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The study of women in Islam investigates the role of women within the religion of Islam.[1] The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by both Islamic texts and the history and culture of the Muslim world.[2] The Qur'an states both that men and women are equal,[3][4][5] but also, as in 4:34, that "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means.

Women in Islam

The study of women in Islam investigates the role of women within the religion of Islam.[1] The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by both Islamic texts and the history and culture of the Muslim world.[2] The Qur’an states both that men and women are equal,[3][4][5] but also, as in 4:34, that “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard.” Although the Quran does say this, the superiority of men is interpreted in terms of strength by the context – men maintain women.[6] This verse however refers to a relationship between a husband and wife, not as a society in whole.
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Sharia (Islamic law) provides for complementarianism,[7] differences between women’s and men’s roles, rights, and obligations. However neither the Quran nor Hadith mention women have to cook or clean.[8][9][10] Majority Muslim countries give women varying degrees of rights with regards to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education based on different interpretations. Scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are just and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives.

Contents [hide] 1 Sources of influence
1.1 Female education
1.2 Female employment
1.3 Marriage and divorce
2 Gender roles
3 Financial matters
3.1 Financial obligations
3.2 Inheritance
3.3 Employment
4 Legal and criminal matters
4.1 Rape
5 Marriage and sexuality
5.1 Who may be married?
5.2 Behaviour within marriage
5.3 Sexuality
5.4 Divorce
6 Movement and travel
7 Dress code
8 Women in religious life
9 Women and politics
10 Modern debate on the status of women in Islam
10.1 Conservatives and the Islamic movement
10.2 Liberal Islam, Islamic feminism, and other progressive criticism
11 See also
12 Notes
13 References
14 Further reading
15 External links

[edit] Sources of influence
See also: Women in the Qur’an and Muhammad’s wives
Islamic law is the product of Qur’anic guidelines, as understood by Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), as well as of the interpretations derived from the traditions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (hadith), that were agreed upon by majority of Muslim scholars as authentic beyond doubt based on the science of hadith[2][11] These interpretations and their application were shaped by the historical context of the Muslim world at the time they were written.[2] Many of the earliest writings were from a time of tribal warfare which could have been inappropriate for the 21st century.

The Marxist writer, Valentine M. Moghadam, argues that the position of women is mostly influenced by the extent of urbanization, industrialization, proletarization and political ploys of the state managers rather than culture or intrinsic properties of Islam; Islam, per Moghadam, is neither more nor less patriarchal than other world religions, especially Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism.[12][13]

Early costumes of Arab women.”The dowry, previously regarded as a bride-price paid to the father, became a nuptial gift retained by the wife as part of her personal property.”[14][15]

Under Islamic law, marriage was no longer viewed as a “status” but rather as a “contract”, in which the woman’s consent was imperative.[14][15][16] “Women were given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society that had previously restricted inheritance to male relatives/ family members.”[14] Annemarie Schimmel states that “compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work.”[17]

William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad, in the historical context of his time, can be seen as a figure who promoted women’s rights and improved things considerably. Watt explains: “At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible – they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons.” Muhammad, however, by, “instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, gave women certain basic safeguards.”[18]

During his life Muhammad married eleven or thirteen women depending upon the differing accounts of who were his wives. In Arabian culture, marriage was generally contracted in accordance with the larger needs of the tribe and was based on the need to form alliances within the tribe and with other tribes. Virginity at the time of marriage was emphasized as a tribal honor.[19] Watt states that all of Muhammad’s marriages had the political aspect of strengthening friendly relationships and were based on the Arabian custom.[20] Esposito points out that some of Muhammad’s marriages were aimed at providing a livelihood for widows.[21] Francis Edwards Peters says that it is hard to make generalizations about Muhammad’s marriages: many of them were political, some compassionate, and some perhaps affairs of the heart.[22] [edit] Female education
See also: Madrasah#Female_education
Historically, women played an important role in the foundation of many Islamic educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri’s founding of the University of Al Karaouine in 859 CE. This continued through to the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries, when 160 mosques and madrasahs were established in Damascus, 26 of which were funded by women through the Waqf (charitable trust or trust law) system. Half of all the royal patrons for these institutions were also women.[23]

