Religion, Media, And Nationality In Mahfouz’s “The Thief And The Dogs”

Naguib Mahfouz’s captivating narrative, The Thiefs and the Dogs, tells of Said Mahran, who was just released from prison. He was convicted of thieving and feels betrayed. Ilish Sidra was his ex-colleague and railed against him. Nabawiya became his wife and Sana became his custody. Sidra brainwashes Sana into rejecting Said. Rauf Ilwan, his mentor from the past, also felt betrayed. Said now has a mission: to get revenge. The contrasting influences and texts used by Mahfouz to guide Said create internal conflict, I believe. Said feels trapped by the contrasting influences of religion and media. Through such storytelling, Mahfouz seems to be highlighting the importance of religion and media to the people of post-revolutionary Egypt in 1952.

First, you need to understand Mahfouz’s religion use. It is mentioned throughout the book as The Sacred Law, The Qur’an, and through the words of a sheik. Said’s father was a religious figure who Said trusted and followed as a disciple. After he is released from jail, Said visits the shelter of the sheik. Said talks about his time in the sheikh’s household with his father. He said, “Look and listen, Learn and Open Your Heart” (25). Mahfouz depicts the sheik’s home as a safe, peaceful, inviting, and tranquil place. His father said that the door was always wide open and it was “a joy unlike the joys in paradise”. When he looks back at his time with the sheikh in the father’s house, he views it as a place where he can find wisdom and sanctuary. He gives answers but his answers aren’t clear. They are also not very practical due to his cryptic nature. This character was created by mahfouz to represent the characteristics of religion. Said said that while the Sheik’s words can be difficult to understand, his answers and replies are often in the form a riddle. (28) He is demonstrating that the Sheik wasn’t welcoming.

The sheik’s ideal cryptic nature can be seen in his statement, “Aren’t you ashamed of asking for his good pleasure when you aren’t pleased with him?” (29). Said believed he was doing the right thing (acting in robinhood and supporting militant activities during the revolution struggle). He therefore cannot understand why he is being punished. Said is angry at religion for all of his misfortunes. This idea was ideal, but it wasn’t practical. Even though the idea seemed ideal, it was not practical. Said is given hope through this paradox. But he feels trapped because he doesn’t know where to go or how to solve his problems.

Said gets into an angry rage and recounts his misfortunes. Sheik told him to clean himself and read Qur’an. Next, the Sheik attempts to feed him words with hope. The advice is good, but it’s difficult to follow. Mahfouz, a Mahfouz-speaking Muslim scholar, is making a statement about religion’s ambiguity and confusing nature. He also wants to emphasize the purity and importance of religion.

Next, Mahfouz’s media use is to be considered. Newspapers are used for most of the media information in this book. Said seems more passionate about media than religion. His obsession with newspapers is constant. He will buy them or ask about them at Nur’s home. Said visits his ex-mentor Raufilwan in order to obtain a job at his paper as a journalist. Rauf reacts in an angry and discouraged manner to Said. You are a new writer. This is wasteful of my time. Said is now questioning his future and may return to thievery. Mahfouz already made this clear by saying that “In all my life, I’ve only mastered one trade” (44). Mahfouz might be pointing out Egypt’s negativity in order to shut down the dreamers.

Rauf was once a political activist. He wrote in his papers about Egypt’s struggle for class and corruption (revolutionary 1952), where Said used robinhood to steal from the rich. They shared a common bond, a kind of common ground. Rauf made Said feel guilty for removing this common ground to conform to menial norms. Rauf stopped writing about politics and civil disorder and began writing about gossip, fashion and other topics. That could make it easier to comment on Egypt’s media. Its loss of focus on the important things to make profit through superficial reporting. This news feeds siads negative emotions, but it is still addictive. Said causes two murders inadvertently to his victims after he set out to exact revenge. Said was accused of killing innocent people. The headline that first appears is “Dastardly Murder at the Citadel Quarter!” (80). Rauf also views the news as a media outlet through which he is publicly rejected by the newspapers, and decides to assassinate Rauf. He feels angry at himself because he killed innocent people. While it is obvious that the news drowns the protagonist with negativity, Said’s enthusiasm for the news does not waver.

Mahfouz’s mocking of media and news can be seen in his mentions. The book raises important questions about the characterisation of Said by Mahfouz. Said is an internal conflict-ridden character. He goes to Allah for help and the Sheik for protection, while cursing both of them for their misfortunes. He also expresses his anger towards news throughout the story. But, he continues to love it and reads it no matter what. Said, in certain respects, represents Egypt’s people.

Mahfouz made Said to represent the defining characteristics and values of Egyptians. He uses Said for this purpose, to show how Egypt is related to media and religion. The goal of his use of Said is to inform current Egyptians about the dangers of blindly following the media. Media should focus less on superficial trends and more on the important issues. For the sake of avoiding creating a population that acts and thinks just like Said, younger generations must be more clear about religion.



Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.