Sisters in the Mirror: A History of Muslim Women and the Global Politics of Feminism (Hardcover)

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Sisters in the Mirror: A History of Muslim Women and the Global Politics of Feminism By Elora Shehabuddin Cover Image
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"A must read."—CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2022
"Holds up a mirror to the unifying, braided futures underlying so-called 'Western' and 'Muslim' feminism that are both undermined by the power of capital, the world trade order, and cynical geopolitics."—
2023 Association for Asian Studies Coomaraswamy Book Prize

A crystal-clear account of the entangled history of Western and Muslim feminisms.
Western feminists, pundits, and policymakers tend to portray the Muslim world as the last and most difficult frontier of global feminism. Challenging this view, Elora Shehabuddin presents a unique and engaging history of feminism as a story of colonial and postcolonial interactions between Western and Muslim societies. Muslim women, like other women around the world, have been engaged in their own struggles for generations: as individuals and in groups that include but also extend beyond their religious identity and religious practices. The modern and globally enmeshed Muslim world they navigate has often been at the weaker end of disparities of wealth and power, of processes of colonization and policies of war, economic sanctions, and Western feminist outreach. Importantly, Muslims have long constructed their own ideas about women’s and men’s lives in the West, with implications for how they articulate their feminist dreams for their own societies.
Stretching from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment era to the War on Terror present, Sisters in the Mirror shows how changes in women’s lives and feminist strategies have consistently reflected wider changes in national and global politics and economics. Muslim women, like non-Muslim women in various colonized societies and non-white and poor women in the West, have found themselves having to negotiate their demands for rights within other forms of struggle—for national independence or against occupation, racism, and economic inequality. Through stories of both well-known and relatively unknown figures, Shehabuddin recounts instances of conflict alongside those of empathy, collaboration, and solidarity across this extended period. Sisters in the Mirror is organized around stories of encounters between women and men from South Asia, Britain, and the United States that led them, as if they were looking in a mirror, to pause and reconsider norms in their own society, including cherished ideas about women’s roles and rights. These intertwined stories confirm that nowhere, in either Western or Muslim societies, has material change in girls’ and women’s lives come easily or without protracted struggle.

About the Author

Elora Shehabuddin is Professor of Gender & Women's Studies and Global Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is author of Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh, coeditor of Gender and Economics in Muslim Communities, and associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures.

Praise For…

“Using vignettes as the literary device of choice, Shehabuddin brings readers directly into the lives of these women, a rare treat in itself. She crafts a multi-angled history of feminism that includes women from two colonial countries and Bengali women from the Enlightenment to the present. Many readers of Indian or Pakistani history will be amazed at the quality of research and the connections uncovered in this text. . . . This is an extraordinary and exemplary use of vignettes to sustain women's voices over centuries and highlight interconnectedness, intimacy, and global awareness. . . .  A must read.”


Sisters in the Mirror breaks the pattern of using the anglophone feminist scholarship as the preamble for any work about gender studies. The choice of sources is bold and thought-provoking. Through the fluid narrative of the book, these isolated examples are knit together to highlight the challenges of Islamophobia today and its historical roots.”

— Gender, Place and Culture

"Sisters in the Mirror provides us with a new way to read and interpret the centuries-old Western-Muslim binary that has been historically constructed, fiercely debated and politically used in favour of colonialism and imperialism."
— South Asian History and Culture

"This foundational text marks a significant contribution to feminist debates and Muslim women's writing and is an incredible resource for students and researchers working in the field of global/transnational feminism and South Asian Muslim women. It provides a compact history of contemporary women's rights movements in the West and beyond.”
— The Daily Star

"This book offers a rich and interesting discussion of the impact of Western feminism on Muslim women. . . .The most important contribution of this book is that it reminds us that the most effective struggle for a more just world can be through struggles arising from solidarity, understanding and knowledge sharing."
— Ethnic and Racial Studies
Product Details
ISBN: 9780520342514
ISBN-10: 0520342518
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication Date: August 24th, 2021
Pages: 416
Language: English