According to the Sunni scholar Ibn Asakir in the 12th century, there were various opportunities for female education in what is known as the medieval Islamic world. He writes that women could study, earn ijazahs (academic degrees), and qualify as scholars (ulamā’) and teachers. This was especially the case for learned and scholarly families, who wanted to ensure the highest possible education for both their sons and daughters.[24] Ibn Asakir had himself studied under 80 different female teachers in his time. In nineteenth-century West Africa, Nana Asma’u was a leading Islamic scholar, poet, teacher and an exceptionally prolific Muslim female writer who wrote more than 60 works. Female education in the Islamic world was inspired by Muhammad’s wives: Khadijah, a successful businesswoman, and Aisha, a renowned hadith scholar and military leader. The education allowed was often restricted to religious instruction. According to a hadith attributed to Muhammad, he praised the women of Medina because of their desire for religious knowledge:[25]

“How splendid were the women of the ansar; shame did not prevent them from becoming learned in the faith.”
While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal classes, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques, madrassas and other public places. For example, the attendance of women at the Fatimid “sessions of wisdom” (majālis al-ḥikma) was noted by various historians including Ibn al-Tuwayr and al-Muṣabbiḥī.[26] Similarly, although unusual in 15th-century Iran, both women and men were in attendance at the intellectual gatherings of the Ismailis where women were addressed directly by the Imam.[27]

While women accounted for no more than one percent of Islamic scholars prior to the 12th century, there was a large increase of female scholars after this. In the 15th century, Al-Sakhawi devotes an entire volume of his 12-volume biographical dictionary Daw al-lami to female scholars, giving information on 1,075 of them.[28]

Recently there have been several female Muslim scholars including Sebeca Zahra Hussain who is a prominent female scholar from the Sunni sect.

[edit] Female employment
See also: Islamic economics in the world
The labor force in the Caliphate were employed from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, while both men and women were involved in diverse occupations and economic activities.[29] Women were employed in a wide range of commercial activities and diverse occupations[30] in the primary sector (as farmers, for example), secondary sector (as construction workers, dyers, spinners, etc.) and tertiary sector (as investors, doctors, nurses, presidents of guilds, brokers, peddlers, lenders, scholars, etc.).[31] Muslim women also held a monopoly over certain branches of the textile industry,[30] the largest and most specialized and market-oriented industry at the time, in occupations such as spinning, dyeing, and embroidery. In comparison, female property rights and wage labour were relatively uncommon in Europe until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.[32]

In the 12th century, the famous Islamic philosopher and qadi (judge) Ibn Rushd, known to the West as Averroes, claimed that women were equal to men in all respects and possessed equal capacities to shine in peace and in war, citing examples of female warriors among the Arabs, Greeks and Africans to support his case.[33] In early Muslim history, examples of notable female Muslims who fought during the Muslim conquests and Fitna (civil wars) as soldiers or generals included Nusaybah Bint k’ab Al Maziniyyah[34] a.k.a. Umm Amarah, Aisha,[35] Kahula and Wafeira.[36]

A unique feature of medieval Muslim hospitals was the role of female staff, who were rarely employed in hospitals elsewhere in the world. Medieval Muslim hospitals commonly employed female nurses. Muslim hospitals were also the first to employ female physicians, the most famous being two female physicians from the Banu Zuhr family who served the Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur in the 12th century.[37] This was necessary due to the segregation between male and female patients in Islamic hospitals. Later in the 15th century, female surgeons were illustrated for the first time in Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu’s Cerrahiyyetu’l-Haniyye (Imperial Surgery).[38] [edit] Marriage and divorce
See also: Talaq

Girl with headcovering.In contrast to the Western world where divorce was relatively uncommon until modern times, and in contrast to the low rates of divorce in the modern Middle East, divorce was a more common occurrence in certain states of the late medieval Muslim world. In the Mamluk Sultanate and Ottoman Empire, the rate of divorce was higher than it is today in the modern Middle East.[39]

