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Muslim feminist scholar wins prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Religion

Leila Ahmed’s new book analyzes increased ‘veiling’ among U.S. Muslim women

December 5, 2012

LOUISVILLE

A feminist scholar at Harvard University has earned the 2013 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for explaining why a growing number of Muslim women in the United States are wearing veils.

Leila Ahmed, Harvard’s Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity, received the prize for ideas set forth in her book, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America. Yale University Press published the book in 2011.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly presents the award in religion with the University of Louisville. The University also presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

Ahmed wrote the book after noticing that more and more American Muslim women over the past decade were wearing veils as they went about their daily lives.

Initially, she assumed that the change indicated a rejection of the women’s equality. However, after doing research she found the opposite to be true — some of the women were wearing the veil as a symbol of activism for justice and social change.

Ahmed interviewed young Muslim feminists, Arab nationalists, pious Islamic daughters, American Muslim immigrants and Islamic activists for her book. She discovered that in the context of contemporary American Islam, wearing a veil can represent a call for justice and equality.

“The book is an incredible eye-opener,” said Shannon Craigo-Snell, professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, who directs the religion award. “It offers education, insight and hope."

Not only does Ahmed “explain the multiple meanings of the veil within the diverse traditions of Islam, but she argues that right now, in post-9/11 America, the veil is taking on new meanings in the interplay between Islamic activism and the American tradition of struggle for liberty and justice for all.”

Ahmed will present a lecture on her award-winning book at Louisville Seminary on April 10, 2013, at 7:30 p.m. in Caldwell Chapel.

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