The substantially revised and updated third edition of Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East focuses on the experiences of ordinary men, women, and children from the region. Readers will gain a grassroots appreciation of Middle East life, culture, and society that recognizes the impact of wars and uprisings as well as changes to Islamic practice due to advances in technology. The book also explores the influence of social media on politics and labor relations and the changing status of women, family values, marriage, childrearing, gender, and gay rights. This dynamic and imaginative volume continues to provide a rich resource for understanding contemporary Muslim culture in the Middle East.
About the Author
Donna Lee Bowen is Professor of Political Science and Near Eastern Studies at Brigham Young University.
Evelyn A. Early, anthropologist and consultant, is a former senior foreign service officer.
Becky Schulthies is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University.
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Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East
By Donna Lee Bowen, Evelyn A. Early, Becky Schulthies
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2014 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
Traditional Songs from Boir Ahmad
Collected and Translated by Erika Friedl
The following songs about childbirth, marriage, and death are sung by women of the Boir Ahmad tribe in southwestern Iran during times of life crises. The meta phors range from young women's mascara to daily herding duties. —Eds.
Oh, the red-lipped beauty is in labor pains.
May God make it a boy.
Oh my dear, oh my sister,
your baby boy is crying.
The songs below comment on the events from courtship to the actual wedding and were traditionally sung at the different stages of a wedding. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, singing of such songs has declined. There is mostly modern, urban music at weddings in Iran now.
The first seven songs are love songs that could be sung at many occasions, not just at weddings.
Three things I ask of God:
a good horse, a good rifle, and a pair of brown eyes.
Oh my uncles are you heathens?
Speak up for me to get me the red-lipped beauty.
I wish I was your mascara brush
inside your jacket
next to your breasts.
I wish I was your rifle—
on your shoulder by day
and at night under your shawl.
(A woman is speaking.)
And if you went up in the sky
to hide behind rainclouds,
my eyes would play in yours.
Tell your mother I am at your ser vice—
The beads around your neck have set me afire.
Last night while you carried your water sack, I saw your hips.
If your father asks a thousand toman for you I'll give him more.
Lucky the man who has a strong horse, a good rifle,
a soft -spoken mother-in-law, and a pretty bride.
Tomorrow morning we'll fetch the bride
for the lion-groom's plea sure.
How nice it is to mount a brown horse
and ride from morning to night for the bride.
Get up, blossom, put on your shoes, it's time to go.
His horse men are here, it is time to be bashful.
I tell you, dear, keep your house well.
The bride is crying— I am so young, I won't marry.
(A mother and a young bride are speaking.)
Mother of the bride, why are you crying?
On your daughter's cap are a hundred toman worth of gold.
(The gold refers to the gold coins that traditionally were sewn on a
The orange blossom stepped out of her house
when her lion-groom's bridewealth appeared out of the shade.
My God, how long am I to wait in the crowd outside his house?
The moon is fading and the morning star is high.
(A bride is complaining about having to wait in front of her groom's
house— her entourage is singing.)
The bridal chamber is ready, a rich bridal chamber.
In it the lion-groom is playing with a tiger.
How pleasant is your bride chamber's fragrance.
The lion-groom's hands are in his bride's braids.
You have a rich skirt and a red scarf on your head,
and your husband will take care of all your troubles.
(Sung for a bride.)
If you want your husband to like you, swing your hips,
and early in the morning sprinkle rosewater on the bed.
(Sung for a bride.)
Songs of mourning are still sung by Ira ni an women, but only in private, no longer at funerals.
Angel of Death, give me time, I haven't yet finished two tasks:
My oldest I haven't given a wife, my baby I haven't brought up.
(For a woman with young children.)
She was pregnant and asked for a cradle,
but her brother had no plain wood.
For her, he wanted to use the best sandalwood.
(For a pregnant woman, or one who dies in childbirth.)
I went to her house, but she wasn't there.
She left for the high mountain spring to wash her cotton skirt.
(This and the following eight songs are for women, praising their beauty,
wealth, and industry.)
I looked down from the hilltop: she was about to milk her herd.
The swing rod on her buttering stand was of fragrant wood, tied with
Don't let her tent come down, it has forty ropes, all in place.
Tighten them firmly, clouds are in the sky.
The tents were still pitched up in the winter camp, but she packed for
the camp in the mountains.
Don't leave: spin a little more on your spindle, your dowry isn't yet
(This song is sung mostly for young unmarried women.)
