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Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. In this timely book, Coleman journeys through the strategic crescent of the greater Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to reveal how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. Coleman argues that these efforts are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. Success will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and stands to transform the region.     Coleman highlights a number of Muslim men and women who are among the most influential Islamic feminist thinkers, and brilliantly illuminates the on-the-ground experiences of women who are driving change: Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan educator, runs more than forty women’s centers across Afghanistan, providing hundreds of thousands of women with literacy and health classes and teaching them about their rights within Islam. Madawi al-Hassoon, a successful businesswoman, is challenging conservative conventions to break new ground for Saudi professional women. Salama al-Khafaji, a devout dentist-turned-politician, relies on moderate interpretations of Islam to promote opportunities for women in Iraq’s religiously charged environment. These quiet revolutionaries are using Islamic feminism to change the terms of religious debate, to fight for women’s rights within Islam instead of against it. There is no mistaking that women and women’s issues are very much on the front lines of a war that is taking place between advocates of innovation, tolerance, and plurality and those who use violence to reject modernity in Muslim communities around the world. Ultimately,  Paradise Beneath Her Feet offers a message of hope: Change is happening—and more often than not, it is being led by women.


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Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. In this timely book, Coleman journeys through the strategic crescent of the greater Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to reveal how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. Coleman argues that these efforts are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. Success will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and stands to transform the region.     Coleman highlights a number of Muslim men and women who are among the most influential Islamic feminist thinkers, and brilliantly illuminates the on-the-ground experiences of women who are driving change: Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan educator, runs more than forty women’s centers across Afghanistan, providing hundreds of thousands of women with literacy and health classes and teaching them about their rights within Islam. Madawi al-Hassoon, a successful businesswoman, is challenging conservative conventions to break new ground for Saudi professional women. Salama al-Khafaji, a devout dentist-turned-politician, relies on moderate interpretations of Islam to promote opportunities for women in Iraq’s religiously charged environment. These quiet revolutionaries are using Islamic feminism to change the terms of religious debate, to fight for women’s rights within Islam instead of against it. There is no mistaking that women and women’s issues are very much on the front lines of a war that is taking place between advocates of innovation, tolerance, and plurality and those who use violence to reject modernity in Muslim communities around the world. Ultimately,  Paradise Beneath Her Feet offers a message of hope: Change is happening—and more often than not, it is being led by women.

30 review for Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    "A mother is a school. Empower her and you empower a great nation." -Hafez Ibrahim, Egyptian poet (1872-1932). This quote opens Paradise Beneath Her Feet and serves as a guiding theme throughout this extraordinary book. With a simple statement, an Arab poet from a previous century contradicts the outsider's view of Muslim women as victims of an authoritarian, patriarchal religion. Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, takes us on a journey t "A mother is a school. Empower her and you empower a great nation." -Hafez Ibrahim, Egyptian poet (1872-1932). This quote opens Paradise Beneath Her Feet and serves as a guiding theme throughout this extraordinary book. With a simple statement, an Arab poet from a previous century contradicts the outsider's view of Muslim women as victims of an authoritarian, patriarchal religion. Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, takes us on a journey through the greater Middle East to demonstrate the brave and selfless activism that is occurring in the name of human rights and within the tenets of Islam. We meet the women (and not an insignificant number of men) of Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq who are advocates of girls' education and of the full participation of women in their countries' economic and social development. Part I lays a foundation of historical context of Islamic feminism (doesn't that appear oxymoronic? Read this and have your stereotypes shattered!)and of research on the role of women's rights in the developing world. "Why Women Matter" is an armchair development studies scholar's dream. Coleman synthesizes decades of research that demonstrates over and over again one simple fact of enormous consequence: when you empower women, you change the world. In Part II we meet the scholars, journalists, business leaders, lawmakers who by chance or by design are leading their nations, step-by-step, toward fundamental change. The enormity of the struggle for Islamic feminists is overshadowed only by the enormity of their vision and dedication. In societies where rape victims are imprisoned or murdered for the crime of adultery, where girls risk their lives every time they cross the threshold of an illegal school, where women remain trapped in a burning building because they are not dressed appropriately to be seen by male firefighters, it seems hopelessly quixotic to even dream of a time when these women could vote, own a business, chose their own husband or even drive a car. Yet, the intellectual and social revolution underway in the Middle East shows that even two steps forward and one step back is steady and lasting progress. The central theme of this book is that effective and sustainable reform in the Muslim world means working within Islam, not against it. Nearly all of these women are devout Muslims who believe that theirs is a religion of justice and equality. Many have become passionate scholars of the Quran in order to show their leaders and fellow citizens the true nature of Islam and to fight against the political and social corruption that has held women throughout the Muslim world in a stranglehold of oppression and despair. Even those activists who are believe in a secular society realize that change must come from within the scope of a religion that dictates the region's legal, economic and political structure. The point of Coleman's book is not to justify or explain Islam- even with her decades of research and reporting on women throughout the Muslim world, she is not a scholar of Islam or an interpreter of Muslim society. She allows the women in this book to speak for their own beliefs. Much like Half the Sky, the intention of this book is to reveal to the Western world, through the stories of women who are right at this moment blogging, writing, teaching, and fighting, that women's rights are human rights and therefore of critical importance to global political and economic stability and security.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (GR isn't sending comment notifications)

    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. Iss 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 become literate and study the Quran on their own, they are able to show that many Muslim family laws are not defensible using holy scripture.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    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 perspect 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 but least publicized people.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Justina

    I really loved this book. It opened my eyes to the challenges women in the Middle East face with regards to their rights. Islam is often misinterpreted and combined with old traditions to deny women their rights. I learned a lot about how Islam empowers women and protects their rights. I will never make assumptions about a veiled woman again after reading this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Luna Selene

