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Woman And Islam

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Nabia Abbott’s chapter on The Umayyads takes an in-depth look at the rise and fall of this dynasty, paying close attention to women of this time and the roles they played. Abbott discusses early Umayyad Caliph’s and their wives, giving awareness to Uthman and Na’ilah as well as Mu’awiyah and Maisun bint Bahdal. Each of these matches is portrayed by Abbott as somewhat equal or at least a mutual respect between the couples. But as time wore on slowly the ideal Arab wife was being infringed upon by the harems that the elite Umayyads were setting up. Filling their halls with slave women from far off lands, such as Persia. An example of the impact that these women had on the Caliph can be seen during Walid I reign, where although he had eight different free Arab wives only one borne him any children, the rest of his off spring came from his servant girls. This shows that Walid I preferred these foreign women to those of his own Arab decent.

Abbott states that with the rise of the Umayyad Empire came a change in the political status of Arab women. Pride and race and other virtues were gradually receding into the background. With the accession of Yazid III dealt the royal Arab women a hard blow since the sons of the harem wives stood up to become the next heir. With this the Arab Islamic women officially became a prisoner with in the political society. In the conclusion of this chapter Abbott blames Arab women as the case for the decline in the status of Muslim women, saying if such wives as Umm al-Hajjaj (Yazid II) had not catered to the harems of their husbands than perhaps the women would have had more control and respect during the Umayyad period.

Skipping over the Abbasid period we come to the Mamluk period of the Middle Ages, here Jonathan P. Berkey represents this women’s advances in society through the educational system. Here Berkey shows to what extent women of this time period were involved in education. For the most part they benefactors helping to establish madrasas or women sometimes played a supervisory role in the madrasas but did no participate in the teachings at the schools. Even though women of this period were not active students of these schools they did seem to be fairly educated in the matters of the Quran and Hadiths.

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Berkey states here that the women’s education of this time was chiefly something that took place within the home between brother, father, or husband. Since during the Middle Ages education was generally transferred from one individual to the next and rather rested on the shoulders of one teacher and pupil rather than on the institution this is how most people were educated on subjects such as the Hadith. In this sense the Mamluk women were able to over come some barriers that separated the two sexes. But Berkey makes sure to note here that allow women were being educated at this time they were not allowed to hold judicial positions for the mere fact the men were afraid of losing
control to a woman of higher judicial standing. With this the extent to which women contributed to the interpretation of the Hadith and Quran are hard to measure being left out of the works of men during this time in history and the private manner in which they were taught.

In Leila Ahmed’s chapter dealing with ‘The Transitional Age,’ Ahmed establishes an argument around the concept that women during the early Islamic times had more freedoms and right within Islam than those in the time of the Abbasids. This argument is of significant importance because while the time of the prophet and right after his death was highly essential to the structuring of Islam, it unfortunately was not the time period in which the Koran and Hadiths were written down and unified. This then changes through time the true meanings and morals of Islam. With these two different voices of Islam, one spiritual and one political, take shape and compete with one another over the understanding of gender. Ahmed states here that the political, religious, and legal authorities held power over Islam during the Abbasid period while the spiritual dimensions of Islam were only a sub factor in determining the role of Islamic women. The ethical qualities of the Koran, such as charity, chastity, patience, and piety, become over shadowed by the social and political dimensions of Islam. With this the hopes of a more positive attitudes towards women disintegrated through time.

Ahmed divides this chapter up into three categories that give explicit examples of how Islam has changed from its original principles. In the first part she discuses the freedom in which women during early Islam took active parts in battles. Giving examples of Umm ‘Umara who fought in Muslim battles alongside her husband and sons, or Umm Hakim who was able to single-handedly kill seven Byzantine soldiers at the battle of Marj al-Saffar. Ahmed then goes on to state the importance of women in the religious unfolding of early Islam. Bringing attention to the equality between women and men, women being able to attend mosque, or taking part in religious services on feast days. She also shows how women after inquiring why they were not directly addressed in the Koran began to thereafter be explicitly addressed. These examples showed the women had weight concerning matters of spiritual and social importance in early Islam. Finally Ahmed observes how marriage changed after the first Muslim community and certain aspects such as marriage to non-virgins was longer being accepted within the Muslim community. With this Ahmed expresses the changes that have taken place in these three categories and how each of then was leading to closure and diminution.