Fold your nice scarf, your pretty shirt, and put them in the bundle.
It is time to break camp and move up to the mountains.
The beautiful woman's necklace broke.
The beads of coral and gold dropped into her lap.
The woman left for her mother's so fast
that neither a horse man nor a bird can catch up with her.
The two of us sisters went to pick flowers,
but rain and snow came down hard and we lost sight of each other.
Child, like a tree with roots in loose gravel,
like a tree, all dried up, you haven't born fruit.
(There are few mourning songs for children. It is said that mourning for
children is harmful to the dead child's soul.)
The master hunter went on a hunt. Night fell, but he didn't come back.
Either the tiger got his dog, or the night took him by surprise.
(For a hunter, but also for any man.)
I saw your rifle, its butt full of blood.
Is it yours or that of a wild buck?
(For a hunter who died of bullet wounds, usually in a battle.)
A partridge with two chicks left them and sat down on a rock.
It has not come back all summer, and the eagle ate the young.
(For a hunter who leaves young children.)
The lad with the fine white cap disappeared over the pass.
Don't call him, maybe he'll come back by himself.
(For a young man.)
This fine young man they put on a stretcher.
His hair has the fragrance of mountain flowers.
(For a young man.)
The gorge is filled with the thunder of gunshots.
The young man was killed there by a pair of tigers.
(For a young man killed in a battle.)
Bang, bang, from the river comes the noise of battle.
The young men spoil for a fight.
(For a young man killed in a battle.)
Boir Ahmad boy, let us look at you. A ten-bullet rifle is on your
and a red flower– bullet wound is on your white shirt.
(For a young fighter.)
The girl's tears tinkle like bells. I don't know:
does she cry out of her own misery, or for her brother?
(Sung by a woman for her dead brother.)
Childhood and Development in Rural Morocco: Cultivating Reason and Strength
Children are valued above all else throughout the Middle East. At the same time, child-rearing practices differ, both from one region to another and, more substantially, by socioeconomic status and type of house hold. Whether the mother works outside the home for a salary, whether the parents reside in the same home, whether the family is extended or nuclear, and whether children are involved in economic activities all play a role. Despite a greater prevalence of education and better state ser vices, parents and extended family are still decisive in raising children. —Eds.
The exploitation and maltreatment of children in Morocco was an increasingly prominent concern in the Moroccan media, in government rhetoric, and in everyday conversation during the two years of ethnographic fieldwork I conducted between 2006 and 2008 in a rural village near Fez that I call Douar Tahtani. Domestic and international children's rights activists worked to publicize the plight of child laborers and victims of child abuse. Legislators draft ed new laws to protect child workers, and government officials set up child protection ser vices in several cities throughout Morocco. Educational reformers studied ways to improve the national education system, especially aft er a 2006 World Bank report ranked the Moroccan school system as one of the worst in the Middle East and North Africa.
Reformers and other middle-class urbanites oft en focused on rural children as particularly neglected and mistreated. Invoking stereo types about rural family life, some claimed that rural parents see their children only as economic investments and therefore neglect to provide them with the basic necessities for surviving in contemporary society, including medical care and education. For example, one government official who worked in the region said the following to me: "Haven't you noticed that it's like the children do not really have families or parents? Their parents do not give them anything." Many residents of Fez also complained that the children of rural migrants caused much of the crime plaguing the city, because, they claimed, the children were raised to be violent and had not learned proper manners. Rural development initiatives sponsored by the Moroccan state aimed to improve the quality of life of children in these regions by providing them with more access to public health clinics and schools, and providing their families with opportunities to improve their income.
In living with families and participating in the everyday lives of children in Douar Tahtani, I found that perceptions of rural children as neglected and valued only for their economic contributions were far from the actual experiences and practices of young people and their families. Extended kin were heavily emotionally invested in their children, and most young people I knew felt valued, loved, and protected by their extended families. Kin strived to raise children who were well behaved and adhered to social norms (that is, who developed 'aql), but who at the same time were strong and could work hard for the family and defend themselves and their families against the impositions of others if necessary. At the same time, the fact that Tahtanis viewed children as fundamentally unreasonable (lacking reason, or 'aql) and strong (sahahayn) allowed children to perform essential social functions for their families, as they could freely move through public and private spaces and confront a wide range of people in ways that were unavailable to adults. Discourses about rural children as being neglected, abused, and violent, then, were rooted in larger misunderstandings of the constraints of rural life and the delivery of government ser vices in these regions. Tahtanis, in turn, felt conflicted about rural development programs that sought to improve their children's lives, both because those efforts failed to acknowledge important norms of local personhood and because they were not well executed by the state.
