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International Journals

WOMEN IN ISLAM: THEIR ROLE IN RELIGIOUS AND TRADITIONAL CULTURE


Author(s): Saneya Saleh
Source: International Journal of Sociology of the Family, Vol. 2, No. 2 (SEPTEMBER, 1972),
pp. 193-201
Published by: International Journals
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23027065 .
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WOMEN IN ISLAM: THEIR ROLE IN RELIGIOUS
AND TRADITIONAL CULTURE
Saneya Saleh
American
University
in
Cairo, Cairo, Egypt
This
paper
deals
historically
with the role
of
women in the Moslem world
from
the
inception of
Islam till the
present.
It
verifies
the valid distinction between
Islamic and extra-Islamic traditions with
regard
to the role
of
women in the Middle
East. Unlike the
pre-Islamic
institutions
of
Arabia which were
highly unfavor
able to
women,
Islamic institutions
of
the
Utopian age of
Islam
(seventh century)
elevated women's status and did not
deprive
them
from playing any respectable
role
in the Moslem
community
be it
political, social,
or otherwiseas
long
as it did
not lead to the
neglect of
their
primary
role as mothers and wives.
Extra-Islamic traditions later on led to the
degradation of
women and to a
distorted
picture of
the "ideal Moslem woman." This was
helped by borrowing
and
imposing foreign
laws
especially
with
reference
to the
family.
Also
reactionary
men
interpreted
the Koranic laws that dealt with women
"literally"
in their own
favor ignoring intentionally
the
"spirit" of
Islam that
gave
women almost
equal
rights
and
complementary
roles.
As
shown
m our
previous
treat
ment of status
(Saleh, 1971)
Middle
Eastern studentsand
especially
those of
European backgroundhave
in
terpreted
Middle Eastern culture as
wholly
Islamic and have for that reason
treated this culture as
homogeneous. Thus,
and
erroneously,
the low status of women
in Middle Eastern societies has been
attributed to the Moslem faith and to
Islamic institutions founded
upon
it.
But as it
stands,
Middle Eastern culture
is
heterogeneous.
The status of women
relative to men is low because of extra
Islamic traditionssome of which have
co-existed with Islamic culture for cen
turies,
and some of which
spring
from
European
civil laws which have been
imposed upon
Middle Eastern societies
in the throes of Westernization. At no
point
in
examining
the
conceptual
base
of Islamic institutions
(the Koran,
the
Hadiths,
the Sharia
Laws)can
one
find
adequate support
for the
theory
that
the low status of Moslem women is to
be laid at the doors of Islam. But to the
contrary
there is
every
evidence that this
culture
supports equality
of women and
men in a situation of
complementarity
of roles.
Here,
our chief concern is with
the role of Moslem
women,
and here
again
the same thesis which was found to
apply
to status will be seen to
apply
also
to role.
The thesis
relating
to the role of
Moslem women has been
partially
de
monstrated in the
previous
treatment of
status where our
procedure
was to
objec
tify
all relevant data from the
Koran,
the
Hadiths,
and the Sharia Laws.
Here,
additionally,
we shall focus
upon
the his
torical contexts within which the role of
women
emerged-the
seventh
century,
the
Middle
Ages,
and the twentieth
century.
In this historical treatment it should
become clear that the
emergence
of the
role of women is consistent with the
emergence
of their
status;
and that
any
discrepancy
between the ideal and actual
role of women is
owing
to the existence
of extra-Islamic cultural elements
operat
ing
in Middle Eastern societies.
Islam is a
practical
faith. It
regards
women as
worthy
of esteem and
respect.
It
lays
down the
ideals,
the
expectations,
the standards of conduct as moral norms
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UN i. tKiNA i IUJ.NA-L
juukjnal,
U* bUCIOLOGY OF THE FAMILY
governing
tne relations oetween tne sexes.
As Citrine remarks:
Lsiamic
principles
are
compatible
witn
Feminine
emancipation
and do not ex
:lude women from
public
activities as
many European
scholars have claimed
^Saleh, 1971,
passim).
WOMEN OF THE .SEVENTH CENTURY
Traditional Islam
"envisages
man's
and woman's role as
complementary
not
as
competing.
