Islam is a religion that I have not learned much about before now. I knew that the women wore scarves covering their face, but I did not know why. I knew that Muslim?s celebrated Ramadan, but I did not know what that was. I have recently become more interested in learning about the Muslim religion because of a speech I heard in one of my other classes, and the book Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks is a great insight into the world of Islam and into the lives of Muslim women.
In the prologue I found it interesting that the author/narrator was denied a room in a Saudi Arabian hotel and taken to a police station because she did not leave the lobby. I would think that the man at the desk would be willing to help her even though it is against the law, seeing as she is a woman traveling alone, and obviously didn?t know any better. The author, I think, started the book this way to ease us into the idea of what women in the Middle East went through. By telling a personal story she lets us know that the information in this book has been seen and experienced first hand by the author and is not just the result of a group of researchers who may never have been to the Middle East. The first Muslim practice we are introduced to is prayer. On page 3, the narrator is awakened at sunrise by the call ?Come to prayer! It is better to pray than sleep!? Since prayer is one of the Five Pillars of Faith, it is something that all Muslims do (five times a day facing Mecca), and is one thing that remains constant throughout all the variations and interpretations of the religion that are discussed in this book. Another effective method of story telling that the author used is giving the reader some background information about the origin of the Muslim religion and some of the customs. She tells us that Muhammed is the prophet and what he did basically became the precedent for the entire religion. Muhammed relayed messages from Allah (God) and what he said was written down in the Koran (Muslim holy book).
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From the prologue, we see that women are segregated from men because that is what Muhammed did he kept his wives inside. Muhammed?s wives were also required to cover themselves from head to foot, as we saw on page 5, the ancient Assyrians began to have wives of upper class men ?veiled? and the custom was adopted by Saudi Arabia (which was known as Islam?s heartland).
The first woman we meet in the book (aside from the author) is Sahar, the author?s friend and translator. At first I admired Sahar for daring to be different and western and not conforming to Islam; I was disappointed when she showed up for work one day wearing hijab and no make up and her hair completely covered. On page 8 we understand that adopting the hijab means accepting the following things: ?A legal code that valued her testimony at half the worth of a man?s, an inheritance system that allotted her half the legacy of her brother, a future domestic life in which her husband could beat her if she disobeyed him, make her share his attentions with three more wives, divorce her at whim and get absolute custody of her children.? Why would any woman want to do that? The way I see it all people should be free to believe what they want to believe. If Sahar believes in Islam, that?s fine, but why should she have to change her appearance and become inferior to her husband when she seemed to be doing just fine as an independent woman? I compared this section of Nine Parts of Desire to a similar section from Bound Feet and Western Dress. There is a difference between the way Muslim?s regard western dress and the way the Chinese regarded western dress.
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While the Chinese value tradition and family, it seemed to me that they did not despise western dress as the Muslim?s did. Although, a comparison can be made between Chinese foot binding and Muslim women having to always be covered from head to toe. A Chinese woman without bound feet was many times less desirable to a prospective suitor?s family, just as a woman who did not wear the hijab was less desirable to a Muslim?s family. ?The Holy Veil? is the first chapter in the book and it describes the treatment and expectations of women. Page 14 tells us that not all men treated their wives as servants. One example of this is Khomeini, who seemed to have a soft side and enjoyed spending time with his children, when they cried in the middle of the night, Khomeini did not wake his wife, he simply took care of the kids himself. He never asked his wife to do anything for him, ?not even to bring him so much as a glass of water.?
I admire Khomeini for that. It is very easy to kick back and let someone else take care of you, and even though it is an accepted custom, Khomeini did not rely on his wife to be his servant. It seems that he and his wife, Khadija, lived a simple life and they loved each other very much. Khadija wears hijab and covers herself from head to toe, but there are many different interpretations as to what is acceptable when it comes to covering up. Guinean women for example wear tighter fitting clothes that sometimes expose their shoulders and toes (p20).
As far as clothing goes, I think that Islamic men are hypocrites. They tell women to wear chadors and won?t even allow them to swim without wearing them, while young men in the Gulf wear ?crotch hugging jeans? and swimsuits that did not cover their naval. Men think they are so superior to women in that culture and it really bothers me because without women to have babies, there would be no men. While I do believe that Muslim men are just as passionate about their religion as the women, I think they get some kind of ego trip out of being able to tell women what to do and how to dress. While we?re on the topic of things women have to do, let?s move on to Chapter Two. I almost could not finish reading chapter two because of the graphic explanation of female circumcision. I have not ever heard of anything like that before. The description of an eight-year-old girl being held down by her female relatives while her clitoris was scraped and sewn up made me feel so bad for little Muslim girls. I felt even worse for them when the author explained that for those who survived the loss of blood and infection because of this procedure, 20% of women die while giving birth and many times babies are born dead (p33).
