When traveling around the world, one can experience a culture shock that makes them look at the world in a completely different perspective. History has evolved throughout the centuries in places such as the Middle East, that it has taken a toll on the generations. Because of past leaders, political issues, and economic issues, certain countries and cities are still affected until this day because of what happened years ago. In M.E Hume- Griffith’s, “Behind the Veil in Persia and Turkish Arabia”, we see how she talks about a certain city she visited and how because of what happened in history many years ago in Persia during the Qajar Dynasty, affected this city greatly and how it is run when she was visiting it.
M.E Hume-Griffith was an Englishwoman who spent eight years of her life in the Middle East, connecting with the Muslim women there and visiting the cities and countries around her. She went to go visit Persia from the years 1900-1908 because her husband was chosen by the church missionary society to open up a medical office in Kerman. When they were told the fascinating news they were going to live abroad, this couple, having only been married for a month, said their farewells to their friends and family, packed up all their belongings and fled the country to go help and explore the world around them, in the Middle East.
While adjusting to a different country and having everyone around M.E Hume-Griffith stare her down because they can tell her and her husband are foreign, she did not let that stop her from experiencing what is around her and seeing how people live in different settings. She mentions that after spending eight years of her life in the Middle East, she feels sorry and very sympathetic towards the Muslim women in Persia for having to go through everyday struggles and not being able to have their voice be heard (Griffith 19). In her book, “Behind the Veil in Persia and Turkish Arabia”, she talks about the different experiences she encounters from when she first got there, to how to make a carpet, and even experience wedding festivities in the Middle East and so much more. In chapter 2, she talks about specifically visiting the city of Kerman, and what she experienced there.
Within the first three years of her visit to the Middle East, each year she visited and stayed somewhere different. After visiting Isphahan as her first stop, she stayed in Kerman during her second year in the Middle East. She arrived in Kerman on Easter Day and she described the city as an interesting and old city (Griffith 30). M.E Humme-Griffith visited Kerman in the year 1902, which was the same time that the Qajar Dynasty was still in establishment. The Qajar Dynasty lasted from the years 1796-1925 (Egger 307). Griffith was very familiar of the history around her for she mentions what happened in the past in that city and how it is affecting what she saw at the time she visited Kerman. She mentions how the ruler Agha Mohammad Kham gave the city over to his soldiers, only to label him as a cruel and very brutal leader (Griffith 31). He did not care about his people at all and was a very selfish ruler. One act that he had done which was define as gruesome was having a servant bring to him twenty thousand pairs of human eyes from the males of his city and made sure to count every single one so that it was the exact number he asked for (Griffith 32). That was only the first part of his rage, he then invaded Georgia in 1797 and tried to take over there as well (Egger 305). Because of what happened in Kerman when Agha Mohammad Khan was ruling from the years 1789-1797, the city never prospered itself and remained as the “the city of beggars” (Griffith ix). Riding through the bazaars, one would notice the insane amount of poverty and beggars in Kerman all begging for copper or valuable items. The beggars even have a specific saying to try to convince you to give them money. They would shout, “Khuda guft, ‘Beddeh’” and “Shaitan guft, ‘Neddeh’”. The translation for those meanings is “God says, ‘Give’” and “Satan says, ‘Don’t Give’” (Griffith 32).
It is interesting to see how this traveler, who spent eight years of her life in a completely different environment, understood why that city is the way it is and researched why it was called the city of beggars. Agha Mohammad Khan was similar to the previous leader before him, Nadir Shah, and they were both excellent military leaders. They never backed down from what they wanted from their people. Griffith put the pieces together of because of how cruel and gruesome Agha Mohammad Khan was, he affected the way the people of Kerman live and the struggles they go through to get by every single day. The buildings of Kerman were deteriorating and in the ruins. The Qajar Dynasty was to reunify Persia and to make sure there was more modernization and westernization. Although the rulers were harsh and very demanding, Persia was not as great even with the Qajar Dynasty in place. Griffith was not quick to judge the city of Kerman and its terrible condition, while instead she took into consideration as to why the people act they way they do and what happened in this city years ago.
