I sat down to write this post yesterday after finishing the latest from my summer reading list book shelf. My personal Independence Day was laid back and uneventful as the family was scattered miles to the wind, roaming here and there as they should be. I gardened a bit, read a bit, and gardened some more. It was apparent though, that the ability to concentrate well enough to put sentences together for this post was not happening as the neighborhood shelling grew in intensity each hour.
All’s quiet this morning, although we have this odd okay from local government to continue festivities throughout July 5th, so in a few hours I expect that the second round will start. I will try to coordinate my thoughts and make this post happen because I LOVED THIS BOOK.
Nine Parts of Desire was written by Geraldine Brooks, who started her career as a journalist and then went on to write historical fiction. You can read more about her at her bio page here. The subtitle of the book is what caught my eye. “…The Hidden World of Islamic Women,” and the reviews seemed to indicate that this was more of a personal account written by Brooks to describe and understand gendered relations among Muslim women and men. Spanning roughly twenty years, Brooks created a truly riveting look into the lives of Muslim women by juxtaposing their personal viewpoints as intersectional with original Islamic law taken directly from the Koran via Muhammad, and the evolving rules, often translated from hadith, into twisted permutations by fundamentalist clerics and rulers.
Brooks begins with a simple but insightful prologue that reviews the origination of Muhammad as prophet. Her focus though is on the wives of Muhammad, along with the parts they played in early Islamic activity. In subsequent chapters, Brooks covers the major Islamic beliefs that Western feminism views as oppressive to Muslim women by chronicling first-person interviews on topics of covering, education, work, politics, jihad, even areas of art and performance.
**An aside for fellow blogger TDP: Brooks tries her hand at belly dance making a statement about self-expression.
There are no radical feminist rants, no obviously one-sided opinions or bias by Brooks. It’s clear that her personal views are very different from what she writes about as she shares the lives of Muslim women from areas of Africa through the Middle East. She is decidedly a journalist, writing with a factual POV in this book. She lays out Islamic law from historical perspective and notes how revolutionary forces, Western influence, political and religious voice all impact changing interpretations of Islam, thereby also creating multiple layers of gendered oppression for the female population of this region. Her writing allows Muslim women to speak to their own lives rather they find choice or find themselves directed by religious rule.
As a Western feminist it is difficult to find reason and rationale behind much of the law of Islam as it is directed toward Muslim women until you begin to see patterns that, in many ways, mirror strong fundamentalist belief systems within our own society. Brooks also initiates parallels for me personally that focus on religious belief and systems of control, rather they be named Islam or Christianity. These systems of power, hidden within and by words found in the Bible or the Koran are often easily convoluted and made to be fact. The resultant ideology grows greater oppression and greater systemic control with women as the central target. By giving voice to Muslim women living through revolutionary cultural change Brooks opened a door allowing me personally to reaffirm my aversion to religious dogma and control.