Here is an example from some possible background reading about some different understandings of the role and status of women in Islam (Theme 3B). There are three accounts from three resources. Some of the material overlaps. Read the three extracts and then click on each to see how the final summary has been arrived at.

Here are three more resources - this time there is a more specific focus on the issue of gender equality in Islam and relates to both the role and status of women and feminism in Islam (Theme 3B). Try to create a summary. Compare with others in the class to see how you have differed and discuss why that is and whether the differences are important.

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  • 1. The Qur'an provides clear-cut evidence that a woman is completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and responsibilities. The Qur'an states: ‘... So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one from another ...’ (Qur'an 3: 195). Woman according to the Qur'an is not blamed for Adam's first mistake. Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to God, both repented, and both were forgiven. (Qur'an 2:36, 7:20 - 24). In one verse in fact (20:121), Adam specifically, was blamed.

    In terms of religious obligations, such as the Daily Prayers, Fasting, Poor-due, and Pilgrimage, woman is no different from man. In some cases indeed, woman has certain advantages over man. For example, the woman is exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstrual periods and forty days after childbirth. She is also exempted from fasting during her pregnancy and when she is nursing her baby if there is any threat to her health or her baby's. If the missed fasting is obligatory (during the month of Ramadan), she can make up for the missed days whenever she can. She does not have to make up for the prayers missed for any of the above reasons. Although women can and did go into the mosque during the days of the prophet and thereafter attendance on the Friday congregational prayers is optional for them while it is mandatory for men (on Friday).

    This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.

    (Adapted from The Status of Women in Islam by Jamal Badawi)

    2. The Qur'an is addressed to all Muslims, and for the most part it does not differentiate between male and female. Man and woman, it says, "were created of a single soul," and are moral equals in the sight of God. Women have the right to divorce, to inherit property, to conduct business and to have access to knowledge. Since women are under all the same obligations and rules of conduct as the men, differences emerge most strongly when it comes to pregnancy, child-bearing and rearing, menstruation and, to a certain extent, clothing. Some of the commands are alien to Western tradition. Requirements of ritual purity may seem to restrict a woman's access to religious life, but are viewed as concessions. During menstruation or postpartum bleeding, she may not pray the ritual salah or touch the Qur'an and she does not have to fast; nor does she need to fast while pregnant or nursing. The veiling of Muslim women is a more complex issue. Certainly, the Qur'an requires them to behave and dress modestly - but these strictures apply equally to men. Only one verse refers to the veiling of women, stating that the Prophet's wives should be behind a hijab when his male guests converse with them.

    (adapted from Islam, Culture and Women by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood)

    3. In places such as Medina, where marriage by purchase was the rule, women fared much worse. She could not inherit because she herself was part of her husband's estate to be inherited. In fact, when Islam mandated that sisters and daughters were entitled to a share of inheritance, men of Medina protested against the rule. Mecca had more advanced laws in regards to inheritance, perhaps because it had been influenced by higher civilizations through its commercial contacts with Palestine and Persia, and some Meccans having lived in Roman cities like Gaza. It was in Mecca that Khadija, for instance, led a perfectly independent life as a wealthy widow engaged in a lucrative caravan trade. Her estate included real property because she gave her daughter Zainab a house. It can be concluded then that Meccan women could hold property before Islam. The advent of Islam shifted the focus from the tribe to the individual, balanced by the concept of community and family, and instituted a system in which everyone was equal, regardless of his/her gender, race, age or wealth. Under Islam, it was the moral and religious principles, not tribal affiliations that defined women’s rights. Islam acknowledged women as free human beings with full rights of their own. With freedom comes responsibilities and obligations. This has led some to argue that women were more restricted after Islam vis-a-vis Jahiliyya, which may in fact be true in a few tribes that were not as oppressive to women as others. However, Islam improved the conditions of all women, regardless of which tribe they belonged to. It restored women’s dignity and elevated their status, on the whole, to be equal to that of men.

    (adapted from Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia by The Muslim Women's League)

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