In medieval Egypt, Al-Sakhawi recorded the marital history of 500 women, the largest sample of married women in the Middle Ages, and found that at least a third of all women in the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria married more than once, with many marrying three or more times. According to Al-Sakhawi, as many as three out of ten marriages in 15th century Cairo ended in divorce.[40] In the early 20th century, some villages in western Java and the Malay peninsula had divorce rates as high as 70%.[39] [edit] Gender roles
Main article: Gender roles in Islam
The Quran expresses two main views on the role of women. It both stresses the equality of women and men before God in terms of their religious duties (i.e. belief in God and his messenger, praying, fasting, paying zakat (charity), making hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca/ Medina)) and places them “under” the care of men (i.e. men are financially responsible for their wives). In one place it states: “Men are the maintainers and protectors of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women).” The Quran explains that men and women are equal in creation and in the afterlife. Surah an-Nisa’ 4:1 states that men and women are created from a single soul (nafs wahidah). One person does not come before the other, one is not superior to the other, and one is not the derivative of the other. A woman is not created for the purpose of a man. Rather, they are both created for the mutual benefit of each other.[Qur’an 30:21] [edit] Financial matters
Historically, many scholars maintain that women in Muslim societies had more property rights than in many other parts of the world.[41] However, as the world has modernised, women’s rights in many Muslim dominated countries are comparatively restricted. As Valentine M. Moghadam argues, “much of the economic modernization [of women] was based on income from oil, and some came from foreign investment and capital inflows. Economic development alters the status of women in different ways across nations and classes.”[42] [edit] Financial obligations
Women’s rights in the Qur’an are based around the marriage contract. A woman, according to Islamic tradition, does not have to give her pre-marriage possessions to her husband and receives a mahr (dowery) which she is allowed to keep.[43] Furthermore, any earnings that a woman receives through employment or business is hers to keep and need not be contributed towards family expenses. This is because the financial responsibility for reasonable housing, food and other household expenses for the family, including the spouse, falls entirely on the husband. In traditional Islamic law, a woman is also not responsible for the upkeep of the home and may demand payment for any work she does in the domestic sphere.[44].

[edit] Inheritance
Main article: Islamic inheritance jurisprudence#Women and inheritance
In Islam, women are entitled to the right of inheritance, Qur’an 4:7. In general, Islam allows females half the inheritance share available to males who have the same degree of relation to the deceased. Qur’an 4:11. This difference derives from men’s obligations to financially support their families.[2][45]

The Qur’an contains specific and detailed guidance regarding the division of inherited wealth, such as Surah Baqarah, chapter 2 verse 180, chapter 2 verse 240; Surah Nisa, chapter 4 verse 7-9, chapter 4 verse 19, chapter 4 verse 33; and Surah Maidah, chapter 5 verse 106-108. Three verses in the Qur’an describe the share of close relatives, Surah Nisah chapter 4 verses 11, 12 and 176. However, many Islamic majority countries have allowed inherently unfair (towards women) inheritance laws and/or customs to dominate.

[edit] Employment
Patterns of women’s employment vary throughout the Muslim world: as of 2005, 16% of Pakistani women were “economically active” (either employed, or unemployed but available to furnish labor), whereas 52% of Indonesian women were.[46]

Women are allowed to work in Islam, subject to certain conditions, such as if a woman is in financial need and her employment does not cause her to neglect her important role as a mother and wife.[45][47] It has been claimed that it is the responsibility of the Muslim community to organize work for women, so that she can do so in a Muslim cultural atmosphere, where her rights (as set out in the Qur’an) are respected.[47] Islamic law however, permits women to work in Islamic conditions.[47]

The work should not require the man or the woman to violate Islamic law (e.g., serving alcohol), and be mindful of the woman’s safety.
If the work requires the woman to leave her home, she must maintain her ‘modesty’ just as with men.
Due to cultural and not religious beliefs, in some cases, when women have the right to work and are educated, women’s job opportunities may in practice be unequal to those of men. In Egypt for example, women have limited opportunities to work in the private sector because women are still expected to put their role in the family first, which causes men to be seen as more reliable in the long term.[48]

An indicator of the attitude of the Qur’an to women in the workplace is indicated by the quotes used to justify women working. These are the examples of two female shepherds Qur’an 28:23, and Khadijah (prophet Muhammad’s wife), who was an eminent businesswoman. Khadijah is called up as a role model for females in the Qur’an.[47]

