A Quiet Revolution

A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Quiet Revolution
    Book Description:

    In Cairo in the 1940s, Leila Ahmed was raised by a generation of women who never dressed in the veils and headscarves their mothers and grandmothers had worn. To them, these coverings seemed irrelevant to both modern life and Islamic piety. Today, however, the majority of Muslim women throughout the Islamic world again wear the veil. Why, Ahmed asks, did this change take root so swiftly, and what does this shift mean for women, Islam, and the West?

    When she began her study, Ahmed assumed that the veil's return indicated a backward step for Muslim women worldwide. What she discovered, however, in the stories of British colonial officials, young Muslim feminists, Arab nationalists, pious Islamic daughters, American Muslim immigrants, violent jihadists, and peaceful Islamic activists, confounded her expectations. Ahmed observed that Islamism, with its commitments to activism in the service of the poor and in pursuit of social justice, is the strain of Islam most easily and naturally merging with western democracies' own tradition of activism in the cause of justice and social change. It is often Islamists, even more than secular Muslims, who are at the forefront of such contemporary activist struggles as civil rights and women's rights. Ahmed's surprising conclusions represent a near reversal of her thinking on this topic.

    Richly insightful, intricately drawn, and passionately argued, this absorbing story of the veil's resurgence, from Egypt through Saudi Arabia and into the West, suggests a dramatically new portrait of contemporary Islam.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17505-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    I recall a particular evening a few months after I moved to Cambridge as one of those moments that was at the genesis of this book. After an early dinner with a friend who was visiting from the Arab world—a well-known feminist of Muslim background whom I will call Aisha—we were taking a leisurely stroll back to her hotel. Rounding a corner, we came to a spontaneous halt at the sight of a crowd gathered on the Cambridge Common, evidently enjoying a private event or celebration. What was arresting was that all the women were in hijab—the...

  5. PART ONE The Islamic Resurgence and the Veil:: From Emergence to Migration
    • 1 Unveiling
      (pp. 19-45)

      In 1956, Albert Hourani, the Oxford historian and best-selling author ofThe History of the Arabs,published a short article in theUNESCO Courierentitled “The Vanishing Veil a Challenge to the Old Order.” Pointing out that veiling was a fast-disappearing practice in most Arab societies, Hourani gives a brief history of how and why the practice was disappearing and why, as he believed, veiling would soon become a thing of the past.

      The trend to unveil, Hourani explains, had begun in Egypt in the early twentieth century, set in motion by the writer Qasim Amin. Amin had argued in...

    • 2 The Veil’s Vanishing Past
      (pp. 46-67)

      The world that Hourani evokes and the assumptions that underlie his essay were, then, entirely those that shaped my own consciousness growing up in Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s. Besides offering a snapshot of where the different countries of the region stood with regard to veiling, Hourani’s article also perfectly captures the middle- and upper-class ethos of that era around veiling.

      Through those decades and until the end of the Nasser era in Egypt in the late 1960s, the hijab became ever more rare. By the late fifties, even the class that Hourani had written of a few years...

    • 3 The 1970s: Seeds of the Resurgence
      (pp. 68-92)

      Following Nasser’s death in 1970, Anwar Sadat, then vice president, became president of Egypt. Although regarded at first as a temporary figurehead, Sadat moved quickly to consolidate his power and to veer away from the political and ideological course that Nasser had set. In particular, he began to distance the country from the Soviet Union and to turn away from Nasser’s proclaimed commitment to egalitarianism and socialism. Declaring his intention to pursue a pro-capitalist stance and economy, Sadat began to seek alignment with the West, and in particular with the United States.

      As he had anticipated, these ideological shifts provoked...

    • 4 The New Veil: Converging Influences
      (pp. 93-116)

      The 1970s was a critical decade with respect to the emergence and spread of the Resurgence. In this chapter I continue my exploration of the 1970s and of the forces and elements at work in Egypt that were important to this movement. I consider, for example, Saudi Arabia’s contributions to fostering in a variety of ways, some quite unexpected, a climate that would nurture and galvanize the Resurgence, and I explore how Saudi Arabian interests intersected and combined with those of the Muslim Brotherhood.

      This decade in Egypt would prove to be the crucible of the first experimentation with and...

