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Paperback Nine Parts of Desire : The Hidden World of Islamic Women Book

ISBN: 0385475772

ISBN13: 9780385475778

Nine Parts of Desire : The Hidden World of Islamic Women

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Book Overview

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER - Pulitzer Prize winning author presents the stories of a wide range of Muslim women in the Middle East. As an Australian American and an experienced foreign correspondent, Brooks' thoughtful analysis attempts to understand the precarious status of women in the wake of Islamic fundamentalism. "Frank, enraging, and captivating." - The New York Times Nine Parts of Desire is the story of Brooks' intrepid journey toward an understanding...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Slightly dated but still very informative book

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks details, as the subtitle says, the HIdden World of Islamic Women. Brooks is an Australian reporter who spent the late 80s and early 90s doing a lot of Middle East reporting, and spent a lot of time with Muslim women in various Middle Eastern countries at a time when fundamentalism was on the rise and had already triumphed in a few countries. She spoke with women who embraced a return to traditional women's roles (often symbolized by taking on the veil or chador or otherwise covering oneself and turning away from Western fashion and styles) and those who resisted it in countries like Egypt and Lebanon, which had had a more liberated tradition, and those trying to negotiate for greater liberalism for the first time in areas like Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. Ms. Brooks never takes her own personal reactions and opinions out of picture but examines Islamic beliefs carefully, bringing Islamic history of the first Muslim women, the wives and children of Muhammad himself, and the writings of the Koran and hadiths to bear on the modern day issues. She finds at times surprising amounts of liberation in the thoroughly fundamentalist nation of Iran as well as hidden hypocrisies in supposedly more "forward thinking" countries. She does differentiate between Koranic customs and tribal customs (particularly the practice of female genital mutilations)but does not let Islam off the hook entirely, pointing out that 20% of Muslim women live in areas that practice some form of genital mutilation and yet it is rarely spoken out against and most people who practice it believe it is officially sanctioned by the Koran. The bulk of Ms. Brooks stories were researched in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period of great upheaval and change but only the start of another decade and a half of continuing change in the Middle East and the Islamic world in general. I found myself continually wondering what had become of the women she had interviewed, a decade and a half later, and how their opinions had changed or not changed. Alas, Ms. Brooks seems to have left reporting behind for the life of the novelist so the follow up remains for someone else to carry out, but this book still stands as an excellent overview of the varied worlds of Muslim women, even if it is a bit out of date. It's easy to see why it is frequently assigned as a text in college courses and it's well worth a read for any interested layperson curious about Islam and the role of women within it, as well as in a part of the world that remains a central focus of current events and politics.

The Experience of Our Sisters

This is an exquisitely written book. Brooks has great talent for pulling the reader into the mind of the people she tells about, and especially, I found as a man, pulling you into the minds and lives of women. I found myself empathizing with the women in ways that only real life can provide. It is amazing what Brooks has experienced, but it is far more amazing what the women she tells of have experienced. Brooks writes honestly and directly about the good and bad of Islam, and how it influences women. She doesn't pull any punches, but also is not writing to denigrate, as she finds aspects of official and folk Islam that both hurt and assist women. She speaks of the positive attitude Islam has towards sexuality, being largely uncorrupted by the Greek dualism that invaded later Christianity, so that, within marriage, Muslims are encouraged to celebrate the gift of God in sex. Indeed, this provides the title of the book, as Ali, the 4th Khalifa, speaks of how sexual desire is 1/10th the man's, and 9/10ths the woman's. Of course, this provides later motive to sequester women, put them in hijab, and restrict them, so that the "ever-devouring vagina", as later Islamic jurists speak of, does not overcome the men around them. Since Brooks relies primarily on her experiences, with what she's seen with her own eyes and heard with her own ears, she is hard to argue with. This is the plight of many women in the Muslim world. But lest we think these are limited experiences of one Western woman talking with a few Arab and Persian women scattered in a few countries, Brooks has also done extensive research to intersperse between her stories- relying on the Qur'an, Hadith, Ijtihad, and Muslim history. But mostly she relies on women's experiences- for, let's be honest, the perspective of women is largely missing from the official sources, as it is in most religions- with notable exceptions like the wonderful hadiths of Aisha. Most of which were discarded by early Islamic jurists, as Brooks points out. One regret, is that there is not more here about the countries of North Africa, particularly, Morocco, with the exception of one paragraph paying tribute to that great Moroccan feminist, Fatima Mernissi. But of course, this book is about Brooks' experiences, not a research text, and her journalistic experience was much more centered on the Middle East. I found one of Brooks' most powerful arguments to be on issues like FGM, Female Genital Mutilation. She shares how Muslims say it's not authorized or encouraged in the Qur'an. How it's not only Muslims who do it, but some African Christians. I've hear this many times before myself. They're quite right. But Brooks brings up the sapient question- why isn't there more spoken against it from the minbar? Why are 20% of Muslim women in areas where this is practiced? If Islam is a religion that supports women, or if there are at least some aspects of it that are positive towards women (as I believe there are), why isn

