Middle East Researcher Expands Her Knowledge as a DEIS Scholar
February 27, 2019
For Habiba Farh, Brandeis has been a time of research and discovery. Farh studies the political trajectories of Arab-Americans in contemporary American society, specifically how the politicization of Arab-Americans growing up after the 9/11 attacks compares to the politicization of Arab-Americans who witnessed the attacks first hand. She is currently completing the master’s degree in the bachelor's/master's program in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies with a focus on Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.
Farh had a special interest in the Middle Eastern Studies program offered at Brandeis. She made her decision after speaking with some students and alumni from the program and learning about the close relationships students build with faculty. The decision paid off when Farh took on the challenge of an individual research project. It was intimidating, but the faculty were able “to guide me and hold my hand during the way,” she says.
The resulting paper, “Hatgawez” (Egyptian Arabic for “I’m Getting Married”), was published in November 2016 by the Brandeis International Journal. The paper explored how both poorer families and the state benefit from the institution of temporary marriage, in particular between young girls and wealthy Gulf citizens, leading to a de facto legalization of prostitution. The paper also discusses how economic inequality, structural power and familial power come together in a matrix of domination. “In Egypt marriage is a very celebrated and important part of social society,” says Farh. “But what happens when marriage becomes a tool of survival? I wanted to talk about vulnerable poor girls who are married off by their parents because the deal fulfills the parents needs for survival and also ensures survival for the girls.”
After the success of “Hatgawez,” Farh’s professors advised her to continue her research. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offered Farh the Diversity, Excellence and Inclusion Scholarship, which offers a full tuition scholarship and a $10,000 stipend for master’s students. “At that point, I had picked my advisor for my thesis. I had a clear direction of the faculty, and I had built up my relationships with the librarians, the archivist and my advisor, so I decided to take all these opportunities to the next level and keep my project at Brandeis.”
Farh is taking an interdisciplinary approach to her master’s thesis because she feels that viewing the Middle East through the lens of one discipline provides too narrow a picture. Although she is part of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies program, she is using techniques associated with ethnographic fieldwork for her research. She picked up these strategies when double-majoring in Anthropology as an undergraduate, and she is working with professors in the Anthropology department as a master’s candidate.
Farh cites the close relationships with her faculty as a key benefit in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies program. “My professors have been really helpful in my academic life, as well. my social life and my mental health. To have professors who motivate you, as well as force you to take care of yourself is really important, especially when you're a minority. You burn out very quickly. It was really helpful for me to have my advisors there to tell me it’s going to be okay and encourage me to keep moving forward.”
For students interested in studying the Middle East, Farh advises exploring all the assets on campus. “A lot of students don't realize how many resources they have,” she says, “from the library, academic sources, the grad schools and your own professors. Be open to collaborative work and don't restrict yourself to one department because sometimes you will find that other people in other departments are going to help you with your own work.”