, Volume 51, Issue 5-6, pp 263-272

“Islam and Woman: Where Tradition Meets Modernity”: History and Interpretations of Islamic Women's Status

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Abstract

The status of Islamic women varies in different Muslim countries, which interpret Islamic religion and law differently, especially with regard to their attitudes toward women. Most of these Islamic countries have specific beliefs about women and have restrictions concerning them. Gender stereotypes of Islamic women have their origin in the evolution of the Muslim religion. This is similar to the early development of many other religions and how the gender stereotypes of women developed along with the development of these religions. This paper describes the meaning of being a Muslim and the doctrine of the Qur'an, which came from the revelations to Muhammad, Islam's founder and prophet about 610 C.E. During Muhammad's life, he was sympathetic toward women and was concerned about their equal treatment, including full religious responsibility. Although the restrictions were still there on women, their treatment was much more favorable than after Muhammad's death. Conditions for women under Muhammad's successors became worse. Attitudes and perceptions about women were even more negative. Women were isolated, secluded, forced to pray at home—not in the mosque, and exclusion was put into practice. Women were essentially removed from most sectors of society. Veiling of women included covering specific parts of their body to prevent enticing men. Women's status declined rapidly and any freedoms they had were essentially abolished. And as Islam spread across the centuries, these restrictions and practices were adopted, amended, or made more extreme by most if not all Muslim countries and have continued until the present time. The current status of women in Islamic countries is described along with the intensified discussions and debates concerning women, presently taking place. In some states, bills and laws were passed to improve conditions of women but some have already been revoked. In other countries, new restrictions have been proposed. Nevertheless, Islamic women and women's groups are continuing the struggle for their rights. This struggle, amidst the continuing turmoil in the Middle East and the increase in fundamentalist groups, has unfortunately made the final outcome for women yet to be decided.