Naguib Mahfouz's Children of the Alley

Existential Allegory in the Muslim World

"An allegory is not meant to be taken literally. There is a great lack of comprehension on the part of some readers."

"I defend both the freedom of expression and society's right to counter it. I must pay the price for differing. It is the natural way of things."

"I love Sufism as I love beautiful poetry, but it is not the answer. Sufism is like a mirage in the desert. It says to you, come and sit, relax and enjoy yourself for a while."

Naguib Mahfouz
Mahfouz's novel is an extensive allegory or typology of the history of the Middle East (and perhaps the world), which he sets in an Egyptian neighborhood over several generations.

General Discussion Questions

  1. What does the story seem to imply so far about the nature of God (i.e. Gabalawi)?
  2. Why does he seem to be absent from his descendants' lives?
  3. What God is in question? The God of monotheism in general? Allah? (The word allah simply means "God," but with its Islamic usage in the West at least, it has become associated with what Muslim tradition predicates of God.)
  4. What is the origin of evil? The purpose of the world? The meaning of human suffering?
  5. What is the better response to the human proclivity for wickedness and violence--mercy or judgment?
  6. What is the value of storytelling, especially about that of the past?

Biblical and Koranic Parallels

Look over the following events from the narratives of Adam, Moses, and Jesus. How are they paralleled in the story of the alley? How does Mahfouz's recasting of them act as a commentary on the original, on human behavior, and the world in general?


  1. The Garden of Eden
  2. The creation of Eve
  3. Adam and Eve's life in the garden
  4. The motives and actions of Satan
  5. The temptation of Eve
  6. Eve's temptation of Adam
  7. God confronts Adam, Eve, and Satan
  8. Adam and Eve expelled from the garden
  9. Adam and Eve's responses to exile
  10. The curse of work
  11. Cain and Abel's personalities
  12. Cain's murder of Abel


  1. The state of Israel in Egypt
  2. Moses in the Egyptian royal family
  3. Moses kills an Egyptian
  4. Moses flees to the wilderness
  5. Moses' life with Jethro and Zipporah
  6. Moses and the burning bush
  7. Moses returns to confront Pharaoh
  8. The miracles
  9. Judgment on Pharaoh and his armies
  10. The Exodus and entering the Holy Land
  11. The Giving of the Law

Jesus (Isa)

  1. The escape into Egypt from Herod
  2. The return to Galilee
  3. Jesus' virginity
  4. Jesus the miracle worker
  5. Jesus the storyteller
  6. The wilderness experience
  7. Jesus' message of mercy, healing, and freedom from desire
  8. Jesus and God (the Father)
  9. The woman caught in adultery
  10. The disciples of Jesus
  11. Judas' betrayal
  12. Jesus and the poor
  13. The Beatitudes
  14. The priests and Pilate
  15. The last supper
  16. Jesus' trial and crucifixion
  17. Jesus' burial and resurrection
  18. The response of his followers
  19. The Church