For the Abrahamic religions of Islam and Christianity, once the prophets had passed away, the burden of religious leadership fell on the shoulders of the Sunni Caliphate and the Church respectively. Since women had been given unprecedented significance by the Prophets Jesus and Muhammad, it became inevitable for the Church and the Sunni Caliphate to deal with the issue of the status of women. (Here Church refers to the Church in the first two centuries after crucifixion of Jesus till approx 200 C.E. and the Sunni Caliphate to the Caliphate from approx 630 C.E. to around 800 C.E.) The status of women within the jurisdictions of these two authoritative bodies depended upon the commandments of their respective holy books and prophets, as well as the biases with which these scriptures were interpreted. Within the periods of interest, both institutions had similar views about female asceticism and dress code, however, the freedom of women varied greatly in terms of their participation in warfare, teaching in public, and selecting a spouse for the first or multiple marriages.
Both the Church and the Caliphate were in favor of women adopting an ascetic way of life. For the church, women were to observe ascetism in order to make up for the initial ‘fall of humankind’ from the heavens (Clark 115). Celibacy enabled women to refrain from worldly evils and attain salvation. For instance, the fathers acknowledged the spirituality of Priscilla, a saint in the earliest Christianity and even venerated her more than male ascetics (Clark 159). Likewise, the Caliphate looked at ascetism as a path to achieve nearness to God. A new phenomenon, Sufism (the Islamic term for spiritual purity or ascetism) meant that the believers would usually isolate themselves from the earthly matters and subject their beings to the Ultimate Source (God). As a result, Sufis were revered by both, the public and the Caiph. Rabia Basri, known to be the earliest woman Sufi, had numerous followers in...
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