CULTIVATING SAHHA IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
Most rural Moroccans, including those who lived in Douar Tahtani, earned incomes far below that of the average Moroccan and received few resources from the state. Lacking irrigation and heavy farm equipment, Tahtanis found it difficult to make much of a profit off the land. They also had less access to technologies that had become ubiquitous in the cities, including televisions, cell phones, house hold appliances, and even running water. Although the police intervened in cases of homicide, Tahtanis were mostly left to themselves to defend their family and property against the transgressions of others.
Tahtanis oft en felt that they could cope with these challenges because they were stronger, healthier, more courageous, and more moral than people who lived in the cities, even though the city dwellers received better government ser vices. In fact, many believed that dependence on the state fundamentally weakened people and families. They lamented the urban conditions they believed caused people to become physically and psychologically ill, including the quality of the air and food, as well as the cramped conditions, crime, and poor moral values that children picked up in the city streets.
Sahha, the Moroccan Arabic word that refers to both health and the possession of a strong, fearless, and autonomous disposition, was an ideal to which both men and women aspired. Villagers talked about sahha as an aesthetic ideal of a strong, healthy body, ideally expressed through moral acts of fearlessness and loyalty toward one's extended family. For example, Hamid, one of the married sons in the extended family I lived with, talked about his childhood in the following way:
Even though people hit me a lot, I wasn't afraid. When they hit me, it just made me angrier and fight back harder. Things didn't scare me. When I was young, around the age of ten or eleven, I used to take the sheep to graze at a land far from here. I would stay by myself for two months at a time with people much older than me, until someone would come and get me and bring me back home. We stayed all together in one room, while it was raining a lot. People would only make a very small amount of food. After I finished the food that was prepared, I would go and try to find some plants [to eat] because I was still hungry. I generally ate a lot when I was younger, but I was strong and healthy [shiyh], so I was able to be patient there.
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Table of Contents
Preface to the Third Edition
Note on Transliteration
Part I. Generations and Life Passages
Introduction to Part I
1. Traditional Songs from Boir Ahmad Collected and Translated by Erika Friedl
2. Acquiring Reason and Cultivating Strength: Growing up in Rural Morocco in a Time of Development Christine Nutter-El-Ouardani
3. Youth Expressions of Class and Mobility in Beirut, Lebanon Kristin Monroe
4. Harasiis Marriage, Divorce and Companionship Dawn Chatty
5. Two Weddings Jenny B. White
6. Kidneys, Kinship, and Muslim Ethics in Egypt Sherine Hamdy
7. Contested Traditions: Gender and Mourning Practices in Egypt Farha Ghannem
Part II. Gender Relations
Introduction to Part II
8. Young Women’s Sexuality in Tunisia: The Health Consequences of Misinformation among University Students Angel Foster
9. A Thorny Side of Marriage in Iran Erika Friedl
10. Cars Culture in Contemporary Qatar Andrew Gardner and Momina Zakzouk
11. Middle Eastern Masculinities in the Age of Assisted Reproductive Technologies Marcia Inhorn
12. Few ‘Gays’ in the Middle East, but Significant Same-Sex Sexuality William O. Beeman
13. The ‘Ramallah Girls:’ Social Change in Urban Space Natalie K. Jensen
14. Tamkin: Stories from a Family Court in Iran Ziba Mir-Hosseini
15. A New Jordanian Generation Wears the Hijab Donna Lee Bowen
Part III. Home, Community, and Work
Introduction to Part III
16. Politics, Politics, and More Politics: Youth Life Experience in the Gaza Strip Brian K. Barber
17. Islamist Activism in Jordan Quintan Wiktorowicz
18. Democracy’s Collateral Damage Victoria Fontan
19. Politics of Class on an Egyptian Factory Floor Samir Shehata
20. ‘Madam, You Drive a Hard Bargain:" Selling to Tourists in Tunis’ Medina Simon Hawkins
21. Human Insecurity in Lebanon Melani Cammett
22. Pedagogy, Islamic Education, and Life Lessons in a Jordanian Secondary School for Girls Fida J. A