2016 Prize Winner

Ellen McLarney, Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening (Princeton University Press 2015)

In the decades leading up to the Arab Spring in 2011, when Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was swept from power in Egypt, Muslim women took a leading role in developing a robust Islamist presence in the country’s public sphere. Soft Force examines the writings and activism of these women—including scholars, preachers, journalists, critics, actors, and public intellectuals—who envisioned an Islamic awakening in which women’s rights and the family, equality, and emancipation were at the center. McLarney shows how women used “soft force”—a women’s jihad characterized by nonviolent protest—to oppose secular dictatorship and articulate a public sphere that was both Islamic and democratic. McLarney draws on memoirs, political essays, sermons, newspaper articles, and other writings to explore how these women imagined the home and the family as sites of the free practice of religion in a climate where Islamists were under siege by the secular state. While they seem to reinforce women’s traditional roles in a male-dominated society, these Islamist writers also reoriented Islamist politics in domains coded as feminine, putting women at the very forefront in imagining an Islamic polity.

2016 Honorable Mention

Reina Lewis, Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures (Duke University Press 2015).
In the shops of London’s Oxford Street, girls wear patterned scarves over their hair as they cluster around makeup counters. Alongside them, hip twenty-somethings style their head-wraps in high black topknots to match their black boot-cut trousers. Participating in the world of popular mainstream fashion—often thought to be the domain of the West—these young Muslim women are part of an emergent cross-faith transnational youth subculture of modest fashion. In treating hijab and other forms of modest clothing as fashion, Reina Lewis counters the overuse of images of veiled women as “evidence” in the prevalent suggestion that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with Western modernity. Muslim Fashion contextualizes modest wardrobe styling within Islamic and global consumer cultures, interviewing key players including designers, bloggers, shoppers, store clerks, and shop owners. Focusing on Britain, North America, and Turkey, Lewis provides insights into the ways young Muslim women use multiple fashion systems to negotiate religion, identity, and ethnicity.

2015 Prize Winner

Marion Holmes Katz, Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice (Columbia University Press 2014)

Juxtaposing Muslim scholars’ debates over women’s attendance in mosques with historical descriptions of women’s activities within Middle Eastern and North African mosques, Marion Holmes Katz shows how over the centuries legal scholars’ arguments have often reacted to rather than dictated Muslim women’s behavior. Tracing Sunni legal positions on women in mosques from the second century of the Islamic calendar to the modern period, Katz connects shifts in scholarly terminology and argumentation to changing constructions of gender. Over time, assumptions about women’s changing behavior through the lifecycle gave way to a global preoccupation with sexual temptation, which then became the central rationale for limits on women’s mosque access. At the same time, travel narratives, biographical dictionaries, and religious polemics suggest that women’s usage of mosque space often diverged in both timing and content from the ritual models constructed by scholars. Katz demonstrates both the concrete social and political implications of Islamic legal discourse and the autonomy of women’s mosque-based activities. She also examines women’s mosque access as a trope in Western travelers’ narratives and the evolving significance of women’s mosque attendance among different Islamic currents in the twentieth century.

2015 Honorable Mentions

Amelie Le Renard, A Society of Young Women: Opportunities of Place, Power and Reform in Saudi Arabia (Stanford University Press 2014)

The cities of Saudi Arabia are among the most gender segregated in the world. In recent years the Saudi government has felt increasing international pressure to offer greater roles for women in society. Implicit in these calls for reform, however, is an assumption that the only “real” society is male society. Little consideration has been given to the rapidly evolving activities within women’s spaces. This book joins young urban women in their daily lives—in the workplace, on the female university campus, at the mall—to show how these women are transforming Saudi cities from within and creating their own urban, professional, consumerist lifestyles. As young Saudi women are emerging as an increasingly visible social group, they are shaping new social norms. Their shared urban spaces offer women the opportunity to shed certain constraints and imagine themselves in new roles. But to feel included in this peer group, women must adhere to new constraints: to be sophisticated, fashionable, feminine, and modern. The position of “other” women—poor, rural, or non-Saudi women—is increasingly marginalized. While young urban women may embody the image of a “reformed” Saudi nation, the reform project ultimately remains incomplete, drawing new hierarchies and lines of exclusion among women.