fascinating, helpful reading

For those of us who have a newly kindled (or revived) interest in the lives of Islamic women in the Middle East, this book is a welcome read. I found it as easy to devour as a novel, but full of glimpses into the lives of real women the author has encountered during travels and journalistic expeditions in the Middle East. From relationships between women in multi-wife and/or multi-generational households, to attitudes on women in education, business and sports, this book gives you a little of everything. While I still find myself confused about some of the terminology and apparel, this book made me feel like I had some grasp of the issues facing women in Islamic countries. I was particularly interested in the accounts of the author's experiences with the family of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and in the descriptions of the teachings of Mohammad as she sees them played out in the lives of Islamic women. I felt she did a pretty good job of remaining non-judgemental, especially being Jewish herself. I didn't think she was critical of Islam, as much as the way certain cultures have interpreted or distorted Koranic (?) teachings.

More balanced than most

Books on Islam generate a lot of controversy these days, especially after 9/11. Having read several I found this one fairly balanced. Brooks is a reporter by trade, which at times leads to a bit of superficiality in the treatment of complex topics but on the whole makes this a relatively dispassionate treatment of women and Islam. Of course Brooks brings a Western point of view to her subject, and is intensely critical of a system where women are subject to male family members with few personal rights. She is careful to point out that Islamic law does provide for inheritance by women and allows a type of pre-marriage contract that can protect them from the husband's polygamy, give them the right of divorce, establish that their education will be allowed to continue, etc. But one suspects that these privileges are available only to the wealthy as a practical matter. Brooks is careful to distinguish various Muslim societies from one another, just as one sees huge differences among Christian countries. She along with most authors I've read has little good to say about Saudi Arabia. But interestingly, she identifies Iran as a more progressive society in which women are permitted to work and participate in politics. And Egypt is described as having a lively, sensual culture that she believes will never be snuffed out by fundamentalists.One of the more disturbing chapters of the book deals with education. The number of women in school is unacceptably low,education often ceases as women are wed at a very early age, and much schooling is focused on the study of Islam. Even more disturbing is the increasing control fundamentalists exert over educational institutions, which results in a student body much more conservative than the faculty who were educated in more open-minded times. And academic freedom has no place here. Brooks tries to identify areas of repression that she sees as cultural rather than religious. At the same time, she says that Muslims cannot rely on the improvements to womens' lives that occurred during the time of the Prophet to defend Islam today. It is sadly true that any religion that literally relies on a Sacred Text from hundreds of years earlier--Christianity included--will inevitably fail to respect the notions of individual liberty and equality that are the ideals of the modern world.Brooks' book was written over 6 years ago. The trends she identifies are very disturbing, but except for some vague familiarity with Ayatollah Khomeini, few Americans had any of this on their radar screens before 9/11. A book like this will hopefully lead to some better understanding of this complex subject.

I've passed my copy around to friends and family

After stumbling into the Women's Studies section of my favorite independent bookstore, one of the titles that grabbed my eye was this one. It not only gave me an amazing insight into the lives of Muslim women (something no man would ever get first-hand), but I also received a broad grounding in the basics of Islam and it's history. Although many reviewers have not spoken well of her depiction of Muslim women, I find her descriptions dovetail well with the other books I have read that are also first-person accounts by female journalists. Like any writer, she most certainly reflects her own cultural biases, but the bigger picture rings true.My copy is stained and dog-eared from all of the friends and family I have loaned my copy to, calling it a "must read" for anyone who wants to understand the Middle East better.
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