Women in Islam

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Women in Islam

The topic of this paper was chosen out of the conviction that humanity is suffering today from a number of serious social problems related to women and to the interrelations of the two sexes in society. Although these problems may be more pronounced, disturbing, more debilitating for some of us than for others, there are probably few if any regions of the contemporary world whose citizens have not felt in some way the repercussions of these problems. Therefore, there is a pressing need for exploring possible solutions. The problem of women is linked, for the present study, with the Qur'an, and what I have called the "Qur'anic society," out of strong conviction that the Qur'an offers the most viable suggestions for contemporary social reform which can be found in any model or any literature. Many of you may be puzzled by the title of this paper-"Women in a Qur'anic Society." You may ask yourselves, "Why didn't she say "Women in Muslim Society" or even "Women in an Islamic Society?" Let me explain why the expressions "Muslim" and "Islamic" were rejected for this paper, and how the use of the rather unusual appellation, "Qur'anic society," is justified.

There are at least three reasons for my choice of that title. The first of these derives from the concern that many beliefs and practices have been labelled "Muslim" or "Islamic" without warranting those names. There are approximately 40 nations of the world which claim to have a Muslim majority population and therefore to be exemplary of "Muslim" or "Islamic" societies. This of course results in a great deal of confusion as the question is asked: Which of these regions represents most faithfully the true "Islamic" society? Among Muslims that question is most frequently answered by the claim that their own national or regional society is the truest to the intentions of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala.

Non-Muslims, on the other hand, and especially the Western anthropologists who travel around the world to investigate the customs and mores of its peoples, tend to treat each variation within the Muslim World as equally valid. This results from their adherence to what I call the "zoo theory" of knowledge. Adherents of that theory regard all Muslims-and of course similar treatment of other non-Western people is discernible-as different species within the human zoo. The "zoo theory" protagonists go to the field, record and snap pictures of every strange or exotic practice they see and hear; and for them, this is Islam or Islamic practice. A trip to another part of the Muslim World with the ubiquitous devices for recording and photographing generates a different body of materials documenting superficial variations in customs. But this, too, is Islam or Islamic practice for the "zoo theory" investigator or ethnographer. There is far too little effort spent on understanding Islam as a whole. As a result, the basic premise of scepticism and relativism is confirmed in the mind of the researcher; and he/she returns home convinced that there is not one Islam, but scores of Islams existent in the world. In like fashion, the researcher reports that there are many definitions or descriptions of the status and role of women in Muslim society. Each one of the resultant definitions or descriptions is dubbed as "Muslim" or "Islamic" even if we as Muslims may hold some of these practices to be distortions or perversions of our principles and beliefs by the misguided or uninformed among us.

It was partly to avoid confusion with these variant descriptions and misunderstandings that I have chosen the appellation "Qur'anic" for the present...
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