The Holy Woman is very much a novel that spans countries and continents, unravelling cultures and human emotions, penetrating the feudal psyche to elicit responses to all that baffles outsiders.
Shahraz’ story starts off with romance in the air. Zarri Bano, university educated, rich, beautiful, modern to the core of her coloured nails. In comes Sikandar, the dashing city bred hero of romantic dreams. It was to be a marriage made in heaven, save the jealousy of the heroine's father. Zarri Bano’s only brother dies in a riding accident and her marriage is called off as she is destined to become the ‘holy woman’, to be denied a husband, children, love, everything that would go to make the book a nice juicy romance ending in a 'lived happily ever after scenario’. Thereafter it was the commonality, the universality of human experience that she sought to unfurl.
Shahraz’s courage of conviction is infectious. Where Zarri Bano the main protagonist of a romantic horror is beautiful, glamorous and a feminist at that, forcefully agrees to succumb to feudal tradition she also emerges as the winner. It is this journey from a pure romantic to the prototype of the Muslim woman whose actions have a reasoning methodology that makes for the substance of The holy woman.
She reconstructs the original Islamic sensibility, freeing it from traditional patriarchy. So on the one hand is a heroine who admits to being, like her female peers, “a bead in a tapestry that our fathers and elders weave”. At the other end of the spectrum she emerges as the final victor capable of retaliating with conviction to the inquisitive English journalist's empathy. “Don't you feel oppressed by this (veil)?” Zarri Bano answers back, “We are not freaks. We are women who like to dress modestly. Please treat us with respect.”