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March 18, 2006

American Muslim Women Defy Stereotypes

Washington, D.C. -- Contradicting traditional stereotypes of Muslim women as veiled and oppressed, Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today (Oxford University Press, 2006), by Georgetown University Professor Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and co-authors Jane I. Smith and Kathleen M. Moore, reveals Muslim women in America to be diverse and active in shaping the role of Muslims in the West. "Muslim women have been empowered to participate in the public arena to pursue their interests, whether these interests are counteracting prejudice or pursuing professional dreams or serving the common welfare through community service," the authors write. "They have contributed in especially significant ways in the negotiation of what it means to be Muslim in the American context." Haddad, Smith and Moore argue that Western imperial history, the entertainment industry and the government have helped reinforce negative stereotypes of Muslim women. The authors, rather, aim to show that Muslim women in America are "members of American society who act in conformity neither with Western assumption nor, necessarily, with the dictates of Islamic traditionalism." The authors give a brief overview of Muslim women in America, looking first at trends in the history of Muslim immigration to the United States and then taking a closer look at issues such as Islamic dress, marriage, childrearing, conversion to Islam and varying degrees of Muslim participation in modern American society. They note that many female converts to Islam view the religion as uniquely supportive of women, and though women are assuming more responsibility and leadership roles in American mosques, the majority favors the separation of men and women during prayer. The authors also observe that increasing numbers of Muslim women are taking an active role in educating themselves and their community about Islam by forming local dars, or study circles, to facilitate education about the Qur’an and Islamic arts and sciences. Haddad and co-authors also look at how a growing market of Islamic toys, books and websites targeted towards American Muslim families has developed in response to a desire to maintain Islamic traditions within modern U.S. culture. The authors examine ways American Muslim women face current issues such as coping with aging parents, spousal abuse, homosexuality, and the tension that exists between individual freedoms and authority of the state in cases of divorce, workplace discrimination and passenger profiling in the post-9/11 world. The authors argue that Islam in America is rooted in the structure of family, and that many Muslims hope to help redefine and strengthen the institution of marriage and family in American society. Finally, the authors include examples of Muslim women in America assuming roles of responsibility in their communities, academia, politics and the arts, and they argue that more and more American Muslims are recognizing the "emphasis that a rightly interpreted Islam places on the full participation of women in society." "Muslim Women in America is a unique contribution to the growing body of literature on women in Islam, by three of the world’s experts in the field," says Tamara Sonn, author of A Brief History of Islam. "The authors challenge static views of the marginalized or oppressed Muslim women, and demonstrate that Muslim women in America are diverse, dynamic, and changing the face of Islam." Additional Information: Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith and Kathleen M. Moore. ISBN: 0-1951-7783-5, Hardcover. Published by Oxford University Press, 2006. Purchase Other Books by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad (30) Other Books by Jane I. Smith (15) Other Books by Kathleen M. Moore (3)

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