    I had high hopes for this book, but this book seemed to have even higher hopes for itself. First, I would use the term "Middle East" lightly with this book. I think MENASA (Middle East, Northern Africa, Southeast Asia) would be more appropriate, kind of, minus the Northern Africa bit in a large part. Even then, Somalia is not a MENASA country, so the Somalian stories are inappropriate examples, so maybe she means Muslim-majority countries? I know that sounds like nit-picking, but really, someone I had high hopes for this book, but this book seemed to have even higher hopes for itself. First, I would use the term "Middle East" lightly with this book. I think MENASA (Middle East, Northern Africa, Southeast Asia) would be more appropriate, kind of, minus the Northern Africa bit in a large part. Even then, Somalia is not a MENASA country, so the Somalian stories are inappropriate examples, so maybe she means Muslim-majority countries? I know that sounds like nit-picking, but really, someone in foreign policy should know better than to seem ignorant of diversity throughout Africa and Asia by lumping it altogether. It does matter. Second, the concern for women's issues seemed superficial, and I'm not making this up, because the author tells you so herself. In 2002, Leslie Gelb, then the president of the Council on Foreign Relations where I was a senior fellow working on the Middle East, asked me to develop a program on women and foreign policy. I hesitated, protesting that I knew very little about gender issues. In fact, a program on women's issues struck me as, well, decidedly out of the mainstream. I had studiously avoided taking any women's studies courses in college and graduate school. "Women's rights" for me conjured up images of cranky, privileged women trying to get into all-male golf clubs… Geld, however, was persistent, and at his urging I read widely. I really feel that if she had taken a single one of those courses, just one, she wouldn't have written this book how she did. She makes lots of sweeping statements that need to be looked at closer. For instance, she states that social welfare spending tends to increase when women are in office. But she asks no questions of why that is, which struck me. She just leaves one to assume an innate maternal role for women, and the title itself comes from a sentiment that values women in their role as mothers, which I find inappropriate for a book that tries to portray women as powerful. Third, Coleman tends to concern herself more with the elite of the countries she chose. I found the voice of the "average" woman was silent because the "average" woman doesn't work for some type of government/NGO. Yet, little change will happen without her. Coleman's narrative was clearly that of an outsider looking in, and when you want the truth of daily life, that isn't who one usually goes for, the same way one doesn't normally ask someone with a fanny pack and camera which train to take. It isn't really about whether you are a tourist, but whether you appear like one. I felt that Coleman looked at some of the women she spoke about rather haughtily or pitifully in places and I do not believe one can get a true sense like that. Do women read this at book clubs? I had to read it for class. That said, there are intriguing stories in the book, and it is not unpleasant to read. While I disagree with how the book was written, I agree that the stories in them should be told. However, if you're looking for a book on women in the middle east, look somewhere else.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Fatimahali6

    it is a very unbiased and informative book. It talks about the reform movement that is currently led by women, an islamic feminism, across 5 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, KSA, and Iraq. The most valuable lesson I gained from this book is that secularism cannot be applied, or enforced, in very religious, conservative and poorly-educated socities. Secularism scored a high level of failure in the Middle East, like in Iran and Eygept, especially that it was accompanied by harsh dectatorshi it is a very unbiased and informative book. It talks about the reform movement that is currently led by women, an islamic feminism, across 5 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, KSA, and Iraq. The most valuable lesson I gained from this book is that secularism cannot be applied, or enforced, in very religious, conservative and poorly-educated socities. Secularism scored a high level of failure in the Middle East, like in Iran and Eygept, especially that it was accompanied by harsh dectatorship. The journey to secularism is very long and the first and most important step of this journey is educating people and empowering women.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Letitia

    This is a really good, if elementary, introduction to feminism in the Muslim world, and the concept of so-called Islamic Feminism. I became interested in the topic when I went to Kuwait for a contract, and had to become an expert in gender and politics in the Gulf overnight. It was exciting and fascinating and Islamic Feminism became a topic of intense interest to me. This book, while adding more specifics, does not actually add much to my knowledge, which I gleaned from other more intense reads This is a really good, if elementary, introduction to feminism in the Muslim world, and the concept of so-called Islamic Feminism. I became interested in the topic when I went to Kuwait for a contract, and had to become an expert in gender and politics in the Gulf overnight. It was exciting and fascinating and Islamic Feminism became a topic of intense interest to me. This book, while adding more specifics, does not actually add much to my knowledge, which I gleaned from other more intense reads. However, it would be useful as an introduction to someone who has no idea what is going on with women's rights and women's political empowerment in the Middle East and wants a crash course. It breaks down the movements country by country, covers the recent history, and offers personal bios from leaders of Islamic Feminism. The first section of the book is Gender Studies 101, so if you are aware that we should invest in things like girls' education and maybe women can actually contribute something to society, I would advise skipping the first quarter. It is super basic if you ever read anything about international development ever. After that I really enjoyed the culturally contextualized look at how conservative, religious women are claiming their own rights with their own voices. Western Feminism, with its emphasis on individual liberties, reproductive control, and challenging cultural norms of modesty, is anathema to the Muslim world and the women in it. So the women of Islam are carving a place for feminists out of their own Quranic and cultural reality. In my opinion, this is what is driving Middle Eastern democracy forward. It will be the women of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, who actually move their political discourse and social norms toward democratic norms and concepts of personal liberty, albeit that personal liberty will always be couched in the overarching value of family and the communal good (something missing from Western, specifically American feminism). If you discover you want to go deeper with this topic, I highly recommend Islamic Feminism in Kuwait by Alessandra Gonzalez, which gets into the details and takes a more academic approach. I really enjoyed her book, and think it is easily the next obvious read after Paradise Beneath Her Feet.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Szatkowski