Each has certain
privileges
and duties in accordance with his or her
nature."
(Nelson, 1968:60).
The natural
ind traditional role of woman is that of
ivife and
mother,
"in which she excels
Dy
nature and
disposition,"
and
through
vhich she
gets
the satisfactions and
joys
hat most women of this
region
wish to
experience (Citrine, 1966:4).
y vsiue irom ner own satislaction tHis
"natural" role is
important
and valuable
to
society.
It is as
great
a
challenge
to
achievement,
as
any
which men have felt
in other
spheres.
The Hadiths
(Prophet's
sayings) place
Paradise at the feet of
mothersthus
granting
a
high
status to
'wise and noble" motherhood
(Darwizah,
1967:30). Yet,
in addition to their natural
imrden in
procreation,
women and men
ilike are also endowed with
equal
faculties
>f mind which the
Prophet recognized
vhen he
said,
"The
acquisition
of know
edge
is a
duty
incumbent on
every
Moslem male and
female,"
thus indi
ating
that both are
equally capable
of
cquiring
and
using knowledge.
This
lust
imply equal opportunities
for both
sxes in education and all
intellectual
ctivity (Citrine, 1966:4).
n.
stuay
01 tne naann
"
shows
that,
and in hand with her
rightful position
i ne islamic
principles require
a woman
to be mindful of
family duty
and care
ful of her
personal conduct,
and with
these fundamentals
assured, they
are
not in
any way
restrictive of her acti
vities,
and endow her moreover with
equal
human
rights. (1966:1).
in the
home,
as the rearer of children
and the
manager
of the
household,
seventh
century
woman took interest in all the
activities of the Moslem
community.
The care of the children did not
prevent
her from
going
to the
mosque
to
join
the
prayers (a thing
not done
now),
nor was
this care an obstacle in her
way
... to
join
the soldiers in the field of
battle,
to
perform
a
large
number of
duties,
such as the
carrying
of
prov
isions, taking
care of the sick and the
wounded... or
taking part
in actual
fighting
when
necessary.
One of the...
Prophet's wives, Zeinab,
used to
prepare
hides and to devote the
proceeds
of
the sale to charitable work
(Ali,
n.d.:
647).
Moreover,
wives ol the
Jfrophet
were
'accessible to
religious inquiries," espe
:ially
Aisha who was the
"repository
of
he
traditions,"
and hence was often con
ulted on
religious
matters
(Galwash,
958:151).
Women also
helped
their husbands in
the labor of the
fields,
served the male
guests
at feasts and carried on their
own business.
"They
could sell to and
purchase
from men." As
early
as the
seventh
century,
a woman was
appointed
by
the
Caliph
Umar as
"superintendent
of the market of Medina"
(Ali,
n.d.:
648).
These were
exceptions
for the
proper sphere
of the woman was the
household and the care of children.
However,
this did not
imply
subservience
to males. The ideal woman was charac
terized as
"dependent,
chaste and fertile"
(Nelson, 1968:61),
but Islam never favored
her seclusion in
any "extravagant
form"
(Galwash,
1958:
155).
Each sex had its
own
sphere
of
relatively independent
activities.
Thus,
it is the traditional but extra
Islamic culture as a whole that has
allotted to women a
position
of economic
dependence regarding
their
"earning
a
livelihood,"
and this is due to the fact
that Eastern man has
always
undertaken
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WOMEN IN ISLAM: THEIR ROLE IN CULTURE 195
the
responsibility
of
supporting
all the
women in his
family,
and has
regarded
this
responsibility
as a matter of
personal
honor and
pride. Therefore,
women under
the more
general
Eastern traditional social
order,
have come to be
regarded
as
dependent, "part
of a home
group,"
and
not as
independent
members of
society.
However,
their
position
of economic
dependence
was "stabilized"
by
the
Moslem law of inheritance which
gave
them full control of their income and the
full
liberty
to
dispose
of their
property.
These
legal rights,
if
applied,
insure to
Moslem women a "measure of economic
independence" greater
than that of women
in some Western countries.
