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Analysis: Guests of the Sheik and Girls of Riyadh

Part A

Analysis of Guests of the Sheik

The book Guest of the Sheik begins when newlyweds, Bob and Elizabeth Warnock-Fernea, travel to a remote village of El Nahra near Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. They travel there because Bob is an anthropologist and is due to present research for his Doctorate. The village is home to the Shiite sect of Islam. One thing that is evident for the newlyweds who are on their honeymoon is that the culture of the people, with which they are going to spend a considerable amount of time, is entirely different from their own. The couple has to find a way of adapting to the culture of their new neighbors if they want to coexist peacefully. On their arrival in the village, they meet one of the locals, Sheik Hamid Abdul Emir el Hussein, who offers to show them around. Sheik Hamid represents the chief of the El Eshadda tribe, which means that he is not only influential but also famous.

What makes Elizabeth uncomfortable is the fact that all women wear the Abaya, which is a long black cloak. She wonders why she should cover herself that much, leaving only the eyes visible to the public. Since it is the traditional dress in this part of the world, she has no option but to begin wearing it, although she does not like the idea. It is also a culture that other men should not see women without wearing the Abaya. Elizabeth succumbs to this pressure and decides to observe the dressing code. Another challenge that the couples faced was the lack of technology in the village. They had to adapt to this fact too. Lights would be shut off at exactly 9 o’clock every day to enforce this rule (Fernea, 2010).

As days go by, she starts to adapt to the new life, although she makes several mistakes and consequently learns from them. For instance, she finds herself seated with crossed legs, something that the women from this part of the world find to be weird. Elizabeth also discovers that women and men do not eat together. In addition to this, she finds out that women can stay without the Abaya when in the company of other women only, which is a relief for her. Selma, who makes her learn about the cultures of these people, wears western dress, which impresses Elizabeth and makes her feel like she has someone to talk with. It is the main reason she invites her to eat lunch with her so that she can learn some things about the community. During her stay in Sheik’s house, she does not fail to notice the jewelry that one of the women wears. Later, Elizabeth is to learn that a woman’s jewelry is her insurance, in particular against disasters.

The community is charged with the responsibility of taking action in case a man tries to seize his woman’s jewelry. The eminence and quantity of jewelry possessed by a woman are attributed to an affluent lifestyle. In the many visits that she makes in the locality, Elizabeth has realized that couples who were unfortunate not to have children are detested too. Fadhila and Sherifa suffer this fate and they are seen as being inadequate for lack of having a child. Society interprets childlessness as something that renders a family futureless. One thing worth commenting the community about is the nature of their hospitality. Elizabeth was warmly welcomed and treated like a family member in most of the places she went. In fact, the parents had a habit of treating visitors with lavish staff in a show off stint. Her visit to Hathaya represents how society views women from other cultures. Some of the people still do not know how to behave whenever they see a new face in the village and this person belongs to a culture different from their own. Overall, Elizabeth made friends within this short duration, and she even developed a plan to have a journal of the activities of the women and children in the houses she visited. It gave her hope of having something to study about while helping her husband in his anthropology research (Fernea, 2010).

Women used to go to town for shopping. However, every move they made was monitored, and no one dared to talk to any man on their way to and from town. Despite all of this, the women had found a way out such that they could go to town and back without being noticed. An old bridge that connected the village to the marketplace facilitated the trick. An issue of freedom arises here. Women do not have the freedom to interact with other people freely. The fact that they have to sneak around to meet their friends shows that they are in dire need of freedom to roam freely. By meeting with friends, they can exchange ideas concerning what bothers them, how they can do something particular, and many other issues (Bayat, 2013). Restricting their movements only fuels their urge of wanting to know much more, and there is a danger when they discover things on their own. Some women are also educated as seen when Elizabeth meets the Engineer’s sister, the teachers, doctor’s wife, and the mayor’s wife. It shows that women have the opportunity to get an equal share of academic considerations just like men. In her endeavors, Elizabeth finds out that the mayor wants to make women not wear the Abaya but his grandfather is so much against the idea because he believes that they have to follow the religion that they were brought up in (Fernea, 2010).

Death is a dreadful thing for most communities in the world. In El Nahra, nothing is different. The only difference between how these people treat the dead from that of the Westerners is that the dead have to be buried before sunset on the day of the transition. Women are not supposed to be a part of the ceremony to send off the dead. They just look from afar as things are being done. Another fascinating culture from this community is that women do not choose their spouses. Rather, their parents organize men to marry their daughters in colorful ceremonies. The girl is supposed to accept whoever is brought to her for marriage. In the Western culture, however, couples do courtship for a considerable amount of time, which might last for years before the wedding ceremony takes place. People marry the spouses of their choice in this case. The ceremonies that accompany marriage are almost similar between the two cultures. People come together, share meals, and dance to tunes among many other fun activities. The difference between these two cultures is in the setup. Whereas in El Nahra such ceremonies are done in a hall if not in a room, in the Western culture, the ceremonies are done in the open space, which may be a field or a park.

Elizabeth gets to learn many things in the period she spends in El Nahra, which is approximately a year and a half. She finds out that her interaction with the community helped in the research that her husband was conducting. It would not have been successful were it not for her making friends around the village. By using the people she befriended, she learned many things about their cultures and ways of life that she found necessary to be part of the studies her husband was undertaking.