The situation in Morocco is indicative of women’s place in the workforce. While many women work outside home in responsible positions in Morocco, the law continues to treat them as minors. They are specifically excluded from fields of work along with children below the age of 16. These laws have been presented as a ‘protection’ for women or on moral grounds. The presumption is that women are less able to protect themselves, or that men are better able to resist the corrupting influences in such places.[49] [edit] Legal and criminal matters
The status of women’s testimony in Islam is disputed. Some Islamic jurists have held that certain types of testimony by women may not be accepted. In other cases, the testimony of two women can equal that of one man (although the Qur’an says two women and two male are needed but if a male cannot find another male he may carry this testimony out himself). According to Averroes, a 12th-century Maliki, “There is a general consensus among the jurists that in financial transactions a case stands proven by the testimony of a just man and two women.” (Ibn Rushd. Bidayatu’l-Mujtahid, 1st ed., vol. 4, (Beirut: Daru’l-Ma‘rifah, 1997), p. 311). Justifications for this discrimination have been put forward including: women’s temperament, women’s lack of interest in legal matters,[50] and also the need to spare women from the “burden of testifying”.[51] In other areas, women’s testimony may be accepted on an equal basis with men’s.[52][53] The verse itself however relates to finances only.[54]

Controversial tribal customs such as diyyat or blood money remain an integral part of Islamic jurisprudence. By implementation this also discriminates against women. Diyya existed in Arabia since pre-Islamic times.[55][56] While the practice of diyya was affirmed by Muhammed,[56] Islam does not prescribe any specific amount for diyyat nor does it require discrimination between men and women.[57] The Qur’an has left open to debate, its quantity, nature, and other related affairs to be defined by social custom and tradition.[57][58] However in practice, the killing of a woman will generally invoke a lesser diyyat than the killing of a man. Commentators on the status of women in Islam have often focused on disparities in diyyat, the fines paid by killers to victims’ next of kin after either intentional or unintentional homicide,[57] between men and women.

[edit] Rape
See also: Zina (Arabic)
Muslim scholars believe that a woman should not be punished for having been coerced into having sex.[59] According to a Sunni hadith, the punishment for committing rape is death, there is no blame attached to the victim.[60][61] [edit] Marriage and sexuality

A riverside Muslim wedding in India.[edit] Who may be married?
See also: Islamic marital jurisprudence and Polygyny in Islam
Marriage customs vary in Muslim dominated countries. Cultural customs are sometimes implemented under the cover of Islam. However Islamic law allows polygamy under some conditions.

According to Islamic law (sharia), marriage cannot be forced.[43][62]

Islamic jurists have traditionally held that Muslim women may only enter into marriage with Muslim men,[63] On the other hand, the Qur’an allows Muslim men to marry women of the People of the Book, a term which includes Jews and Christians, but they must be chaste. However, fiqh law has held that it is makruh (reprehensible, though not outright forbidden) for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman in a non-Muslim country.[63] Notable scholar Bilal Philips has said the verse that permits Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women is not valid anymore today due to several reasons including its misunderstood interpretation.[64] One explanation for marriage restrictions is that they are pursuant to the principle that Muslims may not place themselves in a position inferior to that of the followers of other religions.[65]

Polygamy is permitted under restricted conditions,[66] but it is not widespread.[67] However, it is strongly discouraged in the Qur’an, which says, ‘do justice to them all, but you won’t be able to, so don’t fall for one totally while ignoring other wife(wives)’. This also must be taken in historical context, as this was actually a restriction on the number of wives men of the Arabian tribes can take. Sometimes Pre-Islamic men could have up to eight wives. Women are not allowed to engage in polyandry, whereas men are allowed to engage in polygyny (a man can take up to four wives at any given time as mentioned in the Qur’an).[66] A widow inherits one quarter of the property of her deceased husband, however, if he had children the inheritance reduces to one eighth.

[edit] Behaviour within marriage
Main articles: Rights and obligations of spouses in Islam and Islam and domestic violence
The Qur’an considers the love between men and women to be a Sign of God.[Qur’an 30:21] Husbands are asked to be kind to their wives and wives are asked to be kind to their husbands. The Qur’an also encourages discussion and mutual agreement in family decisions.[43]

Muslim scholars have adopted differing interpretations of An-Nisa, 34, a Sura of the Qur’an. In the event where a woman rebels against her husband, Muslim scholars disagree on what is prescribed by the Sura. According to some interpretations, it is permissible for the man to then lightly beat his spouse. However, this is disputed by many scholars who contend that the expression used alludes to temporary physical separation.[68] [edit] Sexuality
Main article: Islamic sexual jurisprudence
Some[who?] hold that Islam enjoins sexual pleasure within marriage; see Asra Nomani’s polemic “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom”. Some examples of this influence are set out below.