    So much of what people think they know about Islam comes from biased news media reporting on extremist points of view. In this book, Coleman shows how the 'on the ground reality' has many changes we are not always aware of, particularly how women's movements are grounded in Islam and the foundational role faith can play in making the middle east a more modern, free, and just society. Well worth a read. So much of what people think they know about Islam comes from biased news media reporting on extremist points of view. In this book, Coleman shows how the 'on the ground reality' has many changes we are not always aware of, particularly how women's movements are grounded in Islam and the foundational role faith can play in making the middle east a more modern, free, and just society. Well worth a read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sigrid-marianella

    Coleman provides compelling arguments for the need of Islamic feminism. For someone with limited previous knowledge of the islamic region the book provides interesting insights to the history and rise of islamic feminism and why it is needed and should be supported by muslims and secularists alike. The book deals primarily about the pragmatic reasons for why islamic feminism is needed, and less systematically on the theoretical content of Islamic feminism. Each chapter illustrates the battle of d Coleman provides compelling arguments for the need of Islamic feminism. For someone with limited previous knowledge of the islamic region the book provides interesting insights to the history and rise of islamic feminism and why it is needed and should be supported by muslims and secularists alike. The book deals primarily about the pragmatic reasons for why islamic feminism is needed, and less systematically on the theoretical content of Islamic feminism. Each chapter illustrates the battle of determined and brave muslim feminists (men and women), but the book becomes slightly repetitive towards the end. I read the book from cover to cover but I think it is not necessary to do so, and one can jump to the chapters concerning the countries of interest to the reader. I actually found the first parts of the book most interesting, where Coleman lays out the arguments for the pragmatic use of islamic feminism to achieve gender equality in deeply religious and conservative regions of the world, as well as giving a brief history of the origins of islamic feminism. The argument, as I understood it, can be summarised as follows: -Religion has won over secularism in the islamic regions of the world (whether you like it or not). -In order to change deeply held sexist traditions, arguments must be put forward within the framework of religion to really induce change in attitudes (not only amongst men who hold the power, but also amongst religious rural women themselves). I am convinced by Coleman's arguments for the need of islamic feminism, but I am still left by a lingering doubt in the back of my mind. There seems to be a fine line between working slowly and pragmatically to achieve gender equality, and that of pleading for basic rights on the premises of patriarchy. Can patriarchy really be destroyed by working "within the system"? Isn't the ultimate aim to replace a patriarchical system entirely, rather than simply improving womens standing in "man's world"?. Coleman mentions that critics argue there are limits to islamic feminism (but does not elaborate on this critique nor really respond to it). But perhaps there is little other choice today for more effective progress. Many of the rights women in these parts of the world fight for are after all to a great extent very basic human rights, and the limits on islamic feminsim may not be imminently relevant for the struggle these muslim women face today. The book ends with a fable of a baby elephant kept in captivity. The baby elephant tries to no avail to break free from his chains. As the elephant grows into an adult it has stopped atempting to break free. Unaware that with its larger size would easily be able to break the chains the elephant remains captive. In short, islamic feminism is a baby elephant today. Just because we can only observe babysteps of progress today, we mustn't abandon the idea that islamic feminism can one day gain sufficient force that enables it to push for widespread gender equality. As the islamic feminist movement grows stronger as part of a wider revival of progressive islam, one senses hope from Coleman that islamic feminists will become increasingly assertive and gain momentum. It is only a matter of time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Josephine

    While reading Isobel Coleman’s “Paradise Beneath Her Feet,” I couldn’t help but think about the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Arab Spring that started in December of last year and has carried on through the bulk of 2011. In its wake, we’re seeing the rise of Islamic political parties — and you can’t help but wonder how it will all play out for women, in general. While women all over the world have, for centuries, fought for equality and basic rights, the fight stil While reading Isobel Coleman’s “Paradise Beneath Her Feet,” I couldn’t help but think about the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Arab Spring that started in December of last year and has carried on through the bulk of 2011. In its wake, we’re seeing the rise of Islamic political parties — and you can’t help but wonder how it will all play out for women, in general. While women all over the world have, for centuries, fought for equality and basic rights, the fight still goes on today in the Middle East, where the rise of political Islam has meant the condemnation of women’s empowerment as “anti-Islamic.” In her introduction, Coleman writes: “…across the Islamic world, women’s rights are one of the most contentious political and ideological issues. Attitudes towards women heave helped to define and set apart the broader worldviews of conservative and progressive Muslims. Conservatives link women’s piety to the purity and Islamic authenticity of their societies. They use religious justifications to enforce that piety through a limited public role for women, gender segregation, and harsh punishments for any perceived transgressions. Assertions of women’s rights are often portrayed as anti-Islamic. For decades, powerful Islamists have successfully smeared women’s groups as being slavish followers of an illegitimate, neo-colonialist Western agenda.” (p.xvii) One particularly stunning story Coleman used to illustrate this was the example of Saudi Arabia’s dreaded religious police, the mutawa, who actually forced girls from a burning high school building to go back inside, while preventing firefighters from entering the building or rushing to the girls’ aid because it was “sinful to approach them.” Some of these mutawa even went so far as to force some of the girls who escaped the burning building to go back inside because they weren’t “appropriately covered.” Fifteen school children ultimately suffocated or burned to death while more than 40 were injured in this 2002 incident. While Coleman certainly could have peppered her book with horror stories, the main focus was on the Muslim women — and a few men — who are attempting to drive change in the Middle East. She writes about Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan teacher, who runs more than 40 women’s centres across Afghanistan, teaching women about their rights within Islam. Then, there’s also Salama al-Khafaji, a devout dentist-turned-politician, who relies on moderate interpretations of Islam to promote opportunities for women. It’s clear that these Islamic feminists are quiet revolutionaries who are fighting for women’s rights within Islam instead of against it. It’s a fascinating and timely read — and similar in vein to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s “Half the Sky.”

