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Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East (Council on Foreign Relations Book) Hardcover – April 27, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Coleman reaches across the Middle East and into Asia in her wide-ranging discussion of feminism and Islam. She profiles women in fields ranging from education to politics who live across the Muslim world and individually exhibit great courage in their struggle to create greater opportunities for girls. The foundation of many of their arguments is Islam itself, and the ways in which they refute sexist interpretations of the Koran and Islamic law will be eye-opening to Western readers who have sadly grown jaded on the topic of feminism. The rapid-fire manner in which Coleman travels from one hot spot to another, tracking political struggles both large and small, makes it clear that while the Western world grapples with how to meet the cacophony of voices from the East, so also the women of Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia are finding a new and assertive way to communicate. Deeply religious, profoundly determined and modern in every way, these are twenty-first-century women bent on change. Hear them roar and see a future being born before our eyes. --Colleen Mondor

Review

“Outstanding . . . [Isobel Coleman] takes us into remote villages and urban bureaucracies to find the brave men and women working to create change in the Middle East.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“[An] engrossing portrait of real Muslim women that reveals how Islamic feminists . . . are working with and within the culture, rather than against it . . . to forge ‘a legitimate Islamic alternative to the current repressive system.’ Coleman doesn’t diminish the enormity of the struggle, but she argues convincingly that it might yet rewrite Islam’s future.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“A nuanced view of Islam’s role in public life that is cautiously hopeful.”—The Economist
 
“Eye-opening . . . Deeply religious, profoundly determined and modern in every way, these are twenty-first-century women bent on change. Hear them roar and see a future being born before our eyes.”—Booklist

"I would read anything by Isobel Coleman. No other writer I know sheds greater light into the social and political conflicts of the Greater Middle East with more insight and sensitivity. Far from a dry academic tome on the plight of women in this troubled region, Paradise Beneath Her Feet offers readers an immediate, unbiased account of the lives of real women who are challenging not only the unjust restrictions placed on them by their own societies, but also the tired stereotypes and empty generalizations placed on them by the West. This is a clearly written, deeply moving, and wonderfully enlightening book."—Reza Aslan, author of No God but God and How to Win A Cosmic War

"Isobel Coleman has written a profoundly important book that illustrates how and why women are at the core of human progress, especially in the 21st century. She traveled the Islamic world to capture first-hand the poignant stories of a new generation of leaders as they struggle to transform their societies. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the region." —Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows The Future of the Middle East
 
"Women are on the front lines of our most critical human rights struggles today, particularly in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Isobel Coleman has written a deeply engaging book that shows how Muslim women—and men—across the greater Middle East are driving social justice by promoting cultural change from within their own societies. This is a must read for anyone who cares about truly sustainable development."—Angelina Jolie, UN Goodwill Ambassador and co-chair, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation
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Product Details

  • Series: Council on Foreign Relations Book
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066956
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066957
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Isobel Coleman is Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where she focuses on the Middle East and South Asia. She also directs the Council's Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Program. Her areas of expertise include democratization, economic development, gender issues, educational reform, and the political economy of the Middle East. She is the author and co-author of numerous publications, including Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East (Random House, 2010), Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (Brookings Institution Press, 2008) and Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (Hoover Press, 2006). Her writings have also appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, and regularly in online venues such as CNN.com and TheAtlantic.com. She is the author of the blog "Democracy in Development," and is a frequent speaker at academic, business, and policy conferences. In 2011, Newsweek named her one of the "150 Women Who Shake the World."

Prior to joining the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Coleman was CEO of a healthcare services company and a partner with McKinsey & Co. in New York. A Marshall Scholar, she holds a DPhil and MPhil in international relations from Oxford University and a BA in public policy and East Asian studies from Princeton University. She serves on several non-profit boards, including Plan USA and Student Sponsor Partners, and lives in the New York area with her husband and children. You can follow her on Twitter @Isobel_Coleman.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mid East Reader on May 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a truly innovative and profound book. Coleman is able to present the journey towards equal rights across the Middle East through the lens of men and women living and prospering in that region. Paradise Beneath Her Feet illustrates how a new type of feminism is gaining traction across the Muslim world--one that works within the framework of Islam. Instead of secular models of feminism, Islamic feminism has been able to effectively lobby for women's rights, education, and economic independence across the Middle East.

