Summary (as provided in a press release): In a world where the strident demands of Islamic extremists capture the media’s attention, the courageous protests of Muslim reformers barely receive any notice. These include a surprising number of women who are prepared to challenge institutionalized persecution, risking derision, arrest, physical harm, and even death.
In this inspiring compilation of Muslim women’s stories from around the world, the voices of these long-oppressed women ring loud and clear as they question ideology and culture, patriarchal and religious beliefs, and demand the social and political rights women lack in many Muslim countries. The reformers speak out with passion, humanity, and sometimes humor in these compact and often poignant biographies, bringing alive the harsh realities for women in many parts of the world.
By surveying a wide range of Muslim reformers, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and North America, author Ida Lichter uncovers some significant emerging trends. For example, she notes that the majority of Muslim feminists would like to see reform contained within Islam. Many criticize their patriarchal culture for suppressing egalitarian views that they believe the Koran expresses and so they advocate a reinterpretation of the holy text. Some demand changes to discriminatory Sharia-based laws. Others campaign openly for political and educational reforms.
Complete with a glossary and a list of helpful Web sites, this vibrant anthology makes use of reliable translations from original languages to demonstrate the groundswell of grassroots change that promises eventually to bring even the most conservative sectors of Islam into the twenty-first century.
My Thoughts: This is a very well-written, well-researched book. And it’s not merely a book, but more of an anthology of Muslim women who have worked and/or are working to make positive changes for Muslim women. Organized by country, it gives a brief account of the major players in women’s quest for reform in their respective nations. The accounts really are brief – more a summary of who these people are and what they’ve accomplished. (I say people because there is a short chapter on men who have been involved in the movement, too.) If they have been arrested, abused, raped, tortured, etc., that also is mentioned. If you want more detailed information on the issues these women faced, or even on these individuals, this is not the place for it. This is more of an introduction to the efforts of Muslim women to reform their respective societies. I could easily see this book as a text for a 300-level college Women’s Study course, or even Sociology.
Unfortunately, it reads like a text book, too. It’s quite dry and somewhat boring. The information presented is interesting, if you can get past the very matter-of-fact voice. Again, this would make an excellent text book for college courses. The information is quite current – coming as recently as 2008 and even 2009 – and covers a lot of ground. Thus, it’s brevity with each individual – and even background info for the countries – is justified. If you want more detailed accounts, however, you will be disappointed. Fortunately, there is a list of resources (mostly Web sites) in the back that can be used to find more information. Speaking of the back of the book, there also is a very useful glossary that helps with many of the terms used in this book that most Western readers likely won’t be familiar with.
What makes this book amazing – in addition to the amount of information covered – is how eye-opening it is. Yeah, I’ve heard some about the treatment of women in the Mideast, but not a lot. It’s a subject that occasionally comes up in media and whatnot, but hasn’t stuck around very long. This book shares things that I had no idea people still did today. I had no idea just how good we American women have it. Yeah, things aren’t as equal as some would like it, but count your blessings! We have it so very, very easy. Very easy. I will never again take my place as a woman for granted. I can only imagine how women manage to live in many of these societies. I like how many of the activists in the book call the Western societies out as hiding behind political-correct B.S. I have heard the argument that we shouldn’t interfere, because it’s a cultural thing. (“It” could be any number of things, from wearing the burqa to not leaving the house unchaperoned.) But reading this, I see just how wrong that viewpoint is. I think we Western cultures – especially the always-trying-not-to-offend Americans – use that to hide behind. If we chalk it up as cultural differences and that we shouldn’t tell them what’s right and not for them, then we can turn our backs and ignore it. Ignore the honor killings, polygamy, child rape, gang rape, stoning, and on and on. If we just hide behind writing it off as their religious beliefs, we can pretend it’s not happening. Which is just crap. Many of the activists maintain that these horrific occurrences are NOT backed by Islam. It is NOT a religious thing, but rather misogynistic attitudes that are institutionalized throughout these societies. Now, I’m not saying that we should go in, take over, and free the women. I don’t know WHAT can be done. I’m not a statesman – er, stateswoman. But, I think our tendency to write it off as something we don’t understand because our culture is different is just wrong.
Another thing that really caught my attention is how in most cases, it seems that women are LOSING ground. It seems that in many places, they gained ground. After change in government, suddenly they lose ground. It’s like for every one step forward, they’re pushed two steps back.
Again, this book is a huge eye-opener. And it made me question things. My main question is simple. Why do these men hate women so much? Why? I just don’t understand it at all. It baffles me.
One of the women mentioned in this book is Nonie Darwish, author of Now They Call Me Infadel, which is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for probably about two years now. Thanks to Muslim Women Reformers, this book has been bumped up to near the top of my to-read list. I’m hoping to tackle it in March, when I take time off from scheduled reviews.
My Rating: 3 stars
Source: Thank you to Lisa Roe, Online Publicist, for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
Read It: You can get your own copy of Muslim Women Reformers HERE. (This is a Book Depository link, and purchase through this link will result in my receiving a small commission. Your support is appreciated!)
About the Author: Ida Lichter, is a clinical and research psychiatrist and contributor to The Huffington Post. Living in London for over 12 years focused her interest on the large Muslim populations in the UK and Europe and brought her closer to the eye of the storm in the Middle East. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
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