In the years immediately after 9/11, many Western commentators argued that Islam needed a reformation. This overlooked the obvious fact that Islam had already reformed, thanks to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Iran’s revolutionary mullahs, and Saudi Arabia’s principal export — not oil, but globalized ideology. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve found myself sitting at dinner next to a Westernized Arab woman d’un certain age who was at college in the Fifties, Sixties, or Seventies, and listened to her tell me that back then “covering” was for wizened old biddies in upcountry villages, the Islamic equivalent of gnarled Russian babushkas. The future belonged to modern, uncovered women like her and her classmates. The assumptions of her generation were off by 180 degrees: The female graduating class of Cairo University in the Fifties looked little different from Vassar. Half a century later, every woman is hijabed to the hilt.
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