybody.”
“Some people ask me have I been influenced by my time at that school. My daughter has pointed out that most of my women friends have ethnic backgrounds. Also, I feel at home when talking to Arab people whether men or women and I return constantly to Egypt and the Middle East. My favourite food is Middle Eastern and although I found the food at the school hard going at first, it influenced my food tastes forever. I feel I was indelibly marked by my association with those girls.”
Ellen Mary Wilton has a Bachelor of Education in Adult Education and runs public speaking courses for adults and young adults. Between running her own public speaking courses and managing her tour guiding business (Sydney Guided Walks), Ellen leads a busy life in Sydney with her husband and her beloved pets.