Qur’an 4:24— Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess: Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property,- desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree Mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.

Qur’an 23:1-6—The Believers must (eventually) win through—those who humble themselves in their prayers; who avoid vain talk; who are active in deeds of charity; who abstain from sex; except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess—for (in their case) they are free from blame.

Qur’an 33:50—O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee . . .

Qur’an 70:22-30—Not so those devoted to Prayer—those who remain steadfast to their prayer; and those in whose wealth is a recognized right for the (needy) who asks and him who is prevented (for some reason from asking); and those who hold to the truth of the Day of Judgement; and those who fear the displeasure of their Lord—for their Lord’s displeasure is the opposite of Peace and Tranquillity—and those who guard their chastity, except with their wives and the (captives) whom their right hands possess—for (then) they are not to be blamed.

A high value is placed on female chastity (not to be confused with celibacy). To protect women from accusations of unchaste behaviour, the scripture lays down severe punishments towards those who make false allegations about a woman’s chastity. However, in some societies, an accusation is rarely questioned and the woman who is accused rarely has a chance to defend herself in a fair and just manner. This is often due to the local cultural customs rather than as a direct result of classic Islamic teaching.

Female genital cutting has been erroneously associated with Islam, but in fact is practiced predominantly in Africa and in certain areas has acquired a religious dimension[69] The factuality of this is disputed though, as a UNICEF study of fourteen African countries found no correlation between religion and prevalence of female genital mutilation.[70] In Mauritania, where “health campaigners estimate that more than 70 percent of Mauritanian girls undergo the partial or total removal of their external genitalia for non-medical reasons”, 34 Islamic scholars signed a fatwa banning the practice in January 2010. Their aim was to prevent people from citing religion as a justification for genital mutilation. The authors cited the work of Islamic legal expert Ibn al-Hajj as support for their assertion that “[s]uch practices were not present in the Maghreb countries over the past centuries”. FGM is “not an instinctive habit, according to the Malkis; therefore, it was abandoned in northern and western regions of the country,” added the authors.[71][72] [edit] Divorce
Main article: Talaq
In Islam, in some circumstances, a woman can initiate a divorce. According to Sharia Law, a woman can file a case in the courts for a divorce in a process called “Khal’a”, meaning “release from”. However, under most Islamic schools of jurisprudence, both partners must unanimously agree to the divorce in order for it to be granted. To prevent irrational decisions and for the sake of the family’s stability, Islam enjoins that both parties observe a waiting period (of roughly three months) before the divorce is finalized.[73]

Sharia Law states that divorce has to be confirmed on three separate occasions and not, as is commonly believed, simply three times at once. The first two instances the woman and the man are still in legal marriage. The third occasion of pronouncing divorce in the presence of the woman, the man is no longer legally the husband and therefore has to leave the house. The purpose of this procedure of divorce in Islam is to encourage reconciliation where possible. Even after divorce, the woman should wait three monthly cycles during which her husband remains responsible for her and her children’s welfare and maintenance. He is not permitted to drive her out of the house.[74] This process may leave the woman destitute should her family not take her back or the ex-husband fail to support her and possibly his children.

After the third pronouncement they are not allowed to get back together as husband and wife, unless first the wife is divorced in another lawful and fully consummated marriage. This rule was made to discourage men from easily using the verbal declaration of divorce by knowing that after the third time there will be no way to return to the wife and thus encourage men’s tolerance and patience.

Usually, assuming her husband demands a divorce, the divorced wife keeps her mahr (dowry), both the original gift and any supplementary property specified in the marriage contract. She is also given child support until the age of weaning, at which point the child’s custody will be settled by the couple or by the courts.

In actual practice and outside of Islamic judicial theory, a woman’s right to divorce is often extremely limited compared with that of men in the Middle East.[75] While men can divorce their wives easily, women face many legal and financial obstacles. In practice in most of the Muslim world today divorce can be quite involved as there may be separate secular procedures to follow as well.