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I found the reasoning for this procedure ridiculous as well. Page 35 says, ?Without it a woman wouldn?t be able to control herself, that she would end up a prostitute.? I understand that it is also considered unholy if a woman has sex before she is married, hence the chapter name, ?Whom No Man Shall Have Deflowered Before Them.? The Muslim?s contradict themselves when it comes to sex. According to page 38 most Muslims believe that there is nothing in the Koran that says women should have their clitoris scraped (it is actually an African practice), that Muhammed promoted women?s right to sexual pleasure, ?he cited intercourse without foreplay as a form of cruelty to women.? Also regarding sex ? the punishment for homosexuality, lesbianism and sodomy are greater than for a person who committed adultery. I don?t agree with the idea that homosexuality is wrong, but many religions do. I also don?t agree with the ?honor killings? that take place when a woman has extramarital sex, and/or when a woman has premarital sex. When Muslim women get married, it is often right after they hit puberty. They have arranged marriages and don?t usually meet their husband until the wedding day.
Even though I don?t agree with this type of marriage, I have to give the Muslim?s a little credit for coming up with wedding rituals that allow a girl/woman to get used to the touch of her husband with him washing her feet so that the girl is not shocked when he (a stranger) first touches her on their wedding night. I think that people should marry for love, and that way they would not have to worry about a stranger?s touch. One section of this chapter reminded me of a section in Bound Feet and Western Dress. Basilah al-Homound finds out that she has a marriage proposal and when her father offers for her to meet the man, she simply states that she trusts her fathers judgment and ?if you (father) sit with him, it is enough for me.? She believes that her father has her best interests at heart and it is important for the two families involved to get along so she knows her dad won?t let her marry anyone who would be bad for her. Two other similarities to Bound Feet and Western Dress in this chapter are when Rose broke off a relationship with a Christian because she ?would be living in sin? (p65).
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And on page 67 when Rose?s husband tells Geraldine (author) that he is ?nothing in this village without a son.? The Chinese also value marrying other Chinese and having sons. Chapter Four is about Muhammed?s women. The woman he supposedly loved most was six years old when the two got married, and only nine years old when the marriage was consummated. I think that is disgusting. I understand that it was normal for a girl of that age to get married, but she was only nine years old! Her organs were not yet fully developed and having sex with a fifty-year-old man must have been very painful for the little girl, not to mention damaging to her body. While Muhammed took four wives, he discouraged his son in law from taking a second wife, saying that it may hurt his daughter. Everyone has his or her own flaws, but since Muhommed is claiming to be the prophet of Allah you would think he would practice what he preaches. If he tells his son in law to only have one wife, then he should only have one wife. Imagine how different the Muslim religion would be if Muhommed only had one wife. He would not have had as many daughters, polygamy would not be a part of the modern day religion, and many other events would have happened differently, or not happened at all.
On page 83 Muhammed tailors the Muslim religion to his own needs. He wanted to marry the wife of his adopted son, but that would have been considered incest. So, conveniently enough, Allah spoke to Muhammed and told him that it was a mistake for Muslims to ?consider adoption as creating the same ties as blood kin? which allowed Muhammed to have his way and marry his adopted son?s wife. The whole thing seems a little corrupted to me. A typical house in the Islamic world is described in chapter five. The house ?gave nothing away from the street. It?s huge iron gate shut out the world completely, securing the family?s privacy within.? Privacy is a big deal in Islam because men aren?t allowed to see women unless the women are dressed in chador. Many times girls weren?t allowed to play outside because there might be boys out there (p102).
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For women who convert to Muslim, these restrictions can be hard to get used to. Margaret, a woman Geraldine had met during her travels, had converted to Muslim and said that ?because I?m a convert, I have to do everything better than a born Muslim just to convince them I?m not still a dirty infidel.? ?Jihad Is For Women, Too? is about women?s movements in Islam. A group of women called the Abu Society for the Awakening of Women dealt with educating women and teaching them to read. In my opinion that is the best thing they can do to help. Education is the answer. Think about it, women are segregated, looked down upon, beaten, and forced to deal with their husband?s other wives, why? Because they are told that the Koran says so. Well, if they are taught to read then they can read the Koran for themselves and they can read and write literature for other women who will join the fight for better treatment of women. Jihad is the term for holy war, but violence is not all that the term includes. Jihad is also ?teaching of faith, or spreading the word through an exemplary life? (p109).