  11. 5 out of 5

    Phoenix

    CounterCurrents There is a fragile breeze of change in the ME. Isobel Coleman, a member of the US based Council on Foreign Relations, takes a fascinating look at nascent feminism in the Muslim world, not only in the ME, but also in India and Indonesia. Citing studies that show that empowering women to take a role in small business (through microfinance) entails less risk and greater payback for raising the local standard of living. On the other hand she cautions us that these women are still prod CounterCurrents There is a fragile breeze of change in the ME. Isobel Coleman, a member of the US based Council on Foreign Relations, takes a fascinating look at nascent feminism in the Muslim world, not only in the ME, but also in India and Indonesia. Citing studies that show that empowering women to take a role in small business (through microfinance) entails less risk and greater payback for raising the local standard of living. On the other hand she cautions us that these women are still products of their political culture. The chapters, organized on a country by country basis, the book profiles a number of individuals, mostly women, and each chapter provides a small but useful historic context. Well illustrated with interviews and examples, she lays out an argument that the current macro trend is towards a more fundamentalist Islam where links to westernized feminism is taken as a negative. Strategically then women can make more progress if they can can use Islam's rich history of itjihad (religious debate), to beat the fundamentalists at their own game by undertaking a pro-woman position by learning for themselves the text of the Quran and hadiths. Unfortunately, notes the author, to be successful and maintain credibility this can also mean taking a negative approach to the values of the West. The coverage of India and Indonesia/Malaysia takes place in the first two chapters and IMV the prospects there are most hopeful. In Iran she captures the pushbacks of her three assigned female minders and finds that behind the veil, many women (and Iranians in general) are dissatisfied with the religious dictats of the regime. The interview with Massoumeh Ebtekar the former spokesperson for the US embassy hostage takers is interesting but Coleman sees her as being "stuck in Islamic feminism 1.0 - heavy on the Islamism, light on the feminism" (p101). More to western tastes is lawyer and Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi currently in exile for her attempt to act as defense for 7 prominent B'hai unjustly imprisoned by the regime, Azam Taleghani, founder of one of the first Iranian women's journals or Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh who has been in and out of the notorious Evin prison, is an activist in the Campaign to Stop Stoning Forever, and against the somewhat perversely named "Family Protection Act" which made divorce, polygamy and muta (temporary marriage) laws much easier for men. Pakistan and Afghanistan can be taken as a whole operating on a sliding scale. The former is a conundrum of poverty and illiteracy, but also pockets of great wealth. On one hand you have the capital Islamabad which is pushing into modernity, but on the other, as you move towards the city of Peshawar near the border of Afghanistan there is a slide towards a Taliban style mentality. Historically many of the women's groups are westernized elites with little connection to the rural poor. Even though Benezair Bhutto was elected (several times - the government swung back and forth between her party and that of Nawaz Sharif) there was little progress legislatively in favour of women as he maintained power in part by appealing to the Islamists. Under the government of General Musharfaf proto feminists such as Riffat Hassan found that they were being used as window dressing by the government without real support. But we also meet Muktar Mai who was gang-raped as a punishment against charges laid against her younger by the elders of her village. Women's groups came to her support and she eventualy won an $8500 judgement against her attacker. She used the money to open a school. In Afghanistan the situation begins even worse, yet the earlier history of 20th century had been quite promising. 87% of the women are illiterate and 1 in 8 will die in childbirth. The need here is to make education a priority. In spite of the billions spent on militarily propping up the Karzai government the most effective measure seems to be small scale accountable support (at a cost of around $31K/village) for community councils and schools under a program known as the NSP (National Solidarity Program), where one of the requirements for eligibility lies in participation by women in the village shura councils. The US provides about 70% of the program's $100 million dollar annual budget. The last two chapters cover Saudi Arabia and Iraq, a contrast in long term stability and uncertain futures. The Saudi regime is highly segregated and firmly in control. The country is firmly based on a Wahabist interpretation of sharia and the mutawa (religious police) are there to enforce it. Women are not allowed in public without a mahram (male guardian), and the most famous restriction is on the right to drive. However there is considerable freedom when women are alone together and higher education is available to Saudi women. Just as the war with Iraq helped women in Iran to enter the work place to replace men at the front (the same was true of American in the 1940s), the Gulf wars made it possible for women to move into the Saudi workplace. The other aspect of the Saudis is that there is a great deal of money floating around. There's an interesting scene (pp204) where Coleman gives a talk to a group of men and veiled women who sit separately on small buisness development. The men react negatively to the notion of high risk. But when the men leave the women throw off their hijabs and pepper her with questions about venture capital and job opportunities outside the Kingdom. The Iraqi focus was on the eastern Sunni/Shia region of the country, not the Kurdish west. Iraq from 1990 on was a bad time for women's rights (and rights in general) as Saddam moved closer to the clerical class for support. In the interim period while US attempted pacification, all over the country religious conservatives acted out against unveiled women, even by throwing acid in their faces, a tactic more frequently associated with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and female activists, even ordinary women wearing makeup were often targetted for assassination. Today 31% of Iraqi parliamentarians are female, though half of those were elected as religious conservatives. The best we can get here is an overview - given the exit of US troops less than two months ago it's too early to tell what's going to happen. A useful addition to the complex narratives of middle eastern societies. Recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    This is a really interesting examination of feminism and women's rights in several Middle Eastern countries. Reading this book was a roller coaster ride for me... Delight at some of the success women have had in furthering their rights, and depression at how awful things still are in many countries. I actually learned a lot about Islam from this book and I now understand how a woman can identify both as a Muslim and a feminist, so that was very enlightening. I also learned a lot about the history This is a really interesting examination of feminism and women's rights in several Middle Eastern countries. Reading this book was a roller coaster ride for me... Delight at some of the success women have had in furthering their rights, and depression at how awful things still are in many countries. I actually learned a lot about Islam from this book and I now understand how a woman can identify both as a Muslim and a feminist, so that was very enlightening. I also learned a lot about the history of each country the book touches on. And although I already knew that women's access to things like education, jobs, and family planning were important, I now know how and why they are important and what impact they have. Although this book is only a few years old, parts of it are already out of date. Even though both the forward and afterward provide updates to the main text, things have changed even more since then. So this is a good way to learn what's been going on the mid to late 20th century and the start of the 21st, but of course for a truly up-to-date picture of the state of women's rights in any country, you'll want to check the news and blogs.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten Allen