Smadar Lavie, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture (Berghahn Books 2014)

What is the relationship between social protest movements in the State of Israel, violence in Gaza, and the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran? Why did the mass social protests in the State of Israel of summer 2011 ultimately fail? Wrapped in the Flag of Israel discusses social protest movements from the 2003 Single Mothers’ March led by Mizrahi Vicky Knafo, to the Tahrir is Here Israeli mass protests of summer 2011. Equating bureaucratic entanglements with pain – what, arguably, can be seen as torture, Smadar Lavie explores the conundrum of loving and staying loyal to a state that repeatedly inflicts pain on its non-European Jewish women citizens through its bureaucratic system. The book presents a model of bureaucracy as divine cosmology and posits that Israeli State bureaucracy is based on a theological essence that fuses the categories of religion, gender, and race into the foundation of citizenship.

2014 Prize Winner

Marcia C. Inhorn, The New Arab Man: Emergent Masculinities, Technologies, and Islam in the Middle East (Princeton University Press 2012)

Middle Eastern Muslim men have been widely vilified as terrorists, religious zealots, and brutal oppressors of women. The New Arab Man challenges these stereotypes with the stories of ordinary Middle Eastern men as they struggle to overcome infertility and childlessness through assisted reproduction. Drawing on two decades of ethnographic research across the Middle East with hundreds of men from a variety of social and religious backgrounds, Marcia Inhorn shows how the new Arab man is self-consciously rethinking the patriarchal masculinity of his forefathers and unseating received wisdoms. This is especially true in childless Middle Eastern marriages where, contrary to popular belief, infertility is more common among men than women. Inhorn captures the marital, moral, and material commitments of couples undergoing assisted reproduction, revealing how new technologies are transforming their lives and religious sensibilities. She also looks at the changing manhood of husbands who undertake transnational “egg quests”– set against the backdrop of war and economic uncertainty– out of devotion to the infertile wives they love.

2014 Honorable Mention

Farha Ghannam, Live and Die Like a Man: Gender Dynamics in Urban Egypt (Stanford University Press 2013)

Watching the revolution of January 2011, the world saw Egyptians, men and women, come together to fight for freedom and social justice. These events gave renewed urgency to the fraught topic of gender in the Middle East. The role of women in public life, the meaning of manhood, and the future of gender inequalities are hotly debated by religious figures, government officials, activists, scholars, and ordinary citizens throughout Egypt. Live and Die Like a Man presents a unique twist on traditional understandings of gender and gender roles, shifting the attention to men and exploring how they are collectively “produced” as gendered subjects. It traces how masculinity is continuously maintained and reaffirmed by men and women under changing socio-economic and political conditions.

2013 Prize Winner

Fida J. Adely, Gendered Paradoxes: Educating Jordanian Women in Nation, Faith, and Progress (University of Chicago Press 2013)

Gendered Paradoxes is a timely and engaging discussion of women, education, and nation in Jordan. Presenting rich ethnographic material, this book focuses on a country that is rather understudied, addressing issues often taken for granted, such as education and its relationship to development discourse, work, marriage, and femininity. Its theoretical sophistication speaks to both education and youth culture and provides an impressive account of the contestations and processes involved in constructing gendered and national identities.

2013 Honorable Mention

Mary Ann Fay, Unveiling the Harem: Elite Women and the Paradox of Seclusion in Eighteenth-Century Cairo (Syracuse University Press 2013)

Unveiling the Harem unseats stereotypical views of Middle Eastern women as weak, uneducated, and secluded. With methodological rigor, Fay argues that elite women were able to achieve genuine economic, social, and political power and influence in Mamluk Egypt. Bringing space into the discussion, the book uses rich new material to ask innovative questions about women and power during this time.

2012 Prize Winner

Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran (Oxford University Press 2011)

The book examines issues of hygiene, marriage, sexuality, and reproduction in relation to notions of citizenship and politics in Iran. Kashani-Sabet’s thorough research is grounded in a rigorous methodology. Her thoughtful exploration of politicized motherhood, while viewed through an Iranian lens here, is of regional and universal significance. The book’s wider contribution lies in demonstrating how the combination of science and sexuality challenges existing Islamic values and practices and how it has played a critical role in the emergence of women’s rights movements, a phenomenon observed throughout the Muslim world.

2011 Prize Winner

Marlé Hammond, Beyond Elegy: Classical Arabic Women’s Poetry in Context (Oxford University Press 2010).

Beyond Elegy: Classical Arabic Women’s Poetry in Context examines Arabic women’s poetry, describing the historical circumstances of its production and analyzing several significant poems within the canon. We applaud the way in which Hammond brings early Arabic women’s poetry to life, even for non-specialists in the field. In the Preface, Hammond hopes that the reader, “who is unfamiliar with women’s Arabic poetic legacy will now become acquainted with it, that the reader who has dismissed the legacy as consequential will now reconsider it, and that the reader who has actively engaged with that legacy will now find further cause for engagement.” We agree that Hammond’s sophisticated contribution has allowed her to achieve this goal.