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Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,033 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
Are Islamic societies inherently oppressive to women? Is the trend among Islamic women to appear once again in veils and other traditional clothing a symbol of regression or an effort to return to a “pure” Islam that was just and fair to both sexes? In this book Leila Ahmed adds a new perspective to the current debate about women and Islam by exploring its historical roots ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published July 28th 1993 by Yale University Press (first published 1992)
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Beaman
Apr 28, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: nobody.
Shelves: islamic-history
Which is worse, having no book on a subject or having a flawed one? This is the dilemma Ahmed's book faces us with. The book suffers from factual errors and methodological shortcomings. Nevertheless, it's the first book to attempt the ambitious task of offering a historical survey of the topic.

To mention but one mistake:

Ahmed asserts that the case of Khadîja (the Prophet's first wife) shows that before Islam women in Mecca inherited property. To back this statement about women in pre-Islamic Mec
...more
Sedighe Vazehi
وقتی در عنوان یک کتاب عنوان کلی "اسلام" می آيد، مخاطب انتظار دارد تا نویسنده یا پژوهشگر بیرون از دایره ی کشورهای عرب زبان هم قدمی بگذارد و حداقل در یک فصل نگاهی اجمالی به مقوله ی مورد بحث در آن کشورها هم بیاندازد، اما لیلا احمد دقیقا نقطه ی مقابل است، او حتی زحمت بررسی چند کشور عربی را هم به خود نمیدهد و در فصول مربوط به دوره ی جدید و معاصر( از فصل شش تا یازده+ فصل نتیجه گیری) عموما درباره ی تحولات کشور مصر مینویسد، و خیلی کوتاه و در مواردی خاص مثالهای کوتاه و گذرا از تونس و عراق و عربستان می آو ...more
Carmen
Oct 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992.

(forgive me, this is a rough review...)

Leila’s Ahmed’s groundbreaking 1992 work, Women and gender in Islam, is an extremely well-researched and informative introduction to a history of women in Islam, though, as with any such work with broad ambitions, there are shortcomings in terms of coverage. (For a good overview of her argument in the book, read the conclusion)

Ahmad begins her book with a background on women in ancient Mesopo
...more
Amirsaman
📖 #پیشنهادکتاب

لیلا احمد در بخش اول کتابش میگوید وضعیت زنان در مناطقی - مثل مصر - قبل از ظهور اسلام بهتر از بعدش بود.

در بخش دوم نشان میدهد ساختار جامعهی صدر اسلام مردسالارانه بود، ولی آموزههای اخلاقی اسلام در قرآن، برخلاف آنها، مساواتطلبانه اند.
در صدر اسلام زنان در فعالیتهای مختلف شرکت میکردند در کنار مردان، حتا جنگ. و زنان پیامبر خصوصا عایشه، کلی حدیث از پیامبر نقل میکردند، که این نشان میدهد شهادت گفتنشان برابر با مردان بوده برخلاف دوران بعد. اما وضع در دورهی عباسیان برای زنان از همه جهت بدتر ش
...more
N.
Mar 11, 2015 rated it liked it
A book you won't regret reading, however it is far from being flawless .
First, I found the title quiet misleading; almost half the book was dedicated to the feminist move in the Arab world and mainly in Egypt. I won't say that this was not informative or interesting , actually it was, but that was not what I was curious about , or the impression given by the book title. Actually I expected more concentration on Islamic doctrine and customs.
Second, the first half of the book had two major flaws
...more
Katrina
Oct 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
If this book was not so academically dry, I would recommend it my friends who have been asking about how Islam and feminism intersect. Ahmed gives a long view of women in Islam from the time of the Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him) to the late twentieth century, using examples from throughout the Middle East and many from Egypt. At first I thought Ahmed was anti-Islam, since her views of early Islam contradict most of what I've read on the period; she argues that women were actually very ill-t ...more
Cara
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Over 20 years old now, this book is still a great introduction to women in Islam. It's detailed and even-handed, suffering only from an over-emphasis on Egypt and a lack of information about the non-Arab Muslim world. Leila Ahmed insists that Egypt is somehow representative of the Arab world as a whole, but it's obvious she's just more familiar with her own country. I don't really blame her for this. I would have also liked to see some comments on the non-Arab world - even though Islam originate ...more
Edward
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Like Amina Wadud's "Qur'an and Woman," this is another good book to read if you want the perspective of a Muslim woman on issues of gender within Islam. Whereas Wadud's book took a more theological, exegetical approach from the Qur'an, Ahmed examines the issue more from a socio-historical one. She begins with evidence of what life was like for women in Arabian society before Islam (Jahilia), moving into Muhammad's time, to the Golden Age of Islam and beyond.

