This is an exquisitely written book. Brooks has great talent for pulling the reader into the mind of the people she tells about, and especially, I found as a man, pulling you into the minds and lives of women. I found myself empathizing with the women in ways that only real life can provide. It is amazing what Brooks has experienced, but it is far more amazing what the women she tells of have experienced.
Brooks writes honestly and directly about the good and bad of Islam, and how it influences women. She doesn't pull any punches, but also is not writing to denigrate, as she finds aspects of official and folk Islam that both hurt and assist women. She speaks of the positive attitude Islam has towards sexuality, being largely uncorrupted by the Greek dualism that invaded later Christianity, so that, within marriage, Muslims are encouraged to celebrate the gift of God in sex. Indeed, this provides the title of the book, as Ali, the 4th Khalifa, speaks of how sexual desire is 1/10th the man's, and 9/10ths the woman's. Of course, this provides later motive to sequester women, put them in hijab, and restrict them, so that the "ever-devouring vagina", as later Islamic jurists speak of, does not overcome the men around them.
Since Brooks relies primarily on her experiences, with what she's seen with her own eyes and heard with her own ears, she is hard to argue with. This is the plight of many women in the Muslim world. But lest we think these are limited experiences of one Western woman talking with a few Arab and Persian women scattered in a few countries, Brooks has also done extensive research to intersperse between her stories- relying on the Qur'an, Hadith, Ijtihad, and Muslim history. But mostly she relies on women's experiences- for, let's be honest, the perspective of women is largely missing from the official sources, as it is in most religions- with notable exceptions like the wonderful hadiths of Aisha. Most of which were discarded by early Islamic jurists, as Brooks points out.
One regret, is that there is not more here about the countries of North Africa, particularly, Morocco, with the exception of one paragraph paying tribute to that great Moroccan feminist, Fatima Mernissi. But of course, this book is about Brooks' experiences, not a research text, and her journalistic experience was much more centered on the Middle East.
I found one of Brooks' most powerful arguments to be on issues like FGM, Female Genital Mutilation. She shares how Muslims say it's not authorized or encouraged in the Qur'an. How it's not only Muslims who do it, but some African Christians. I've hear this many times before myself. They're quite right. But Brooks brings up the sapient question- why isn't there more spoken against it from the minbar? Why are 20% of Muslim women in areas where this is practiced? If Islam is a religion that supports women, or if there are at least some aspects of it that are positive towards women (as I believe there are), why isn't there more said publicly about the plight of women, on many issues, to change things, to encourage women's emancipation, using the wealth of resources? Why is Mernissi such a lone worker in the night?