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Women and the Qur’anic Prescriptions.Part1

Women and the Qur’anic Prescriptions.Part1

One of the most sensitive and oft-debated issues with regard to Islam concerns the status and role of women in society. Arguably one of the aspects of social life which the emergence of Islam affected most was the status of women, with “the Qur’an having more to say about the position of women than any other social question.” 

At the time of its revelation in the seventh century, the Qur’an exacted considerable change in Arabian society regarding the question of women and continued to do so in the centuries that followed. The principles outlined in the Qur’an which determine the lives of Muslim women can be outlined in several distinct terms. These include the social, spiritual and economic status of women.

In order to discuss the multiple nature of Islam’s reformations to the position of women, an exploration of pre-Islamic Arabian society, especially its sociopolitical, economic and religious landscape, and a comparison to Qur’anic principles, is required.

The social milieu that provided the background for the emergence of Islam in Arabia is described by Muslims in one term: Jahiliyya, or The Age of Ignorance.

Armstrong argues that this term was not used to define a historical era but to illustrate the spirit that pervaded this time of “spiritual and moral crisis,” thus referring “to a state of mind that caused violence and terror in seventh-century Arabia.”

Women were not exempt from this violence and social crisis: infanticide, the burying alive of baby girls, was rife; marriage was not sanctioned ; women did not have the right of inheritance and bequest; they were not treated fairly during divorce; and women were not afforded full control of their wealth.

It is in placing the Qur’an and its principles against the backdrop of such a setting that the reformist spirit of Islam, which restores the true human character, can be seen.

One of the most important principles detailed in the Qur’an which regulates the lives of Muslim women is the spiritual status assigned to women. Viewed by Muslims as the literal word of God, the Qur’an is taken to be the means through which God makes Himself known and describes His laws.

When Islam emerged in tribal Arabia, religion reflected the tribal nature of society and its social structure.

Polytheism and idolatry were dominant, with the Ka‘ba, the shrine revered since the time of Abraham, housing 360 idols. Families banded together to form clans and clans came together to form tribes; tribal allegiance was the most important factor governing an individual’s position in society. One of the points discussed with reference to women in pre-Islamic society is the level of their participation in religious rites and traditions. Some have argued that, while being seen as improving the rights of women, the advent of Islam in fact restricted them. Leila Ahmed, most notably, includes among the roles of Jahiliyya women, “priestesses, soothsayers, prophetesses” and “warrior-leaders.” 

However, in his discussion of the feminine in Islamic mysticism, Elias locates the chief reason for women’s involvement in soothsaying, blackmagic and such occupations, as being women’s exclusion from religion.

Islam’s emergence drastically altered the spiritual landscape of Arabia for women. One of the most important principles outlined in the Qur’an is the notion of religious, moral and spiritual, obligations being incumbent upon all individuals, regardless of sex.

The Qur’an states, for example:

“Those who submit to God and accept the true Faith; who are devout, sincere, patient, humble charitable, and chaste; who fast and are ever mindful of God-on these, both men and women, God will bestow forgiveness and a rich recompense.” 

Listing this and another ten sections from the Qur’an, Stowasser claims that these Qur’anic references “converge to establish the absence of the doctrine of woman’s spiritual inferiority in Koranic teaching.”

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