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Book review: 'A Quiet Revolution' by Leila Ahmed

The author looks at the resurgence in wearing the veil in the Muslim world and the U.S.

July 31, 2011|By Laila Lalami | Special to the Los Angeles Times

In the United States, the organizations that had been started by homesick Islamist students are now run by their American-born children, whose ideas about what it means to be Muslim are different. The Islamic Society of North America, for example, elected a woman, Ingrid Mattson, as its president. A new translation of the Koran by Laleh Bakhtiar, a Chicago-based author and scholar, challenges orthodox interpretations of gender hierarchy. And under the leadership of the journalist Asra Nomani and scholar Amina Wadud, mixed-gender prayers have taken place in West Virginia. Nowadays, the women who cover are just as likely to do it for religious or political reasons as they are to do it in order to affirm their identity or take a stand against discrimination. Such developments, Ahmed writes, are "the first stirrings of a new era in the history of Islam and the West."

"A Quiet Revolution" is an important book, even if at times it favors an opaque, academic language. It provides a thorough history of the resurgence of the veil both in the Muslim world and in the U.S. and adds significant nuance to the complex issues that surround the veil. Ahmed's work will no doubt continue to inspire a new generation of Muslim feminists.

Lalami, the author of "Secret Son," is an associate professor of creative writing at UC Riverside.

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