Essay on "Women and the Rise of Islam" by Leila Ahmed

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Muhammad Sheikh
Women and the Rise of Islam by Leila Ahmed
Leila Ahmed’s book is an example of what scholarly research should resemble. At no time did I feel that she was being bias or subjective towards any side on this highly discussed and sensitive topic. Nowhere does Ahmed specifically go about attempting to correct misconceptions or often misquoted passages; but rather, she goes about a proper chronological historical understanding of the treatment of women before, during, and after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This, I feel, is the main theme of the 3 chapters we read: Comparing and contrasting the treatment of women in the social, domestic, and political realms before, during, and after Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) life.

To compare and contrast the different time periods of Islam’s emergence to the previous time period, Leila makes solid statements concerning the lack of unanimity in Arabia. The mentions how there were multiple times of wedding formats, and different feelings on women. Some areas of Arabia were more accepting of the role of women in society, and others more misogynistic. This relates to our previous understanding of the significance of the tribe, and how each tribe was united together. Each tribe had its own set of mores, rather than Arabia as a whole. This also explains the mixed response of women after Muhammad’s (pbuh) passing.

Tied in with this major theme is the theme of bringing previous mores back after Muhammad’s (pbuh) life, and the impact of Persian and Arab influence on Islamic Law. Ahmed writes “The practices and attitudes of the Sasanian nobility were adopted by Abbasid nobles. Keeping enormous harems and wives and concubines guarded by enuchs became accepted practice” (83). Here we see a direct return to the Sasanian culture. Ahmed then writes, “An emphasis on virginity and disgust at the idea of remarriage for women-ideas paralleled in Zoroastrianism, which formally designated wives as belonging to their first...
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