A Quiet Revolution The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America Leila Ahmed

Format:
Paperback
Publication date:
05 Jun 2012
ISBN:
9780300181432
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
360 pages: 235 x 156mm

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In Cairo in the 1940s, Leila Ahmed was raised by a generation of women who never dressed in the veils and headscarves their mothers and grandmothers had worn. To them, these coverings seemed irrelevant to both modern life and Islamic piety. Today, however, the majority of Muslim women throughout the Islamic world again wear the veil. Why, Ahmed asks, did this change take root so swiftly, and what does this shift mean for women, Islam, and the West?

When she began her study, Ahmed assumed that the veil's return indicated a backward step for Muslim women worldwide. What she discovered, however, in the stories of British colonial officials, young Muslim feminists, Arab nationalists, pious Islamic daughters, American Muslim immigrants, violent jihadists, and peaceful Islamic activists, confounded her expectations. Ahmed observed that Islamism, with its commitments to activism in the service of the poor and in pursuit of social justice, is the strain of Islam most easily and naturally merging with western democracies' own tradition of activism in the cause of justice and social change. It is often Islamists, even more than secular Muslims, who are at the forefront of such contemporary activist struggles as civil rights and women's rights. Ahmed's surprising conclusions represent a near reversal of her thinking on this topic.

Richly insightful, intricately drawn, and passionately argued, this absorbing story of the veil's resurgence, from Egypt through Saudi Arabia and into the West, suggests a dramatically new portrait of contemporary Islam.

"A Quiet Revolution is an exceptional study of women in Islam. Their story is a remarkable one, and Leila Ahmed tells it with grace and understanding." —Joseph Preville, Time Out

"An acute study of how issues of political power and empire interact with women’s own claims to autonomy within families and communities. Ahmed beds her analysis into the wider political currents of Egypt without ever losing sight of women’s own interpretations of what they were doing and why."—Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian

"In the post-9/11 world, as a Leila Ahmed points out in this gripping yet erudite book, the veil worn by women in Western countries such as Britain and America has come to symbolise a range of public postures, from the resistance to Islamophobia or anti-Muslim prejudice experienced on the domestic front, to expressions of support for Muslim women in places such as Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, or Palestine, exemplified by the group that calls itself 'Scarves for Solidarity.' How is it, Ahmed asks, that a form of head-covering once seen as a symbol of patriarchal oppression can now be regarded as a call for justice?"—Malise Ruthven, Literary Review