However,
Moslem women are often
ignorant
of
their Islamic
rights
and do not control
their income
(Woodsmall, 1936:239-240).
Furthermore,
their freedom to raise their
income
by
means of
going
out and
earning
their
living
has been
hampered by
the
social tradition of the East and not
by
Islamic
religion.
Unfortunately
lor Moslem women. . .
these
socio-religious
reforms
designed
for the seventh
century
have not fur
nished a basis for continuous
progress
and reform.
(Woodsmall, 1936:376).
On the
contrary,
some have remained
static while others have been abused
by
men. Customs rather than the actual
teachings
of the Koran resulted later in
the
veiling
and seclusion of women.
l he kole of women in 1 he Middle Ages
Tile
general spirit
of
reformespecially
as it
pertained
to the
emancipation
of
women in the seventh
centurypersisted
on into the Middle
Ages,
but not without
attritions. Certain
pre-Islamic
habits and
practices
were bound to
persist also,
and
these are
especially apparent among
those
who came in the Middle
Ages
to
interpret
the "Sharia."
They
were not imbued
with the
spirit
of reform. The
esprit
de
corps
}f
early
Islam as a social movement was
low
missing.
Burdened with the
persist
ent residues of
pre-Islamic traditions,
they
were indifferent to the ideal of ele
vating
womanhood. In matters concern
ing women,
these
interpreters
have re
mained
"reactionary"
in their
thinking
by literally adhering
to the extra-Islamic
customs of the seventh
centuryeven
to the
point
of
making
a more
rigid
inter
pretation
of the Sharia than the actual
customs of the
Prophet's day required
(Woodsmall, ,1936: 377).
I he decline of Islamic civilization in
the Middle
Ages
was
accompanied by
a
deterioration of the social condition of
women. Their
place
in
society
was re
stricted. It was determined
rigidly by
the
letter and not the
spirit
of the Koran.
It could even be
argued
that the letter
of the Koran was adhered to in an extra
Islamic
spirit.
"Hence
sprang
a number
of
afflictions,
some of which still exist
and are the bane of Moslem women."
Among
the worst of these are:
(1)
un
restricted
polygamy
or
'jebr'a
custom
permitting
the
marriage
of
under-age
females without their
consent,
and
(2)
unilateral
repudiation
of a wife
by
her
husband
(Djibar,
1961:
34-36).
Uni
lateral
repudiation
became a
weapon
in the hands of husbands
and, along
with
the
general
deterioration of Islam in the
middle
ages,
contributed
greatly
to
family
instability
and broken homes.
Generally then, during
the Middle
Ages,
is the heat of the reform movement
:ooled,
extra-Islamic customs functioned
to increase the
rights
and
privileges
of
men while
decreasing
their
obligations,
md at the same time
they
decreased the
rights
and
privileges
of women while
ncreasing
their
obligations.
Both the
ibove customs were abuses of the Koran
md are
diametrically opposed
to both
:he letter and the
spirit
of Islamic norms.
Situation In The Twentieth
Century
The
long
decline of Islamic civiliza
;ion has
hardly
been retarded
by
the
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96 INTERNATIONAL
JOURNAL
01< SUH1ULUUY OL I ML r AM1LY
orces ol
history
since the Middle
Ages.
Wars and
conquests,
international con
victs,
the intervention of
European
insti
tutionsall have left their
imprint upon
the
structure,
the norms and the
dynamics
}f the Moslem world. The
implantation
}f Western institutions and Western
laws,
both civil and
criminal,
create a division
between traditional and
implanted
culture
patterns.
The term "dual
society"
is
indeed not an unreasonable
description
of the situation in
general.
Here,
urban
segments,
and
especially
the middle and
upper
classes
clearly
follow a mixture of
norms and
valuesfavoring
Western
like institutions and
laws,
while the
traditional "townsman"
(Ibn al-Balad)
of the lesser trades follows more
closely
in
dress, language,
and
religious practices
the traditional mixture of Islamic and
"co-Islamic" customs. Outside the cities
reside the "fellahine" who
represent
some three-fourths of Moslem societies.
In each of these
classes,
the role of women
has come to
vary greatly.
