Book Review

Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression by Ida Lichter. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2009; 513 pages, ISBN 978-1-59102-716-4, hardback, $27.98.

Over 100 short biographies, organized by country, of Muslim women who are trying to bring about better conditions for women in Islamic societies, often at great personal risk. The author, a psychiatrist in Sydney, Australia, includes not only those in Muslim majority states, but also in Western societies.  There is a wide spectrum of views among these reformers.  On one end are those who wish to bring about reforms through Islam and a reinterpretation of the Koran in line with its egalitarian statements and tone.  At the other are those who have rejected Islam as too intrinsically misogynistic and patriarchal. About a dozen men who support ending abuses toward women are also featured, as are several organizations, for example national and international efforts to stop honor killings. 

The efforts of these reformers are seldom reported in Western media, but the success of their efforts depends largely on support outside their own societies, as this Algerian reformer Khalida Messaoudi stresses: "We are dealing with an influential fundamentalist international that has a clear strategy. In order to secure women's rights, we need a democratic international of women otherwise we have absolutely no chance of conquering this beast. Not only Algerian, but Sudanese, Iranian, and Afghani women know what I am talking about. They know the horror of God's State all too well. But alone, without your support, without the women's and human rights movement of the countries of the West, we are losing this battle of life and death." 

By speaking out, these women risk slander, attack, torture, and even murder (the book is dedicated to those who have been killed).  Even though the situations they face may leave the reader feeling depressed and angry, their courage and spirit in seeking fair and equitable treatment are inspiring and deserving of wider notice and support. – Sally Dougherty (December 2009)   

Book Reviews