Middle East Books

Part A: Summary of the two books

Guest of the Sheikh

Culture defines the way of life regarding feeding, dressing, societal and religious aspects of a given community. The Guest of the Sheikh is a literal work that describes the cultural beliefs of the people in the West with their counterparts in the East. It is a non-fiction book authored by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. She focuses her cultural description by focusing on two great nations. The United States of America represents the cultural aspects of the West while Iraq takes the East.

The author, an American begins her journey to the Middle East back in 1956, where she accompanied her husband, Robert Fernea. He desired to pursue his doctoral field research in Iraq hence could not leave his newly wedded Elizabeth back in America. To her, the move came with mixed surprises as the new society presented new challenges. The peculiar environment had cultural beliefs contrary to her native practices.


Everything seemed unfamiliar with her childhood upbringing up to adulthood stage. Robert introduced her to a mud house in a village called El-Nahra. In the village, the entire field research would mark his final doctoral study. This meant that he had to stay in the village the entire period of learning. She had never lived in a mud house. Living in a mud house seemed one of the cultural surprises she came by in this new world. 

The way of dressing, which she had to put on as a way of embracing the culture involved putting on a black cloak called abaya. The women put on veils in this Iraqi village, a conservative sect of Shiite. Women lived in as a secluded community and therefore culturally not accepted to meet with men. She faced rebellion from fellow women who ridiculed her for not putting on the clothing. She, therefore, experienced loneliness as the women from this community treated her as an alien.

In the early stages of the incredible adventure, she had little knowledge of the beliefs and practices of the Iraqi people. As the two-year period advanced, she then learned the complex rituals of the foreign nation and compared it with her country. She accepted to live in seclusion from men, put on the abayah and follows the culture of the aliens by this time. However, her fellow women friends later found her practicing the Western culture found her dining with men and drinking beer. They rebuked her and considered such acts as immoral before the Sheikh. 

In the rural village in the subsequent stories, Elizabeth made numerous observations and established a network of friendship with the El-Nahra women. She learned their language, Shiite religion, dressing code and the practice of polygamy. Also, the way of eating, religious customs, the structural makeup of the community and traditional rituals were among the other practiced. The women taught her how to prepare rice and ensured she was far away from the American men who taught her bad practices of drinking beer.

By 1958, Fernea and Robert made a return to their native land, US. The PostScript of the novel explains how the women sent back greeting letters to Elizabeth through her husband who had made a comeback to the village. The letters provided the description of the current residence of the women after the six years of her visit.

The book provides a clear insight of the daily practices in the Iraqi village. The annual general life cycle made up the three annual practices, which included Ramadan, ‘Eid, Ashura, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, harvest, and annual feasts.

These traditional practices never featured in any of the Western countries including Portugal and Canada. The West had no distinction between gender practices. The women in this village pitied with Elizabeth being that she lived far away from home had no children and her inability to cook the “Iraqi rice”. These surprised her being that the Western culture does not hold on such. The culture observed unveiled women as immoral.

 Women practiced different roles, for example as opposed to the Western Culture; men not allowed to wash dishes. As per the culture, any woman suspected of immorality became no approachable for marriage. Candidature for wife involved a review of the following, a hard worker, reputable housekeeping principals, a good cook, quiet, a companion and must be obedient to the husband.

The Iraqi community holds significant attachments on the rites of passage as opposed to the community in the West. The wedding ceremonies were communal in which contributions from the members of the community followed. Traditional dances followed to mark the occasion as very important. Shrines were set aside for the celebration of the birth of a child. Sealing of marriage contracts followed through the monetary exchange. The ceremony held is very colorful compared to the West. Planning for the wedding ceremonies with elaborate and wider consultation followed. The culture does not accept men to talk to unmarried men about their sister. They hold many superstitions about the rituals as compared to the Americans. Some of these ceremonies considered primitive to the Americans. Once one dies, then the Muslim traditions on burial followed. As opposed to the Western culture, the deceased body only allowed several hours then buried. The Western culture has established rooms called the mortuaries where the body preserved for as long as ten years.

Snow-Orhan Pamuk

The novel describes a love story based in Turkey. The traditional practices and religion come to unprecedented clash with the modern atheists. As an exiled poet, Ka a character in the novel made a comeback to his native country, Turkey to attend to the death of his mother. He had been abroad for nearly a decade in the Western country. A possibility of a forgotten culture from his native country must have ensued, as this period had been long. He then pays a visit to his love, Ipek, who resides in Kars. She married but later separated, and this offered Ka another opportunity to pursue her again.

On arrival, the beauty of Ipek brings the feeling of love experienced earlier before he left Turkey. His dream life of a perfect love life appeared fulfilled when he eloped with Ipek. To make this a reality, Ka decides to make a hotel reservation in the same building Ipek resides that happened to be the same house owned by her father. The family of Ipek hailed from the same building. Ipek take the liberty of inviting Ka for a family dinner and for a chance to let him know her family.

The country happened to be a beehive of numerous events in his period of stay. Tension took center stage as per the forth-coming events. Mayoral elections, a conflict between religion and secularism coupled with the massive police presence were among the causes of the tension. A conflict between the Islamic faith and the right of girls made the tension escalate. The girls wearing head-scarfed not allowed going to school. With the secular society and the inability of the government to legislate rules on these led to the death of many girls through committing suicide. The pride in women prompted to kill themselves

Ka happened to be a journalist based in Istanbul but covering the inside stories in Kars. His elopement with Ipek came with mixed reactions in that a man who happened to be a candidature for the forthcoming mayoral elections had separated her. He held several interviews with the people asking them on their view concerning the election. To obtain the full stories, Ka holds interviews with Muhtar, the candidate for the mayoral post. He happened to be Ipek’s ex-husband. The recent suicides of the girls also compel him to hold one on one talk with the families of the victims. He also talks with the assistance police chief and the leader of the National Theater.

