WOMEN IN ISLAMIC SOCIETY DURING THE MIDDLE AGES
The rise and expansion of Islam, after the foundation by Mohammed, is an amazing story. Ultimately, the Muslims, as the believers of Islam are called, started a world-wide faith that today makes up the world’s second largest religious group after Christians. The role and status of women within Islam is one of essential contribution to its origins and continuation, but ever-changing roles.
Mohammed could not have founded Islam alone. Marriage to his employer, the wealthy widow Khadija, allowed him the leisure and financial backing to pursue his new religious journey. Born in Mecca, Mohammed was raised by his grandfather and uncle when his parents died. At the age of twenty-five he married Khadija. Mecca was an important trading center for caravan trade between Medina, the Near East and India. An integral part of this caravan and commercial trade was raiding, and the Arabs were excellent warriors. These characteristics facilitated Islam to spread via the Muslim’s holy war or Jihad within a few decades beyond the Arabian Peninsula, first to the Near East, and then Northern Africa and parts of southern Europe, including Spain. As Islam came in contact with other societies, both monotheistic and polytheistic, there was much cultural integration. Consequentially, there was room for confusion and conflict as to the expectations and responsibilities of women’s lives. As in Christianity and the Bible, so too in Islam and the Koran (the Muslims’ holy book), the interpretation of the written versus the exegesis explanations of succeeding centuries confounded the historical record and oral transmissions.
Mohammed’s marriage to Khadija took place when he was twenty-five and she was forty. As his employer, Khadija hired Mohammed to oversee her caravan trade between Mecca and Syria. She then proposed to him, and she was his only wife until her death about twenty-five years later. After about fifteen years of marriage to Khadija Mohammed no longer needed to work regularly, and he was free to lead a life of contemplation. While meditating in surrounding caves, Mohammed was visited by the angel Gabriel, who informed him that he was to be the messenger of Allah, the Arabic word for God. This meeting with Gabriel occurred in the year 610, and thereafter Mohammed continued to experience similar visions with specific religious instructions from Allah. Convinced that he was now the prophet of Allah, Khadija became his first convert. In general, however, Mohammed’s ideas met with general skepticism by the people of Mecca. This turned into active persecution after Mohammed denounced polytheistic worship, centered at the Kaaba, as idolatry, and he and Khadija were forced to flee Mecca for Medina.1 Welcomed in Medina, Mohammed established his tenets and practices for Islam. The five pillars of Islam were straight forward, facilitating people’s conversion: 1. Announcing there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet; 2. Prayer five times per day; 3. Fasting during the month of Ramadan; 4. Alms to the poor and ill; and 5. if one could afford it, pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a person’s lifetime. Mohammed did not claim his ideas to be a new religion, but a culmination of beliefs from Judaism and Christianity. Muslims always called Jews and Christians as people of the same book. In other words, the Koran, compiled by Mohammed’s followers after his death, recorded the messages he had received from Allah, and stated that they were the final words of Allah.
After Khadija’s death, the vision came from Allah that it was acceptable to have more than one wife. His next spouse was Aisha, a child bride of nine or ten. She was immediately succeeded by many more wives, usually widows or daughters, whose husbands and fathers had lost their lives in the course of spreading Islam. The Quranic (Koranic) verse detailing this is “Marry other women as may be agreeable to you, two or three or four.”...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document