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Reviews 697

to him. If mid-19th-century Egyptians had been disinterested in the Pharaonic past, those under Qutbs sway a century later were asked to renounce it all together. Colla concludes by suggesting that we should not miss the ironies inherent to a process wherein the same group of cultural artifacts, narratives and images [comes] to mean such different things to different actors (p. 273). His suggestion will resonate for anyone who works to chart the chimera of 20th-century Egyptian national identity. It might also serve as an object lesson for those who seek to understand the relationship between contemporary Islamists and objects from pasts they seek to distance themselves from or to destroy. In any case, anyone who picks up Conflicting Antiquities will come away from its reading with a more complete understanding of the relationship between science and colonialism, of the politics inherent to modern tourism, and of the power of the ancients to shape the governing practices of the present. In every case, readers will be delighted by Collas prose, impressed with his erudition, and engaged by the connections he forges between the appropriated past and the contested present.

MAHA A. Z. YAMANI, Polygamy and Law in Contemporary Saudi Arabia (Reading, U.K.: Ithaca Press, 2008). Pp. 240. $54.50 cloth. REVIEWED BY LAURA PEARL KAYA, School of Professional Studies, City University of New York, New York, N.Y.; e-mail:

Polygamy and Law in Contemporary Saudi Arabia by Maha A. Z. Yamani is a useful but flawed book. Its significance lies in two areas: it identifies an increase in polygamy among Western-oriented elites in the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia, and it sheds light on the important but understudied topic of polygamy. Its principle shortcomings can be considered under the rubric of overgeneralization. First, although the author notes that her primary data was collected from fifteen polygamous men and an ostensibly equally limited number of women, she often states or implies that her findings are applicable to the Hijaz region, Saudi Arabia, or the Muslim world. This problem is particularly serious because it precludes her from adequately defining the scope of the books conclusions. Second, Yamani extrapolates from the problems she identifies in the practice of polygamy to Islamic treatment of women. This overgeneralization leads to a negatively biased depiction of Islam. Nevertheless, with these caveats, I recommend this book to all who wish to gain greater insight into either polygamy or the ethnography of Saudi Arabia. The greatest strength of this book is its ethnography, found in the chapters on The Social Acceptability of Polygamous Marriage, The Character of the Polygamous Relationship, and The Reasons for Polygamy. These pages provide a moving depiction of the difficulties caused by polygamy from the perspectives of each of those affected, most notably, the husband, the first wife, and the subsequent wives. The consequences are usually worst for the first wife, who suffers the emotional pain of jealousy, the financial loss of a share of her husbands wealth, and the public humiliation that comes with the implication that she is unable to satisfy her husband. The husband, encouraged to polygamy by male friends who see the state as macho, is sometimes distressed after the fact by the extent of the pain that he has caused his first wife. A husband may also find that the problems he hoped to solve through polygamyfrom sexual dissatisfaction to the haughtiness of his first wifecontinue. It is interesting that the second and subsequent wives appear to benefit the most from the arrangement. These are usually women who could not otherwise get married due either to

