Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

by Geraldine Brooks

Hardcover, 1994

Call number

305.48 BRO

Collection

Publication

Doubleday (1994), Edition: 1, 255 pages

Description

Having spent six years covering the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, Brooks presents an exploration of the daily life of Muslim women and the often contradictory forces that shape their lives.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dk_phoenix
Written by a Jewish journalist, this book chronicles Brooks' travels throughout the Islamic world in order to discover just what the title says: The hidden world of Islamic women. While some of the information is dated (it was written in the 90s, and an awful lot has changed since then), the book is fascinating and gripping at parts, as Brooks is able to obtain a unique perspective on women's lives throughout her travels. She also visits many different countries, and is able to see how Muslim women's lives differ from place to place. For anyone interested in Islamic women's issues or even just curious about the Muslim world, this book is an excellent place to start. Read in companion with Jan Goodwin's Price of Honor, these books together provide an excellent foundation for understanding the Muslim world, and women's issues within it.… (more)
LibraryThing member nittnut
This was a fascinating narrative of Geraldine Brooks' time working as a reporter in the middle east. Her treatment of Islam seems fairly balanced, she is careful to point out the differences between culture and religion, but does not underestimate the power of the fundamentalist factions. I totally agree with her assessment of Saudi Arabia - that it is more dangerous than some of the other Middle Eastern governments we tend to be suspicious of. Although this book was written 15 years ago, there are many insights that are applicable now. Worth a read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sovranty
This book does an excellent job of reminding the reader that there are separate countries, and thus separate religious interpretations and customs, within the Middle East. Being 15+-years-old, this book is a great "catch up to the now" for anyone looking for a more complete understanding of the Middle East and the Muslim religion as a whole, as it tracks the historical changes, adaptations, and tolerances of the religion within the different regions.… (more)
LibraryThing member kipp15
One of the best books about the ordinary women in islamic countries. My favorite part was about the "liberated" women in Iran where so long an activity or event is segregated by sex, women can do. Who knew?
LibraryThing member EAG
Wow. A fascinating glimpse into Muslim women's lives that is devastating in its implications vis-à-vis the status of women in the Middle East. Although written over 15 years ago, I suspect it remains as valid an account as ever of the repressions faced by women wherever Islamic fundamentalism has taken root. While cognizant throughout her journeys that her outsider status (privileged, white, American, and a convert to Judaism) imposes limits on what she can witness as well as envisage, author and prize-winning foreign correspondent Geraldine Brooks nevertheless manages to provide a penetrating analysis into the status of women under Islam. As a journalist, her strength is obviously her reportage, which manages to succinctly capture the essence of lived lives, whether those of presidential wives or guerrilla fighters. But she also pulls no punches in stating the obvious. While forces such as colonialism and pre-Islamic cultural traditions likely contributed to current misogynistic attitudes and practices in Muslim countries, she does not hesitate to say that the Islamic faith itself is complicit. It is worth quoting at length from her concluding chapter:

In the end, what [progressive Muslim scholars] are proposing is as artificial an exercise as that proposed by the Marxists who used to argue that socialism in its pure form should not be maligned and rejected because of the deficiencies of "actually existing socialism." At some point every religion, especially one that purports to encompass a complete way of life and system of government, has to be called to account for the kind of life it offers the people in the lands where it predominates.

It becomes insufficient to look at Islam on paper, or Islam in history, and dwell on the inarguable improvements it brought to women’s lives in the seventh century. Today, the much more urgent and relevant task is to examine the way the faith has proved such fertile ground for almost every antiwomen custom it encountered in its great march out of Arabia. When it found veils and seclusion in Persia, it absorbed them; when it found genital mutilations in Egypt, it absorbed them; when it found societies in which women had never had a voice in public affairs, its own traditions of lively women’s participation withered.

Once I began working on this book, I looked everywhere for examples of women trying to reclaim Islam’s positive messages, trying to carry forward into the twentieth century the reformist zeal with which Muhammad had remade the lives of many women in the first Muslim community at Medina. It turned out to be a frustrating search. In most places the direction of the debate seemed to be exactly the reverse. Palestinian, Egyptian, Algerian and Afghani women were seeing a curtain come down on decades of women’s liberation as Islamic leaders in their countries turned to the most exclusionary and inequitable interpretations. For those women who struggled against the tide, the results were a discouraging trio of marginalization, harassment and exile.