Analysis of Girls of Riyadh

Raja Alsanea wrote the novel Girls of Riyadh. The book talks about four Saudi girls who are presently in college and are in dire need of boyfriends. Michele, who is half-American and half Saudi, Lamees, Sadeem and Gamrah are the main characters of this book. As teenagers brought up in a society where men and women are not supposed to see each other, it becomes difficult for them to find love. However, the author introduces the use of the internet, which comes in handy to save the girls from the hustle of looking for love. The use of technology and the little contact involved in it gives the girls courage to show who they are and what they feel about love (Alsanea, 2008). These girls party with each other without the company of men because they know it is against their culture. The only link between them is through the internet by use of online chats and mobile phones. One thing that still stands out is that even though they can chat up with the people they like through the internet, who can marry them is not for them to choose. Their parents are the only ones liable for making the decision about who marries them. The girls struggle with life issues on a different level even though they are college students. Gamrah is seen to be extra cautious in adopting the new life. She is a very conservative woman who would like to follow her culture to the letter. However, she knows that the world is changing and that some of the things that her society believed in have to change at some point if they have to catch up with the pace the world is going (Bayat, 2013). Michelle, on the other hand, is skeptical about her community’s restrictions. She feels that it is about time everyone is left alone to do what they like. Because she has grown up, she believes that she can make effective decisions for herself. Even in her scuffles, she does not attain the goals of her dreams. Lamees is a character who capitalizes on every little freedom she has to get all that she has been yearning for. The pursuit of love and attention from men is all that she looks for apart from her academic works. Sadeem is one hopeless character. She does not seem to be getting anything her way. She is afraid to face the challenges that come with romance and looking for love. She remains to study with her friends as she wonders what to do next. She, however, does not know that she has the potential to be who she wants to be in the love life.

The novel talks about sex, something that is forbidden in this part of the world. Sex is only meant for married couples. More often than not, the men will despise any woman who engages in sex before marriage. A funny fact is that they will even turn down the same women they have been having an affair with even if the women have stayed true to only them. Friendship is between men and men or women and women. Whenever friends came together, it was time to discuss the challenges they had undergone through the day or the times they had been apart. On Fridays, everyone was expected to go to the mosque for prayers. It seems that some did not like the idea, but they had no option but to comply. After these prayers, they would go back to their normal being – leading the life they had, sending emails organizing for a get together, and many others (Alsanea, 2008).

The book majorly advocates against arranged marriages. Such marriages deprive one of the freedoms to choose what they want in life. The book also goes against the wish of one to continue with her education since it is done as soon as one hits adolescence. The reasoning for this, they argue is because they want the girl to have a husband before she is spoiled and she ends up without a husband. Poverty too aggravates the practice as parents see the girl child as a source of wealth through dowry payment. The mode of dressing is kept as per the customs. Any woman exposing her body is deemed as being immoral and as such would have difficulties getting a husband. It creates a conflict between the Saudi community and the westerners. Whereas the Westerners are comfortable seeing women half-naked, in Saudi Arabia, it is a show of immorality that comes with severe punishment (Alsanea, 2008).

Part B

In the book Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East, the authors talk about the role of women. In addition to this, they elaborate further how religion has played a great role in ensuring that things stay at a balance even though equality is still a thing to talk about. The novel goes ahead to highlight the causes of conflict in the Middle East. The relationship strain between the western countries and that of the Middle East countries is what causes many problems in this region (Bates & Rassam, 2001). The comparison between this novel and the other two books gives a clear insight into the state of affairs in the Middle East.

The role of women in society is brought out in the books. Women are supposed to build the family from within. In addition to this, women are expected to give rise to new generations through giving birth. They are to obey their husbands no matter what (Bates & Rassam, 2001). Another theme portrayed in the novel is the plight of women. For instance, the women are given a chance for education and freedom to walk around in the Girls of Riyadh as opposed to Guests of the Sheik. In the novels, however, there is a similarity in that husbands are chosen for the brides. The difference that is seen in the Guests of the Sheik and Girls of Riyadh is that in the former, girls do not have the freedom to interact with any male companion whatsoever, while in the latter, the women chat online with their male friends. By talking with male friends, a woman can gain a thing or two about how to handle men in the life of marriage even though he might not be the one who marries her. In the book Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East, however, women are given further roles, including inheritance of property in cases where their husbands die. The dressing code is a custom that is upheld in the novels. The view is simple that one who exposes herself is immoral. In Girls of Riyadh, however, the girls can sneak out from time to time without the dresses. Men in this society can see women who do not wear the Abaya without causing a fuss. However, in the Guests of the Sheik, it is forbidden for a woman to be seen without the Abaya unless the man is the woman’s husband. The same is true for Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East since it is a requirement of the religion. Overall, the novels are almost similar in their expression of the culture of the people of the Middle East. The significant difference may have been brought about by the difference in times. For Guests of the Sheik, the novel was written in the mid-20th century, and that was a period without the internet. As for the Girls of Riyadh, the book was written in the early 2000s when there was the internet and as such, communication was very much available. It also points to the fact that shortly, life in the Middle East will change drastically as the internet becomes extensively available. There is a likelihood that most women who feel oppressed by their cultures will adapt that of the western nations (Bates & Rassam, 2001).

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