Veiled Sentiments of Lila Abu

The book of Lila Abu Lughod’s Veiled Sentiments is a valuable contribution to have a new and deeper understanding of Arab culture. The author gave a detailed analysis and interpretation of the “code of honor” of Bedouins community in Egypt. Lila Abu-Lughod studied the poetry of the tribes of Bedouin in northern Egypt known as the Awlad ‘Ali from October 1978 to May 1980 (Blake n. d. ). She observed the social context and how poetry is integrated into everyday situations. It begins as a puzzle from the emotional oral lyric poetry and later becomes a reflection of their social and gender structure.

The power and sentiment of poetry depict Bedouins’ human experience outside the confines of culture. The real emotions they experience in their everyday lives are exclusively revealed in poetry to maintain the system of social hierarchy. The book focuses primarily on women in this community who willingly participate in maintaining the culture whole. The role of honor to maintain Bedouin society intact is very important.

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Maintaining honor for Bedouins or Arabs is for group survival. Honorable behavior will achieve group cohesion which strengthens the group and serves its interests.

The concept of loyalty is fully actualized in Bedouin community. Shameful behavior is that which tends to weaken and endanger social aggregate. If any member made a shameful act, the entire family or community will lose honor. In attaining moral worth and honor in Bedouin community, one must conform and follow set of roles and standards. Social structure in this community is segregated through gender roles.

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Men and women are two different individuals. They are never equal. However, both must achieve moral ideals to gain social respect. The achievement of maintaining honor is not easy for both genders.

One must fulfill his or her social responsibility. Women are always dependents who are under the protection of men. They are always subordinate to the men in the family. They remain in the world of women and maintain close emotional ties with sisters alone (Patai 1973: 30). On the other hand, men have the sole responsibility to lead and protect women. They are accountable to the safety of women. These roles must be obeyed to maintain social respect. Nevertheless, both men and women must be admired for strength, verbal skills, cleverness, and storytelling.

However, women can only express these qualities in situations of social equality when they are not required deference like being exposed outside Bedouin community (Abu-Lughod 1986: 239) People outside the confines of traditional Eastern culture communicate in a way that will directly express their thoughts. In the modern world of liberation, one can freely and readily express their individuality in any forms. Sometimes, this gift of freedom is being abused. However, people in Bedouin society especially women communicate in a very modest and conservative way that is proper according to set of norms and culture.

Yet, short songs and poems became the second mode of communication for Bedouins’. It is a beautiful outlet to express their profound emotions and realizations from the everyday experience. The oral lyric poem known as ghinawas violates the moral code (Abu-Lughod 2000: xvii). Young men, especially young women, express sentiments arising from interpersonal relationships through ghinawas. However, this kind of sentiments must be denied in the ordinary social interactions to maintain social responsibility.

There is a radical difference between the sentiments expressed in the ghinawas and those expressed about the same situations in ordinary conversations and social interactions (Abu-Lughod 2000: 31). Ghinawas usually express their veiled sentiments that talk about lost loves and pain. Women can only share their sentiments in their own world of silence where they are not permitted to lament in the presence of men. Women are expected to hide their emotions to themselves. She is not required to talk that may upset a situation. A woman must be strong to keep herself together for practical purposes. They are opposing forces and secondary in status.

Women’s emotions are not a social priority to be heard. Sharing any emotions makes them appear weak. Weakness in public may represent weakness against evil elements and temptations, and weakness for women will eventually lead to disrespect. Poetry as being depicted by Abu-Lughod is a women form of communication and adaptation in the male dominated system of power to reveal their core issues. Much of the book is about women living in within a patrilineal system, though it also discusses Bedouins’ social-organization-shaped manhood as well. As the main subject of the book, women are very significant as a symbolic mark of piety.

Veiling in this book means the act of placing over one’s face a part of the black semi-opaque cloth (tarha) that every married woman wraps around her head to cover her hair (Abu-Lughod 2000: xix). This distinctive and authentic practice of covering their faces is a demonstration of adhering to the moral system to gain social respect. Obedience gives them honor. Nevertheless, it must be observed that the distinctive practice of covering their faces is only for certain men and certain mixed sex situations within their culturally and ethnically distinct context (Abu-Lughod 2000: xx).