Read this book in conjunction with Haideh Moghissi’s Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis for a powerful condemnation of religious, political and academic myopia.
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LibraryThing member seekingflight
An interesting and readable account of one woman’s time as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. Brooks was based in this part of the world for a number of years from 1987, and this book was published in 1995.

The subject matter (‘the hidden world of Islamic women’) is perhaps bound to create controversy, and reviewers appear to differ in their opinions of the objectivity and accuracy of the book’s content.

On the plus side, I felt that it opened my eyes further to the variety and diversity of experiences of Muslim women. I'm glad I read the book, and I acknowledge that it would be difficult if not impossible to cover this material in an entirely impartial and objective fashion.

My preference would have been for more about the experiences, opinions and world views of the women Brooks was interviewing, and less of her own opinions, judgements and occasional editorialising about what she saw and experienced - although this is a personal preference and not necessarily a criticism of the book.

On the negative side, I found the tone a little harsh (bordering on snarky at times: “I couldn’t check myself into a Saudi hotel room in the 1990s because thirteen hundred years earlier a Meccan named Muhammad had trouble with his wives”, p. 3), and felt there were some biases in terms of the content.

Overall, I'm glad I read this, but I would want to temper some of its conclusions with further reading/ research.
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LibraryThing member mysteena
It took me much longer than usual to finish this book. Initially, I thought the slow going was due to the fact that it's non-fiction and I'm a bit of a fiction addict. Still, that didn't quite explain it because it was easy and fascinating reading. I finally decided it was the subject matter that made me reticent to cuddle up with the book and read for hours on end. Nine Parts of Desire is about what it means to be a woman in the Muslim world. I felt Geraldine Brooks did an amazing job writing (as always) and I appreciate that she included so many scriptures from the Koran as well as other Islamic anecdotes that explain why certain traditions have developed over the generations. I learned so much from this book about the history and culture(s) of Islam, the history of the Middle East and the situations Islamic women face. The book is a bit dated, given how quickly things in the middle east change (or maybe it's not dated at all because things stay the same there for generations) but I still found it quite valuable. However, one thought kept coming into my mind over and over again as I read it: How accurate is her portrayal? Yes, she spent years and years there, and yes, she seems quite open minded and willing to look for the good wherever it might be found. But can she, a white Judeo-Christian woman, really give readers an accurate picture? The truths she reveals, are these the truths as viewed by Islamic women? I found myself wanting to read a book written by an Islamic woman to see how her thoughts compared with Brooks. Fortunately, at the end of Nine Parts, Brooks includes a very comprehensive bibliography for those (like me) who wish to read more. Several of the books listed are authored by Islamic women.… (more)
LibraryThing member tulikangaroo
A fascinating first-hand perspective on women in Islam. Along with the author, I struggled throughout with the line between culture and human rights - it's pretty blurry, and I appreciate her effort to separate out what is in the Koran and Mohammed's true intent from what has evolved in interaction with various Islamic cultures. Educational, well-written, and thought-provoking.… (more)
LibraryThing member mysteena
It took me much longer than usual to finish this book. Initially, I thought the slow going was due to the fact that it's non-fiction and I'm a bit of a fiction addict. Still, that didn't quite explain it because it was easy and fascinating reading. I finally decided it was the subject matter that made me reticent to cuddle up with the book and read for hours on end. Nine Parts of Desire is about what it means to be a woman in the Muslim world. I felt Geraldine Brooks did an amazing job writing (as always) and I appreciate that she included so many scriptures from the Koran as well as other Islamic anecdotes that explain why certain traditions have developed over the generations. I learned so much from this book about the history and culture(s) of Islam, the history of the Middle East and the situations Islamic women face. The book is a bit dated, given how quickly things in the middle east change (or maybe it's not dated at all because things stay the same there for generations) but I still found it quite valuable. However, one thought kept coming into my mind over and over again as I read it: How accurate is her portrayal? Yes, she spent years and years there, and yes, she seems quite open minded and willing to look for the good wherever it might be found. But can she, a white Judeo-Christian woman, really give readers an accurate picture? The truths she reveals, are these the truths as viewed by Islamic women? I found myself wanting to read a book written by an Islamic woman to see how her thoughts compared with Brooks. Fortunately, at the end of Nine Parts, Brooks includes a very comprehensive bibliography for those (like me) who wish to read more. Several of the books listed are authored by Islamic women.… (more)
LibraryThing member Heatherreader
My only criticism is that the book purports to be about women in the Muslim world, but the focus is almost entirely on Middle Eastern countries. I wonder how much of what she discusses is based on Islam and how much based on Arab/central Asian cultures.
LibraryThing member Bibliofemmes
This was one of the first books I have read on the Middle East and its Islamic society. Great insight into this very different culture and society. This book helps to broaden our understanding of this part of the world. cp
LibraryThing member Booksnyc
Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks is the story of the author's journey through the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and her examination of Middle Eastern women and the cultural, religious and political influences which shape their lives. In each Middle Eastern country, she befriends and interviews women who tell their stories and describe their experiences living under the laws of their countries and within the requirements of their religion (often one and the same).

