The story at the beginning happily surprises you. A dinner between women as it could be anywhere, talking about the usual things: calories, work, holidays, kids and husbands, although the place of this encounter is Riad, the women being two westerners and three Saudis who have just met. This is how Francesca Caferri's book ''Paradise lies at womens' feet" begins, with a small episode contradicting so many stereotypes about Arab women. The book is published by Mondadori (Strade Blu, 165 pages)
It's an accessible story, also available on e-book, which talks about women and the future of the Muslim world, choosing a title which is in itself a small gem: it is a phrase attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah, the tradition of the prophet's words and practices. "Stay with her" he tells a young man who wants to leave for war, because "paradise lies at the feet of your mother" It is this vision of Islam, a very different one from the Burqa and the submission to men which seems to be an endless mantra in western press, to which the "La Repubblica" journalist tells of. Women who are not just isolated heroines who live against society, but who also embody a transformation which has been going on for a long time in Muslim society says the author.
There have been many revolutions in the Islamic world which the west hasn't been able to anticipate, the journalist recalls, like the one of young people and the communication technologies which exploded during the Arab revolt. "The women's revolution has been happening right in front of our eyes for years" she adds "but no-one seems to perceive this either." It is a revolution which was sparked the same by internet and satellite TV and which will end in the same result as the Arab Spring: "If to win will be the reformers and the wives who are at their side, then the change will be overwhelming." Interpreting this change in the book are some of the protagonists who Francesca Caferri met during her travels, from Egypt to Yemen, from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, from Pakistan to Morocco. As we see with the young Egyptian woman Asma Mahfouz, who with a video she shot herself and posted on You Tube she managed to bring thousands of her people out to protest against Mubarak. Another image is that of the eighty-year old psychiatrist and feminist Nawal Al Sa'dawi, whose decades fighting never ceased even during her exile. Or the Yemeni journalist Tawwakol Karman, the first Arab woman to have received the Nobel Peace prize for her role in the revolt in Sanaa. Also the Saudi Khlood Al-Dukheil, an successful manageress in the Wahabi Kingdom where women are not allowed to drive.
The book continues with other stories such as the Moroccan Fatema Mernissi, head of an Islamic feminism which search for a different interpretation of the scriptures to find the theological foundation of women's rights which have been buried by years of conservative approaches. Also in Morocco, a different but not entirely opposite case is that of Nadia Nassine, daughter of Sheik Abdessalam Yassine. The "Islamic Pasionaria" who the author describes as "a prototype of a female role model which is shaping more and more the contemporary Muslim world: Conservative women who use religion to reclaim their role in society."