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Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate [Paperback]

Leila Ahmed
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 28, 1993 0300055838 978-0300055832
This book presents an historical overview of women and gender in Islam. It is written from a feminist perspective, using the analytic tools of contemporary gender studies. The results of its investigations cast new light on the issues covered.

Frequently Bought Together

Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate + Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective + The Veil And The Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation Of Women's Rights In Islam
Price for all three: $50.72

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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.


"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."

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (July 28, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300055838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300055832
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious work with no apologies for her feminism 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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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read for Anyone Interested in Women in Islam 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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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and informative. 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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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A histiographical account of Women in Islamic Cultures November 29, 1999
By A Customer
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars do not order from them
textbook snow is a awful place to buy your book. I brought a book with one day shipping with them because i needed the book desperately. Read more
Published 7 months ago by AllanSo
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice
I love the content and the look of the book. It is a great class, just not something I would make it my career.
Published 9 months ago by Yee
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect Synopsis of How The Entire Scope of Abrahamic religions...
Incredible feat of wrapping 6000 years of history (to Mesopotamia, to Babylon, to Modern Day Turkey and Iran). Read more
Published 9 months ago by Barbara Castro
4.0 out of 5 stars informative
Very informative but very dull and its just info thrown at you although it goes into detail about the history of women in Islam. Pure info.
Published 13 months ago by Ariel Guzman
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but sometimes partial
This book is well-documented and provides an unprecedented insight on the living condition of women in the Islamic civilisation. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Samah
2.0 out of 5 stars Informatve, but a tough slog
I rarely give up on a book about a vital topic that's chock full of fascinating information, but I did reluctantly abandon this one. Read more
Published on August 12, 2011 by Stanley Pavey
2.0 out of 5 stars Pointless repetition
While yes this book holds a lot of information about women and their lives in islamic culture i found this book to be very dry and quite boring. Read more
Published on April 3, 2011 by educationlover
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of the subject
Great book. Had to read it for a class and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Gives a great historical background of Islam and Women and the cultural forces in the region. Read more
Published on February 21, 2011 by Nicole
1.0 out of 5 stars Women in the Middle East
I was disappointed by this book because it is mistitled. The writer deals exclusively with gender experiences in the Middle East and seems to forget that most Muslim women are not... Read more
Published on March 15, 2009 by Ruki
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource
Leila Ahmed's "Woman and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate" is an outstanding contribution to the field of Middle Eastern Women's Studies. Read more
Published on June 24, 2006 by Scheherazade Mehdi
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