    • 5 The 1980s: Exploring Women’s Motivations
      (pp. 117-130)

      By the mid-1980s it was clear that deep changes were under way and that the Islamist trend was not destined to fade away. Signs that a “quiet conversion to a new way of life” was in progress were in evidence everywhere. The numbers of mosques multiplied—by the early eighties as many as four thousand new mosques were estimated to have been built in Egypt.¹ As the architectural landscapes of cities changed, so did their auditory landscapes. In many Cairo neighborhoods the call to prayer now came from several minarets at once and typically through loudspeakers. As many have noted...

    • 6 Islamist Connections
      (pp. 131-156)

      In contrast to the findings of researchers focused on exploring women’s motivations for veiling, quite a different set of factors emerges as of central importance to the spread of veiling in the works of researchers focused on studying the Islamist movement. While scholars exploring primarily women’s personal motivations for veiling—from El Guindi through Williams to Macleod and Zuhur—typically concluded, albeit often with some reservations, that the decision to veil was the result of women’s own choices, the findings of researchers studying the Islamist movement more broadly suggest rather that veiling spread because Islamist male leaders conceived of veiling...

    • 7 Migrations
      (pp. 157-176)

      In this and the next chapter I follow out the story of the migration of Islamism to North America, and of the establishment and rise to dominance on the American Muslim landscape of organizations embodying the Islamist perspective. The growing influence of Islamism in America came about as the result of the migrations of both people and ideas: the sixties was an era of rapidly expanding Muslim immigration to America at a time when international connections were leading to the growing influence of Islamism among African American Muslims, as well as among immigrants. Understanding this background is essential to understanding...

    • 8 The 1990s: A Changing Climate in America
      (pp. 177-190)

      Following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States and Saudi Arabia joined forces, out of their shared hatred for the Soviet Union and its “godless empire,” to defeat communism in Afghanistan.

      Saudi Arabia encouraged its youth to go to Afghanistan to fight the jihad against the Soviet Union. In Washington, the Reagan administration had elevated Wahhabism “to the status of liberation theology—one that would free the region of communism.”¹ The jihadists, dubbed “freedom fighters,” were “trained and equipped by the CIA and supported by petro-dollars from the Arabian Peninsula.”² Fighters were recruited elsewhere in the...

  6. PART TWO After 9/11:: New Pathways in America
    • Prologue
      (pp. 193-198)

      As it proved, much of my research on Islam in America would be conducted in the context of one of the most eventful and volatile decades in modern history regarding relations between Islam and the West, as the 9/11 terrorist attack (followed by terrorist attacks by Muslims in Britain and in Spain) sparked new levels of fear and suspicion of Muslims in the Western world. In the wake of 9/11 the United States plunged into two wars, one after another, with two Muslim-majority countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that are ongoing.

      On the home front in America, 9/11 set in...

    • 9 Backlash: The Veil, the Burka, and the Clamor of War
      (pp. 199-232)

      On September 18, 2001, President George W. Bush paid a visit to the mosque at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., from which he spoke, as theWashington Postreported, to “admonish the nation not to avenge last week’s terrorist attacks on innocent American Arabs and Muslims.”¹

      The president’s visit had been prompted by a wave of hate crimes reported in thePost. Two men had been killed, one a Muslim Pakistani store owner who had been shot in Dallas on September 15, and the other the Sikh owner of a gas station in Mesa, Arizona, shot on the same...

    • 10 ISNA and the Women of ISNA
      (pp. 233-264)

      Almost every single one of the Muslim American conventions I attended in 2002 featured Zayed Yasin, a fresh-minted Harvard graduate, as one of its speakers. Although I did not know Yasin personally, he was familiar to me by name because of the fracas that had erupted around him at Harvard and that was quickly picked up by the national media, in connection with a speech he was due to deliver at the commencement events of June 2002. Yasin’s proposed speech, in which he reflected on the tensions of being both American and Muslim, had been chosen from among the many...

    • 11 American Muslim Women’s Activism in the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 265-306)

      Tayyibah Taylor, founder ofAzizahmagazine, was born in Trinidad and raised in Canada. Taught by her parents always to “behave perfectly, speak eloquently, and dress impressively, so that, as a person of color, others would deem me acceptable,” Taylor recalled her first encounter withEbonymagazine as marking a particularly important moment. For the first time, she wrote, she saw “media images of people of color that were positive.” The experience began for her the process of undercutting an “internalized sense of inferiority” that had begun to seep into her with her move to Canada at the age of...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 307-338)
  8. Index
    (pp. 339-352)