Ted Thornton
Naguib Mahfouz, Midaq Alley
Study Guide

Setting: Cairo in the 1940s

Study Questions:

  1. Does Mahfouz like his characters? How do you know?
  2. In this story, what appears to be the role of Islam in personal and community life?
  3. Some critics maintain that at least one of the characters in this novel functions as an allegory of Egypt as a whole in the 20th century. Who do you think fits this description? Why?
  4. What is the source of ruin for characters who suffer in this novel?
  5. What qualities make this an "Arab" novel?
  6. What are the attitudes toward women in this novel?
  7. What do you make of the ending?


Sheikh Darwish (p. 12) - former teacher in the religious foundation schools; also used to teach English.

Kirsha -- owner of a cafe, peddles narcotics (45), chases young boys. A marginal character, neither modern nor traditional.

Mrs. Kirsha -- (72) Condemns her husband's "dirty habits" (hashish and young boys).

Hussain Kirsha - son of Kirsha. Started out working in his father’s cafe, then in a bicycle shop, now works in a British Army camp, considered prosperous (33).

Sanker - waiter in Kirsha’s cafe.

Salim Alwan -- owner of a perfume company (62). Favors green wheat dish as an aphrodisiac (67); lusts after Hamida (135ff.); suffers a heart attack (178) attributed to the envy of others.

Radwan Hussainy -- pious Muslim, religious scholar (90f.); studied at al-Azhar but failed to earn a degree;  has lost all of his children. He owns a house where Abbas and Uncle Kamil live on the first floor, Kirsha on the third floor. (8)

Uncle Kamil -- owns a sweet shop.

Dr. Booshy - dentist (4).

Abbas Hilu -- barber, engaged to Hamida.

Hamida - foster daughter of Umm Hamida.

Umm Hamida -- bath attendant and marriage broker (16).

Saniyya Afify -- widow (18), owner of the house occupied by Dr. Booshy on the first floor, and Umm Hamida and Hamida on the second floor. Saniyya lives on the third floor. (15) She is forty years old (119); she is offered a thirty year old groom by Umm Hamida (122).

Husniyya and Jaada, bakers.

Zaita, the "Cripple Maker." Makes a living by crippling people so they can beg and gets a cut of their earnings (57-58). Lusts after Husniyya (129).

Ibrahim Faraj -- Introduced on p. 157, but, his name is not revealed until p. 187.

Hasan al-Basari (36) -- A Muslim Sufi, lived 643-728 C.E.  He was a member of the silsila ("chain"), transmitters of the hadith ("traditions" of the Prophet Muhammad).  He taught that true believers in God accent their fear in this world so that Allah will give them security on the Day of Judgment.  On the other hand, hypocrites ignore their fear in this world; for this Allah will instill fear in them on the Day of Judgment.  Hasan al-Basari also taught that there are two kinds of knowledge:  knowledge of the tongue and knowledge of the heart.  The knowledge of the tongue is proof against you on the Day of Judgment, while the knowledge of the heart is proof for you.  The knowledge of the tongue is the knowledge you know but fail to apply;  the knowledge of the heart is the knowledge you both know and apply in your life.

Egypt of Naguib Mahfouz

Islamic Middle East


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email: tthornton@nmhschool.org

Last Revised: September 2, 2006