Leila Ahmed is the first professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of Women and Gender in Islam, and the memoir, A Border Passage.
"A richly insightful account of the inner conflicts of a generation coming of age during and after the collapse of European imperialism...a wonderfully evocative memoir."
Ahmed, a professor of women's studies at Amherst and the author
of such scholarly works as Women and Gender in Islam (Yale Univ.,
1993), writes a personal memoir of her childhood in 1940s and 1950s
Cairo, education in England, and teaching work in America. Like the
most skillful and subtle of teachers, she entices you with what
seems like an afternoon chat over tea; only when it is over do you
realize how much you have learned and how fascinating the journey
has been. She imparts a great deal of Egyptian history, culture,
and sociology, including some background on the concept of
"Arabness," as well as a brilliant introduction to the difference
between the Islam of men and the Islam of women. The descriptions
of her grandmother's salon will no doubt strike a chord of memory
with any Western female who spent time listening to mothers, aunts,
and grandmothers in the kitchen at family gatherings. A delightful
read; recommended for libraries that collect in intercultural,
gender, or Middle Eastern studies.
-- Library Journal As in her widely admired scholarly book Women and Gender in Islam, Ahmed addresses how historical and political forces shape personal identities, particularly those of Arab Muslim women. Here, however, the subject is Ahmed's own identity as a scholar, a woman, a Muslim and an upper-class Egyptian at home in both East and West. In elegant prose, she tells of her childhood in Cairo, her college years at Cambridge and of teaching in Abu Dhabi and America. In Ahmed's nuanced rendering, politics are not the backdrop to people's lives but their fabric. The internalization of colonial attitudes, the 1952 revolution and Arab nationalism, class issues, the effects of Zionism and the politics of gender roles are woven into her life and the lives of those around her. Most poignant is the transformation of Ahmed's disdain for her "traditional" Arabic-speaking mother, who spent her days with female relatives, into an understanding of how these women made sense of their lives. Indeed, throughout this fluid memoir, she provocatively reformulates the terms by which men, Western and Arab, have defined women through her own cross-cultural comparisons of women's communities, as when she describes the all-female Girton College (at Cambridge) as a harem, "the harem as I had lived it, the harem of older women presiding over the young."
-- Publishers Weekly