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

4.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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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
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,105,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Coleman goes listening to Muslim women and finds whole movements for gender equality from Morocco to Indonesia. The leaders and scholars she visits have been at this for years, making slow but steady progress. Their positive approach calls biased interpretations of Islamic teaching into question, and asserts equality as a fundamental Islamic value. Where many Westerners would ridicule Muslim feminists as dupes or whitewashers, Coleman shows their quiet heroism, which is bringing women's perspectives to bear in the great debate over Islam's future. It's unobtrusive reporting that covers some of the best news on the planet.
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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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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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