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This classic from the early 1990s made great strides to open up constructive debate over women's roles in Islamic communities. Ahmed draws on the wealth of feminist research into ancient cultures to give a balanced account on the sources of patriarchal and egalitarian values. She shows how Islamic ethics became rigidified into a vast code of law under the despotic Abbasid caliphs, and how arbitrary interpretations served to protect the interests of autocratic rulers. She explores the rise of Islamic feminism and self-actualization for Muslim women from the 1800s forward, mainly focusing on Egypt and Turkey. Throughout the book Ahmed, highlights a contrast between popular religion as a practice of equality, and legalistic religion as a justification for enforced inequality.
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on July 25, 2001
This book was assigned reading in my NYU course about the Middle East. Written by Leila Ahmed, a professor of Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Director of the Women's Studies program there, it reinforced some basic information we studied from other textbooks, with a particular emphasis on women's role in Middle Eastern history. The book is well researched, with little-known documentation from pre-Islamic history on up to the present, citing what is known of ancient marriage laws and including literary writings and histories of some 19th and 20th Century women writers. Her particular feminist position is apparent throughout and there are no apologies for this. Often she writes about the veil and blames colonialism for using it as a misunderstood interpretation of women's subjugation.
The second half of her book concentrates specifically on Egypt and it was fascinating. However, I would have liked to see more about the other countries, especially as she got into modern times. I also would have enjoyed reading her insights about the changes and challenges occurring today. It is refreshing to see a serious work such as this written by an Islamic woman and I hope she continues bringing her skills in research and interpretation to the public. Recommended.
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on December 10, 1999
Leila Ahmed's WOMEN AND GENDER IN ISLAM is a wonderfully iconoclastic history of ideas about Muslim women. Cheerfully debunking every stereotype American readers have about women in the Islamic heartland, Ahmed weaves together theological and literary sources, statistics and travelers' tales, to create a narrative far more complex and even-handed than any other I have read on the topic. Her focus is on the development of ideas rather than the physical details of women's lives, yet many individual women sparkle in her tale. Whether she is identifying the cultural influences which led early Islam toward misogyny and away from egalitarianism (elements of both misogyny and egalitarianism existing in Arab society and thought at the time) or showing how Muslim modernizers were influenced by colonial European racism (which used a pseudo-feminism to denigrate traditional non-Western cultures), her writing is sophisticated and graceful. Never heavy or dogmatic, careful to limit her conclusions and generalizations, Ahmed's integrity is matched only by her feminism. She would be the first to suggest how much more work needs to be done in the study of Muslim women, but WOMEN AND GENDER IN ISLAM is a marvelous beginning.
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on May 11, 2004
By far the best scholarly and historical work amidst the increasing number of books on this topic. Particularly interesting is the discussion of how Muslim caliphs adopted the Persian custom of having huge imperial harems. Of course, this is one of the aspects of "Muslim" culture that really tantalized the early Orientalists, as discussed by Edward Said in his book on the subject.
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on October 16, 2001
Leila Ahmed gives a brilliant and informative read about the history of women in Islam. Her book maintains both factual information along with anecdotal pieces which only enhance our understanding of the lives involved in the religion and politics of Islamic civilisations. While the book focuses on Egypt, it should be understand that Egypt is taken as a very typical regime with the exception of perhaps Morocco and Saudi Arabia as polar extremes. Ahmed clearly has a humanistic objective of equality in all her points, though never too harshly. The book carries a very clear picture of issues and can even help a lot of us consider what Western false concepts of female equality we truly have.
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on September 30, 2002
This is a good book for anyone to read who doesn't know much about Islam. The author gives several chapters of in-depth history of the rise of Islam. It is interesting to read--not dry and boring like a lot of other detailed history books.
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on November 29, 1999
Excellent writing, Ahmed deals calmly and in depth with a potentially explosive and hot issue, how women have been treated in Islam, how Islam demands they be treated, and how Muslim women today are rationalized in the modern Islamic context. The author presents subjects such as hijab and women's legal status in such a way that both Muslims and non-Muslims alike can benefit and learn from.
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on June 5, 2001
The book first covers the traditions of women before Islam and continues through the period of time up to present. Author refers to some hadits or ayats that puts restrictions on women as the result of the societies of the times of the past. There seem to be an inherent claim that you can interpret the Quran with current social conditions. It is disputed issue if the Qur'an can and should be interpreted based on current social conditions. Qur'an clearly requires covering of the women, veil is another issue. Author has concentrated mostly in conditions in Egypt, that is a Muslim country but not necessariliy the only country so the coverage is not balanced. Furthermore there are references as to the behavior of the women in Egypt such as removing the head cover with comment them being coptic and muslim women slowly adapting the same. So is this study about the feminism in Egypt or in Islam or whatever changes were happening in feminist relations were they mostly among the minorities or amongst the majority muslims. I read the book assuming that author was always referring to muslim women but now I am not sure. I wish author could back up her feminist claims with ayats or hadits and prove that the interpretations were wrong. Ms. Lale Baktihar has a nice book with reasonable claims or Ms.Stosswater or Ms.Amina Wadud. I appreciate the effort but I would like to see more reasons for claims unless you read the book as a History of developments well than it is okey
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