The Quiet Revolution in the Arab World

A Quiet Revolution by Leila Ahmed – review

An incisive history of the hijab reveals surprising shifts in the long political and cultural struggle between Islam and the west

by Rachel Aspden

In 1955, the Oxford historian Albert Hourani published an article entitled “The Vanishing Veil”, predicting that the centuries-old practice would soon disappear from Muslim societies. Over the previous half-century, women in the eastern Mediterranean Arab countries, led by Egypt, had gradually abandoned their traditional coverings. By the time an isolated nostalgic called out to Gamal Abdel Nasser at a rally in 1962, asking him to reinstate veiling, the Egyptian president could dismiss him with the quip that he had no desire to “engage in battle with 25 million people” – Egypt’s population at the time.

More than 50 years later, the many forms of hijab (Islamic veil or covering) are on the rise in both the Muslim world and the west – and so are states’ ineffectual attempts to contain them. A law banning face-covering veils from public places has recently come into force in France; Germany has a partial ban on headscarves for teachers; Turkey has banned Islamic coverings from universities; and Syria recently reversed a ban on face veils for primary school teachers. Britain ruled out a proposed “burqa ban” in 2010, but Islamic dress remains a reliable staple of controversy, from the House of Commons to the Daily Mail (“Tower Hamlets Taliban: Death threats to women who don’t wear veils” was one recent headline).

In A Quiet Revolution, Harvard divinity professor Leila Ahmed sets out the background to this remarkable reversal and the fierce debates that surround it. Ahmed, who grew up in Cairo in the 1940s and 50s, was part of a generation of Muslim women for whom going unveiled was a norm that bore little relation to their level of religious commitment. Exploring changing attitudes to women’s dress in Egypt, the cradle of both the unveiling movement and the veil’s return, throughout the 20th century, she tackles some of the questions so mauled by journalists and politicians. Why did the veil re-emerge among university-educated and professional women? Is it really a symbol of female oppression? Does it signify rejection of the west? Why can it inspire such fear and revulsion?

Read full article @ the Guardian

~ by eneryvibes on 1,May 27, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: