American Stories

A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America
by Leila Ahmed

Highly symbolic and often misunderstood, Muslim women’s wearing of the veil sometimes evokes passionate responses, from other Muslims as well as from non-Muslims. In this insightful and often surprising analysis, Harvard University professor Leila Ahmed describes the adoption of hijab (the practice of wearing head coverings and other concealing garments in public) as a “quiet revolution” among Muslim women. Ahmed intertwines her observations as a scholar of feminism and Islam with her own history growing up in a mid-twentieth-century family in Egypt, adding nuance and complexity to Americans’ understanding of the recent resurgence of hijab.  In A Quiet Revolution, Ahmed explores the meaning of concepts such as “secular,”  “Islamist,” and “feminist” in thought-provoking ways that challenge the widely held misconception that all Muslim women are passive and oppressed.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011


Born in Cairo in 1940, Leila Ahmed received a doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the 1960s. She came to Harvard Divinity School in 1999 as its first professor of women's studies and religion; she assumed the Victor S. Thomas Chair in 2003. Prior to her appointment at Harvard, she was professor of women's studies and Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Her books include A Border Passage (2007) and Women and Gender in Islam: The Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (1993).

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