    This story details the rise of Islamic Feminism in the Middle East. Islamic Feminism seeks equality between men and women while working with the framework of Islam. The goal is to demonstrate that the discriminatory practices against women in the name of Islam are actually the result of tradition (which are obviously wrong) or the patriarchal nature of societies where Muslim women live. Using the foundational texts of the Islamic faith, Islamic feminists (or what ever they call themselves) creat This story details the rise of Islamic Feminism in the Middle East. Islamic Feminism seeks equality between men and women while working with the framework of Islam. The goal is to demonstrate that the discriminatory practices against women in the name of Islam are actually the result of tradition (which are obviously wrong) or the patriarchal nature of societies where Muslim women live. Using the foundational texts of the Islamic faith, Islamic feminists (or what ever they call themselves) create an Islamic framework from which they can argue against those that seek to continue to discriminate and limit women rights using the Islamic faith. Coleman's book gives a good overview of the rise of Islamic Feminism in the Middle East and then focuses on 5 Middle Eastern countries where changes in women rights are moving forward more slowly than other countries.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    I absolutely loved the style of this book! I read it as part of a research exercise and found I couldn't keep myself from turning the pages! As far as biographical re-tellings/research/non fiction novels go, this is a must read for anyone with in interest in how other cultures interpret and structure femininity and gender. A big eye opener! It has a great way of minimising ethnocentricity in its storytelling. It's now up there on my "most respected" list. Absolutely fascinating and thought provo I absolutely loved the style of this book! I read it as part of a research exercise and found I couldn't keep myself from turning the pages! As far as biographical re-tellings/research/non fiction novels go, this is a must read for anyone with in interest in how other cultures interpret and structure femininity and gender. A big eye opener! It has a great way of minimising ethnocentricity in its storytelling. It's now up there on my "most respected" list. Absolutely fascinating and thought provoking! I urge you all to give it a go. The beauty of the format is that each chapter is topic related so you can browse through to the area of which your interest lies. But if you are like me and go from p.1, you will find the intro keeps you attached to all the tales Coleman has to offer in this neat little package. Highly recommended!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Aayeshanatasha

    This was a really great read. I helped me get a good background on the condition for women in different countries in the middle east and that progress or lack there of, in getting more equal rights for women. That being said it was a bit tough to get through because it was very heavy content, written like a scholarly paper. Not a quick read. There was also a bit of unnecessary repetition, but as there were so many different people, places and concepts mentioned, I understand her desire to furthe This was a really great read. I helped me get a good background on the condition for women in different countries in the middle east and that progress or lack there of, in getting more equal rights for women. That being said it was a bit tough to get through because it was very heavy content, written like a scholarly paper. Not a quick read. There was also a bit of unnecessary repetition, but as there were so many different people, places and concepts mentioned, I understand her desire to further clarify everything. I'm glad I read it and it horrified me. I'm so glad to have grown up in the US and not in a country influences by Islam.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    It is highly unusual that I like a book I am reading for one of my classes, but this book was pretty amazing. Coleman is a truly great storyteller and made this book flow so well that I had difficulty putting it down. I recommend it to everyone. Especially people who are interested in the feminist movements within the Middle East. However, I was disappointed that she didn't include Egypt, my home country, in the book. With everything that is going on there now it would make for an interesting pi It is highly unusual that I like a book I am reading for one of my classes, but this book was pretty amazing. Coleman is a truly great storyteller and made this book flow so well that I had difficulty putting it down. I recommend it to everyone. Especially people who are interested in the feminist movements within the Middle East. However, I was disappointed that she didn't include Egypt, my home country, in the book. With everything that is going on there now it would make for an interesting piece of survey and study. Hopefully when the dust settles Coleman will be willing to write a book just about the female situation in Egypt.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    Very interesting read on how women in Muslim countries are working together to better their lives and change both laws and people's beliefs that it is part of the Islamic religion that women should be treated like possessions of their male relatives or spouse. Change is slow but there is much hope that as women learn to read and thus can study the Qoran, they will begin to change many of the degrading practices that still happen: child-brides, spouse abuse, honour killings because their own scri Very interesting read on how women in Muslim countries are working together to better their lives and change both laws and people's beliefs that it is part of the Islamic religion that women should be treated like possessions of their male relatives or spouse. Change is slow but there is much hope that as women learn to read and thus can study the Qoran, they will begin to change many of the degrading practices that still happen: child-brides, spouse abuse, honour killings because their own scriptures (not Western Civilization) stand up for and believe in women's rights. The women portrayed in the book are extremely courageous. Don't know if i could do what they do.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    I lived in Saudia Arabia in 1984 and 1985 and recognized the two part system. In public women were treated one way and in private they were treat much more as equals. Visit any Saudi friend and in the privacy of his home you would think you were in any westerners home. Relaxed atmosphere. Wife not only uncovered, but in the current western fashions –Jordache at the time. What happens in public and private are two very different things. Through my graduate school education, the Middle East was vi I lived in Saudia Arabia in 1984 and 1985 and recognized the two part system. In public women were treated one way and in private they were treat much more as equals. Visit any Saudi friend and in the privacy of his home you would think you were in any westerners home. Relaxed atmosphere. Wife not only uncovered, but in the current western fashions –Jordache at the time. What happens in public and private are two very different things. Through my graduate school education, the Middle East was views were very polarized (even in pre 9/11 era) between the Liberal theory and a professor whose brother was killed by Gaddafi; there was no non-extreme view. I recently finished Karen Elliot House's “On Saudi Arabia” and was very surprised at the progress that women and society have made in what is considered and oppressive environment. Maybe the problem in the West is how we look at women's rights in the Middle East. Isobel Coleman author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet; How Women are Transforming the Middle East, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. That alone speaks volumes of her expertise and experience above her degrees from Oxford and Princeton. Perhaps the most important point repeated throughout the book is something that most Westerners view symbolism over substance (my words not Coleman's). We in the West look at repression as having to wear a head covering or abaya as repression (symbolism) rather than the real picture. It turns out that even when the head scarf was banned, women still insisted on wearing them. The key factor in women rights is education. We view Iran as repressive, but more women graduate college in Iran than men. Saudi Arabia has a large population of highly educated women. Women's groups around Middle East work for literacy and educating women. Women rights groups in the Middle East also work with Islam rather than seeing it as a repressive force. Islam is a religion that does offer equal rights and one just needs to become familiar with the Koran to understand this. The problem is literacy. Illiteracy is a major stumbling block. Once the population can read and understand, questions are asked and when answered, questioned again. Women's groups have turned to working with clerics to make their point and it is working. Women gain more working with Islam than against it (like early women's groups). Working inside the system has allowed women like Benazir Bhutto to become Prime Minister in Pakistan and Megawati Sukarnoputri to become president of Indonesia. If the West really wants to help women's rights it needs to focus more on education and literacy than on head scarfs. Once women and those who support women's rights, read and understand the Koran they can fight for their rights that are allowed by their religion, a religion they also dearly believe in. Many educated Muslim women believe that Islam is for equal rights and can quote the Koran supporting that fact. They system is not perfect, but then, no one's is. We in America think of equal rights, but in my home state of Texas it was illegal for a married woman to buy property, take out a loan, or start a business without her husbands approval all the way up to 1977. A very worthwhile read whether your interest is women's rights, the Middle East or current world affairs. I will admit that after reading the section on Pakistan I ordered Benazir Bhutto's autobiography and her book on Islam .

