A Quiet Revolution: The Veils Resurgence, from the Middle East to America Hardcover – Apr 29 2011
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"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)
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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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.
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.
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