I he
general thrust, however,
lies in
he desire of so
many
Moslems
today
to
jecome a
part
of the "modern world."
As
strange
as it
may
seem to
European
scholars, however,if
"modernization"
includes the
emancipation
of women
the Islamic tradition offers far less resist
ance to the
emancipation
of women than
do the civil laws of
European origin
which are
already
deemed to be "modern".
Extra-Islamic traditions
(including
trans
planted European
norms and values as
well as non-Islamic customs which have
persisted
for centuries in the Arab
world)
constitute the chief forces of resistance
to the
emancipation
of women of the
Middle East. But what will such emanci
pation
mean?
In the
Koran,
in Islamic
society
at
its
height, emancipation
meant almost
equality
with males as well as
comple
mentarity
of male and female roles. But
"modern"
emancipation
does not
appear
to have this same
meaning.
In the West
where considerable
"emancipation"
Has
ostensibly
taken
placeindependence
of
males does not
typically
include a
comple
mentarity
of male and female roles.
Apparently,
the
emancipation
of Moslem
women from
demeaning
extra-Islamic
role
expectations
means
independence
without
complementarity.
What this
may
mean with reference to the
family
and
its
stability may already
be
spelled
out
by
the
great
decline of the
family
in
Europe
and the United States. But is this condi
tion the
necessary heritage
of the Moslem
world? What modern function can the
centuries-old Islam
fruitfully
serve in this
regard
? Middle Eastern scholars are
everywhere asking
and
seeking
answers to
such
questions.
As Hussein
(1967:4-5)
writes:
Egyptian society
seems to De at tne
threshold of drastic
changes.
The stabi
lity
of its traditional
family system
is
being
shaken
through
social,
economic
and
political developments
which start
ed at the turn of the
century,
and
which have increased in
intensity
in
the
past
decade. The traditional
family
system
of
Egyptian society
has for
a
long
time been dominated
by
three
main
factors;
Moslem
family law,
the
family patterns
of
agrarian society,
and the tradition of the seclusion of
women called the "harem."
Since Middle Eastern societies are
based on the
Koran,
the will to
reform,
"the task of
purifying
Islam from what
corrupted
and
paralyzed
it" in the Middle
Ages,
has
gone
hand in hand with a
return to the
original
sources of
Islam,
and a
new,
more liberal
interpretation
of
the text of the Koran
(Djibar,
1961:
19).
Naturally
women have
played
their
part
in
enforcing
this
change.
In
Egypt,
as
early
as
1929,
the feminist movement
persuaded
the
parliament
to
"suppress
the
practice
of
jebr."
The Feminist Union
in
Egypt represents
a conscious women's
movement for social
change
and reform.
Although
not
widely representative
of
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WOMEN IN ISLAM: THEIR RULE IN CULTURE 9/
Egyptian
women,
due to the fact that
most of its members were
wealthy
"women
jf
leisure,"
it was an
organized type
of
social movement whose
objective
was the
modification of the social order in some
jpecific regard (Gettys,
n.d.:
2).
Like
any
other social
movement,
it had an
agitator
and leader in the
person
of Mrs.
[ loda Sharaawi. She advocated from
the
beginning "political equality, suffrage
and women's
representation
in
parlia
ment,"
and
general
social reforms. The
movement relied also on
propaganda
for
the advance of
Egyptian
women and this
was
promoted through
a
magazine
that
they published (Woodsmall,
1936: 356
358).
The
Egyptian
feminist movement
arose due to
changes
in the values of
women
regarding
the
conceptions they
have of
themselves,
and of their
rights
and
privileges.
The
agitators
of this
movement insist on the
"banning
of
polygamy"
and
fight
for
"limiting
man's
freedom to divorce without court
ruling,"
and for
"doing away
with the man's
right
to 'obedience'
"
(i.e., allowing
the
wife to
separate
from her
husband),
and for
allowing
the woman
"guardian
ship
over her children until
marriage
for
the
daughters,
and to the
age
of
puberty
for sons"
(Hussein, 1964:4).
