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Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate Reissue Edition

4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300055832
ISBN-10: 0300055838
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This survey examines the historical roots and contemporary condition of Islamic discourse on gender.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

""A pathbreaking survey of Islamic discourse."-"Publishers Weekly""

""A meticulous historical analysis of the discourses on women and society in Islamic countries."-"Ethnic and Racial Studies"

""A signal contribution to the question of Islam and gender as well as a solid overview of the history of gender in the region."-Judith Tucker

"This thoughtful and thought-provoking book should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the complexity of women's experience."-Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

""Refreshingly balanced and brilliantly insightful, this book is a major scholarly contribution to the history of women in Islam. It is must reading for any social science or humanities course on the Middle East or Islam." -- Eliz Sanasarian "International Journal of Middle East Studies"

""This book stands out as particularly original, insightful and sensitive. Concentrating on one of the nearly taboo topics of Islam, its treatment of women, the author examines the patrilineal traditions in the Middle East that preceded Islam and discusses objectively the ways in which Islam both improved and curtailed the freedoms of women in its earliest days. . . . A highly original and important book."-"Foreign Affairs"

""ÝAhmed¨ ably portrays the circumstances of women from the medieval period into modern times by synthesizing various materials. The outcome will allow the general reader a far richer notion of women's society as a whole." -- Sherifa Zuhur "Middle East Journal"

""ÝAn¨ exemplary case of in-depth historical survey. . . . Women's studies in general and Middle Eastern studies in particular are much enriched by Ýthis¨ work, which should be included in the readings of all who wish to gain a sound understanding of Muslim women and politics in the Middle East." -- Haleh Afshar "Third World Quarterly"

""I would not hesitate to recommend this book as a good source of information."

""This is an important book that deserves to be recieved beyond its primary audience of feminist readers."-Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James, "Christian Century""

""An inspiring tour de force. . . . This courageous and provocative study is a formidable historiographical milestone on whose strengths we must learn to build."

""Women and Gender in Islam will quickly become one of the most important treatises on gender and Islam. . . . Effectively documented, strongly argued, and passionately written."

""Elegantly argued and intertwining at least three subjects of great contemporary interest - Islam, feminism and postcolonialism - it is certainly both timely and thought provoking."

""This is a book that had to be written. This is a book that must be read. No other general survey of women and gender in Islam exists. I am deeply grateful to Leila Ahmed for giving us this book."-Catharine R. Stimpson

""[Ahmed] ably portrays the circumstances of women from the medieval period into modern times by synthesizing various materials. The outcome will allow the general reader a far richer notion of women's society as a whole."

""Ahmed's book is a significant contribution. . . . Its ambitious scope, its lucidity, and its committed vision all make it a work that will be stimulating and informative for specialists, students, and general readers alike."-Barbara D. Metcalf, "Middle Eastern Studies"

""[An] exemplary case of in-depth historical survey. . . . Women's studies in general and Middle Eastern studies in particular are much enriched by [this] work, which should be included in the readings of all who wish to gain a sound understanding of Muslim women and politics in the Middle East."

""A masterful discussion of women's condition in the Muslim Middle East. She highlights the crucial historical arguments over women by skillfully incorporating excellent secondary sources on the early period and provides her own interpretations of certain key primary sources later on. . . . An important contribution."

""A provocative exploration . . . Leila Ahmed provides a sensitive, phenomenological rethinking of this timely subject. . . . this perceptive book marks a step toward addressing the deficiency . . . of objectively valid studies of Arab women."-Kevin F. Dwyer, "Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science""

""Clearly one of the book's enduring strengths is Leila Ahmed's genuine, as opposed to academic, concern (a distinction often lost on writers of Islam) that Muslim women, for too long the subject of inflated homilies or hollow gender confrontations, strike up their own debate--on grounds designed to suit rather than stifle."

""A remarkable "tour de force, "conceived, presented, analyzed, and articulated with unusual clarity. . . . An impressive social history of mores and attitudes toward women. . . . Because of the book's exceptional breadth and depth of discussion, I enthusiastically endorse Leila Ahmed's "Women and Gender in Islam as "a classroom text, as a reference work, and as an exemplar of what feminist cultural history can be."

""While providing a wonderfully comprehensive survey of her subject, [Ahmed] shows how Western chauvinism has harshly - and unfairly - judged women's status in Islamic societies. She exposes this bias with force and eloquence and, in the process, makes a brilliant case for the liberation of Islamic women on their own terms and in their own time, free from Western constructs or dictates."-Susan E. Davis, "New Directions for Women"

"With impressive scholarship, lucid style and a theoretical approach elegantly in command of both feminist and Islamic perspectives, Leila Ahmed . . . helps unravel the mysteries of gender and women in Islam. . . . The passion Ahmed feels for the plight of Middle Eastern women is matched only by her commitment to a style of scholarship that is parsimonious, sober, rigorous and dispassionate. . . . The thematically rich arguments of her book are centered on debunking the Islamic and colonialist myths about Muslim women, as well as correcting what she feels are erroneous assumptions made by some Western feminists."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reissue edition (July 28, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300055838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300055832
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Leila Ahmed's study of women in Islam initially impressed me tremendously. The opening chapters discuss women in the Near East prior to Islam, pointing out that many of the institutions that are associated with Islam (the veil, the harem and concubines, for example) pre-date Islam by thousands of years. Similarly, the cultural subordination and objectification of women in the Near East also predates the birth of Islam by hundreds of years. In fact, Ahmed shows, jahaliyya (pre-Islamic) Arabia was remarkably egalitarian in terms of gender roles. Her scholarship in this regard is top-notch, and was a real eye-opener for me.

Ahmed goes on to show how, as Islam spread beyond the Arabian peninsula, there was a gradual acculturation that placed women in increasingly subordinate positions - causing conflict within the faith, due to its explicit admonitions that both genders are equal in the eyes of God. How this conflict played out and how the issue was eventually resolved were other strong points in the book.

I was therefore disappointed by her close examination in the last chapters of the book of women in Egypt, at the expense of a broader study of women throughout the Islamic world. To be fair, Ahmed explains her decision, holding that Egypt (after the Mongol invasion) was less influenced by the Ottoman Turks, and that it was also among the first Islamic states to come into close economic and social contact with the west. I had rather hoped that she would address the broader issues around gender across Islam, though, given its title.

Another disappointment was Ahmed's lengthy disucssion of the veiling of women in Islam.
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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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