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Muslim women find an ally for more rights: the Koran

Courageous figures like Indonesia's Siti Musdah Mulia are showing Muslim women how to break out of bondage by using the Koran.

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Indonesia’s Siti Musdah Mulia is a name to remember. That’s because she is showing Muslim women how to break out of bondage by using the words of the Koran.

Dr. Mulia was raised in a traditional Indonesian Muslim home and an Islamic boarding school. She was barred from contact with men. She was not allowed to laugh out loud. If she socialized with a non-Muslim, she was made to shower afterward.

Growing up, she traveled to other Muslim countries and found ways to understand Islam other than the rigid orthodoxy of her upbringing. Having earned a PhD in Islamic political thought, she has become a significant force in Indonesia and elsewhere for Muslim women’s rights. In 2007 she received the International Women of Courage award from then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Mulia is one of several courageous Muslim feminists who are challenging conservative male interpretations of Islam. As Isobel Coleman, a leading American authority on Islamic feminism and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me: “Half of those men have never read the Koran in their own language.”

Mulia is one of several Muslim women in Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries profiled in a new book by Dr. Coleman, “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East.”

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