They do it for other Bedouin only. It is not a religious piety, but it is a form of social respectability. Honor for women is gained through honoring the given set of moral standards. Loss of honor results in loss of dignity and eventually leads to loss of self respect. A woman’s body is to remain hidden as it is believed by the Bedouins that women’s flesh can pollute the outer world. Bedouin society typically revolved around their strong honor codes and traditional system of justice (Lehman 2000). Culturally, honor for women is closely related to their sexuality.

Arabic Literature relates women to intense sexual excitability which supports the idea of segregation of a man and a woman to prevent engaging in immodest behavior (Blake n. d. ). Arabs assume that if a man and a woman are left alone together, they will easily engage in the temptation of intercourse. In Bedouin community, segregation is very strict. This will be manifested in ‘veiling’ for women. Veiling assumes an important role as a response against the weakness of flesh. Sex must only be consummated within marriage. Women outside marriage must be strong to protect their chastity.

Chapter four of Veiled Sentiments showed why sexual modesty is essential to keep women’s honor. Symbolism about to protect sexual modesty is found everywhere in Bedouins community. Married women are to wear a black veil and a red belt. The red belt symbolizes fertility and the black veil with the shameful act of incest. These are only some examples given in chapter four. In the Bedouin or Arab society, there are two kinds of honor: “ird and sharaf. ” Sharaf, which is usually for men, can be acquired, augmented, diminished, lost, and regained, while ‘ird’ is exclusively for women.

Although ‘ird’ involves virginity, it is also linked to the emotional aspect of a woman. Ird cannot be regained once lost. She is born with ird and grows up with it, and it is her duty to preserve it (Abu-Lughod 2000: 10) for honour. Sharaf for men extremely depends on protecting the ird of female relatives. Men and women have the sole obligation to protect a woman’s “ird for her father and mother” (Abu-Lughod 2000: 31). Protecting ird shapes the lives of women in Bedouin culture which is physically manifested through veiling and segregation.

Studying their culture will provide a better understanding of why sexual modesty for women is like an obsession for Bedouin’s community. Preserving a woman’s ird is not only to maintain a woman’s dignity but also to protect the name of the man involved in the family. An honorable man is one respected by his family and community, one who can put the family together, and one who can protect women inside the family. Physical manifestation of deference and modesty is highly important for Bedouins. Deference includes mode of dressing, humble posture, and bearing, downcast eyes, speaking with restraint, and discipline and veiling (Blake n.

d. ). Outward appearance is important to highlight individuality and status. It is not just symbolic to protect honor but also to respect outward appearance of honor. Acquiring honor will be justified externally. The social structure and gender roles given in Bedouin’s community are not a forced participation for men and women included in the community. Lila Abu-Lughod touched the topic whether it is worth for women to continue participate in a culture that perceives them as inferior individuals. Both men and women in the book fervently defend and respect the system.

The role of honor gives the community guide for justice. Harmony and peace will be attained through obeying the “code of honor” and “code of modesty. ” When one member of the community preserves his or her honor, there is no question of injustice. Honor will also encourage self-respect which is very important in Bedouins’ culture. Following their code of honor will eventually help preserve the culture itself. Bedouins’ traditions are still strong today. However, because of the strong influenced of science and technology and liberation of thoughts and ideas, the world is getting smaller.

Bedouins’ desire to be part of modernization motivates them to seek a higher standard of living. More and more tribes settled and assimilated down into a “normal life” in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Like any other culture, the traditional and nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins may become just a tourist attraction and rarity. However, some of the descendants of Bedouins still take pride in their authentic culture. History and written accounts about their culture help the people be reminded of such romantic and beautiful culture.

List of References

  1. Abu Lughod, L. (2000) Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. California: University of California Press. Blake M. (n. d. ) The Ghinnawa: How Bedouin Women's Poetry Supplements Social Expression [online]. Available from <http://www. marthablake. com/ghinnawa. html> [October 14, 2008] Lehman, K. (2007).
  2. ‘Arabian History: Bedouin. ’ Lighthouse Patriot Journal. [online] Available from <http://lighthousepatriotjournal. wordpress. com/2007/05/04/arabian-history-bedouin/> [October 14, 2008] Patai, R. (1973). The Arab Mind. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
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Veiled Sentiments of Lila Abu. (2017, Mar 03). Retrieved from

Veiled Sentiments of Lila Abu essay
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