If we search for the
impelling
motive
of this
steady
outward movement" of
women in
Egypt,
we
undoubtedly
find
that the
spirit
of
nationalism,
which
since World War I has
surged through
the Middle
East,
as
played
a
great
role.
Moreover,
the sudden
appeal
of
patriot
ism has
swept away
"all
hampering
social
and
religious inhibitions,"
and
given
Moslem women
(also Coptic women),
a
sudden realization of their
power
and
responsibility
for
serving
their nation.
Moreover,
the
growth
in "national con
sciousness"
among
women has led to
their active
participation
in
political
life. This is illustrated in the Nationalist
Egyptian
Revolution of 1919 in which
women of all classes and
religions,
veiled
md
unveiled, "thronged"
the streets
resides the
men, demanding independence
md the fall of the
English (Woodsmall,
1936:
362-366).
Thus we see that the horizon ol Moslem
women's activities widened
steadily.
The
roles that
they played
in the home were
supplemented
not
only
with work in
'civic and national
life,
but also into a
growing range of,international
relation
ships."
Moslem women started to
repre
sent
Egypt
in world conferences. After
that it was
impossible
to maintain the
traditional
conception
of women. Social
changes
due to the
impact
of modern
civilization have involved inevitable
changes
in
religious thought.
This interaction of social and
religious
change
is a
subject
of vital
significance
in the
study
of the
changing
status of
Moslem
women,
since the
emancipa
tion of women is at the
very
heart of
social reform
(Woodsmall,
1936:
378).
Thus the twentieth
century
has "invoked"
a new
relationship
between
religion
and
society
in the Islamic World. For
example,
the social laws in the United
Arab
Republic,
which affect the status
of women in the
social,
economic and
political spheres,
have been found
easy
to
change
and even to "revolutionize"
in accordance with the
changing
needs
of a new
society. However,
since all
progress
in
Egypt
must be in
harmony
with
Islam,
the
"compromise
method"
of social reform
though
a modern inter
pretation
of Islam has
gained
in influence
(Woodsmall,
1936:
379).
In
1936, although
the
great majority
of Moslem women were fatalistic in their
attitude toward
religion
and
life,
a small
minority
of them
began
to
question
the
relationship
between the
accepted
teach
ings
of Islam and the demands of their
modern world. Mrs. Sharaawi based
her demand for social reform in
Egypt
on the
spirit
of the Koran and has not
promoted any
reforms which did not have
Islamic
sanction,
thus
showing general
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198 INTERNATIONAL
JOURNAL
OF SOCIOLOGY OF THE FAMILY
conformity
to the
prevailing policy
in
Egypt
as
regards
the
promotion
of social
advance. For
instance,
her claim for
"equality
of education for
girls"
has been
based on the
teaching
of the Koran. She
has
urged
a "law
prohibiting polygany,"
except
in the
exceptional
cases mentioned
in the Koran
(Woodsmall, 1936:407).
Since
then,
the "traditional
position
of
economic
dependence"
of Moslem women
has been
gradually changing.
"A
general
trend toward a
greater
freedom for women
to earn a
living
is evident in all classes
of
society"among
the
upper
and middle
classes of Moslem
girls
and women who
are
entering professions,
and also the
lower class in
industry.
This
change
in
the economic status of women is due to
education which
opened
the door of
economic
opportunity
for them.
Through
out the Middle
East, teaching
was the
only profession
that has
long
been
accept
ed for women.
However,
in the earlier
days,
it was
regarded
as a "means for
needy
widows or
girls"
of the lower class
to earn a
living. Nowadays
the
general
level of the
teaching profession
is
every
where
being
raised and
"public opinion
has
put
the
stamp
of social
approval"
on it
(Woodsmall,
1936:
241-243).
An unusual
opportunity
for women
in the East is found in the career of
medicine and this accounts for the
great
number of women who have chosen it.
However,
the attitude toward
nursing
and
midwifery
is
"prejudicial,,"
for these
professions
are looked down
upon,
both
"socially
and
morally."
Besides
teaching, medicine, nursing
and
midwifery, very
few
public professions
were available for Moslem women be
for 1936. There
was, however,
a
steady
growth
in social work
by
volunteer
Moslems. Thus we can
say
that at the
beginning
of the twentieth
century
there
was a
"general
outward movement from
the home toward some measure of
parti
cipation
in business and
professional
life"
(Woodsmall,
1936:
248-251).
