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A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America [Hardcover]

Leila Ahmed

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Book Description

April 29 2011

In Cairo in the 1940s, Leila Ahmed was raised by a generation of women who never dressed in the veils and headscarves their mothers and grandmothers had worn. To them, these coverings seemed irrelevant to both modern life and Islamic piety. Today, however, the majority of Muslim women throughout the Islamic world again wear the veil. Why, Ahmed asks, did this change take root so swiftly, and what does this shift mean for women, Islam, and the West?

When she began her study, Ahmed assumed that the veil's return indicated a backward step for Muslim women worldwide. What she discovered, however, in the stories of British colonial officials, young Muslim feminists, Arab nationalists, pious Islamic daughters, American Muslim immigrants, violent jihadists, and peaceful Islamic activists, confounded her expectations. Ahmed observed that Islamism, with its commitments to activism in the service of the poor and in pursuit of social justice, is the strain of Islam most easily and naturally merging with western democracies' own tradition of activism in the cause of justice and social change. It is often Islamists, even more than secular Muslims, who are at the forefront of such contemporary activist struggles as civil rights and women's rights. Ahmed's surprising conclusions represent a near reversal of her thinking on this topic.

Richly insightful, intricately drawn, and passionately argued, this absorbing story of the veil's resurgence, from Egypt through Saudi Arabia and into the West, suggests a dramatically new portrait of contemporary Islam.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 29 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300170955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300170955
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 16.6 x 2.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 680 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #284,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Ms. Ahmed gives us a fascinating portrait of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially of its 'unsung mother,' Zainab al-Ghazali."—Mira Sethi, Wall Street Journal
(Mira Sethi Wall Street Journal)

“Leila Ahmed takes a subject that arouses great emotion, shows how the resurgence of veiling has come about, and explains with great clarity what it means. Ahmed's learned and engaging argument should make all readers examine their prejudices. This valuable and much needed introduction to major trends in the modern Muslim world leads to some novel and surprising conclusions. An important book, it should be required reading for journalists, educationalists, politicians and religious leaders.”—Karen Armstrong, Author, A History of God

(Karen Armstrong 2011-02-02)

“Leila Ahmed 's views on women, Islam  and Islamism are not only interesting but courageous and need to be read and debated. Her new book brings the critical historical perspective necessary to understand the deep and quiet revolution that is occurring among American Muslims.”—Tariq Ramadan, University of Oxford

(Tariq Ramadan 2011-02-02)

“A powerful and critically important analysis of the veil’s modern history and reemergence in our time. This is a history Leila Ahmed herself has lived through and witnessed, especially in North America. It is compelling reading for the many readers with questions about the veil and its meanings.”—Diana Eck, author of A New Religious America

(Diana Eck 2011-02-02)

“What lies behind the phenomenon of Muslim women wearing “Islamic dress”? Leila Ahmed provides an engaging tour through nationalism, socialism, Islam, and anti-imperialism in her beautifully written book, weaving together the themes of politics, dress, and women’s changing roles with her usual historical and literary skill. A fascinating read.”—Jane Smith, Harvard University

(Jane Smith 2011-02-02)

"A discerning account of feminists, veiled and unveiled, and their creation of what [Ahmed] sees as a new space within American Islam."—Christine Stansell, New Republic
(Christine Stansell New Republic Online)

"The portrait of post 9/11 Muslim America that Ahmed offers up in her book is strikingly hopeful, full of individuals, trends, and stories that make her case for this new era's promise."—Time Magazine

"A Quiet Revolution is an important book.It provides a thorough history of the resurgence of the veil both in the Muslim world and in the U.S. and adds significant nuance to the complex issues that surround the veil. Ahmed's work will no doubt continue to inspire a new generation of Muslim feminists."—Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times)

Selected by the ALA for the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf on Muslim Journeys project
(Bridging Cultures Bookself Selection, Muslim Journeys Project American Library Association (ALA) 2012-06-22)

 Winner of the 2013 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, given jointly by the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville
(Grawemeyer Award in Religion Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville 2012-12-06)

“The veil may be the most evocative symbol of Islam for many non-Muslim readers, and Ahmed’s treatment of the subject is wide-ranging, discursive, and utterly fascinating.”—Library Journal, starred review
(Library Journal)

About the Author

Leila Ahmed is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of Women and Gender in Islam and A Border Passage: From Cairo to America—A Woman's Journey. She lives in Cambridge, MA.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wider scope than title would suggest July 14 2011
By Laura - Published on Amazon.com
I picked this up by chance at my local bookstore. While the title's subject was intriguing, the scope of the book is actually (and pleasantly) much broader. The book covers basic Egyptian history starting around the British occupation to the present, the various political and religious movements on the scene (particularly the Muslim Brotherhood), and the influence of Saudi Arabia and the West. These factors serve as context for the unveiling and veiling trends. The book also addresses women in Islam more generally, Muslim associations in America, and American Muslims that are advancing gender equality. The writing style is excellent, making the book an engrossing and easy read. While I would recommend the book as a well-argued thesis for the veil's resurgence, as Ahmed admits, individual women's reasons for wearing the veil vary. So if you are wondering why Muslim women you know are wearing the veil, I would suggest asking them!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent on Islamism as well as women in Islam July 18 2011
By LJK - Published on Amazon.com
This valuable book is far broader than its title suggests. I recommend it highly for anyone who is interested in women in Islam or Islamism, and is willing to read a well-written scholarly book.