This contentious area of religious practice and tradition is being increasingly challenged by those promoting more liberal interpretations of Islam.

[edit] Movement and travel
Wives are required to inform their spouses before leaving home, and get the consent of their husbands. Although no limitation or prohibition against women’s travelling alone is mentioned in the Qur’an, there is a debate in some Islamic sects, especially Salafis, regarding whether women may travel without a mahram (unmarriageable relative).[76] Some scholars state that a woman may not travel by herself on a journey that takes longer than three days (equivalent to 48 miles in medieval Islam).[77] According to the European Council for Fatwa and Research, this prohibition arose from fears for women’s safety when travel was more dangerous.[76] Some scholars relax this prohibition for journeys likely to be safe, such as travel with a trustworthy group of men or men and women, or travel via a modern train or plane when the woman will be met upon arrival.[76]

Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni, a Saudi Islamic scholar known for his moderate views, has said that neither the Qur’an nor the sunnah prohibits women from driving and that it is better for a woman to drive herself than to be driven by a stranger without a legal escort.[78] (He also stated, however, that he “personally will not allow [his] wife or daughters or sisters to drive.”[78]) Women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia per a 1990 fatwa (religious ruling);[79] Saudi Arabia is currently the only Muslim country that bans women from driving.[80][81] When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they issued a 2001 decree that also banned women from driving.[82] John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, has argued that these restrictions originate from cultural customs and not Islam.[80] [edit] Dress code
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (November 2009)

A map showing dress code types in Islamic countries, 2008.Main articles: Hijab and Hijab by country
Hijab is the Qur’anic requirement that Muslims, both male and female, dress and behave modestly. The most important Qur’anic verse relating to hijab is sura 24:31, which says, “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not to display their adornment except that which ordinarily appears thereof and to draw their headcovers over their chests and not to display their adornment except to their [maharim]…”

Sartorial hijab, and the veil in particular, have often been viewed by many as a sign of oppression of Muslim women.[83] It has also been the cause of much debate, especially in Europe amid increasing immigration of Muslims;[84] the 2006 United Kingdom debate over veils and the 2004 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools are two notable examples.

[edit] Women in religious life
In Islam, there is no difference between men and women’s relationship to God; they receive identical rewards and punishments for their conduct.[85]

According to a saying attributed to Muhammad, women are allowed to go to mosques.[86] However, as Islam spread, it became unusual for women to worship in mosques because of fears of unchastity caused by interaction between sexes; this condition persisted until the late 1960s.[87] Since then, women have become increasingly involved in the mosque, though men and women generally worship separately.[88] (Muslims explain this by citing the need to avoid distraction during prayer prostrations that raise the buttocks while the forehead touches the ground.[89]) Separation between sexes ranges from men and women on opposite sides of an aisle, to men in front of women (as was the case in the time of Muhammad), to women in second-floor balconies or separate rooms accessible by a door for women only.[89]

In Islam’s earlier history, female religious scholars were relatively common. Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a Sunni religious scholar, has compiled biographies of 8,000 female jurists, and orientalist Ignaz Goldziher earlier estimated that 15 percent of medieval hadith scholars were women.[90] After the 16th century, however, female scholars became fewer,[90] and today — while female activists and writers are relatively common — there has not been a significant female jurist in over 200 years.[91] Opportunities for women’s religious education exist, but cultural barriers often keep women from pursuing such a vocation.[90]

Women’s right to become imams, however, is disputed by many. A fundamental role of an imam (religious leader) in a mosque is to lead the salah (congregational prayers). Generally, women are not allowed to lead mixed prayers. However, some argue that Muhammad gave permission to Ume Warqa to lead a mixed prayer at the mosque of Dar.[92][93]

Hui women are self aware of their relative freedom as Chinese women in contrast to the status of Arab women in countries like Saudi Arabia where Arab women are restricted and forced to wear encompassing clothing. Hui women point out these restrictions as “low status”, and feel better to be Chinese than to be Arab, claiming that it is Chinese women’s advanced knowledge of the Qur’an which enables them to have equality between men and women.[94] [edit] Women and politics