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    The beginning of the book is gripping, well written, and a smart balance between statistics and anecdotes; however, as the book progresses, you begin to recognize the patterns that occur for women across the Middle East and it diminishes the same punch that could have occured if the story was told in the beginning. While the same message could have come across in a more succinct book, nevertheless, this is an important and captivating read for those interested in religion, foreign affairs, and w The beginning of the book is gripping, well written, and a smart balance between statistics and anecdotes; however, as the book progresses, you begin to recognize the patterns that occur for women across the Middle East and it diminishes the same punch that could have occured if the story was told in the beginning. While the same message could have come across in a more succinct book, nevertheless, this is an important and captivating read for those interested in religion, foreign affairs, and women's rights.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott Haraburda

    Goodreads First Reads Giveaway Book. ------------------------------------ In a world where a male-dominated powerful society routinely ignores and persecutes half of its people, there is hope for a positive transformation. That is the message that Isobel Coleman offers its readers in her 2013 edition of Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East . Her book helps us understand the cultural and religious aspects of Islam. Using several short sketches of a handful of acc Goodreads First Reads Giveaway Book. ------------------------------------ In a world where a male-dominated powerful society routinely ignores and persecutes half of its people, there is hope for a positive transformation. That is the message that Isobel Coleman offers its readers in her 2013 edition of Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East . Her book helps us understand the cultural and religious aspects of Islam. Using several short sketches of a handful of accomplishments, she provides us a glimmer of hope for the improvement of women’s rights. The author repeatedly reminds us that the Quran, the fundamental basis of the Islam religion, forbids the mistreatment of everyone, including women. Unfortunately, the powerful men throughout the Middle East ignore this and continue to prohibit women basic rights in education, marriage, and divorce. Women are frequently raped, beaten, and abused. For example, instead of comfort, women tormented with rape are further punished with imprisonment and lashes for having sex outside of a marriage. They can be forced into child marriage at a young age of nine, and be forced to be one of many wives in a polygamous marriage. To remove any form of sexual pleasure, it is common for women to undergo painful female genital mutilation. “Honor killings”, murdering females to restore family honor, is also common since women are considered the property of male relatives. Throughout this book, Coleman provides us her personal observations from her extensive travels throughout the Middle East in her ten years as the director of the Council on Foreign Relation’s Women and Foreign Policy program. In addition to her observations and historical research, she includes stories of Islamic and secular feminists who use the tenets of Islam to promote both equality and justice for women. Her stories focused primarily in five countries: Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. What makes these stories hopeful and powerful is that they occur in an environment involving injustice, oppression and violence towards women. Coleman uses these stories to break down the stereotype of Islamic women as helpless victims oppressed by a violent religion. These women are active change agents, not passive victims. Unfortunately, some of them have failed, being killed or forced into exile. Yet, that doesn’t stop others from pursuing change. Her book is not only informative, but inspirational. Compared to a decade or more ago, women today there have greater access to education. Also, the Middle East has become an increasingly global area where everyone is affected by what happens there. Besides the terrorist attacks of 2001 in the US, many of these countries have recently partnered with American and European universities, allowing them to expand their higher education opportunities and improve their primary and secondary education systems. Otherwise, keeping women down will keep the society down. Although I recently spent a year in the Middle East, primarily in Kuwait with short visits to Qatar and Iraq, I learned much from Coleman’s book. My narrow view, as an outsider, of Muslim women involved seeing half of the population hidden from view. Most of them wore the Niqab, a black cloth that covered their faces. Many people confuse this with the Burqa, which covers the entire body from the top of the head to the ground. Islamic support of this requirement comes from a very conservative interpretation of Quran 33:59, even though it doesn’t mention the face. Some religious and secular leaders in the area call the full-face veiling a cultural custom and not religious requirement. Yet, most women in the Middle East are hidden from observation under their clothing. Punishment for showing one’s face places women at risk of punishment, ranging from lashings, “virginity tests”, and acid attacks. This book provided me with a better understanding of the routine abuses of women and the risks they take in trying to improve their society. This book is a must read for anyone wanting a broader view of the culture, history, and religion in this region of the world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This book is such a fascinating look at feminism and Islam, and I'd highly recommend to to everyone (especially females). Broken into two parts, this narrative lays the case for how women are gradually changing the way females are treated under Islamic law and how trailblazing women are using their religion to improve the plight of women. Part 1 explains how females have been treated in Islam and how women got to the place they are today. This is quite a well-researched