Ahmed grew up in Egypt and now teaches at the Harvard Divinity School, and she started with the question of why more women are wearing hijab now than a generation ago, in the United States and around the world. Answering this question led her not only to exploring the multiple reasons individual women offer for wearing and not wearing different forms of veils, but also to writing an extremely helpful history of Islamism in Egypt, where the Islamic Brotherhood was founded in the 1920s, and the United States, where Islamism-influenced women are now at the forefront of challenging gender hierarchies and misogyny. Islamism, according to Ahmed, defines the quest for social justice as near the core of Islam and Muslim practice. Traditional forms of Islam, in contrast, tend to have a more personal, spiritual, and ethical focus. Because Islamism urges its members towards organization and activism, and because of financial support from Saudi Arabia, Islamism has grown rapidly and is increasingly able to define itself as "true" Islam. Islamism has changed the symbolic meaning of hijab, and for many Islamist women, wearing hijab now signifies their commitment to social justice. In the 1970s the leadership of the Islamic Brotherhood repudiated violence as a means for achieving their goals, but not all Islamists agreed with them and some broke away to create militant groups, which are a small minority but more likely to make the news than the peaceful Islamist mainstream. Most American Muslim institutions have Islamist roots, but most American Muslims are not Islamist. 9/11 has had a huge effect on American Muslim organizations, making them more open to diverse opinions and challenges to hierarchical leadership. In the US, the Islamic call to justice has extended to gender justice among many, but probably not a majority, of American Islamists.

Such a brief summary does not do justice to the depth and texture of Ahmed's work, but suggests the breadth and importance of her story.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent--And Much More Than Its Title (History of Muslim Brotherhood as well) May 14 2012
By Mayflower Girl - Published on Amazon.com
I was really pleasantly surprised by Dr. Ahmed's book, "A Quiet Revolution." It really is much more than a history of hijab's resurgence in Egypt (as well as the Muslim community at large). It gives an extremely detailed and accurate history of the Muslim Brotherhood, which to my surprise, is often as it was characterized to me by my Egyptian husband--a mainly charitable organization which did renounce violence years ago. (It's the splinter groups which tend to be responsible for the violence.) Really important reading with the upcoming elections in Egypt.

It's important to note that the Muslim Brotherhood is also a group whose leaders were exiled...and who often went to Saudi and the other Gulf countries where they were influenced by the more strict Wahabi-brand of Islam which they then brought back to Egypt (and as well as the US).

The first part of the book was truly fascinating. The US actually supported the MB and increased religious-focus of Egyptians because they didn't want Egypt to "go the other way" and become Socialist/Communist. The Muslim Brotherhood had a long term goal in mind...looking at 13 year increments...and they never wanted to impose anything on society. Rather, their goal was to gradually educate society so that they would see things the way the Muslim Brotherhood did--and follow their Brand of Islam. Their focus was often on charity projects--hospitals, schools, day cares--providing services that were better than could be had from the government/private sector. Brilliant.

That's something which disturbs many Muslims as it has become the dominant form of Islam practiced/preached--mainly due to Saudi money. It was interesting in reading the history of the Brotherhood and its influence on US Muslim organizations like the Muslim Student Association and ISNA. It was even more interesting to see how those organizations have grown beyond their MB influence to the point where members are demanding that half of the seats on governing boards go to women, etc. These second generation Muslims and converts are very much Americans--and are very willing to push their leadership for equal rights, etc. Dr. Ahmed points out over time how she saw the sex segregation fall, and women's participation increase.

The troubling thing that has happened in Islam in the past 20-30 years is that for Muslims *and* non-Muslims, woman are still judged by their appearance. To non-Muslims, all Muslim women in hijab are pretty much terrorists in training. In the Muslim community today, there is no longer a concept of a pious, observant Muslim woman who does not wear hijab. That wasn't the case in the past. Today, goo Muslimahs are women who wear hijab and Muslimahs who do not.... well.... they must not really love Islam or some such nonsense. There's also the oft reported that especially in American, women are free to choose to wear hijab or not. While that is true to the point that they would not be thrown in jail (nor would they in Egypt), the cultural and family pressures can be immense both ways. There are families who would just as easily disown a daughter who took up hijab as ones who would do the same to a daughter who stopped wearing hijab. There are husbands who do divorce their wives for wanting to stop wearing hijab, regardless of kids and other factors, just as there are men who divorce their wives who are convinced to wear hijab. I'm not sure what the answer is--but I do want to say that for every woman who wears hijab because she believes in her heart it is true, I know at least one or two who feel pressured into it. There doesn't seem to be the ability right now to love Islam and not choose hijab.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written, well argued and researched Dec 13 2011
By Katerina Lucas - Published on Amazon.com
Anyone who would like to watch Leila Ahmed talk about her book followed by other renown scholars on Islam and feminism please see here: [...]
I bought this book and read within two days. Afterwards, I lend it to other friends all of whom are scholars of religion or are otherwise linked to the topics connected to religion and culture. Everyone liked it and thought that Ahmed presents an intriguing argument.

Anyone can pick up the book and read it. Not just academics. Though the author does not shy away from the depth of academic thought.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected, however very interesting March 8 2013
By Nachi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I thought this book was going to concentrate more on the hijab subject, but what it mainly talks about is the history of Egypt's colonization and the Muslim brotherhood. I feel that it barely talks about the hijab revolution as it says. I am happy to be able to understand more about Egypts developement, but don't think this book has the correct name.

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