Also like Wadud, Ahmed does not sugar
...more
Dylan
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was well written and provided the new perspective I was hoping to gain by reading this. I would be interested to read some other books on the topic of Women and Islam to get a more well rounded perspective because I am sure this book is biased (just like any book of a certain topic). My ultimate takeaway: Religion and culture are two different things.
Tiffany
This book is now 20 years old so I can forgive it for being out of date but I don't know that I can forgive it for being titled as it is. The author make legitimate excuses (lack of written records)for a very limited geographic and ethnic focus but given that the vast majority of Muslims are not Arab, I don't know that a book focusing so tightly on the Arab world should be titled as if it encompasses all of Islam. Still, the "historical roots" part is accurate as the historical roots of Islam ar ...more
Sofia
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: islam
Leilah Ahmad provides a fascinating, well cited and thought provoking history of women in the Middle East prior to the advent of Islam. She provides a history of how the prevailing attitudes and beliefs regarding women were absorbed into Islamic thought as the empire expanded. Ahmad goes on to discuss the effect of colonialisation of Arab countries and the resistance from the indigenous populations arising in the form of certain dogmatisms. From here on she focuses on the Arab world, and more pr ...more
Natasha
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
The first few chapters in which Leila Ahmed has addressed the historical events leading to the current problems are very informative and interesting to read. The last part, though, has a few errors and is based on selective information.
Violeta Petrovska
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own, slovo, 2015
Секoјa чест зa Лејлa и Илинa...
Barbara
Nov 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A must read, for any woman, religious or not, who considers herself a citizen of the world.
Sarah Faltesek
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Though this book was published in 1992, it remains highly relevant. Ahmed is careful to make clear what we know - and what we don't know- about the birth of Islam, the cultural practices already in place in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and which groups had control of writing and interpreting versions of the Quran at different pivotal stages.
This is not a book of sweeping generalizations. It is a thoughtful, well-researched examination of the history of cultural and religious perceptions
...more
Sara-Jayne
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very thoughtful book, and one I think that must be read by any person trying to gain a deeper understanding of our Muslim brothers and sisters. As an overview of the question of gender in Islam, as well as the history of gender in that region as a whole, it rightfully places women at the center of their own histories. (A novel concept, I know.) While at times Ahmed's academic style was a bit difficult to plod through, as a whole I found this book impeccably researched and utterly fasci ...more
Hannah
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fantastic read. Perhaps the best and most accessibly written scholarly work I have ever read. Ahmed brings honestly, humility and a clear voice to this complex history and these timely issues. If you want to know more about the role of women in Islamic history this is the book to read. It will educate you and challenge you to understand your own feminism (or rejection of feminism) in light of the need for intersectional understanding and dialogue. I am grateful to Ahmed for providi ...more
Ülkü Doğan
Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
the first part of the book is about historical evolution of the position of women in the middle east, starting from the pre-islamic era. ahmed, here, offers 3 basic arguments:

1. about pre-islamic era and the emerge of islam: the pre-islamic customs in the arab world were in some parts misogynist but in some parts they indicate a greater power for women(especially in terms of sexual autonomy).

2. about the prophet's era and the change after abbasids:
a. quran's ethical teaching is based on the eq
...more
Rahma Sofien
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Like all good books it doesn't give all the answers but it asks the right questions.
كمال شقي
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islamophobia, islam
I am tired of having what is referred to in this book as the "discourse of the veil"—the reduction of Islam to a regressive religion based on a perceived enforcement of the wearing of a piece of clothing. This book successfully manages to level the playing field, as it were, by allowing for current abuses of power in the Islamic world while not painting the West as the savior of women within that world. In this view, the veil can be seen as a reaction against the West; a protest statement and a ...more
Grace
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Book could probably be more aptly named "Women and Gender in the Arab Middle East." Pretty much the entire book is about women in the Middle East and North Africa - both non-Muslim and Muslim. There are only brief mentions of the status of women in Muslim countries elsewhere, and most nations are entirely excluded. Even many Arab nations are unmentioned. The second half of the book is exclusively about Egypt.