Brooks tells the story of a variety of women - poor and uneducated, highly educated, western converts to Islam, royalty, political figures and from a variety of Middle Eastern countries. I found the story of Asya, a recent graduate of Gaza University particularly compelling. Asya, a 29 year old unmarried woman who worked as journalist's assistant and breadwinner for her family, also adhered strictly to the laws of her religion and maintained a life segregated from men and shrouded in hijab. She struggled to find a husband (ok - I can relate to that!) who she could dialogue with and who, while respecting the requirements of their Islamic religion, would also respect her intellect and education. As much as I support and believe in the power of education to overcome injustices and ignorance, it seems almost unfair to educate women in countries where they are often restricted from using that education and many times not respected for their intellect. The author provides an update on Asya (and some of the other women) in the afterword to the book which appears on her website.

I thought this book was very well done and it certainly educated me on the variety of practices within Muslim countries and their impact on its women. Brooks expertly weaved excerpts from te Koran throughout the book and tried to dispute how some fundamentalists had misused the holy text to justify severe restrictions on women. She explores the teaching of Mohammed in an effort to distinguish between his teachings, generally allowing much more equality for women, and those of the more conservative political powers within many Middle Eastern countries. I appreciated the references to the Koran as is helped to substantiate the author's position that many of the oppressive practices enforced in these countries are, in fact, not mandated by the Koran. In addition, it emphasizes that the religion of Islam itself is not to blame for the violation of women's rights and other extremist views but rather the politicization of Islamic religion which has fueled fundamentalist extremism.

This book was written in 1995, and while reading it, I wondered how relevant its explanations of cultural and political influences still were 15 years later. I came the conclusion that in many cases things have likely gotten worse for women in these countries with the move towards a more conservative states which required strict adherence to Islamic law. Brooks seems to have done an excellent job of predicting to spread of fundamentalism throughout the Middle East. The afterword that appears on her website is written in following the terrorist attacks on 2001 - after reading this book, I found her perspective on this event interesting.

If you are looking for an introduction to the Muslim religion as it is practiced throughout the Middle East and its impact on women and their rights within those countries, I would recommend this book. It reads like a memoir, not a textbook, and artfully weaves stories of women with explanations of the Koran and the political forces at play within the Middle East. Excellent!
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LibraryThing member Grogotte
Brooks uses the first person throughout the book to discuss the lives of (primarily) contemporary women in Islamic countries, and her relationship with them. She discusses dress, sex, dancing, marriage, careers, the military, sports, and politics, as well of course as gender relations at both the macro and micro levels. She shares the findings resulting from her explorations and the ensuing reflections, her hopes, her fears, her angers, and her own doubts. I admire her reporting, which comes across as very honest as well as heartfelt.

In the conclusion, Brooks writes what I find to be a fitting summary of the book: "Once I began working on this book, I looked everywhere for examples of women trying to reclaim Islam's positive messages, trying to carry forward into the twentieth century the reformist zeal with which Muhammad had remade [note of the reviewer: for the better] the lives of many women (...) in the first Muslim community at Medina. It turned out to be a frustrating search. In most places the direction of the debate seemed to be exactly the reverse. Palestinian, Egyptian, Algerian and Afghani women were seeing a curtain come down on decades of women's liberation as Islamic leaders in their countries turned to the most exclusionary and inequitable interpretations. For those women who struggled against the tide, the results were a discouraging trio of marginalization, harassment and exile." (p. 232 of the recent edition with an afterword, in paperback - can't find a trace of the year which is bizarre).