How
ever,
at the same time that "woman is
allowed
entry
into the once forbidden
man's world she is confronted with a
certain ambivalence." In
Egypt
men
generally object
to the
participation
of
their women in the
occupational
world,
"more as a matter of the men's
prestige
than
(lack of) recognition
of women's
rights." However,
. . . the traditional notion of a clear sexual
division of labor has
changed
and the
woman not
only
wants but is
encouraged
to
participate actively
in the
larger
society.
. . this
change
is
creating
cer
tain role conflicts
affecting
men as
well as women
(Nelson,
1968:
67-74).
As a
result, many
reactionaries
point
out the fact that
change
does not neces
sarily
mean
progress,
and ''new freedom
on some Western models
may
not be a net
gain
but a loss"
(Woodsmall,
1936:
409).
Then is no doubt that the
concept
of the ideal woman of the Middle
Ages
has
changed
from the
submissive,
passive "ignorant
tenderness" of a
generation ago
to the
independent,
active,
"education
partner"
of
today,
but there still exists a
gap
between
what educated
Egyptian
women want
for themselves and what
Egyptian
men want for them
(Nelson, 1968:75).
During
the
years preceding
the 1952
Revolution,
women's
organizations
claim
ed
political rights
for
women, yet
it was
to no avail. For the first time in the
history
of
Egypt,
the Constitution of
1956
stipulated
that men and women
should
enjoy equal political
and social
rights,
and that these
rights
should be
safeguarded.
So article 19
stipulated
that "the State should extend
every
facility
to women to coordinate their work
in
society
with
family
duties." After that
women entered as active members
the National
Assembly
and then the
Arab Socialist Union.
Moreover,
an
Egyptian
woman has assumed the
posi
tion of Minister with success.
According
to the Charter
(1962):
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WOMEN IN ISLAM: THEIR ROLE IN CULTURE 199
Woman must be
regarded
as
equal
to
man and must
therefore,
shed the re
maining
shackles that
impede
her free
movement so that she
might
take a
constructive and
profound part
in
shaping
life.
In the
past
two decades the number
of women in
professions
has
rapidly
multiplied
and
opportunities
have widened
until
today
women have entered almost
every
field of
occupation
which had been
traditionally
considered a "masculine
preserve."
This has been accelerated
by
the tremendous drive for education which
has been made "free for all at all levels"
including
the
university,
which has re
sulted in
giving
women "self confidence
and a new
concept
of self"
(Hussein,
1964:23).
New
range
of
employment
has
opened
to women in
practically
all
fields, govern
ment, trade, industry,
in the
professions,
in
tourism,
hotel
management,
air
travel,
scientific
research,
etc. This fact is all
the more
significant
because
. . . our labor laws deal
equally
with
men and
women,
while at the same
time
provision
is made for
legitimate
maternity protection
to the
working
mother under these laws
(Hussein,
1964:
passim).
Moreover,
the
employment
of women
has
brought
about "an
equalization
of
roles within the
family."
Thus the wife
is
"gladly contributing
to the
family
budget,
which is a
departure
from tra
dition." Work for
women,
which until
recently
was "detrimental to the social
prestige"
of the
woman,
is now
giving
her status and
making
her even more
eligible
for
marriage.
She is now valued
for her economic contribution to the
family,
for her "intellectual
companion
ship"
to her
husband,
as well as for
greater
competence
in the
rearing
of the
children,
As a matter of
fact,
the
emancipation
of
Egyptian
women
through
their edu
cation and
employment
is the
"keystone
to the
changes
in the
family pattern
in
Egyptian society" (Hussein, 1967:10).
She now
enjoys
much
greater
social
freedom in her relations with
men,
in
schools,
clubs or work.
The role of women s
voluntary organiz
ations is still
recognized
as
important
in
effecting
social
changes.
