“Like It’s Not Allowed”: Transgressive Boundaries of Allah Is Not Obliged

The first passage that stuck out to me in this particular novel did so for a bit of a strange reason. Allah Is Not Obliged has thrown me due to its matter-of-fact, colloquial style, summarizing events of stark brutality with no sense of discomfort. Even moments concerning the death of his mother, or children being raped, are glossed over with little affective investment. In effect, the narrator’s style seems to encourage an “everything is permitted” mindset in his telling of his story. There is little sense of transgressive boundaries, because the situation that has brought the child soldiers together has scant need for normative morality.

The passage that sticks out to me occurs as Birahima arrives at Sanniquellie under Onika’s control. As he speaks about one wife, he mentions that “Rita Baclay loved me like it’s not allowed” (112). At this point in the novel, we’ve seen Birahima move from his family in poverty to the ranks of a child soldier, and whether it’s circumstantial or due to his own affectively-detached voice, this statement feels like one of the first moments in the novel where intimacy seems possible. That it describes a scenario where an older woman sexually predates on younger children is no surprise. I wonder what we are to make of Birahima’s seeming ambivalence about his own role in this; even later in the novel, Birahima recalls Rita fondly, thinking of the good times they shared. Birahima concludes this passage with the exclamatory refrain “Gnamokode!” (which, I should add, is never just celebration; it concludes other grotesque scenes, such as Sarah being left as a feast for ants and vultures), and I can’t help but think of the double meaning of ejaculation; both definitions are contextually coded as positive in this passage, but troubled by a deep indifference that confounds and conflates Birahima’s perceived joy through his subjugation as sexual object.

The other aspect that appears to me particularly fecund is the nature of Rita’s transgression. Though Birahima does mention that “If Colonel Baclay saw us, he wouldn’t be happy,” he never explains why. In a novel where children are murdered frequently, and getting “fucked up on drugs” is an intermittent refrain, it’s hard to grasp the boundaries of what this world accepts as fair. The early portion of the novel only spotlights two instances that seem to offer any hints: this scene, and the one where Tete Brulee is found guilty of raping and murdering a seven year-old child. The commonality between those two vectors is the sexual violation of childrens’ bodies by adults. Though I haven’t yet finished the novel, I’m interested in whether or not it ever becomes possible for Birahima or one of his cohort to commit a crime that the novel cannot sanction.

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