In the period of his stay, his love for Ipek rekindles. This brought the feeling of lost love and happiness in that they were near each other.  However, his happiness hindered by various doubts he had, and this prompted him to write several poems. In fact, during his period, he wrote nineteen poems.

Another aspect of his stay came with the issue of his religious beliefs and practices. In as much as he was an atheist, his belief in God was indispensable. He made several visits to the Mosques but still declared his love for God to the Sheiks. This posed a tussle of war that later made the Sheiks question his validity for the Islamic faith. Ka then receives a warning regarding his mixed faith and given an option to follow Islam otherwise faces murder. They claimed that belief in God would not spare the skin of an atheist.

In the political front, a coup organized Sunay Zaim occurred. Zaim got assistance from a man who had been a colonel in the period when Turkey was in war with other countries. During the coup, a lot of bloodshed witnessed. Religious feuds also fueled the war. As the stories unfold, the theme of betrayal presented. Moreover, love also comes out as an important concept in the novel. Ka then later dies and later on, Orhan Bey, as the recorder of the play, he found out that Ka was the Blue.

Pamuk in the novel shows clearly the huddles in life among the Turkish community. The influence of the religion promotes this hard life. In his hotel, room in Frankfurt Ka writes the poems that create real picture of how the Jews and Christians face segregation. This is contrary to the West in that their main basis of segregation points to the color of the skin. The blacks suffered in the white dominated nations.

The book also points out the challenges faced by the native and non-Turkish communities. Traditions, modernization in the country coupled with religion brought many conflicts. The community considered themselves inferior in the Western culture and in a bid to show their might, they retaliate any Western influence. They fight in order to uphold their culture and secular traditions.

Part B: A comparison of the three sources.

The modern way of life, the people in the Middle East have encountered numerous changes. The religion, dressing, education are just a few areas with changes observed. The influence of the Western culture together with migration has transformed the native Islamic culture. The effects of the political activities in the region have also brought about the insurgence of the modern culture in the countries in the Middle East.

The three books provide of an insight culture and practices in the Middle East. They define the peoples of the East by their strict Islamic faith. As per the books previously highlighted, some differences noted. These areas have focused on the view of kinship, family, marriage and the entire cultural heritage. A comparison of the ancient practices of the modernity points out that the daily behaviors have tremendously changed compared to the older times.

The primary clusters and groupings of the societies have shown numerous changes. Fashion and dressing have also shown some slight change. Traditionally, those who considered belonging to the kinship system considered relatives as opposed to non-relatives who considered strangers. Moreover, customs such as marriage also defined the structure of the organization among the local communities.

The roles of gender also play a role in defining the way of life. The women in the Middle East viewed in different context. Bates postulates that Sharia laws and the Quran view women as inferior compared to the men. In the political front, the influence of the West in affecting the political organization has led to some conflicts encountered in some of the countries in the Middle East. These nations have not embraced globalization that the West wanted. They oppose political ideologies and civilizations that the West tends to spread all over the world.

The social class formation in the Middle East appears different as those in the Europe, which represents the West. However, the East also experience the rise of the elite class coupled with educated personnel of both genders. A major hindrance to individual independence in this section of the world arose due to the existence of clientship and clan system. Kinship system as defined by blood relation felt into 16 different categories. The classification provided little categorization of the relatives. For instance, in Turkey, a man referred to the other as amca meaning brother to the father while dyan to refer to the brother of the mother. The society followed a patrilineal system where men made significant roles in the family. The female gender respected the men dearly.

The people in the Middle East still embrace and practice Islam as a culture. Strict Sharia laws enshrine these cultures. The Jews and Christians considered inferior hence; most countries do not tolerate them. Sectarianism envisions a clear manifestation of the Islamic culture.

Pastoralism and nomadic way of life transformed greatly. The majority have embraced mixed farming with others establishing permanent settlements. The nomadic life permitted the eager of camels that form part of the Islamic culture even today in the Middle East. Fasting as enshrined in the Sharia Laws forms major times of celebrations. Ramadan and ‘Eid Mubarak up to today from the major ceremonies among the Muslim community hence, largely embraced. They dedicate their time during this period for prayers. Twelve hours of the day become a special moment for communicating with Allah.

The rates in marriage varied greatly. The Arabs who inhabit the Middle East embrace the first cousin marriage. A sample of approximately 473 family marriages as per the Yoruk community in Turkey revealed that 22% comprised of the women engaged to their father’s brother’s son. In addition, 40% of the marriages occurred between first cousins and second cousins. Endogamy emerged to be the norm in the marriage systems. However, majority of the communities practiced monogamy.

Care ensued when handling the different genders as defined by their social roles in the society. Boys take the center stage in preference as opposed the girls. Celebration followed when a birth bears a boy as opposed to a girl. In the interior villages of Egypt and the Sudan, a young boy acquires the privilege of commanding an elder sister.

In conclusion, summaries of the above-outlined books delve on the evaluation of the ethnic makeup of the communities in the Middle East. A major focus views the country of Iraq and Turkey. The cultural and social organizations compare differently to those in the West. The United States of America have been the reference representing the nations of the West. As per the studies, parallel cultural beliefs and practices have ensued. Countries in the Middle East defy these and as such very resistance to change and in embracing globalization. As the West tend to inject their culture to the East, the Islamic community has opposed the move. This has led to the numerous wars and conflicts experienced in some countries in the Middle East.

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