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their status as divorc es or their advanced age. Becoming a second wife allows them the e respect granted to a married woman, legitimate sexual access, and the opportunity to have children. Because they enter an already polygamous marriage, they tend to experience less jealousy than first wives do. In addition, although a second wife is commonly admonished for rob[bing] an existing family of its peaceful existence (p. 196), she exchanges another stigma, that of living as a divorced woman or a spinster, for this new disgrace. For some career women, being a second wife is also appealing because it does not entail the time commitment that first wifehood requires. Although these insights are fascinating, their scope is not entirely clear. For understandable reasons of confidentiality, Yamani avoids depicting any of her informants as individuals. More detrimentally, she fails to describe the demographics of her sample in any detail. In fact, at one point she asserts that the men and women selected for the sample in this book were drawn from a variety of social and economic backgrounds (p. 237), and at another she says that a distinct, emerging educated social group . . . forms the focus of this research (p. 69). It is difficult to understand to whom exactly her conclusions apply. This problem of scope appears again in Yamanis interesting discussion of the increase in polygamous marriages among educated, urban elites in the Hijaz region. Yamani argues that although polygamy was all but unknown among this group during the 1980s, it is no longer uncommon. Moreover, she demonstrates that its increase coincided with several measures taken by the Saudi government to promote polygamy. Notably, the Saudi Ministry of Planning released a report stating that there were 1.5 million spinsters in Saudi Arabia. This was followed by a flurry of support for polygamy in the government-controlled media, which asserted that only polygamy would allow these women to experience married life. In fact, however, 85 percent of the unmarried women identified by the governments survey were between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four and thus still of prime marriageable age in Saudi Arabia; further, the number of single females of every age was proportionate to the number of single males. This and other evidence make it clear that the Saudi government supports polygamy. Further, Yamani convincingly argues that media campaigns influenced her polygamous informants in favor of the practice. These developments in Saudi Arabia are significant and all but unknown outside the kingdom. However, it weakens Yamanis argument that she asserts, based on flawed references, that a similar increase is taking place across the Middle East. She alleges that academic literature has established that the revival of polygamy has occurred in (many) Arab/Muslim and Middle Eastern countries (p. 29), following this claim with six endnotes attached to supporting sentences. It is disconcerting that not one of these notes reveals the promised academic source. Further, I am very familiar with two of the countries she names, Jordan and Turkey, and her contention contradicts my observations. This overgeneralization, however, should not unduly distract the reader from the more solid evidence Yamani presents concerning the Saudi case. Yamanis exaggeration of the prevalence of polygamy unfortunately coincides with other assertions unfavorable to Islam. These are particularly evident in Chapter 6, The Legal Framework and Legal Changes, which comprises a litany of complaints of gender bias in Saudi law. Although some of the examples cited in this chapter support Yamanis argument that the government is promoting polygamy, others seem irrelevant to the issues at hand. In addition, Yamani blames these Saudi regulations on Islam. In the chapters introduction, she proposes to discuss laws drawn from generally accepted current Islamic interpretation [and] laws enacted by the Islamic state, imposed in the name of religion while emanating from sources other than the traditional, some even contradicting the traditional context (p. 127). Yamanis phrasing renders it easy to attribute the laws discussed to Islam, because Islamic reformers often oppose real religion to the traditional.

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It is unfortunate that Yamanis interpretations of Islam throughout the chapter often stray from the generally accepted. For example, Yamani asserts that although a man has the right to sexual satisfaction from his wife, a womans sexual satisfaction is not guaranteed by Islam. My own female Islamist informants in Jordan, however, informed me that Muslim women do have a religiously guaranteed right to sexual satisfaction; Yamanis assertion is controversial, a fact she does not acknowledge. In a similar vein, Yamani claims that although Islam dictates that both male and female fornicators should be lashed, women should also be imprisoned. However, Amira El-Azhary Sonbol reports that there is no difference between the Islamic punishments for men and women fornicators (Women of Jordan: Islam, Labor, and the Law, 2003). In this as in other cases, Yamani accepts the Saudi governments idiosyncratic interpretation of Islam as correct. Polygamy and Law in Contemporary Saudi Arabia is a well-written and enjoyable book on a fascinating topic. For these reasons, it is a logical choice for undergraduate classes on gender and/or the Islamic world. It is unfortunate that, without proper contextualization from other sources, the book could mislead undergraduates as to the prevalence of polygamy and the nature of gender relations in Islam. The work is, however, a welcome addition to the literature on women in the Islamic world.

NIMA NAGHIBI, Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). Pp. 217. $67.50 cloth, $22.50 paper. REVIEWED BY MINA SAFIZADEH, Sociology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.; e-mail:

Nima Naghibis book is informed by training in the English department and a commitment to bringing the analytical strategies of postcolonial theory into Middle East scholarship. Two of the five chapters of her book were previously published as journal articles in 1999 and 2000, respectively. The author traces the involvement of Western women in Iran and questions one of feminisms core concepts, the idea of sisterhood, in the Iranian context. She argues that the discourse of sisterhood, initially invoked by missionary women in Iran in the mid-19th century, was fraught from the onset with an inherent inequality between sisters. Sisterhood was predicated on a hierarchal relationship between women who know and those who require instruction and was never perceived as a platform of solidarity and community among women of equal footing (p. xxvi). This discourse has consistently represented Iranian women as subjugated, passive, and without agency even as this representation was contested by womens mobilization and participation in the political process. This problematic history of sisterhood continues to haunt contemporary debates about Iranian women and is again being contested by indigenous womens voices. The first chapter explores the historical roots of the politics of sisterhood in 19th-century Iran. The author draws on the writings of Presbyterian and Anglican women missionaries, Mary Bird of the British Anglicans of the Church Missionary Society (who worked in Iran from 1891 to 1904), secular feminists involved in the suffragist movement in Britain, and two independent travelers to Iran, Gertrude Bell and Ella Sykes. In particular, the discussion of Bells and Sykess travelogues is informative and insightful in this chapter. Despite their diverse political and religious persuasions, these women draw on very similar discursive representations of Persian women in their writings, portraying them as backward and passive.