Place & Role of Women in Islam
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Examines the role of women in Islamic society. Also looks at reforms & history.... More...
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Examines the role of women in Islamic society. Also looks at reforms & history.
The place and role of women in Islam is a subject debated in both the Islamic world and the West, though the West has only a distorted perception of the parameters of this debate. Leila Ahmed (1992) writes of the subject as a problem with historical roots and shows how the role of women has developed through time, over the history of the rise of Islam. The position of women in the Arab world at the time of Muhammad is discussed, though Muhammad made changes in the way women were to relate to society and were to be treated by society. The autonomy and monogamy that had existed before was exchanged for male guardians and the male prerogative of polygamy thereafter, and these elements can be seen as embodying a general view of women that has been reproduced in laws and religious practices ever since. In essence, Ahmed shows that the position of women in society is closely bound with the
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Inour own time we have seen how political shifts and the politics of religionhave been brought to bear to alter the way women are treated in someIslamic regions, with the apparent fundamentalist revival taking placetoday causing many nations to look back to earlier interpretations of thestatus of women and to institute new laws based on old ideas. This is described byEickelman as something of an anomaly--it was expected that modernizationwould reduce support for the older ideologies of male and female roles, butin fact the old ideologies have become more pervasive. Ahmed discusses the role of women and notes that there are twoaspects to the issue, though she concentrates largely on only one of them.She notes first that there is the pragmatic matter, the actual way womenwere treated and the role of women in marriage. Eickelman finds that legal reforms have benefitedwomen by abolishing polygamy (at least in some Islamic societies), and insome regions--notably Tunisia, Iran, and Turkey--women benefited withsubstantial improvements (though these reforms have themselves beenreformed in some instances, as in Iran). Eickelman writes from a perspective after the 1979 Iranian Revolutionand finds no clear pattern emerging from that event except that many of theprogressive reforms instituted under the rule of the Shah were being rolledback under the more fundamentalist Khomeini regime. Ahmed offers an interesting analysis based on the marriage practicesat the time of Muhammad, and the fact that the existing marriage practicesinfluenced the way Islam would develop would be a pattern that wouldcontinue, with Islam adapting to different societies and cultures even asit changed those societies and cultures to fit the teachings of Islam. In addition, the roleand status of women is influenced by the specific country in which thatstatus is measured. Eickelman finds one set of practices in fully Islamiccountries and another set in what he calls revolutionary situations, suchas with the large Muslim population in the Soviet Union, where women haveenjoyed equal legal rights and educational opportunities since the 192 s.Of course, the Soviet Union as a whole was not an Islamic nation, andIslamic nations are more closely bound to Islamic law. Theposition of women in the Arab world at the time of Muhammad is discussed,though Muhammad made changes in the way women were to relate to society andwere to be treated by society. There isa tension between the pragmatic and the ethical perspectives and has beenfrom the beginning, and this tension is seen in the Quran as well. At the same time,those older ideologies are themselves flexible, and women have beenparticipating in Iranian political protest at least since the middle of thenineteenth century. Eickelman (1989) notes the difficultyencountered in studies of Islamic women, studies which tend to show womenportrayed as unidimensional. That is, theQuran itself is ambiguous on the issue, as Ahmed notes, and Islam hasdeveloped in somewhat different ways according to the different societiesin which it is found. In essence, Ahmed shows that the position of women in society isclosely bound with the prevailing marriage practices in that society. ReferencesAhmed, Leila. The second is an ethicalquestion based on teachings of Islam on this particular subject. The analyses of both Ahmed and Eickelman only hint at the status ofwomen. Thereare some verses in the Quran that seem to see marriage in one light andwomen as equal to men while other passages emphasize marriage as ahierarchical institution and men as privileged. The place and role of women in Islam is a subject debated in both theIslamic world and the West, though the West has only a distorted perceptionof the parameters of this debate. New Haven: Yale University, 1992.Eickelman, Dale F. Eickelman examines the issue of women andtheir status in society. This fact is also in keeping with the tensions Ahmedfinds extending back to the beginning of Islam and that have interactedever since to show a variety of roles for women in the different Muslimareas throughout the world. Ahmed andEickelman help to show what types of forces are involved in these changes. There are clear differences between Islam in Arabcountries and Muslim countries and Islam in non-Muslim countries, as mightbe expected, but there is also great variety between different Muslimcountries in terms of this dimension and many others. In this chapter, Ahmed talks about the origins of Islam and theteachings on which it is based, but she does indicate that the themes shefinds in this period relate to the subsequent history of Islam and to Islamas it is presently constituted and as it operates in the world today.Other commentators have also noted the way the roles of men and women haveevolved in Islamic society. The Middle East: An Anthropological Approach. Eickelman finds that the position of women has a dual nature. The essential attitudes set forth in marriagepractices in Islam are carried over into every aspect of women's lives. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989. The autonomy and monogamy that had existedbefore was exchanged for male guardians and the male prerogative ofpolygamy thereafter, and these elements can be seen as embodying a generalview of women that has been reproduced in laws and religious practices eversince. Leila Ahmed (1992) writes of the subjectas a problem with historical roots and shows how the role of women hasdeveloped through time, over the history of the rise of Islam. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. Thepractices existing before Muhammad and those existing after were related,but in both cases these practices involved attitudes toward the role andresponsibilities of women. It isfirst of all based on Islamic practices and Islamic teachings whichthemselves may be ambiguous (as Ahmed has noted). Admittedly, the subject is complicated by the fact that there is nosingle Islamic mode to identify how women are to be treated.
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