The Abayah Essay

Submitted By Evsta13
Words: 982
Pages: 4

Guests of the Sheik

Taking place in the 1950s, Guests of the Sheik is an ethnography of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s experience living in an Iraqi village with her husband who is a cultural anthropologist on assignment. The story follows Warnock’s transition from being a complete stranger in a foreign country, diving into the depths of the culture not knowing anything about it, and ending up being a part of it. The book’s strong sense of expressing Warnock’s culture shock in the beginning shows how intense the experience must have been for her and even her husband. Being at the point of view of Warnock takes the reader through what it would actually feel like being placed completely out of your comfort zone, which also shines light on how and why Warnock thought and acted throughout her time in the small village of El Nahra. During the time of Warnock’s visit to El Nahra, and still today, women in many Muslim countries wore abayahs for cultural and religious regions. An abayah is a dress, better described as a cloak, which is usually loosely flowing that covers the entire body and is accompanied by a veil covering the head and face as well. According to the Quran, women should cover themselves as to not show them to the public, only their husbands. It is a practice that has become the traditional way for most Muslim societies. These countries have very different views on gender rolls than America, even when compared to our views on gender during the 1950s. Just by finding out that the women of these countries are subject to this shows you that they are not considered equal with the men there. The women hide themselves and are constantly in an identity-less state to anyone they aren’t immediately in contact with while in public. Also in these cultures women are treated more as property of their husbands than citizens. So, for Warnock being a woman and being advised to wear one, all this was extremely intimidating. Initially, she did not want to wear the traditionally worn clothes, thinking it was ridiculous and she could not understand how the women willfully partook in the tradition. It was nothing she was used to and nothing she wanted to get used to, it was not her style. Being a 50s era wife, it makes sense she did not want to be a part of that aspect of the Muslim culture. 1950’s women’s views in America were far from the women’s in Iraq at the time. Although it was before the women’s rights movement, the 50’s were the time when women began to step towards it. One thing American women did not want was to be confined to an abayah and not recognized. The ideas about female identity and gender roles in America were gaining respect while remaining the same in the Muslim countries. Warnock had to let go of any progressive women’s rights thoughts moving to El Nahra and learn to accept the culture. In Diwaniya, her last stop until El Nahra, she made that such decision to do so. After traveling from Baghdad to Diwaniya, a less developed area, Warnock experienced more and more influence to put on the abayah. Influence not only from her husband but the crowds of people peculiarly staring at her, just because she wasn’t wearing one. Then, after being given an abayah by a friend, in more of a “take this because you need it” tone than a “take this if you want it” one, she decided she would be wearing it after all. Warnock realized she, “discovered that my principles were not as strong as my desire to be