Fifteen years after the book was first published, I gather no sign that the situation has improved, and am afraid that if it's out of date, it's not in the way I would have liked it to be.

I enjoyed her writing, which I think on the whole was careful considering the difficulty of addressing such a deeply angering topic. I think she made wise choices in both researching and narrating the book. She must have often felt like she was walking a very thin line when reporting information from her sources, and considering the difficulties of the task I think it is very well done.

The only criticism I would make of the book is the lack of clarification about the scope from the beginning. I can now see that she wrote primarily about Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, countries where she conducted the research and experienced womanhood herself. These are important countries, but by no means the only ones in the Muslim world, or even the more narrowly defined "Islamic" world. This is fine - one could not write a first-person book about the entire Muslim world - but I think that the implications of this limited scope should have been discussed in the introduction.

I am perhaps a little disappointed at the fact that Brooks offers a rich description, some analysis, and little interpretation of the situation, but this would be an unfair criticism. Brooks is a journalist, not a scholar, and as noted above her relationship with her sources would have made such writing very difficult. However, I hope that readers who might be wondering why women remain perceived as property rather than persons in many cultures and political regimes (not only those she describes), and why some consider that women should be so tightly controlled, will have to seek other books.

The book also offers a good opportunity to think about moral relativism: what should I acknowledge as a cultural difference to be respected, and what do I consider unacceptable? Despite being, to a large extent, a very open-minded relativist, I maintain that human life and integrity is to be respected, and that no person (male, female, or somewhere in between) can be treated as another one's property. Thus I conclude that my anger at many of the situations reported by Brooks - and at countless others I am aware of in my own country and elsewhere - is legitimate. I only wish I had a hint or two about what to do now.
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LibraryThing member canalrat
It's an outsider's view, but Geraldine Brooks tries to show the inside world of Muslim women. She succeeds in a way that is helpful for other westerners to begin understanding the issues of women's lives.
LibraryThing member flutterbyjitters
Very interesting to read, although her tone a little harsh sometimes. definitely a good novel to read.
LibraryThing member Replay
Why do muslim women hide their faces behind black veils? Is it a requirement from the Quran or just an old habit carried on by men-domintaed tribal societies? So interesting and well-documented. Fascinating
LibraryThing member MarthaHuntley
Good read; fascinating, in fact!
LibraryThing member alittlebreeze
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brooks spent seven years in the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, covering 20 countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Jordan, against a backdrop of the Gulf War. As a woman, Brooks is able to go behind the veil to experience firsthand the life of Islamic women, and as a westerner, she is able to speak with the men who oppress them.

But it's not as simple as that. The further Brooks delves into the world of Islam and where women fit in, the more stereotypes are defied. There are the women who do what they can for women's rights, like Jordan's Queen Noor, but there are also those who welcome opression, like Brooks' Egyptian assistant, who, after many years of concerning herself with fashion and her career, makes the decision to veil before her marriage, and grows more and more devout.

This book was certainly eye-opening ( it desperately needs an afterword regarding the Middle East today, given all that has happened in the last ten years), and introduced me to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the way texts like the Koran have been misued to set women's rights back centuries.

