Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East

From the beginning, it’s clear that this book is just a few years old. The foreword even includes that there have been progresses and setbacks since it’s initial publication. Still, it’s worth reading for anyone concerned about what’s happening in the Middle East, worldwide women’s rights, worldwide women’s movements, or Islamic feminism.

For me, the best part was that there is a significant amount of history relayed here that helps the reader understand where some of the issues come in. They are not necessarily the issues of women’s rights, but why it’s hard to talk about them. She covers how different regimes came to power and how each regime strings along a fight that is often “one step forward and two steps back”. She also reminds us that the Christian reformation was no easier on anyone and relied on a similar change in circumstance to change the way it was viewed. It relied on people not only learning how to read, but going back through their religious texts on their own and fighting the laws and practices that were clearly not upheld by the text.

Islamic feminists are doing just that now. They are increasing the amount of people who can read in their countries and they are getting the text of the Quran and reading it for themselves. They are fighting for the rights that Islam gives them which are far more than the rights they currently have. This book details the path that they have walked in five countries: Saudi Arabia, Morroco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

If you’re on the fence, here are some more notes and highlights that I made while reading it. Perhaps they will pique your interest.

Having been originally published in 2010, it missed some incredible events and the author goes back and recounts some of the changes that happened in 2013 when this edition was released. While there were many great moments to quote, this one made me tear up because I know what happens next:

Indeed, as I write this, the shocking incident of the Taliban shooting a fourteen-year-old girl for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education in her native Pakistan has garnered world attention.

Since this edition was published in 2013, I had wondered whether Malala was going to pop in at some point. It was heartbreaking and to find her here and written about this way. So much has happened since then. I hope that new editions or a sequel comes out as the Middle East continues to change.

Feminism is alive and active in these countries, even when the word itself is not used, it is working for the improvement of the women within them. Before those of us outside of their countries can hope to actually help, Coleman asserts that we must first understand them. Imposing our ideas does not help. Understanding which part of the fight is most important to them and supporting their efforts is far more effective than going in and ripping off veils. Veils are not the problem. Veils don’t even represent the problem, not if you ask them. The problem is so much bigger. To get a clear picture of it and what is being done to actually fight the oppression of women in these five countries, read this book.

Try it on Audible or the free Kindle app, or find it here. Come back for the next book, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, get at your local library or my astore!

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