Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea


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Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

A delightful, well-written, and vastly informative ethnographic study, this is an account of Fernea's two-year stay in a tiny rural village in Iraq, where she assumed the dress and sheltered life of a harem woman. This volume gives a unique insight into a part of the Midddle Eastern life seldom seen by the West.

"A most enjoyable book abouut [Muslim women]—simple, dignified, human, colorful, sad and humble as the life they lead." —Muhsin Mahdi, Jewett Professor of Arabic Literature, Harvard Unversity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385014854
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/1995
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 217,520
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and her husband Robert Fernea traveled to the Arab world for the first time in 1956. After writing Guests of the Sheik, her first book, Professor Fernea wrote The Arab World with Robert Fernea, as well as books about Egypt and Morocco. She also made five films about the lives of Arab women. She dies in 2008.

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Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I began reading this book last Christmas and pulled it out again to re-read after the war in Iraq began. Having lived in Iraq just a year after Mrs. Fernea, I was struck again by the reality of a society westerners can visit but never totally understand. It gives a very human and personal picture together of women balancing centuries of tradition and the first glimpses of modernity. A very good read.
shamusAA More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Fernea was a young newlywed when she went with her husband to a forgein country. After many misshaps and misunderstandings including one about wearing the traditional dress of that region she learns to live with these interesting women while trying to maintain her own culture as well. I found this book to be one of the more interesting of the text books I have had to read. I am definantly picking up her other ethnologies as well,
Guest More than 1 year ago
I received this book as a gift and did not know what to expect. I thought it might be a rather dry academic text. It is not. The author writes of her experiences in an Iraqi village and how she interacted with the woman of the settlement where she lived. There is generosity of spirit, humor and a keen insight at work as the author writes of her increasing acceptance by the woman of the village. I was very sorry to have this book end and find myself wondering how these women and their society have fared since the book was written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Most people associate the middle east with terrorism and oil, especially Iraq. Fernea's time spent in the desert is delightful to read about as well as insightful. If you are interested at all in the middle east, especially from a woman's point of view, read this book.
DCArchitect on LibraryThing 4 days ago
'The Guest of the Sheik' is the story of the author's two year stay in a conservative Iraqi village in the 1950s. Ms. Fernea's account is, due to the conservatism of the village, almost entirely the story of the women of the village - women that Ms. Fernea brings to life. A story of a journey of acceptance and a great look into a life very foreign to many. Well worth reading.
JustMe869 on LibraryThing 4 days ago
A wonderful description of life in an Iraqi village.In 1956 Elizabeth Warnock Fernea accompanied her husband, who was doing postgraduate work in anthropology, to the village of El Nahra, Iraq. For nearly two years, they lived as guests of Sheik Hamid Abdul Emir El Hussein. Elizabeth donned the abayah and attempted to integrate with the women of the village. Her Arabic was not very good and her hosts were naturally reluctant to welcome an American Christian. They assumed she was lazy, retarded and that she didn¿t know how to cook. As her knowledge of the language and customs improved she came to be accepted as a member of the village and developed a mutual love and respect for the women of El Nahra.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful insight into a completely foreign world. You get to know cloistered women and, by the end, you and Fernea are members of this hidden society.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was written in the early 1960s, so it may not be entirely relevant. Or maybe it is. Either way, it's an interesting book, entertaining and well-written. It seems much more plausible than Jean Sasson's 'Princess' and identifying with the author and her associates is a lot easier.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A few years ago I read this book for an assignment in my Anthropology class. I was consumed in the story and finished it in record time. I loved it. The book helps you understand what the culture was like then.... but keep in mind that it is a bit different now. Even in the small villages of Iraq. Shortly after reading this book my Father went to Iraq. The book gave him a better idea of the way things work there when it comes to how women are treated. Its a great read. Definatly for anyone with a hunger for knowledge. It really is a lovely book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I originally read this book 13 years ago in an anthropology class, and have probably read it 6-8 times since... it is one of my favorite books. It truly gives the reader a sense of the role women play in Iraqi society. Beeja helps us see this world from the inside, and how this society differs, yet in some ways is the same, as our own.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was an extremely interesting account of the time one woman spent among Iraqi village women. She describes the events in story-telling style, so that it is very easy to read, interesting, and realistic. She does not overly analyze their way of life, which is a nice change of pace for anthropology works because it allows you to critically evaluate it using your own thoughts and opinions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guests of the Sheik takes place long before present-day Iraq, specifically in 1956. It is the story of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea's two-year stay in the tiny rural Iraqi village of El-Nahra. She has come to the village with her husband, who is studying to be an anthropologist. Prior to coming to El-Nahra, Elizabeth agrees to wear the abaya, a long black garment covering her whole body, whenever she goes out, to fit in with the customs of Iraq at the time. She wants to try to understand life in an Islamic society where men often have more than one wife, and where women have no part in public life. The author and her husband, Bob, are 'guests of the Sheik' because they have been invited to stay in El-Nahra by the ruler of the village, Sheik Haji Hamid. The Sheik is essentially a tribal leader, and is the most respected person in the village The majority of the book shows the author's life 'behind the veil', observing traditional Islamic customs about women. She describes tremendous contrast with the life of American women. Women are rarely seen outdoors, even in their abayas, and often take side roads and back alleys to avoid being seen. Women can take off their abayas when they are home with family or other women. They can speak with their family members, male and female, and are very social among themselves. At first, the author is more of a conversation piece than a friend to the village women, but she eventually gains acceptance, hosting her own parties and visiting other women. She becomes part of the lives of the village women, and they are all very sad when she returns to America. Elizabeth's special friend is Laila. Laila comes from a household of only daughters. She is around twenty, and earns money for her family by sewing, and by selling hand-woven fabrics and prepared food which her father takes to the market. Laila does not want to get married because she likes her life the way it is, and because her father has chosen her to support the family when he dies. Elizabeth and Laila visit almost every day Guests of the Sheik is a fascinating book about a fascinating culture. The author succeeds in showing the day-to-day life of the village, particularly the life of the women. Today, we might raise the issue of whether the women were oppressed, and whether social customs should change, but Elizabeth simply reports what she sees, including the women's own opinions about their customs, both positive and negative. Although some readers might want her to take sides, the author's lack of a political agenda gives and unbiased view of traditional Islamic culture.