In An Antique Land is a good historical and modern source of the social and religious life of the Middle East. Ami tov Ghosh, a European anthropologist without a Muslim background, gives a first hand account of his relationships with Muslims during his stay in Egypt in the late twentieth century. Ghosh’s accounts portray his “outsider” view of the way people in Egypt acted during the late twentieth century, while at the same time giving a historical view of the area. The relationships he describes in his accounts prove that he was thought of as an “outsider.” He also recalls the difference in how women were treated during the time of his stay in Egypt, compared to the way they had been treated in other historical accounts. This paper will focus on the Muslim and non-Muslim relations, as well as the treatment of women as depicted by Ghosh in his diaries. Ghosh was trying to track the life of a slave who had died 700 years earlier.
He traveled to Egypt in order to trace the ancient slave’s steps. While in Egypt, Ghosh was faced with many different cultural challenges. According to his depictions, the Muslim religious life in Egypt was the basis for social interaction. Because he was non-Muslim, he was socially separated from the people around him. His Muslim friends and neighbors constantly made him feel as if he was not one of them.
Egyptians and Americans have many similarities yet at the same time different perspectives on culture, family and architecture. Considering that Egyptian civilization has been around for thousands of years and American Civilization has been around for only centuries, it is amazing how media and individuals will perceive Egypt as a third world country yet admire it for its history. Egypt is a ...
Although Ghosh was an “outsider” he still exacted a particular interest in the religion, and felt that since he was living in the community, he should be part of the activities that took place as worship. He found that Muslims separate themselves from non-Muslims by not allowing them to take part in their ceremonial activities. During Ramadan Ghosh wanted to take part in the fast, but was informed that since he was a non-Muslim he could not participate. “I had wanted to join in the fast, but everyone insisted, ‘No, you can’t fast, you ” re not Muslim-only Muslims fast at Ramadan.’ And so, being reminded of my exclusion every day by the drawn, thirsty faces around me… (75) ” Ghosh emphasizes the fact that the fast was a strong community activity by saying that he “never once saw a single person in Lataifa breaking the fast, in any way… (76) ” This shows the commitment of the Muslims to their community based on the worship of their God.
Ghosh places even more emphasis on his amazement with the sense of community created by the Muslim religion by saying: “I would go up to my room alone and listen to the call of the muezzin and try to think of how it must feel to know that on that very day, as the sun traveled around the earth, millions and millions of people in every corner of the globe had turned to face the same point, and said exactly the same words of prayer, with exactly the same prostrations as oneself. A phenomenon on that scale was beyond my imagining, but the exercise helped me understand why so many people in the hamlet had told me not to fast: to belong to that immense community was a privilege which they had to re-earn every year, and the effort made them doubly conscious of the value of its boundaries. (76) ” Ghosh was pressured by Arabs around him to convert to Islam, but he was reluctant to comply. They showed him hospitality in many ways and were very curious about his religion. His friend Ustaz Mustafa would ask him all sorts of questions about his religion, but was stubborn to accept or understand the answers.
” ‘All right then,’ he said, ‘if you ” re not a communist, tell me this: who made the world, and who were the first man and woman if not Adam and Haw a?’ I mumbled something innocuous about how, in my country, people thought the world had always existed. My answer made him flinch. He hugged his sleeping son hard against his chest and said, ‘They don’t think of Our Lord at all, do they? They live only for the present and have no thought for hereafter.’ I began to protest, but Ustaz Mustafa was not interested in my answers any more. (50) ” This quote emphasized the fact that Muslims are stubborn and have a difficult time understanding any beliefs contrary to their own. Although stubborn in his beliefs, Ustaz was still willing to show hospitality to Ghosh by offering him a chance to understand the Muslim religion.
There has been much debate, especially in countries foreign to Muslim practices, about the head scarves and body coverings of Muslim women. Although the practice of women dressing to cover much of their bodies while in public, except for the hands, feet, and face, is a widespread practice in the Middle East and in other countries where Muslim women live, there is a small percent of Muslim women ...
” ‘Tomorrow,’ he said, ‘I will take you with me to the graveyard, and you can watch me reciting the Quran over my father’s grave. You will see then how much better Islam is than this “Hindu ki” of yours.’ (50-51) ” Ustaz was also very arrogant about his Islamic faith and felt that there no other religion that could match it. These modern day views of Islam reflect ancient views of Islam in that they are very arrogant about the religion, but ancient Muslims believed that all non-believers were punishable by death and there was no hospitality shown towards them. In his accounts Ghosh also mentions the role that women play in the society that surrounded him. He finds that the role women play has changed slightly and they are not as looked down upon as he had assumed. Women in the historical Middle East played a very subordinate role and were covered by veils at all times.
One of the encounters with women he discussed in his accounts reveals the fact that what he had read about traditional Muslim society was no longer true. “The fault for this lay entirely with me, for neither they nor anyone else in Lataifa wore veils (nor indeed did anyone in the region), but at that time, early in my stay, I was so cowed by everything I had read about Arab traditions of shame and modesty that I barely glanced at them, for fear of giving offence. Later it was I who was shame stricken, thinking of the astonishment and laughter I must have provoked, walking past them, eyes lowered, never uttering so much as a word of greeting. (41) ” Although the traditions had changed slightly in that the women were not veiled and there was no shame in looking at them, some traditions remain the same. Women still play a subordinate role to the men. They were still in many ways servants of the men: “Just then Sakki na appeared in the doorway and handed Hasan a tray with three glasses of tea on it.
The roles of women have been evolving for the last 100 years. Many women have shattered the stereotype that a women’s role is to be in charge of the family and have become leaders in a walks of life. Women have proved that they can be effective as business and government leaders. Although there are still gender biases that can exist, it is much move covert then it was 40 years ago. Oddly enough, ...
He took it from her without a word and she disappeared back into the kitchen.” Women are also not on the same hierarchical level as the men. “Shaikh Musa, his son Ahmed, his two grandsons and I were eating out of one tray, while the women of the household were sharing another, at the other end of the room. (40) ” Ghosh’s accounts provide much information about many aspects of the culture in the Middle Eastern world. They provide also a good reference for the contrast between the way things were in Ancient Egypt and the way things are now. In particular, Muslim, non-Muslim and gender relations are evident in Ghosh’s descriptions.
His references to the Muslim and non-Muslim relations provide the reader with a sense of how Muslims separate themselves from non-Muslims, and illustrate the subordinate role of women that continues in the modern culture.