Study Guide

A Border Passage Religion

By Leila Ahmed

Religion

Ahmed's relationship with religion is complicated…to say the least. She sees a duality in Islam: there's a women's version (part of a living and oral tradition) and a men's version (based on texts and male authority). She feels more at home with women's take on Islam because it's the brand of spirituality she inherits from the women of her family.

Unfortunately, this is not the Islam that non-Muslim people think of when they meet her. In her experience, Islam for most people means the official, male-centered version.

Ahmed deals with other prejudices when she moves to the West and joins the ranks of higher ed. There's a general misunderstanding of Arabs and Islam, of course. But Ahmed learns that any belief in God will get you dinged in academia.

So, she finds herself in an awkward position: intellectually advanced, a feminist—and a Muslim. Ahmed devotes her career to creating a more accurate understanding of women and Islam and re-imagining for herself what it means to be a Muslim woman today.

Questions About Religion

  1. Why does Ahmed say that most Muslims she knows wouldn't go near a mosque?
  2. What is "women's Islam"? Why does Ahmed call it that?
  3. In what ways is religious diversity in Egypt affected by the revolution?
  4. How are people of faith treated at Cambridge, especially during Ahmed's graduate school years? How about in America?

Chew on This

Ahmed's religious and spiritual life becomes an unexpected battleground during her graduate school years.

Ahmed's love of a plural Egyptian society helps her to think inclusively as she tries to reconcile feminism and Islam.