A Rebellion

Resisting, reimagining, and reclaiming words.
Taking ownership of our stories.

Sara Mansour

The story of A̶l̶a̶d̶d̶i̶n̶ Jasmine

A reimagining of
Unknown (Folk Tale)'s
Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
Being of Arab background, I chose this piece because it was the only story that I could refer to in my childhood that hit the mainstream and was adapted into a film by Disney. It was a story where Arabs are portrayed as thieves and liars, women have little or no agency and Jasmine in particular is always dressed in a sexualised way. I wanted to subvert that narrative and show an alternative ending that is actually not only realistic, but empowering.

The Rebellion

Once upon a time, there lived in a grand castle, in an even more grand empire, a princess named Jasmine. Jasmine had just celebrated her 21st birthday in her castle, for she was never allowed to step out in public. After the birthday celebrations were wrapped up and all her esteemed guests had departed, she sat down with her mother, Khadija, to drink some shay (tea) under the bright, full Spring moon and to talk politics. After a robust discussion about the suitability of this or that politician for the new role of Minister of Tourism, Jasmine, who always spoke in a very refined and eloquent manner, grew silent. Khadija peered at her intently, for it was very rare for Jasmine to have nothing at all to say, which meant, Khadija thought, that she must be weighed down by many things all at once. Jasmine was playing with her diamond encrusted ruby ring, moving it up and down her slender finger. She was wearing her favourite abaya, a purple and blue kaftan style dress with a gold drawstring.

“Jasmine?” asked Khadija, as she admired her daughter’s long neck and the way the moonlight bathed her olive skin. “Mama, I want to… Mama, I…” Jasmine hesitated, calculating her words, weighing them. Jasmine took a deep breath. “Mama I would like to let you know that I do not want to get married to Aladdin anymore”. Khadija, able to act with composure in any situation, could not hide her surprise. “Why, Jasmine? You love each other so much, and you went through so much to be together!” she responded. “Yes, Mama, I know, but the thing is – Aladdin knew that I wanted freedom when I accepted his hand in marriage, yet now that we’re engaged it’s clear to me that all he wants to do is live in this castle and dine upon our feasts, and leave his past life behind. I told him about my plans to start a school for women, and he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to “challenge the status quo”. Ever since he lost his magical lamp, he has been sullen and paranoid. And he won’t let me join the women’s soccer team! I mean, Mama, can you believe it? All he’s done is show me a “whole new world” of the patriarchy!” Jasmine exclaimed. Her mother, unfazed by these revelations, sat back into her chair and pulled out a cigarette. She sighed, and lit it up. The smoke danced upon her lips and snaked upwards. The night was still, the palm trees quivered and the stars watched intently, waiting for Jasmine’s mother to respond.

“Jasmine, habibti, you must do what makes you happy. What is important is that you are with someone that supports you,” Khadija told her, placing her hand upon her daughter’s shoulder. Jasmine looked at her mother as she put out the cigarette and searched in her face for disappointment, but found none. Her mother was genuine in her response. Jasmine kissed her mother’s hand and placed it on her forehead. “If heaven lies under the feet of the mother, as the Prophet says, then there must be many heavens under your feet Mama,” said Jasmine. “Thank you for understanding,” she said, as she kissed her mother’s hand again. “I am going to go and write Aladdin a letter and let him know my reasons for breaking the engagement,” she said, as she got up excitedly.

“Don’t forget, you will have to tell your father,” Khadija replied.  “Oh, yes… he will be fine. I will let him know you don’t mind,” winked Jasmine as she rushed off.

Khadija sat in the gardens and lit up another cigarette, musing about who would be most suitable for that Minister role.

The Original Text

There once lived a poor tailor, who had a son called Aladdin, a careless, idle boy who would do nothing but play all day long in the streets with little idle boys like himself. This so grieved the father that he died; yet, in spite of his mother’s tears and prayers, Aladdin did not mend his ways. One day, when he was playing in the streets as usual, a stranger asked him his age, and if he was not the son of Mustapha the tailor. “I am, sir,” replied Aladdin; “but he died a long while ago.” On this the stranger, who was a famous African magician, fell on his neck and kissed him saying: “I am your uncle, and knew you from your likeness to my brother. Go to your mother and tell her I am coming.” Aladdin ran home and told his mother of his newly found uncle. “Indeed, child,” she said, “your father had a brother, but I always thought he was dead.” However, she prepared supper, and bade Aladdin seek his uncle, who came laden with wine and fruit. He fell down and kissed the place where Mustapha used to sit, bidding Aladdin’s mother not to be surprised at not having seen him before, as he had been forty years out of the country. He then turned to Aladdin, and asked him his trade, at which the boy hung his head, while his mother burst into tears. On learning that Aladdin was idle and would learn no trade, he offered to take a shop for him and stock it with merchandise. Next day he bought Aladdin a fine suit of clothes and took him all over the city, showing him the sights, and brought him home at nightfall to his mother, who was overjoyed to see her son so fine.

Next day the magician led Aladdin into some beautiful gardens a long way outside the city gates. They sat down by a fountain and the magician pulled a cake from his girdle, which he divided between them. Then they journeyed onwards till they almost reached the mountains. Aladdin was so tired that he begged to go back, but the magician beguiled him with pleasant stories and lead him on in spite of himself. At last they came to two mountains divided by a narrow valley. “We will go no farther,” said his uncle. “I will show you something wonderful; only do you gather up sticks while I kindle a fire.” When it was lit the magician threw on it a powder he had about him, at the same time saying some magical words. The earth trembled a little in front of them, disclosing a square flat stone with a brass ring in the middle to raise it by. Aladdin tried to run away, but the magician caught him and gave him a blow that knocked him down. “What have I done, uncle?” he said piteously; whereupon the magician said more kindly: “Fear nothing, but obey me. Beneath this stone lies a treasure which is to be yours, and no one else may touch it, so you must do exactly as I tell you.” At the word treasure Aladdin forgot his fears, and grasped the ring as he was told, saying the names of his father and grandfather. The stone came up quite easily, and some steps appeared. “Go down,” said the magician; “at the foot of those steps you will find an open door leading into three large halls. Tuck up your gown and go through them without touching anything, or you will die instantly. These halls lead into a garden of fine fruit trees. Walk on till you come to niche in a terrace where stands a lighted lamp. Pour out the oil it contains, and bring it me.” He drew a ring from his finger and gave it to Aladdin, bidding him prosper.

Aladdin found everything as the magician had said, gathered some fruit off the trees, and, having got the lamp, arrived at the mouth of the cave. The magician cried out in a great hurry: “Make haste and give me the lamp.” This Aladdin refused to do until he was out of the cave. The magician flew into a terrible passion, and throwing some more powder on to the fire, he said something, and the stone rolled back into its place.

(Note: this is an excerpt.   Click here to read the full  story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp .)