Middle Eastern Women Essay, Research Paper
Women in Arab Society
Guest of the Sheik
In the 1950’s, a newly married American women named Elizabeth Warnock Fernea accompanied her new husband for a two year stay in the small rural village of El Nahra located in Southern Iraq. This book encapsulates her different experiences of the town social agenda, while her husband an anthropologist gathers data in the community. Her adjustment into her new surroundings was quite difficult, simply because she lived in a mud hut that had no indoor plumbing for running water and toilets, she didn’t know the language all that well, and was not accustomed to the different local ways of life.
By accepting the different custom of dressing in the all black veils like the women in the harem, which fits in with the beliefs of the local conservative Islamic community, she was able to then interact with the different women located in town. Besides these women of the town and her husband she was not to speak to another male, because women’s interaction with men is strictly forbidden. There was one exception to this idea for Elizabeth, a servant named Mohammad that was provided by the Sheik to help deal with the different Arabic ways. It is here in Nahra, a known polygamous society, where there exists no social communication between the different sexes and the actions of the women are watched and maintained with great detail.
For Elizabeth, her participation in certain events within the town were limited, but as time passed and her acceptance grew it slowly changed. She was able to visit other women within the town, where they drank tea, smoked cigarettes, and chatted about life and one another’s different customs. It took a great deal of time for Elizabeth to be accepted by the different women, it took a great deal of months and many visits with the different women. As time passed more and more of the town’s women began to accepted her for who she was and who she was becoming. Because of her growing acceptance, she is then allowed to attend many of the different ceremonies and rituals that few Westerners, and no western men, have ever seen.
As Elizabeth had known before she had ever moved to Nahra with her husband, there was going to be a time when she was to leave it all behind and she would have to prepare to re-enter the Western world and its cultures. The different experiences that her and her husband had both acquired during their two-year stay made a lasting impression on them both, leaving them with a newly discovered perspectives and ideals.
Return to Childhood “The Memoir of a Modern Moroccan Women”
The 1950’s is marked as a period filled with much ciaos for Morocco, because these were the final days of fighting for independence form the French Colonial rule. A girl, Leila Abouzeid was growing up and having many different experiences, which she made mental notes of during this period of civil unrest, and was able to put it all into words, and fill up the pages of an entire book.
Through her eyes and the eloquence of the her words, we are able to see the development and cultivation of her personal relationships with her family and friends. It is her family which draws much of her attention, simply because of her father who was recognized as a hero in the national struggle. Although he was recognized as a hero, he caused much harm in the lives of his family. Because he was a nationalist, the government sought after him and placed him in jail. He was release a few times, but his freedom was short-lived, because he ended up in prison soon after. With this, much focus is placed on Leila’s mother who had to raise four daughters without a husband around.
Abouzeid, takes us through her many different experiences as the days of independence drew near, and soon came to be a reality. The power changes and struggles between the leaders is demonstrated because of the fathers involvement. It is through Leila, her mother, and her grandfather that we are able to account for these changes and how the absence of a father/husband/son figure affected their lives. By witnessing all that occurred through each set of eyes, an understanding of the complexities and problems of life for a Muslim women is reached.
Today we as an American society think of the women in Arab countries as people that are treated as second class citizens. I know by growing up with neighbors that were from Iran, that the wife was to stay inside and run the family, while the husband was to go out into the job world and become the bread winner. Fortunately for this family, the husband had a steady job and didn’t need to worry about his financial situation. By witnessing these things and reading the books I was able to see how different the lives of Muslim women are from the lives of the women in the western world. It can simply be stated that the place of women in Arab society as opposed to men and even compared to women in our society is quite different, because men in Arab countries and women here in the U.S consistently have more freedom than women and are restricted in all that they do. In Arab Society women are considered to be, “destined for marriage, pregnancy and breast feeding (Abouzeid 36),” not to become products of higher education and learning.
Today there is a noticeable difference between the women of Western civilizations compared to that of women in Arab countries. Today when we go outside we can see an intermingling of all different cultures, but if we were to travel 5,000 miles to Iraq we would see a much different setting. For Fernea she was thrown into this different society without truly understanding what she was getting herself into. In just her first few hours in this distant land she was introduced to a whole other world, where women were to be covered. To cover themselves everyone women was to wear an abayah, which was a long black cloak that was worn by Iraqi women. This was simply the case because here the people felt that, “an uncovered woman is an immoral women (Fernea 6).” Tribesmen in the area questioned, “why a women should want to show herself of to anyone but her husband.” This custom of being covered from head to toe has been long lasting tradition that Fernea was going to have to follow in order to be accepted by the people that surrounded her. Fernea questioned this custom with a furious reply: “If they can’t take me as I am – if we have to make artificial gestures to prove we are human beings too – what is the point?”
Clothing was not the only custom that one would be introduced to with a stay in an Arab country. They was in which a women is treated and valued is much different from that of a man in their country and even compared to a women in our own country. Today in the US women are running companies, living and supporting themselves, and not even thinking about having a family. For Arab women this is simply not the case. These women are forced into marriage, when married they are expected to carry many of their husbands children while they are treated poorly their husbands, and are not expected or even allowed to participate in any social events that place men and women together.
For marriage is much different in Arab lands compared to the ways of our society. Today we dwell on love and happiness and use these ideals as a foundation to build a long lasting relationship. For Arab Societies women were simply used in business transaction. What this entails is that the parents of the families would arrange the marriage because they felt that each family would benefit from this union. Love simply was not the case. In order for a marriage to take place a bride price was needed, the sum set by custom within the tribe and paid by the groom’s father to the bride’s father. The bride’s father uses part of the money to help his daughter buy furniture, household goods and her trousseau (Fernea 44). But, if a man and women were in love but did not have the permission of their parents there was little they could do. For Abouzeid had known of a young couple who had run away because of this reason, but when they were later caught, the parents were forced by convention to let them marry. In most cases, like that of the village of merchants in which Fernea lived, there were codes that preferred the marriage between first cousins on the father’s side. The boy always had first claim to one of his father’s brother’s daughters, and if for some reason she was to marry someone else, she first had to relinquish his claim. This code trapped the women by circumstances, because change was powerless against the social forces within Iraq.
In Iraq and in Fernea’s case we were able to get a glimpse of how men simply had more freedom in their lives. The Arab nations have always believed in polygamous marriages because of their religious leader Muhommad started such a trend, which meant that a man could have many wives, but a women could not have more than one husband. No women wants to have to be married to a man not only spends time with them, but spends time with other women too. If a woman could she would try her hardest to keep her husband for herself and only herself. “Women always stand together before strangers and say they are happy together; they are ashamed to admit that they have not been clever enough to remain the only wife, and so they pretend that whatever they have is good. Women will always fight and quarrel and be discontent if the man is not strong enough to give each of them what she needs and wants from him (Fernea 170).” These women of Arab marriages, “Purchase charms to make cruel husbands kind, indifferent ones loving, to prevent divorce, to keep new babies safe from the Evil Eye. But more than any other single thing, they prayed, purchased charms, connived against being supplanted by a second wife (Fernea 162).”
When couples are married, it is expected that the women would be a model wife and be able to produce a child if not many. “For a model wife stayed at home, cared for her children and for her house, prepared good food for her husband and his guests, and kept out of sight of strangers (Fernea 50).” As noted