Islam as a religion preaches that justice and equality are essential principles deeply rooted within the religion and the Shariah or “Islamic Law”. Islam appeared in the 7th century and came upon an Arabian tribal system grounded in patriarchy. The Prophet Muhammad sought to change the established order and make an egalitarian society. The conversion to Islam brought improvements for women where the Prophet “strove successfully for the improvement of the economic and legal status of all Moslem women” which eventually led to the selections of a women as community leaders (Spellberg 46). Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, however, patriarchal interests within Arabia reaffirmed themselves, threatening the rights Islam granted women. In this essay, I will argue that “Tafsir” and “Ijma” were two reasons as to why Muslim women in classical Islam were tied to the traditional patriarchal religion. I will also, however, argue that Islamic jurisprudence and Sufism allowed Muslim women to subvert the patriarchal context of the religion and give women entitlement and a sense of power.
“Tafsir” is an Arabic word for exegesis or critical explanation and interpretation of text. Mohammad Fadel argues that Islamic exegesis “allowed the misogynistic assumptions of the reader to dominate the text” the text being the Quran and hadiths from the prophet (186). The Abbasid age of classical Islam was a period that saw the decline and degradation of the definition of the Muslim woman. After the death of the prophet Muhammad, leading up to the ninth and tenth centuries, Muslim male jurist were given the responsibility to interpret Qur’anic text and hadiths from the prophet. Leila Ahmed argues that the m...
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...e these women seem to have had in regard to their spiritual lives...” something male jurist did not envision women ever finding when interpreting Qur’anic texts and hadith (89). Sufi women were thus highly regarded in the Sufi Muslim culture, even among Sufi men. Thus, the Sufi order significantly undermined the patriarchal earlier Muslim society.
Islam is supposed to be a religion founded upon nondiscriminatory principles. However, “Tafsir” and “Ijma” were two reasons as to why Muslim women in classical Islam were segregated by the traditional patriarchal religion. Orthodox interpretation and a misogynistic culture helped lead to a denial of women’s rights during the pre-modern period. Nevertheless, jurisprudence and Sufism allowed Muslim women to suppress the patriarchal authority of the religion, and help create the society the prophet Muhammad envisioned.
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