Leila Ahmed grew up in Cairo in the 1940s and '50s in a family that was eagerly and passionately political. Although many in the Egyptian upper classes were firmly opposed to change, the Ahmeds were proud supporters of independence. But when the Revolution arrived, the family's opposition to Nasser's policies led to persecutions that would throw their lives into turmoil and set their youngest child on a journey across cultures. Through university in England and teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi and America, Leila Ahmed sought to define herself - and to understand how the world defined her - as a woman, a Muslim, an Egyptian, and an Arab. Her search touched on questions of language and nationalism, on differences between men's and women's ways of knowing, and onvastly different interpretations of Islam. She arrived in the end as an ardent but critical feminist with an insider's understanding of multiculturalism and religious pluralism. In language that vividly evokes the lush summers of her Cairo youth and the harsh barrenness of the Arabian desert, Leila Ahmed has given us a story that can help us all to understand the passages between cultures that so affect our global society.
Leila Ahmed is the first professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of Women and Gender in Islam, and the memoir, A Border Passage.