Women and Gender in Islamic Traditions

Jonathan Berkey

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Women and Gender in Islamic Traditions

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  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Gender was a critical factor in the Islamic tradition, especially in its law. That law was shaped by the Qur'an, the practice of Muhammad and his companions as known through hadith, the status of women in Arabia at the rise of Islam, but even more by the customs and attitudes of people living in those regions outside Arabia conquered by the early Muslim Arabs. From them, Muslims adopted practices segregating and secluding women. These practices and the misogynist attitudes behind them confirmed in Islamic law a gendered hierarchy of rights, although particular social circumstances might mitigate the full implementation of that hierarchy. Within the family women might play important, even decisive roles, although in public spheres such as politics their formal role was considerably more restricted. Interestingly, however, specifically religious spheres such as mystical devotion and education provided meaningful channels for women's participation.

Keywords: women; gender; Islam; Muslim law; Qur'an; hadith; sex

Article.  8191 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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