In the second edition of Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East, Donna Lee Bowen and Evelyn A. Early have reintroduced this often confusing region in a clear and concise manner. Rather than seeking to describe every aspect of every country in the Middle East, Bowen and Early have included essays that focus on the everyday activities of the Muslim people of the region. This approach works well in introducing the reader to the struggles, feelings, and daily routine of the inhabitants of this area.
The book is presented in much the same way as the first edition, divided into five sections: generations and life passages; gender relations; home, community, and work; popular expression of religion; and performance and entertainment. While the book retains the successful format of the first edition, it introduces twenty-three new narratives, stories, and studies. Each essay and section contributes to the weaving of a tapestry that reflects the realities of Middle Eastern societies. To complement the articles and to give relevant background, Bowen and Early have written an informative introduction to each section as well as comments that precede each individual piece.
Given the size and disparities of the Middle East, the authors have done well in choosing articles that have salience in countries outside of the essays’ immediate subject matter. Although all but three of the articles deal with specific countries and not the region as a whole, the ideas and insights that they present are often applicable to other areas of the Middle East. For example, the essay by Diane Singerman, “Networks, Jobs, and Everyday Life in Cairo,” highlights the important role played by formal and informal networks in gaining employment in the face of a large bureaucracy and a dearth of jobs. While the article deals exclusively with Egypt, family, social, and political networks also have a significant role in much of the rest of the Middle East.
Among my favorite articles are Brian Barber’s “Politics, Politics, and More Politics: Youth Life Experiences in the Gaza Strip,” Jon W. Anderson’s “Internet Islam: New Media of the Islamic Reformation,” and an article that was included in the first edition, Michael E. Jansen’s “An American Woman on the Hajj.” Each of these essays deals with issues that are important yet often overlooked or misunderstood by the Western reader.
Barber’s article describes the intense politicalization that has occurred in Gaza and its impact on the Palestinian youth’s perceived realities and hopes for the future. Anderson looks at the way in which a new technology, the Internet, has been effectively used to further Islamic discourse and what effect this might have on Islam. Jansen’s piece is a personal narrative of the pilgrimage to Mecca.
As indicated in the title of the book, the essays are about the Muslim Middle East. Perhaps one of the most unique attributes of the Middle East is the impact religion has on the culture, identity, and politics of the region. The book contains many articles that effectively describe the extent that Islam influences and permeates the everyday life of the modern Middle Easterner. “Young Women’s Sexuality in Tunisia: The Health Consequences of Misinformation among University Students” demonstrates the conflict of conscience that occurs as the changing morals of modernity react with Islamic cultural and religious traditions. The essay “Inside the Islamic Reformation” deals with how education and the mass media have precipitated an ongoing reinterpretation of Islam.
In light of recent world events, this book could not have come at a more appropriate time. Now, more than ever, it is important that the English-speaking world has access to a work that can help increase mutual understanding and respect between the West and the Muslim Middle East. In the editors’ own words, “The best way to combat stereotypes is to meet others on a person-to-person basis” (xi).