section, giving plenty of This book is such a fascinating look at feminism and Islam, and I'd highly recommend to to everyone (especially females). Broken into two parts, this narrative lays the case for how women are gradually changing the way females are treated under Islamic law and how trailblazing women are using their religion to improve the plight of women. Part 1 explains how females have been treated in Islam and how women got to the place they are today. This is quite a well-researched section, giving plenty of background so the reader can understand why Islam is such a powerful force and how the religion has changed (or at least the way the religion has been interpreted has changed) over time, rolling back and pushing forward women's rights. Part 2 of the book is broken into sections where the author details progress made by women in a number of different countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Various women are profiled in this section, explaining what they're doing to push forward change and how their actions have helped shape the way Muslim females are viewed and treated by their country's laws and citizens. I was blown away by how passionate some of these women are and the guts they have to continue their work despite threats to their lives and sacrifices they've had to make. It was shocking (and disheartening) to read about the problems women have faced and continue to face today despite pushes for reform. At many points, I felt extremely frustrated reading about the religious interpretations and excuses people made (either out of ignorance or blind devotion) for affording women so few rights. It was amazing to hear stories of women working for change - and not in a secular way but actually using their religion to make the case for change! What a great thought, that the religion that is such a powerful force in these countries can be used as a tool for positive change instead of simply a cultural excuse for keeping women as second-class citizens. The book was very inspiring and really made me thankful for all the rights I enjoy in this country and the women who, in the past, have fought for the freedoms I have today. I can only hope that the women profiled in this book continue to make progress in their own quests for change.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Won this in a Good Reads First Reads giveaway. Coleman's vision of these nations is troubling and thorough; I learned a hell of a lot more about their histories and theocratic architectures than I've ever known before. However, she is not always a reliable objective guide, allowing the contempt she feels for some of her subjects to occasionally peek through (e.g. "I brace myself for another lecture about Iranian family values, but Ebtekar answers her ringing cell phone and I am spared") and omitt Won this in a Good Reads First Reads giveaway. Coleman's vision of these nations is troubling and thorough; I learned a hell of a lot more about their histories and theocratic architectures than I've ever known before. However, she is not always a reliable objective guide, allowing the contempt she feels for some of her subjects to occasionally peek through (e.g. "I brace myself for another lecture about Iranian family values, but Ebtekar answers her ringing cell phone and I am spared") and omitting details that might seem to undercut her position (e.g. as when she leads readers to assume that Mukhtar Mai's aggressors had received little more than terms of incarceration as sentences when first convicted of Mai's rape, when, as I understand it, they'd been sentenced to death -- she should trust that their eventual release would be enough to inspire rage in us, without distorting the facts in an attempt to inspire rage). It's also far more redundant, as a work of reportage, than it has any right to be (particularly in the foreword and the first chapter). Still, though, on balance, it's a strong and important book, one that had me occasionally feeling like I was reading a text on the cultural history of an entirely different planet and that left me thrilled (the opening of the chapter on Iraq, on Zainab's resistance and the origins of Shia and Sunni perspectives, was dazzling and almost reads like a fairy tale) in addition to leaving me both horrified and hopeful.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alex Kartelias

    A necessary book to read. Many westerners both misunderstand the Islamic world as being monolithically repressive and feminism as being the self-righteous pleading of elitist, white women. Both of these generalizations still persist today and this book shows how both of them are false. The so-called 'clash of civilizations' argument that rose post- 9/11 is a blind accusation because it refuses to see how even within civilizations, there is much diversity in opinion. In the same way that feminists A necessary book to read. Many westerners both misunderstand the Islamic world as being monolithically repressive and feminism as being the self-righteous pleading of elitist, white women. Both of these generalizations still persist today and this book shows how both of them are false. The so-called 'clash of civilizations' argument that rose post- 9/11 is a blind accusation because it refuses to see how even within civilizations, there is much diversity in opinion. In the same way that feminists were critiquing the patriarchal forces in the west, Islamic scholars from the 19th century onwards ranged from being conservative fundamentalists, conservative proponents of Islamic feminism, to westernized secular interpreters of Islam. Not only is women's rights only one of a multitude of topics that Muslim scholars question, but even the divide between conservative interpretation of the Sharia and the ijtihad or rationalistic approach to Islamic law reaches back to as early as the 9th century. In other words, we as westerners need to realize that feminism and Islam are not black and white issues: there are a full spectrum and contexts and opinions that need to be assessed. My hope is that the more books like these that are being written, the better our relationship will be between us and the middle-east.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ginny

