Friday, June 18, 2010

Paradise Beneath her Feet

It's book-of-the-month time for the student services blog...

Paradise Beneath Her Feet* by Isobel Coleman

Subtitled "how women are transforming the Middle East," Paradise Beneath Her Feet has as its focus Islamic feminism and its proponents. Its author, Isobel Coleman, is a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations where she is director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program.

While many would argue that secularization is the only sure means for achieving gender equality in the Middle East, many men and women throughout the Islamic world are working for women’s rights within the religion rather than trying to dislodge it. By seeking progressive interpretations of Islamic texts, they are able to use Islam as a force for women’s empowerment.

In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Coleman first lays a groundwork for understanding women’s issues in the Middle East. She outlines the importance of women’s empowerment, the rise of Islamism within the region, and the tensions inherent in any attempt to modernize. After describing the genesis of Islamic feminism, Coleman focuses on the work of female activists in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. She concludes this scholarly but readable book on a positive note recognizing that cultural change is slow but inevitable.

While Paradise Beneath Her Feet does not seem to discuss how Islamic feminism will affect the non-Muslim women living in these countries, it is still a useful introduction to this brand of activism.

*On pages xxvi and xxvii Coleman discusses how the hadith (a saying of Muhammad or a report about something he did) that inspired the title can and has been interpreted in a number of different ways both pro- and anti-gender equity.

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