Blog Post #5

Al-Khayzuran, one of the women leaders of the pre-modern Islamic era.

Exploring Women’s Role in Islam

When Western cultures think of Islam in relation to women’s rights and the treatment of women in Muslim countries, there is generally a consensus that Islam is the root cause for the oppression and mistreatment of women in these countries. However, upon looking closer at the religion, it is clear that Islam cannot be held responsible for the divide between the sexes. In Islam, women and men are seen as moral equals in the eyes of God; in fact, Islam actually improved the standing of women in Arabic societies by prohibiting female infanticide and recognizing women as autonomous and valued. History shows that Muhammad consulted and confided in women, even appointing them to the position of imam (the person who leads prayer) within their households. Women in the pre-modern Arabic world held great power, both politically and in the home. The best-known women rulers in the premodern era include Khayzuran, who governed the Muslim Empire under three Abbasid caliphs in the eighth century; Malika Asma bint Shihab al-Sulayhiyya and Malika Arwa bint Ahmad al-Sulayhiyya, who both held power in Yemen in the eleventh century; Sitt al-Mulk, a Fatimid queen of Egypt in the eleventh century; the Berber queen Zaynab al-Nafzawiyah (r. 1061 – 1107 ); two thirteenth-century Mamluk queens, Shajar al-Durr in Cairo and Radiyyah in Delhi; six Mongol queens, including Kutlugh Khatun (thirteenth century) and her daughter Padishah Khatun of the Kutlugh-Khanid dynasty; the fifteenth-century Andalusian queen Aishah al-Hurra, known by the Spaniards as Sultana Madre de Boabdil; Sayyida al-Hurra , governor of Tetouán in Morocco (r. 1510 – 1542 ); and four seventeenth-century Indonesian queens. If the teachings of the Qur’an are not responsible for the treatment and oppression of women in Arabic countries, then what is? What changed between premodern Islam and modern, reformist Islam?


With each post, I keep coming back to the same question; where did this marginalization of women in Arabic countries originate from? Islam, at least premodern Islam, is not to blame. What changed in the modern era that twisted the word of God in such a way to change the position of women in Islamic societies so drastically?

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