That is what the women need to do, educate eachother. Women involved in the jihads lead to women in the military. Women in the military lead to women?s feelings of equality to men (which was not always accepted by their families), it also lead to women?s rights such as the right to own and inherit land, it also lead to the ban of genital mutilation. It?s about time that some positive changes started for women, I?m just sad that it took until 1994 for it to happen. ?The Getting of Wisdom? is a chapter about education opportunities opening up for women. Universities opened up and girls no longer relied on their mothers to teach them how to be a good Muslim woman. Now they were being taught history and reading and as I said before, education is the key to change. Women came back from studying abroad with new views and experiences and that can be quite refreshing after having a whole life of seclusion and shelter from experiences that would enrich their lives and help them grow. The women who come home feel like they have traveled backwards in time (p152) and if it were me, I would think that is not a positive thing because once they have seen how life could be they are not going to want to go back to their original ways. Women certainly do take advantage of the ?the getting of wisdom? and they use that wisdom to take on new responsibilities, including jobs. ?Risky Business? acknowledges that sometimes men just can?t do everything by themselves. If a man cannot gain enough income his wife may also go out and get a job. However there are three main rules regarding this situation and they are as follows: ?1. The husband has the right to terminate the wife?s working whenever he deems it necessary. 2. He has the right to object to any job if he feels that it would expose his wife to any harm, seduction or humiliation. 3. The wife has the right to discontinue working whenever she pleases? (p170).
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I think it is great that men realize that women are capable of having jobs, but it stinks that they can tell their wife to quit at any time. It seems that the Muslim men don?t want their wives to become independent at all, they have been holding their wives back for years and continue to hold them back. Slowly but surely, however, women are gaining ground in the workplace and in politics. It?s been a rough road for Muslim women in politics. It was only after the Gulf War that women in Kurdistan were allowed to vote for representatives, and in many places, such as Kuwait women could not vote, nor could they rally because ?Muslim extremists objected to the sound of a female voice at a mixed gathering? (p 184).
These extremists need to get over it and realize that women won?t be held back anymore. If they were willing to compromise, I?m sure a happy medium could be found between the extremists and the women. They need to realize that women have good ideas for politics and they can make a difference. Women have been making changes for years. One of their greatest accomplishments in my opinion was getting polygamy banned in Islamic countries. There were also men who helped women gain government access, such as Anwar Sadat, who set up quotas to get more women in government (p 189).
In addition to becoming more involved in government, women also became more involved in sports. Women argued that the Koran states ?You shall excel in all respects if you are believers? and that should apply to sports, including women?s sports. And so begins the Muslim Women?s Games, where only women are in the stands and male coaches have to wait outside. I agree that women should be allowed to participate in sports. It makes me sad though, that their fathers and brothers and husbands cannot watch them because they are not fully covered while competing. It is a step in the right direction though.
While women may have gained ground in politics and sports, the opposite began to happen in the entertainment industry. Women began to retire from belly dancing, singing and acting to put on the hijab and become good Muslim?s. ?By the spring of 1992 the unthinkable had happened; the musicals with dancing that had enlivened the nightly celebrations of Ramadan were banned as un-Islamic, depriving hundreds of artists of work? (p 213).
With all the controversy about dancing, the author decides to check out the Egyptian dancers and tries to learn what they do. I think that her learning their dance is a way of her trying to appreciate their culture and customs and to experience it first hand. She is a woman who tries not to be ignorant of the Islamic traditions, and by experiencing things first hand she is better able to write about them and educate other people. I also think that her dancing in that nightclub in Egypt was for herself, so she could prove that she could do it. She did prove that she could dance to the beat of ?A Different Drummer.? One of the perks of traveling all over the Middle East and meeting a lot of people is that you become well known. Geraldine Brooks certainly did her research for this book, and my favorite part is at the end when Salman Rushdie comes to her house for lunch. His book, Satanic Verses, caused so much turmoil that he was actually sentenced to death. Luckily he fled and went into hiding for years. It must have been such an honor to have that man sit in her house and acknowledge her work. Another thing that I would imagine could be frustrating at times is understanding something that many people do not know about. When she goes to the trial of the Muslim man who killed his wife she is able to see the ?honor killing? from the husband?s point of view and from the jury?s point of view. I?m sure it is hard to watch the ignorant jury sentence the man for something that is a part of his culture.
What I have learned by reading this book is that Muslim women have a long road ahead of them until they can achieve equality to men. However, these women are strong and are already taking steps in the right direction by getting educated, by getting involved in politics, entertainment, and sports. Mt final thought can be summed up with one sentence from the conclusion. ?It is easy to see the grim figures in their heavy shrouds as symbols of what?s wrong rather than what?s right with women and Islam? (p233).
This was written about the book Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks.