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  • Writer's pictureWalter

Lila Abu-Lughod: Short Book Review

Lila Abu-Lughod's Veiled Sentiments carefully offers an in-depth study of Awlad ‘Ali, term refers to Bedouin tribes that settled in Egypt’s Western Desert after migrating from Eastern Libya over 200 years ago.

The remarkable complexity of the social system of these communities grabbed my attention on the particular male-female relationships while their roles are set to preserve the system traditions. A Western reader will notice an instant social imbalance, or inequality to use a contemporary expression when digging into the recognition of roles from the ones in power and those powerless. However, it is very clear, although at times undisputable, that these categories that led to such concessions, tolerance, and compromise are founded under the premise of complementary roles instead of what could be questionably unethical. In short, the Western readers must step outside their concept of selfhood versus communal and private versus public in order to simply be the observer in Abu-Lughod’s phenomenal nuances and subtleties.

In Veil Sentiments, one is able to clarify foundational analysis of the female role of a particular community within a vast diversity in the Muslim world. Women do hold a high degree of honour, a Westerner might see it as not as does the male, but through a particular practice contemporary societies have long forgotten, modesty. However, the woman may embrace modesty, but a few realities must be highlighted. Under any potential conflict involving personal matters (i.e., arrange marriages or divorce) it is the male of Awlad ‘Ali who still gets the upper hand on final verdicts. There is a very interesting solution for women that serves as an outlet for at-times suppressive practices, poetry. Just like any modus of art that serves as a deep-personal reflection, poetry provides the women of Awlad ‘Ali with a place of existence that offers a cathartic exit. Abu-Lughod, initially interested in women’s experiences in the community, is drawn to poetry, specifically that which women recite in intimate, private settings.

Beyond personal judgements or feminist rhetorical stands, this study showcases one strong example of how wide the spectrum of cultural diversity can be, dominated by multifaceted members of these communities. As Edward Said put it, “No humanist or social scientist should pass up the opportunity to read this marvellous book.”

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2016.

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