A Quiet Revolution by Leila Ahmed

From The Guardian:

An-Egyptian-woman-in-full-007During the first half of the 20th century, millions of Muslim women decided to abandon the head coverings their mothers had used; in the second half of the century, millions of Muslim women resumed wearing the veil. How and why these fluctuations of personal habit affected so many across the Muslim world is the question Leila Ahmed sets herself. She focuses on Egypt, which was a key influence in both the unveiling and the veiling, to trace the many meanings which this piece of cloth has acquired. It's an acute study of how issues of political power and empire interact with women's own claims to autonomy within families and communities. Ahmed beds her analysis into the wider political currents of Egypt without ever losing sight of women's own interpretations of what they were doing and why.

What adds force to the analysis is the sense that the book has been a journey of personal discovery for Ahmed, a Harvard academic. She grew up in Cairo in the 1940s, and was raised by a generation of women who never wore the veil; she absorbed from them the assumption that the veil was backward, a restriction of female autonomy. Like many Muslim women of her generation, the veil's reappearance has been shocking, unexpected and regarded as a step backwards. Writing the book has forced her to reassess such assumptions, and come to a new, more positive understanding of the veil.

More here.