In Elizabeth Warnock Fernea's "Guests of the Sheikh," how does Fernea's distinction between tribal and town women reflect different ways of being a Muslim woman? How does her "thick description" strategy affect her storytelling?

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In the book, Fernea's distinction between women of the tribe (or harem) and women of the town highlights the multiple ways of being a Muslim woman. During her visit to the women's quarters, Fernea finds herself an object of curiosity among the sheikh's wives. The youngest, Selma, is the sheikh's favorite, and she wears no abayah. Although this is unusual for a traditional Muslim woman, Selma's dress and education demonstrates the sheikh's progressive attitude (and indulgence) toward female agency. Selma's sky-blue satin dress and largely uncovered hair is a manifestation of the similar independence women of the town enjoy.

In the book, the women of the town who socialize with Fernea include several teachers (Aliyah, Hind, etc.), the mayor's wife (Um Saad), the engineer's sister (Khadija), and the doctor's wife (Nadia). While the sheikh's wives are only expected to cater to the sheikh's needs, to remain chaste, and to raise his children, more is expected of women like Khadija. Khadija's engineer brother, Jabbar, expects her to learn how to socialize with men so that she can be both an engaging companion and a matchless homemaker when she marries. Despite her discomfort, Khadija humors her brother. In Khadija, we see how the traditional Muslim woman must reconcile the old ways with modern interpretations of womanhood.

Um Saad (pedigreed, wealthy, and educated) is the epitome of the modern Muslim woman. Her mayor husband, although privately progressive on the subject of women's rights, prefers to take a moderate stance in public. As a devoted wife, Um Saad obliges him, but she continues to excel in her academic pursuits in private. Muslim women such as Um Saad, Selma, and Khadija embody the best of Muslim womanhood: while demonstrating the multiple ways of being a Muslim woman, all three demonstrate that "a good woman is the same in both spheres: her reputation for fidelity is above reproach, she is hard-working, a devoted wife and mother, a good cook and housekeeper, and a quiet obedient companion to her husband." Above all, a Muslim woman's influence is matchless, regardless of which sphere she belongs to.

As for the second part of your question, I will offer some clues on how to tackle this. First, provide a brief definition of thick description. Next, provide an example from the book that illustrates the benefits of this ethnographic method. For an example, I recommend Fernea's description of the bed Selma shares with Sheikh Hamid and Selma's narrative about the photographs on the walls. By describing the layout of the room, Selma's (and Hamid's) bed, Hamid's portraits, the clothes worn by Abdul Emir (Hamid's father), as well as Abdul Emir's illustrious warrior past, Fernea helps us to understand Sheikh Hamid's background, his present opulence, and his continuing influence in his society. Fernea's strategy of thick description also allows her to illustrate her personal growth as she navigates Iraqi society and immerses herself in the culture. Additionally, in studying the details of her surroundings and describing them, Fernea also makes Iraqi culture accessible to her readers.

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