Book Review: Guests of the Sheik
The book entitled Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village, written by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, recount the experience the author acquired during a two-year stay in a small village in Iraq. The experience incorporated in the aforementioned book is imperative essentially because offers the reader insights regarding race and ethnicity, kinship and family, and finally religion and morality. This book is accredited subsequent to the fact that the author who had the first-hand experience of events is the one who narrates these events as it unfolds. Apparently, we are predisposed to understanding the way of life in the marginal Iraq essentially because the author herself assumed the responsibility, dressing code and sheltered like a real Harem women.
In chapter ten of the book, the author explains how events in the Islamic religion unfold during Ramadan, particularly at the end of the feasting season. As from the book, it is apparent that women are the ones that do all the work, this chapter also make apparent the theme of betrayal and death. Some of the moves incorporated in children’s dance portray Hussein’s betrayal and death. This chapter presents the responsibilities of the religious specialists. The responsibility of the sheik is vehemently brought to light. Additionally, the societal benefits of religion are apparent in that; the Islamic people can identify themselves with their religion a fact that fosters group solidarity reduces conflict and offer a framework of social control.
In chapter eleven of this book, the author presents the theme of friendship and language barrier as it relates to Laila. The author recounts the experience of Laila as the one that was faced with lots of challenges particularly during her interactions with the women in El Nahra village. Before she developed her company with the people of the village, majority of them use to think that she was deaf and dumb. Because she could nod and smile whenever the women talked to her (Fernea 219). The experience of Laila as incorporated in this book presents the true nature of ethnic disparities, considering that Laila was from a different community she was predisposed to experiencing cultural shock.
In chapter twelve of the book, the true nature of weddings and conditions related to the same in regards to the Islamic community is presented. Apparently, the Islamic bride is required to remain pure and retain her virginity till marriage, as part of the wedding ceremony; the bride is required to prove her virginity. The bride’s mother as a witness is required to bring the bloody sheet, proving the bride’s virginity. If the bride is not a virgin, her life can be ruined forever (Fernea 240). This chapter presents the nature of Islamic marriage; it is evident that Islam value virginity and embrace the same by asking for prove. It is also imperative to denote that they practise polygyny.
In chapter thirteen of this book, we are introduced to endogamy, in essence the story accentuates that the community approves the marriages between first cousins. Though endogamy is highly embraced in this community, Moussa’s daughters don’t have enough cousins to marry them. Endogamy is presented to be of utmost significance subsequent to the fact that cousins who know each other well and grew together get married in the aftermath. Though endogamy is highly embraced, men deemed to be of higher status seek further studies and subsequently marry women they meet there (Fernea 257).
In chapter fourteen of this book, we are introduced to the nature of marriages in the El Nahra village. From this chapter, it is apparent that polygamous marriages are acceptable in this community irrespective. Though Abad’s wife Hussna is poor, he considers marrying another wife who is supposedly a widow with two sons (Fernea 261). Additionally, this chapter makes apparent the factors that foster divorce in marriages, the major factor as it relates to this community are polygamy and poverty. Apparently, mothers’ have the final say in matters regarding her son’s marriage, while the second marriage subsequently is determined by the son by his own.
In chapter fifteen, the responsibilities of mod wives and the culture differences between the Americans and the people of Iraq are brought to light after Sheik Hamid takes a two month vacation to Lebanon. This chapter not only portray race disparities, but also disparities that exist between ethnic groups. America in this chapter is portrayed as an advanced nation while Iraq particularly El Nahra still practises time past cultural practices that foster gender inequality and male dominance.
In chapter sixteen, the author presents inherently ways in which ethnicity and family links are highly valued by most people in El Nahra. Hussin claims that his clan is the oldest; he can repeat his family tree for five generations back. His family tree is real to him as though his people were alive (Fernea 303. This chapter in essence presents the value of family tree and kinships that exist in El Nahra village.
In summary the afore-scrutinized chapters are meant to enlighten the reader with issues surrounding race and ethnicity, kinship and family, and finally religion and morality in El Nahra village. As the author recounts through her experience, El Nahra village is one where polygamy and polyandry is practised. Additionally, the religion in this community is highly valued. Apparently, purity is a fundamental requirement from the bride; mothers are the ones that determine their son’s first marriages. Son’s can subsequently marry other wives if they decide to do so.
Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock. Guests of the Sheik: an ethnography of an Iraqi village. Random
House LLC, 2010.