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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tremendous Insight into Egypt Bedouins -- Book Review of Veiled Sentiments by Leila Abu Lughod

Lila Abu Lughod, an Arab American woman, lived among the Awlad Ali tribes of the North West of Egypt for two years. Veiled Sentiments is the book she wrote on the lives and poetry of Awlad Ali. Abu Lughod field work was clearly not carried out from a "superior" stance; she sympathized with her subjects and dealt with them as equal human beings rather than inferior specimen or cultures. Abu Lughod attitude, intelligence, training and tremendous analystical ability helped her in developing great insight and understanding of this fascinating culture.

Abu Lughod analysis of concepts such as "hishma" was truly incisive and shed a great deal of light on the nature of modesty between women and men and amongst men and women. The analysis seems to explain behaviors and norms witnessed elsewhere in Egypt and indeed other parts of the Middle East.

An important thesis of Abu Lughod is that the Awlad Ali people often communicated in very conservative and modest way directly through words; they only said what was proper and fitted the norms. Yet a second mode of communication far more true and expressive was found in their little songs or poems.

Abu Lughod discussed gender relation amongst Awlad Ali at length and the relationship between women and the families of their husbands and the society at large. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. For an excellent work on veiling and gender issues, I would recommend Leila Ahmed's Women & Gender in Islam.

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