An illuminating read, and definitely recommend for anyone who would like a greater understanding of the role women play in a part of the world that is so frequently misrepresented in order to create a culture of fear and paranoia.
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LibraryThing member niquetteb
This is the writing of an Australian born Jewish woman reporter entering the lives of Muslim women in the late 80's/early 90's. Brooks offers a fairly unbiased presentation of her experiences with Islamic culture and families, particularly, Iranian. Information about the Koran is offered to aid the non-Muslim reader with some background of the religion. The chapter transitions were a little choppy, but the book is slim and compact with stories and information that were worth reading through to the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member twallace
A fascinating look into the subject of women and Islam. Though Geraldine Brooks comes to the subject as an outsider (both a Westerner and Jewish), she provides a full and balanced spectrum of information. Her interviews and interaction with Muslim men and women from all across the Middle East are keen and revealing. Over all, it is an extremely educational and eye-opening work that invites more study into the subject.… (more)
LibraryThing member sbsolter
Interesting and thoughtful investigation into the lives of Islamic women, primarily in the Middle East, but also with some attention to Africa. Although Brooks is Caucasian (Australian) and not Islamic (actually, she converted to Judaism as an adult), I felt that this was a well-balanced portrayal of women very different from herself. She lived in the Middle East for many years as a journalist and this book is reflective of her training in that field.… (more)
LibraryThing member lkarr
Interesting. It slogged in the middle but the beginning and end were informative.
LibraryThing member BooksCatsEtc
Fascinating look at women in the Islamic Middle East, altho now 20 years out of date. An afterword brings us up to 2005, but so much has changed since then.
LibraryThing member glade1
This is an excellent, thought-provoking book. Written before 9/11/01, it is a documentation of the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism that has since been such a concern, but primarily an examination of the place of women in Islamic culture - a somewhat paradoxical and often complex place.

I learned a great deal from this book, about Islam, the Middle East and its history, and the state of women in that part of the world. I have often said that I think of Islam as "younger" religion that is about where Christianity was in the Middle Ages. Certainly, Christianity could be accused of many of the injustices against women that are documented in this book as well as the intolerance of other faiths, but I like to think most Christians have progressed past some of that. It is easy for Westerners to say that Muslim culture is backward and flawed, but I think it's dangerous to think we are very much better; Islam has some appealing characteristics and some progressive followers.

Each section in this book addresses a different aspect of women's lives, from marriage and family to education, work, the arts, and sports. Brooks tells the stories of women from countries throughout the Middle East and also Africa and Asia. I enjoyed "meeting" the various women in this book and seeing the variety in their experiences of Islam.

I also learned more about the controversial (at least in my part of the world) faith of Islam. There are many parallels between Islam and Christianity, including both having a charismatic founder and each having both a sacred "source" text and supplemental interpretive texts (the Koran and hadith for Islam, the Gospels and Paul for Christianity). Some of the differences that I find pivotal are the fact that Muhammad was a warrior while Jesus was decidedly not, and that Muhammad left a record of his behavior as a husband and father while we have no such record related to Jesus (though I have often wished we Christians did have his example to follow in those areas).

This book increased my already high regard for Geraldine Brooks, who is a wonderful writer and inquisitive and daring reporter. While it is clear that she doesn't agree with all of the practice of Islam, she generally maintains an objectivity about her subject and manages to find the beauty and positive features of her subject as well.

I highly recommend this book!
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LibraryThing member FergusS
This is brilliant. A western woman's view of Islamic women's lot. In her journalistic career, Geraldine Brooks met and spoke to many women in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Egypt. The book is her reflections on Islamic women generally through the lens of those particular encounters. It is very readable and she is more directly informed than I or any other man could ever be.

It seems she comes to the conclusion that much of the matter has to do with the actual practice of Islam which has, over time, absorbed from cultures it encountered such practices as veiling and seclusion, genital mutilation, and the absence of women from public affairs.

She therefore often uses the terms extremism and fundamentalism to imply there is a purer Islam that would not support this sort of behaviour. And yet she notes how few examples of real equality or freedom there are for women in Islamic cultures, and how women seeking greater freedoms must walk a very dangerous and difficult line while many women become promoters of their own restrictions. Brooks knows that the dilemmas of Koranic authorisations of wife beating and apostate executions which vie with the prophet's own great admiration for women, the traditions of their military involvement, and such surprises as Khomeini's happy home life are not easily resolved.

Speaking as a westerner, she knows that women's rights are not to be determined by cultural or local stances but are human and universal, yet she also sees that western leadership often remains ignorant of the difficulties for Islamic women within their borders and does not sufficiently protect them from the horrors of honour killing or clitoridectomy.

One over-riding impression remains with me - that the company of so many women she has encountered in the course of her travels and research has enriched her personally. In the midst of her discoveries and conclusions, her frustrations and confusions, the abiding and fundamental story is a human one, and any way forward is along this path.
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Pages

255

ISBN

0385475764 / 9780385475761
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