The late Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.[95]See also: Female political leaders in Islam and in Muslim-majority countries and Timeline of first women’s suffrage in majority-Muslim countries
The only hadith relating to female political leadership is Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:709, in which Muhammad is recorded as saying that people with a female ruler will never be successful.(Muhammed was referring to the Persian people. He said, “Such people as ruled by a lady will never be successful.” [96] (The al-Bukhari collection is generally regarded as authentic, though one Muslim feminist has questioned the reliability of the recorder of this particular hadith.[96]) However, many classical Islamic scholars, such as al-Tabari, supported female leadership.[96] In early Islamic history, women including Aisha, Ume Warqa, and Samra Binte Wahaib took part in political activities.[92] Other historical Muslim female leaders include Razia Sultana, who ruled the Sultanate of Delhi from 1236 to 1239,[97][98] and Shajarat ad-Durr, who ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1257.[99]

In the past several decades, many countries in which Muslims are a majority, including Indonesia,[100] Pakistan,[101] Bangladesh,[102] and Turkey,[103] and Kyrgyzstan have been led by women. Nearly one-third of the Parliament of Egypt also consists of women.[104]

Segregated Iraqi women waiting to vote in elections, 2005.According to Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s Southeast Mosque, nothing in Islam specifically allows or disallows voting by women.[105] Until recently most Muslim nations were non-democratic, but most today allow their citizens to have some level of voting and control over their government. The disparate times at which women’s suffrage was granted in Muslim-majority countries is indicative of the varied traditions and values present within the Muslim world. Azerbaijan has had women’s suffrage since 1918.

Saudi women have been allowed to vote in some elections.[106][107]\\

[edit] Modern debate on the status of women in Islam

Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s famous women activistWithin the Muslim community, conservatives and Islamic feminists have used Islamic doctrine as the basis for discussion of women’s rights, drawing on the Quran, the hadith, and the lives of prominent women in the early period of Muslim history as evidence.[108] Where conservatives have seen evidence that existing gender asymmetries are divinely ordained, feminists have seen more egalitarian ideals in early Islam.[108] Still others have argued that this discourse is essentialist and a historical, and have urged that Islamic doctrine not be the only framework within which discussion occurs.[108] [edit] Conservatives and the Islamic movement
Main articles: Islamic revival and Islamism
Conservatives reject the assertion that different laws prescribed for men and women imply that men are more valuable than women. Ali ibn Musa Al-reza reasoned that at the time of marriage a man has to pay something to his prospective bride, and that men are responsible for both their wives’ and their own expenses but women have no such responsibility.[109]

The nebulous revivalist movement termed Islamism is one of the most dynamic movements within Islam in the 20th and 21st centuries. The experience of women in Islamist states has been varied. Women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan faced treatment condemned by the international community.[110] Women were forced to wear the burqa in public,[111] not allowed to work,[112] not allowed to be educated after the age of eight,[113] and faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban’s laws.[114][115] The position of women in Iran, which has been a theocracy since its 1979 revolution, is more complex. Iranian Islamists are ideologically in favour of allowing female legislators in Iran’s parliament[116] and 60% of university students are women.[117] [edit] Liberal Islam, Islamic feminism, and other progressive criticism
Liberal Muslims have urged that ijtihad, a form of critical thinking, be used to develop a more progressive form of Islam with respect to the status of women.[118] In addition, Islamic feminists have advocated for women’s rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, pioneers of Islamic feminism have also used secular and western feminist discourses and have sought to include Islamic feminism in the larger global feminist movement. Islamic feminists seek to highlight the teachings of equality in Islam to question patriarchal interpretations of Islamic teachings.[119] Others point out the incredible amount of flexibility of shariah law, which can offer greater protections for women if the political will to do is present.[120][121]

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, international attention was focused on the condition of women in the Muslim world.[122] Critics asserted that women are not treated as equal members of Muslim societies[123][124] and criticized Muslim societies for condoning this treatment.[123] Some critics have gone so far as to make allegations of gender apartheid due to women’s status.[125] At least one critic has alleged that Western academics, especially feminists, have ignored the plight of Muslim women in order to be considered “politically correct.”[126]

The Indonesian Islamic professor Nasaruddin Umar is at the forefront of a reform movement from within Islam that aims at giving women equal status. Among his works is a book “The Qur’an for women”, which provides a new feminist interpretation.

–Agencies

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