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Family and Society

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A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


Readings

This section contains full-text readings from a variety of sources. Many of these texts have never been offered online before. They represent a range of scholarly views and interests, and are intended to offer a more in-depth view of selected topics covered in this module. Please be aware that these texts may not be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the original copyright holder, as indicated at the head of each reading.

The readings listed in grey are currently unavailable, as we work toward renewing copyright permission from the publishers.

  • The Arab Family and the Challenge of Change
    Haim Barakat

    In this essay Halim Barakat, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, argues that the family is not only very important in Arab society on an emotional and personal level, but that it is also “the basic unit of social organization in traditional and contemporary Arab society." He then goes on to list the characteristics of the Arab family and to examine them in some detail, followed by a discussion of change patters of marriage and divorce and finally a discussion of role family structures play in society, especially in relation to other institutions. Also a novelist, Barakat uses literature in addition to actual sociological analysis in a manner that helps show how the importance of family is not only a social reality, but an imagined ideal.

  • Families at War
    Gerald Butt

    This essay, by the BBC’s Gerald Butt, editor of the World Service magazine Al-Mushahid Assiyasi and former Beirut correspondent, deals with the importance of family in Arab society. He begins by arguing that the Civil War in Lebanon was much less about religious differences, as is often believed, than it was a struggle by family based clan groups. He then proceeds to describe many of the social factors affecting the Arab family, some of the changes it has undergone, the role of women in society, etc. Some may find the author’s view of Arab culture a bit too static, or claim that it does not sufficiently acknowledge the diversity within the region, but several of the video clips will illustrate other points the author makes. For another perspective on this issue, see the essay by Halim Barakat and listen to his interview.

  • Women in Muslim History: Traditional Perspectives and New Strategies
    Fatima Mernissi

    This short essay by sociologist Fatima Mernissi, a prominent sociologist from Morocco, is a survey of Islamic texts on women. Mernissi argues that the authors of these texts “did not, as might be expected, talk about them only as the mothers and daughters of powerful men. General history books, genealogies and chronicles identified women as active participants and full involved partners in historical events.” Mernissi then provides examples, beginning with the Prophet's wife, Aisha. The second part of the article addresses strategies for pursuing research into the role of women in Islam, in the process assessing some of the efforts of modern feminist movements.

  • Women in Islam and the Middle East ( Introduction )
    Ruth Roded

    This essay by Ruth Roded, a professor affiliated with the Institute of Asian and African Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is the introduction to a reader she edited that is composed of texts related to the role of women in the Middle East. It is the author's contention that the difficulty in documenting the role and status of women in the region is not really an issue of scholarly neglect, as the subject has been amply addressed by Islamic scholars, travel writers, and Middle East experts. Rather, she argues, it is that literature on women is, “extremely value laden, informed by stated and latent assumptions, derived form the culture and society of the author and the audience.” This essay then goes on to survey these influences beginning with Classical Islamic sources through Western feminism, neo-Islamic trends and Islamic feminism. The essay ends with notes on the selection and compilation of readings for the book as a whole.

  • "Gender and the Struggle Over Public Places"
    Farha Ghannam

    In this chapter from her book Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo, Farha Ghannam, Professor of Anthropology at Swarthmore college, explores the gendered aspects of public and private spaces in modern Cairo. Remaking the Modern centers on Ghannam’s study of Al-Zawiya al-Hamra, a district of Cairo that has many public and private housing projects. The inhabitants of these housing projects were forced out of the inner districts of Cairo and moved to the outskirts of the city as part of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat’s plan to make Cairo more modern and accessible to tourists and businesses. The public housing projects (masaakin) are generally inhabited by the lower classes while the privately-built housing (ahali) tend to house the lower-middle classes. Ghannam especially focuses on how the square blocs of masaakin, the murabba’at, have been reappropriated by the people who live there in ways contrary to the government’s intention, and how these spaces affect their daily lives.

  • Power and Sexuality in the Middle East
    Bruce Dunne

    This essay looks at sexual behaviors and moral codes in the countries of the Middle East from with a view to the power relationships implied in attitudes toward marriage, concubinage, homosexuality, prostitution, etc. He argues that categories such as dominant/subordinate and heterosexual/homosexual structures of power that establish a hierarchy of power. The author ultimately argues in favor of “(t)he contemporary concept of 'queerness' resists all such categorizing in favor of recognizing more complex realities of multiple and shifting positions of sexuality, identity and power.”




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