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Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

Lila Abu-Lughod

ISBN 9780674088269

Publication date: 09/07/2015

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Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Muslim women today, questioning whether generalizations about Islamic culture can explain the hardships these women face and asking what motivates particular individuals and institutions to promote their rights.

In recent years Abu-Lughod has struggled to reconcile the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the complex women she has known through her research in various communities in the Muslim world. Here, she renders that divide vivid by presenting detailed vignettes of the lives of ordinary Muslim women, and showing that the problem of gender inequality cannot be laid at the feet of religion alone. Poverty and authoritarianism—conditions not unique to the Islamic world, and produced out of global interconnections that implicate the West—are often more decisive. The standard Western vocabulary of oppression, choice, and freedom is too blunt to describe these women's lives.

Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is an indictment of a mindset that has justified all manner of foreign interference, including military invasion, in the name of rescuing women from Islam—as well as a moving portrait of women's actual experiences, and of the contingencies with which they live.


  • [A] beautiful book… It is a riveting account by an academic who has spent many years observing women in the Middle East and the West, and adeptly wears several hats as an anthropologist and professor in women’s studies. Abu-Lughod is a great listener and a sharp observer of everyday life. She understands the struggles, joys and jealousies of Middle Eastern women and has an ear for the stories that do not make headlines. Refusing to treat Muslim women as a category, she focuses on nuances and complexities. Where others see an undifferentiated mass of individuals, she sees real women with real stories… There are Islams, just like there are Judaisms, Christianities and Hinduisms. We need to make the word plural to understand the wide variety of practices and power relations. And Lila Abu-Lughod’s Do Muslim Women Need Saving? does precisely that with its captivating approach.

    —Elif Shafak, Literary Review


  • Lila Abu-Lughod is the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University, where she teaches anthropology and women's studies.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press