In chapter 5 Ahmed further discusses this concept and explores the Abbasid period more closely. She discusses the role women played and the inequality between the two sexes. Giving elaborate examples of the harems that took shape during this period and became the social norm for both men and women. Ahmed makes in plain that during this time period (the Abbasid period) women were gradually becoming prisoners within the social norms, whether free or slaved. She also discusses the fusion between the Islamic Arabia and Persian Iraq. This fusion of arabization and Islamization within Iraq led to some cultural clashes that slowly integrated into one another. Before the conquest of the Muslims outside of the Arabian Peninsula the people of these lands had previously been attached to other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, with the conquest came an intermixing of what the people heard Islam affirm and what their previous religion stated.

Ahmed explains the reasoning behind the problem of interpretation by examining the writers and jurists during the Abbasid period. Since the Koran leaves room for interpretation the view of the laws and morals it instills came become drastic from one individual to the next. And since all writers are hostage to the society they live in, the writers and law makers of this time undoubtedly were reflections of the society these men interacted in. The role of women and the interactions between the sexes were not laid out by the Koran or the Prophet but rather something of circumstance for that time period and the culture that was interpreting at the time of the Abbasids.

In B. Stowasser’s work on ‘Gender Issues and Contemporary Quran Interpretation’ Stowasser portrays the Quran as being seen as the “eternal and inimitable” text, which provides for Muslims both the foundational basis and the point of convergence for many different, human interpretations in light of specific socioeconomic and political situations. In this chapter Stowasser relates contemporary Muslim interpretations of the Quran and shows how Islamic patterns or models relate to gender issues. Stowasser states how medieval scholastic divergences failed to apply a common view and understanding of the question of the status of women. Where the medieval scholars failed Stowasser declares that the change in the view of women within Islamic society came with the modern age and its modernist and reformist scholars. Stowasser examines different readings and works that center around the interpretation of Sura 4:34, a Quranic verse that puts men in charge of the women as their protectors. Stowasser observes different modern authors and their interpretation of this Sura. She refers to feminists, linguists, cultural anthropologists, philosophers, and socialists. Each expressing a different interpretation of this Sura. A feminist she quotes is Amina Wadud-Muhsin who states that, ‘it is not the text or its principles that change, but the capacity and particularity of the understanding and reflection of the principles of the text within a community of people.’ Stowasser uses this author to show how that the Quran is ever changing from culture to culture and that it is going against the nature of the Quran to impose a single cultural perspective.

Mir-Hosseini summarizes modern developments that have affected women’s rights in Islam. She states that women’s rights are neither fixed, nor given, nor absolute, “…they are negotiated and changing cultural constructs, produced in response to lived realities, through debates…” Hosseini positions that Muslim countries have only half-heartedly addressed women’s issues when highlighting legal reforms that have affected divorce and polygamy. Moreover she emphasizes that there are crucial discrepancies with the normative legal order, on the discourse level, within each individual Muslim society. Legal reforms find themselves in the midst of this varied context. The majority of women parliamentarians of the first to third Majlis came from established religious families. Mehrangiz Kar, a legal attorney, Shirin ‘Ibadi, a jurist, Nahid Musavi, a journalist, and Zhaleh Shaditalab, a sociology professor, are among secular women specialists who contribute to these. Through their writings and interviews, secular lawyers, economists, sociologists, artists, historians, novelists, movie directors, etc. who are denied the right to publish their own magazines, have seized the opportunity to present their opinions and works and to raise demands for equal rights in the private and the public spheres. The aim of these magazines, which primarily attempt to reach both the educated women and the political and religious elite, is to promote women’s status through emphasizing legal, social and economic shortcomings, and to propose changes in civil and penal laws, the employment legislation and constitutional law.

Both Hosseine and Stowasser discuss the impact the Quran has had in the past and in present day times. Drawing on examples from the text, we are able to see how the Quran is a growing never changing text that must continuously be analyzed. We also see the importance of the written word in modern day times as a way of analyzing and adapting the Quran to fit the new culture. Both of the authors emphasize the importance of a modern analysis of the Quran in attempts to allow Islamic women more equal rights.

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