For a book which is supposed to be about Islam and women, she spends remarkably little t
...more
Rebekka Steg
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Overall I thought that Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed was very informative, especially the historical parts of the book, though, as others have mentioned too, the contemporary part is very compact and highly favouring the conditions in Egypt.

Ahmed begins with an account of the conditions women lived under in pre-Islamic societies, the changes that the prophet Muhammed (PBUH) brought in and the conditions through the first Islamic societies and up through the centuries. As the historic
...more
Rosemary
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
This Yale University Press book might be more relevant now than when it was originally published in 1992.
The author’s discussion of women in veils and body-covering dress goes back to historic Islamic times as well as to the time of European colonization. The author questions why European officials whose women wore corsets and long dresses were ones to judge the dress of Islamic women.
Interesting to read that the very modest manner of Islamic dress enabled women to move from being in the home
...more
Samantha
Aug 21, 2012 rated it liked it


About half way through, I'm finding this book super lucid and fluid with its handling of layers of colonial visions of Islam as well as a more historical study of women in Islam. Conscious and smart. Adept at communicating complex relationships between ideas.
Now finished, I found it a useful review of colonial impressions of Islam and a critique of these. But I wish there had been more about other parts of the world and Islamic women defining their own desires within their differing cultures.
...more
Jastinder
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Seminal book in its field by Egyptian-American academic Leila Ahmed providing a wealth of information about discourses on women and gender throughout the history of Islam- although if I had one minor quibble, its that the later chapters concentrate on the Middle East, more specifically Egypt, as opposed to the Islamic world more generally - but they do so fascinatingly, and with a wealth of detail. The passages on Muslims feminists in the colonial era and the modern rise of Islamism are particul ...more
AskHistorians
The foundation for scholarship on women in Islam, both in historiography terms and as a historical take. Ahmed starts her story in medieval Arabia, showing how Islam represents both change and continuity from earlier traditions. She traces the development of Muslim scholars' thoughts on women and gender over time, focusing not just on the texts themselves but on how they were interpreted in different times and places. This is essential reading for anyone interested in Islam, Islamic history, or ...more
Erica Aisha
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
This compilation of various nations as well as cultures shows a diverse array of opinions within Islam. Leila Ahmed is a fabulous gender researcher whose focus on the Middle East and culture have depth. Although in Ahmed's portions, I feel she is a bit biased from the beginning, perhaps all gender research begins this way with preconceived notions of what we anticipate results will show.

It's an academic book, but the various chapters based in different places make it an easier read.
Alyssa Rickard
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Leila Ahmed is obviously one of the most reputable scholars on the subject of women in Islam. She provides great insight into the evolution of women's rights in Islam throughout history. Her writing takes a while to get used to, but once you get into it, it's fine. A must read for anyone interested in women and Islam.
Virginia Green
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Leila Ahmed did a great job demonstrating her argument "The subordination of Women in the ancient Middle East appears to have become institutionalized with the rise of urban societies and with the raise of the archaic state in particular"(1). I would recommend with the knowledge that the studies of Women in Islam is a new found study and that everything you read may not be accurate.
Charlotte Osborn-bensaada
Leila Ahmed has written one of the great sweeping histories of gender. She upends and challenges many of our conceptions about the interplay of gender and Islam by contextualizing culture, history, gender and religion. One weakness of Ahmed is her focus on pre-Islamic Persian culture as the source of misogynous attitudes towards women, I wonder if that is at times too convenient.
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Leila Ahmed (Arabic: لیلى احمد) is an Egyptian American professor of Women's Studies and Religion at the Harvard Divinity School. Prior to coming to Harvard, she was professor of Women’s Studies and Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Cambridge before moving to the United States to teach and write ...more
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