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Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, [Paperback]

by Lila Abu-Lughod
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 2, 2000 9780520224735 978-0520224735 Updated
Updated Edition With a New Preface

Lila Abu-Lughod lived with a community of Bedouins in the Western Desert of Egypt for nearly two years, studying gender relations and the oral lyric poetry through which women and young men express personal feelings. The poems are haunting, the evocation of emotional life vivid. But her analysis also reveals how deeply implicated poetry and sentiment are in the play of power and the maintenance of a system of social hierarchy. What begins as a puzzle about a single poetic genre becomes a reflection on the politics of sentiment and the relationship between ideology and human experience.

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Editorial Reviews


"A fascinating, fresh interpretation of the mechanics of the twin codes of Bedouin behavior: the 'code of honor' against which 'real men' are tested and the 'code of modesty' which [Abu-Lughod] sees as a means for those falling short of 'real manhood,' whether men or women, to attain moral worth. The argument is compelling--it makes sense of honor killings, the veiling of women and a seemingly excessive sexual modesty. There is a certain excitement here, as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place." -- Inea Bushnaq, New York Times Book Review

"[A] brilliant study of moral constraint and personal expression . . . detailed, immediate, and superbly composed." -- Clifford Geertz, American Ethnologist

From the Inside Flap

"A truly extraordinary book--beautifully and modestly written, remarkably insightful, consistently compelling." —Edward Said, author of Out of Place: A Memoir

Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Updated edition (January 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780520224735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520224735
  • ASIN: 0520224736
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Veiled Sentiments June 1, 2000
This book is one of the best ethnographies I've come across. The author's ability to see beyond the stereotypes and catch-phrases surrounding "veiled" women is astounding.
Abu-Lughod is capable of insight I believe dozens of modern anthropologists and social scientists have yet to discover...and her direct look at the way that power is manifested through alternative forms and agendas is matchless. In particular, her dicussion of the way in which women's modes of power work outside of the more studied realms reveals that resistance has a history and discourse all its own.
This book is definitely an excellent answer to those who want to view Islamic women as voiceless. And though the author attempts to show aspects of silence and veiling as manifestations of cultural distinction and identity, she is also quick to note in later chapters that it is Western influences that manage to increasingly isolate the veiled woman and reduce her realm of influence.
Provacative and intense, Abu-Lughod also has a touch of the poet in her, and this book reads easily. She wraps each intellectual argument in a thick blanket of anecdote and conversation, helping the reader create his/her own conclusions.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous Insight September 24, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Lila Abu Lughod, an Arab American woman, lived among the Awlad Ali tribes of the North West of Egypt for two years. Veiled Sentiments is the book she wrote on the lives and poetry of Awlad Ali. Abu Lughod field work was clearly not carried out from a "superior" stance; she sympathized with her subjects and dealt with them as equal human beings rather than inferior specimen or cultures. Abu Lughod attitude, intelligence, training and tremendous analystical ability helped her in developing great insight and understanding of this fascinating culture.

Abu Lughod analysis of concepts such as "hishma" was truly incisive and shed a great deal of light on the nature of modesty between women and men and amongst men and women. The analysis seems to explain behaviors and norms witnessed elsewhere in Egypt and indeed other parts of the Middle East.

An important thesis of Abu Lughod is that the Awlad Ali people often communicated in very conservative and modest way directly through words; they only said what was proper and fitted the norms. Yet a second mode of communication far more true and expressive was found in their little songs or poems.

Abu Lughod discussed gender relation amongst Awlad Ali at length and the relationship between women and the families of their husbands and the society at large. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. For an excellent work on veiling and gender issues, I would recommend Leila Ahmed's Women & Gender in Islam.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative ethnography May 16, 2003
By A Customer
I agree with the other reviewers. It was the best ethnography I can remember reading. What struck a chord with me was her description and explanation of the women's submission to the men, that the submissiveness was valuable only when it was voluntarily given. The idea of women being submissive to men is not only Islamic, but exists also in Christianity.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tool for Understanding January 3, 2003
"Veiled Sentiments" is academic. It is the outcome of the author's living in a Bedouin community in northern Egypt (the Western Desert) for two years, a feat of no mean proportions.
Lila Abu-Lughod came to a deep understanding of such aspects of the culture as blood ties, veiling and poetry not only because of her talent and training but also because she has ties to that culture. She calls academics like herself "halfies" because they belong both "inside and outside the communities they write about." She realizes that such a situation benefits them in terms of gathering knowledge within close cultures.
The veiling of women (or rather women's veiling of themselves) is an important topic because of recent events including world politics and of the ongoing research in feminism. It is also important because it is so often misunderstood and so difficult to understand even when it is explained.

After reading Abu-Lughod's renowned (in the world of academics) book, "Veiled Sentiments," I think I have a better handle on veiling than I ever would have had otherwise. It was not easy to absorb the concepts that surround it. That it took ¼ of a 315 page book to do it (a conservative estimate) is a testament to the intricacies of and the psychological motivations behind this cultural /religious practice.
Learning more about veiling alone made this study one well worth reading. But the surprise for both the reader, and-as explained by Ms. Abu-Lughod-the author herself is the discovery of this culture's use of poetry. To take it one step further, the insight into how societies in general (at least ours and that of the Bedouins) similarly use their poetry and relate to it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Veiled sentiments review February 27, 2014
Veiled sentiments review

Veiled Sentiments is an ethnography written by Lila Abu-Loghod. Lila is of an Arab descendant and went to study the “Awlad Ali” society from October 1978 through to May 1980. The Awlad ‘Ali are a Bedouin tribe who originated from Libya but later migrated to the western desert of Egypt. In the ethnography, Lila discusses the links and clashes between ideas of honor and poetry. I use the word “honor” lightly as there are many meanings in which it can be interpreted in this certain specific society. In the Awlad ‘Ali, their modesty code mainly consists of modesty, shame and independence. Displaying any signs of sentiments or feelings expresses lack of modesty therefore leading them to lose status. This is the reason why they express their sentiments through the poems, which are called “Ghinnawas”. Throughout the ethnography, Lila portrays the different ways in which they express their sentiments and how it varies from their everyday language as opposed to the use of “Ghinnawas".
I would highly recommend this ethnography to people who are interested in the Arab culture as well as the way they live.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethnography review
Lila Abu-Lughod is an Egyptian woman who lived and studied in the United States. She had no ties with her Egyptian side. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Deema Als
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Ethnography
Veiled Sentiments is a very interesting ethnography that has a deep understanding and a massive insight towards the culture of the Bedouins in the Western-Desert who call... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ahmed Ali
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Voice
I write thrillers and have a protagonist in Morocco and a Bedouin woman in Spain; I'd like the Bedouin to be a voice of Muslim feminism. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Robert E. Cook
4.0 out of 5 stars Veiled Sentiments Review
Fairfield University

In Lila Abu-Lughod's ethnography, Veiled Sentiments, she analyzes the traditions and values of the Awlad `Ali tribes, which are... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Madeline Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Veiled Sentiments Review
Lila Abu-Lughod's Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society examines the identity of the Bedouin tribes, known as Awlad `Ali, living in the Western Desert of... Read more
Published on October 28, 2011 by Amit Gangrade
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting
I had to read this for an intro to cultural anthropology course. I have to say, it's my favorite out of every college textbook I've read. Read more
Published on September 19, 2011 by Sarah Elizabeth
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of the Craft of Ethnography
What is most interesting about this book -- which centers on the poetry of the Bedouin tribe of Awlad Ali -- is not the poetry per se, but that it gives an insider's view of the... Read more
Published on June 4, 2007 by Herbert L Calhoun
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