Not only does Griffith discover the truth behind the city of Kerman, but she also talks about her sympathy towards the Muslim women and cannot imagine the limited freedom they have access too in their daily lives. She even has a conversation with one Muslim woman and says, “Alhamdulillah (Thank God), I am not a Moslem woman!” and the woman answers her back saying, “Yes, indeed, you may thank God; but it is naseeb (fate)” (Griffith 223). Just from reading that conversation alone, one can see the how the Muslim woman also pities herself in a way for she is not allowed to act in a certain way or is restricted to certain activities and sayings.
The reasoning for Griffith’s book title, “Behind the Veil”, is to show that behind that veil that the Muslim women wear, there is inner and outer beauty that is lost because of it. She describes that when Mohammad introduced that the women under his ruling have to wear the veil, he basically meant that these women are “Imprisoned for life” (Griffith 223). Wearing that veil essentially means they have given up most of their rights for their religion and are restricted to certain doings. Griffith visited some of these Muslim women’s houses and she noticed how strict certain rules are in each house. One lady was not even allowed to bath until later on in the day. Another Muslim lady would not even enter the house of Griffith when she invited her over until she was sure no men would be in the house (Griffith 228). This was such a culture shock for Griffith to witness that everyday woman cannot live a normal life without having the man be in control of everything or they will be judged by other Muslim women extremists who live by the books. Living in the states, Griffith is not used to this society and was trying her hardest to find the real women under those veils, the ones that have a personality, have dreams. When talking to them, she did end up finding those women, although they are hidden and are very to themselves, she found true inner beauty behind those veils and loved those women more.
Griffith had a certain connection with them and was heartbroken at one incident she encountered. She woke up to two women fighting and shouting at each other, realizing it is because the husband took one of his wives and was leaving the other. At that moment, Griffith noticed that love between a man and women is not existent in the Muslim society in Persia (Griffith 229). It was such a sad experience for Griffith to encounter upon for she is not used to watching a man pick one of his wives over another, and seeing the woman heartbroken. Muslim woman do not have certain rights and are not allowed to divorce their husbands under any circumstances. The women are not even allowed to leave their house without the husbands’ permission (Zolan188). If the Muslims were extremists and would take the rules to the next level, there would be more serious consequences for the Muslim women if they did not abide by the rules of their husband. If they ever failed to disobey their husbands, they would not be granted enough food or even clothing for they were showing disrespect to the dominant male, which is not acceptable in the culture (Zolan189).
Love is something that is encountered in everyone’s life and for it to be played around like a toy is very hard to watch. Griffith noticed though that because the love between a man and women is so undefined, the Arab women are the most loving and compassionate people to engage conversation in for they give their hearts out to their children and people who are sincere to them (Griffith 230). She genuinely feels their pain and cannot imagine what they have to go through on an everyday basis. Her experience in Persia is one she will never forget for she has encountered so many relationships and friendships along the way. Experiencing the world around her and comparing how she lives her everyday life vs. how others live is something she is very fortunate to have witnessed and she mentions how blessed she is for her lifestyle.
Griffith has witnessed a lot within the eight years she spent in the Middle East, not only has she been a part of her husbands medical missionary work, she took her own adventures and discovered the culture on her own. She has experienced poverty, and have seen servants work from sunrise to sunset even while being blind in order to making a living and not be beaten by their owners. (Griffith 327). Living abroad across the other side of the country, Griffith was grateful for how and where she was raised and that she did not have to suffer like the Arab people she met and saw in the streets. One could only imagine what it must feel like to have to work for a terrible owner, or beg for money on the street of the bazaars, or not being allowed to divorce your husband after you caught him cheating on you. There are so many things that are unfair in this world and it can be a cruel place. But for Griffith to witness all of her surroundings, she noticed not everything in the Middle East was looked upon badly. She got to go to an Arab wedding and enjoyed the festivities that they act upon within the day. She learned how to tell if a carpet was in good condition or not and even learned how to make one. Not only did she study the history of where she was staying and why the city of Kerman was of high poverty, but she took that into consideration while staying there and did not base the people off of how they were acting. She knew it was not their fault that the poverty rate was so high there. Griffith also tried her best to comfort the Muslim women she encountered and made sure that each one of them knew they had a friend they can depend on no matter how harsh their living conditions were, herself. One can conclude that Griffith enjoyed her eight years in the Middle East and everything that she was accustomed too will be something she will cherish for a lifetime.