Does Islam treat women better or worse than other religions do? Are women better off under Islam than under Western culture? These are important questions not only for women's history, but for understanding the news today. Each of the books included has its own biases -- but that's helpful because you need to read and understand several perspectives to make your own truly informed judgments.
by Fatima Mernissi, translator Mary Jo Lakeland, reprint 1992. Subtitle: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam. A Moroccan, Muslim and sociology professor carefully unpacks Qu'ranic and hadith texts. By rooting her feminist views in the tradition and showing how the male elite uses political and economic power to oppress women, she is able to argue for change rooted in Islam itself.
edited by Mahnaz Afkhami, Executive Director of the Sisterhood is Global Institute and Executive Director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies. Published 1995. Scholars, most from the Muslim world, analyze "patriarchal structures and processes that present women's human rights as contradictory to Islam" and look at solutions of empowerment, public policy, and social change.
by Anwar Hekmat, 1997, Prometheus Books. A harsh critique of Islam's treatment of women: "millions of Muslim females, under rigid and inexorable Islamic laws, have been deprived of their fundamental inalienable rights and driven into seclusion for many centuries. These humiliating laws have played an important role in creating the socioeconomic ills that still afflict the Muslim world today."
by Fatima Mernissi, reprinted 1987. By now a classic, this book looks at Muslim women in modern society (especially in Morocco) from a Muslim and feminist perspective. The author shows how both western and Muslim culture has viewed women as sexually uncontrollable. She contrasts more traditional or rural Muslim women's expectations and conditions to those of more modern and urban Muslim women.
by Carol L. Anway, 1995. A careful study of American Christian women who have converted to Islam. In telling these stories, including the author's own coming to terms with her daughter's conversion to Islam, we hear the reasons that some women have for deliberately choosing Islam over Christianity and, implicitly, over a western secularized lifestyle.
"... from a Woman's Perspective." by Amina Wadud, reprinted 1999. The author, a Muslim herself, reads the Qu'ran and hadith as justifying women's equality, defends this view with careful Muslim exegesis, and separates the actual social structures of Islamic life and implementation of Islamic law from what's taught in the religious texts.
"... on the Islamic World" by Jan Goodwin, 1995. A study of women in many different Islamic countries, exposing the conditions of women when fundamentalist Islamic influence is greatest. She contrasts the advances in women's equality in Muslim culture during the 1950s through 1970s with the subsequent suppression of women's rights and diminishment of women's participation in society.
by Geraldine Brooks, 1996. This reporter tries to carefully navigate between the cultural oppression of women -- and her own experiences when she traveled to interview women, usually wearing the "hijab" or veil herself -- and the faith's actual teachings. She feminists and fundamentalists to bring together this combination of extended news analysis, travel narrative, and sociological study.
edited by Suha Sabbagh, 2002. In western women's history studies, many scholars have challenged simplistic analysis of women's lives and have looked at the hidden dynamics among women in their "separate sphere." In that same spirit, this book shows the world of Arab women from their own perspective, including the networks of support and care that some may prefer to the individualism of the west.
edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and John L. Esposito, 1997. Haddad sets the tone: "... the role of women and the family in Islamic society has been a central component of the debates over modernization and progress." The authors look at how women's status has been changing and the debates around those changes in Islamic societies ifrom Iran and Egypt to the Philippines and Pakistan.
~ Jone Johnson Lewis