As a matter of
fact,
ever since Mrs. Sharaawi had
challenged Egyptian society "by throwing
her veil into the Mediterranean" 47
years
ago,
women hkd been
engaged
in volun
tary
social service. It was their first means
of
"assuming responsibility
in
public
life and of
asserting
their
dignity
and
worth as citizens over and above their
roles as wives and mothers"
(Hussein,
1964:
8).
The low
position
of
contemporary
women in the Moslem world is attribut
able to the abuses of Islamic law on
the
part
of males and not to Islamic
teachings.
To a certain
extent,
it is due
to the
Family Law,
which still
gives
the
Moslem husband
many privileges. But,
in
spite
of the fact that this law is still in
force,
the
working
woman s economic inde
pendence gives
her a de
facto
status in
the
family
which redresses the balance
in favor of a more
equalitarian
rela
tionship
between her and her husband
(Hussein,
1967:
10).
She is no
longer
afraid of her husband's
repudiation.
What is
more,
recent sta
tics show that more and more divorce
"is initiated
by wives,
most of whom
were educated
working
women." New
reasons for divorce reflect a new sense
of "individualism which
rejects
the
unquestioned acceptance
of tradi
tionally prescribed
roles"
(Hussein,
1967:
10).
The narrow
conception
of
womanhood,
developed
over the centuries
especially
in the Middle
Ages,
which
emphasized
the
"species preservative
role of women"
at the
expense
of their human
rights
as
persons,
is
gone
forever. The
changing
role of Moslem women is
apparent
in
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200 INTERNATIONAL
JOURNAL
OF
SOCIOLOGY OF THE FAMILY
their contributions in different areas
of lifein the
home,
in business and
professions,
in civic affairs and
political
life,
in social welfare and
community
services.
In
spite
of the fact that there are still
many
ultra conservatives who
oppose
any
alterations of the Moslem Sharia
Law,
the revision of these laws is under
serious consideration
by
the official
authorities in
Egypt.
In the committee
studying
the
proposed
alterations there
are a few educated women members.
The view is held
by
more and more
Moslems that:
Islam is a
progressive religion
which
makes allowance for the modification
of its social
legislationto
be differ
entiated from its
purely theological
dogma,
in accordance with
changing
conditions and in
conformity
with the
current interest of the
community
(Hussein, 1967:6).
Conclusions
The
position
of woman was elevated
in the seventh
century
at the
inception
of Islam which
gave
her both
rights
and
duties. At the time of the
Prophet
she
participated
in
community
affairs and
had more freedom than either before or
after.
Her
position
deteriorated in the Middle
Ages
and she
played
no
independent
role
in social life
except
that of
"passive
and
submissive" wife. She was
secluded,
and
excluded from almost all affairs outside
the home.
Employment
was considered
as a
disgrace
for this indicated the "in
capacity
of the head of the
family
to
provide financially"
for the
family.
At the
beginning
of the twentieth
century,
when she was
given
the benefit
of
education,
she started to come out of
her isolation.
However, any gains
that
she
made,
she
fought
for herself
basing
her
argument
on
religion.
Her rationale
for this is the fact that the Koran is the
conceptual
base of Islamic institutions.
Since Islam did not look down on women
as
unworthy
or
unequal
to
men,
there is
no reason to treat them as such.
From the above historical
review,
it
has been demonstrated that the low status
and
demeaning
role accorded to Moslem
women all
through
the
ages
is cultural
and not Islamic in
origin.
Islam does
not differentiate between men and women
in the matter of education or
work,
though
traditional culture does. If there
is
any objection
to women
playing
active
roles in
society,
this is attributable to
the
mentality
of the Eastern traditional
man who likes to feel
superior
and "res
ponsible"
for his women folk. In
short,
it is
the norms of extra-Islamic culture that
expect
this behavior and not the
religion
of
Islam.
References
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Maulana M.
n.d. The
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of Islam. United Arab
Republic:
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Shatiq.
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n.d.
Prophet's
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Cairo: Dar A1
Hilal.
Citrine,
Malika.
1966 "Islam And The
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Darwazah,
Mohamed Ezzat.
1967 Woman In Koran And Sunnah
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Beirut: The Modern
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Djibar,
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Galwash,
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Giettys,
W. F.
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