Religion and Women in the Middle East
Religion goes hand in hand with culture, and in the Muslim countries this is very apparent. The cultural importance of men over women may have stemmed from religion, however it was further recognized when imperialist countries introduced capitalism and class divides. “Islam must combat the wrenching impact of alien forces whose influence in economic, political, and cultural permutations continues to prevail” (Stowasser 1994, 5). Now, instead of an agrarian state where both men and women had their place, difficulties have formed due to the rise in education and awareness that women can and do have a place in society beyond domestic living Though women are not equal to men anywhere around the world, the differences between men and women are greater possibly in the Muslim world, partially due to religion and culture. “Fewer women are educated in the Muslim world than in other culture areas...The percentage of women working other than agriculture is probably the smallest in the world, the birth rate the highest, and the laws regarding marriage and related matters most unequal” (Stowasser 1994, 5). Though, of recent years inequality has been blamed on the Islamic religion, gender inequalities were in the Middle East before Islam. However, by radical groups and male elite, women are being discriminated because of their gender due to religious connotations amongst other things. The male bias, like in most religions, has been enforced within society like in the text of the Qur’an. Keddie and Beck asserts that, “In Islamic law women have male guardians; woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man; women are considered to have less reason than men” (Beck and Keddie 1978, 25-26). So the Qur’an in many of the Middle Eastern countries has been taken and formed in ‘Islamic Law’ which may not entirely reflect what is said in the Holy Book, but has been used to discriminate and divide, not only gender, but class and status. What will be discussed is the divide between men and women due to religion, and why that is in certain countries in the Middle East and not others.
It is not necessarily the Qur’an that has brought about the discrimination of women. There is male dominance in most every religious book. However it is how it has been translated, either by modernists, conservatives, and fundamentalists and how this has altered the treatment of women in society. In addition to this, it is also important to consider the country and how it is run. In the Middle East, regime is varied and eclectic; it would seem that the countries that are run by elite monarchists such as Saudi Arabia, have stricter laws on women and are more conservative or fundamental Islamists. On the other hand, countries that have a more lenient approach have better education and rights for women (though still not as forward as some Western countries). These thoughts by fundamentalists or conservatives relate to Muhammed’s spouses and how they are discussed in the Qur’an as there are no female prophets. According to Stowasser, the main components and treatment of women are set in the Qur’an, which is ‘segregation and quiet domesticity; modest comportment, indeed, invisibility through veiling; ascetic frugality; devout obedience to God and His Prophet. Insofar as the latter was these women’s husband, special emphasis is also placed on wifely obedience (Beck and Keddie 1978, 118).’ This is seen as a very conservative view and parts of the Qur’an have been used to determine this, which is said to be harmful to women. Modern interpretations of the Qur’an suggest that manipulation of texts has led to foreign intervention due to human rights issues on gender. However, the modernists do not believe in segregation, and though religion is important to have, you should not be discriminated on how devout you are. They use the Qur’an not in a literal sense, but in a way which fits into modern society and works with both genders. The...
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