    So far I was particularly impressed by the story on pages 4-6 about Dhabo Issa and other Somali women's creative efforts during the 1991 civil war to get food to the hungry and bypass looting by having the Red Cross bring the food in small shipments by donkey to communal kitchens in neighborhoods across the area rather than using big central supply stations that were more vulnerable to looting. I thought that was a great idea. Also the way they used some of the food aid to keep schools running. So far I was particularly impressed by the story on pages 4-6 about Dhabo Issa and other Somali women's creative efforts during the 1991 civil war to get food to the hungry and bypass looting by having the Red Cross bring the food in small shipments by donkey to communal kitchens in neighborhoods across the area rather than using big central supply stations that were more vulnerable to looting. I thought that was a great idea. Also the way they used some of the food aid to keep schools running. I was also very impressed by the discussion ("Womenomics") of the microfinancing movement and the shift from lending institutions with predominantly male clients to microfinance institutions devoted primarily to small loans for women -- growing recognition of women's ability to handle money and get it where it could do the most good. I'm only on page 11 -- this is a top notch read! *************** I finished this in November, and I could have logged many more comments like the above. This book is rich in detail and an excellent starting point for further research. In addition, it paints a very vivid picture of the women and men who are in this struggle to define and discriminate between the religious and ethical beliefs that empower them and oppressive cultural traditions.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vika Gardner

    (Based on a pre-publication version) This work examines "Islamic feminism" in several countries: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The sections on each country vary in length. The approach is largely anecdotal: Coleman uses the lens of individuals to examine and complicate ideas of what a feminist might be in the context of Islamist and politically complex arenas. The section on Iran is the longest, and it is a credit to the author and publishers that it focuses on the time duri (Based on a pre-publication version) This work examines "Islamic feminism" in several countries: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The sections on each country vary in length. The approach is largely anecdotal: Coleman uses the lens of individuals to examine and complicate ideas of what a feminist might be in the context of Islamist and politically complex arenas. The section on Iran is the longest, and it is a credit to the author and publishers that it focuses on the time during and after the 2009 elections. There is no knee-jerk reactions to Iran here; the author's approach is subtle and refreshing as it is critical and questioning. There are, however, some instances in which statements are made without citations. In what wants to be an academic text, one finds these evidentiary holes worrisome. In the classroom, one would probably want to discuss the use of anecdotes about particular women and how it may be used in a broader context. But for American students with little access to presentations of Muslim women who are involved in politics and social justice movements, this will be an eye-opening addition to the literature.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. In this t Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. In this timely book, Coleman journeys through the strategic crescent of the greater Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to reveal how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. Coleman argues that these efforts are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. Success will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and stands to transform the region.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    I originally checked this book out so I could suggest it to my book group. We didn't pick it, but I decided to read it on my own. It is an excellent overview of what is going on with women, politics and religion in the Middle East at this point in time. This book showed me gaps in my education about so many things. I don't have a firm grasp on the history of the area, on the Islamic religion or even what women go through in that part of the world. There is so much to know in the world and none of I originally checked this book out so I could suggest it to my book group. We didn't pick it, but I decided to read it on my own. It is an excellent overview of what is going on with women, politics and religion in the Middle East at this point in time. This book showed me gaps in my education about so many things. I don't have a firm grasp on the history of the area, on the Islamic religion or even what women go through in that part of the world. There is so much to know in the world and none of us can even know a small percentage. Coleman helped me with some of my ignorance. This book helped me have some idea about what women in the Middle East have faced and what is ahead for them. She also helped me see why politics and religion conflict so much in that part of the world. I am grateful to an excellent writer, Isobel Coleman. I think anyone with an interest in the Middle East and all that is going on there should read this book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brandy

    I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway! (Thank you!) I wanted so badly to love this book. It's an incredibly important topic and a sad majority of Americans seem to be woefully ignorant about the Quran and are far too quick to blame any problems in the Middle East on religion. And it that way, this is a great book that I would recommend to anyone interested. My complaint is this: The entirety of the book only touches as recently as 2009. While the histories of the differe I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway! (Thank you!) I wanted so badly to love this book. It's an incredibly important topic and a sad majority of Americans seem to be woefully ignorant about the Quran and are far too quick to blame any problems in the Middle East on religion. And it that way, this is a great book that I would recommend to anyone interested. My complaint is this: The entirety of the book only touches as recently as 2009. While the histories of the different countries is vital to understanding the present situation, so so much has happened since 2009 that cannot be summed up in the three page afterward. So if you are expecting more up-to-date info, it's not here so much.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen (itpdx)

    This is a wonderful, hopeful, and seemingly realistic look at women's movements in Islamic countries. Coleman starts with an overview of Islamic feminism, which includes studying the Quran and hadithas to try to separate what Islam says about women from the paternalistic cultures that dominate many of the Islamic areas. She details the leaders, movements, different circumstances and histories in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These women and groups are working from within fo This is a wonderful, hopeful, and seemingly realistic look at women's movements in Islamic countries. Coleman starts with an overview of Islamic feminism, which includes studying the Quran and hadithas to try to separate what Islam says about women from the paternalistic cultures that dominate many of the Islamic areas. She details the leaders, movements, different circumstances and histories in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These women and groups are working from within for cultural and legal changes that will greatly improve the condition of women in their countries. Coleman warns that this will take time--on the order of a couple of generations.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    The author does a good job throughout the book explaining how Islamic Feminists go to the Koran and other early Islamic sources to sift through what is religious and what is cultural with respect to women's rights. As with other religions, sexist rules are rarely actual religious decrees - but rather male interpretations based on culture and patriarchy. Unfortunately, I think the author does herself a disservice at the end by stating that the Islamic Feminist movement will eventually become secu The author does a good job throughout the book explaining how Islamic Feminists go to the Koran and other early Islamic sources to sift through what is religious and what is cultural with respect to women's rights. As with other religions, sexist rules are rarely actual religious decrees - but rather male interpretations based on culture and patriarchy. Unfortunately, I think the author does herself a disservice at the end by stating that the Islamic Feminist movement will eventually become secular if they truly want to promote women's equality. It undermines the whole message of the women in the book; the message that religion and equality are compatible.

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