Coleman presents the success of Islamic feminism through her travels to five key nations in the Middle East--Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia--and conversations with Muslim men and women working towards the improvement of the status of women. The book's presentation of these individuals alongside historical and political analyses of the region allows for an exceedingly engaging and informative read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Isobel Coleman is senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (an independent, non-partisan organization not affiliated with the U.S. Govt.). This book is the result of nearly a decade of travel, study, interviews, and writing about women in the Middle East.

Paradise Beneath Her Feet is an overview of both the history and current state of affairs with regard to women's rights in the Middle East. Each chapter is devoted to one of the major Middle Eastern nations. Issues are complex and progress is slow, but courageous and persistent women in these countries are speaking out for fair treatment and equal rights. They arm themselves with verses from the Quran which call for justice and nonviolence toward women.
The key challenge lies in disentangling cultural traditions from the actual tenets of Islam. Many of the restrictions placed on women in the name of Islam come from primitive beliefs not supported by the Quran. As these women study the Quran on their own, they are able to show that many Muslim family laws are not defensible using holy scripture.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Greg Hetrick on September 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Read this book!

Isobel Coleman has written a concise and inspiring account of how individual women are changing the attitudes in the Middle East. Through the use of traditional religious texts, in this case the Holy Qur'an, women are successfully challenging how they are being treated and winning concessions from the male hierarchy. Ms. Coleman has a real gift for presenting these women as vibrant, intelligent individuals. Her ability to mix anecdote with hard fact makes this book a real joy to read. As one who has recently completed studies on a Master's Degree in international diplomacy, I have had to wade through many dry tomes. Paradise Beneath Her Feet does not fall into that category. It is that rare and happy mix of informative and entertaining. It also goes a long way towards dispelling the misconceptions that surround Islam and the Holy Qur'an. Paradise Beneath Her Feet should be required reading for anyone interested in human rights, religion, or international relations.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's getting better!

Isobel Coleman writes well about the plight of women in the Middle East. She also writes with both passion and credibity (She works with the Council of Foreign Relations). Coleman updated her 2010 edition in the preface to Paradise. Some of what she predicted has come true. She argues the continuing domino effect of falling totalitarian Muslim regimes, with recent history as the example. She discusses the plight of women in today's changing world.

In the midst of this violent schism between Sunni and Shiite here is more to be done than empowering Muslim women, and Coleman makes that point. It's about how to educate the masses so that they recognize a path to a better life for them and their progeny. I make that argument in my novel, Pulse, and use the example of technology enhanced teaching to establish it.

There are several other approachable works on Muslim feminism, such as Politics of Piety and Lifting of the Veil.

Pulse: The third of the Cooch adventures in national security (The Cooch series of national security thrillers Book 3)

Robert Cook
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By Zahabiya on December 17, 2014
Format: Paperback
Being a strong Muslim feminist, this book was absolutely enlightening. I basically flew through it by nodding my head constantly at everything. YES, There are some controversies within the text depending on your sect of Islam; there were some aspects I disagreed with, though overall, Coleman expressed a non-bias summary of many Middle Eastern countries and Muslim countries in an eloquent manner. I recommend this book to all Muslim women, non-Muslim women, Muslim men, and, basically, every human being out there. Beautiful book.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By rlweaverii on August 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

From the back flyleaf: "Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she also directs the council's Women and Foreign Policy program." From one of the reviews (this one by Jeanette) at Amazon.com: "This book is the result of nearly a decade of travel, study, interviews, and writing about women in the Middle East."

Talk about convincing! Wow. Coleman offers direct (sometimes anecdotal, much more often statistical) evidence to prove the value of giving money to women (not men), and educating women (along with men). Here, she writes about educating women: "Due to the central role women play in the domestic sphere, increasing a mother's schooling has a larger positive impact on the next generation than does adding to a father's schooling by the same number of years" (p. 19). The direct, positive correlation between a country's openness to educating women and that country's rise from poverty is clear and well established.

I thought Coleman's comments about promoting women to government positions as a way to counter extremism was insightful and accurate. (Isn't it interesting that in America (between 1848 and 1920) "conservative Christians sustained a consistent rhetoric that giving women rights was against the teachings of the Bible, and would undermine the family" (p. 27), and as recently as 2010: "The Vatican today [July 15, 2010] made the `attempted ordination' of women one of the gravest crimes under church law, putting it in the same category as clerical sex abuse of minors, heresy and schism." Can you believe it? Islam doesn't even allow men and women to pray together (p. 33).
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