Julie's Reviews > Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East

Paradise Beneath Her Feet by Isobel Coleman
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May 14, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: social-political-commentary, middle-east-theme-setting, best-of-2010, read-2010
Recommended to Julie by: Jeanette
Read from May 11 to 14, 2010

"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.
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Reading Progress

05/12/2010 page 57
16.19% "A must-read for those moved by "Half the Sky". Far more scholarly, but no less fascinating. I want to quote every page!"
05/13/2010 page 101
28.69% "I am humbled and heartened by the intelligence and courage of these scholar-activists. Learning so much!"

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Great review! Thank you for the recommendation! :-)


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