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The Abbasid and Cordoba dynasties are some of the earliest Islamic dynasties which shaped the current Islamic culture that is popular in the Middle East, North Africa, and various parts of the world. These two dynasties came soon after the death of Prophet Mohammed. Naturally, it would be expected that socio-cultural practices of these two dynasties would be as similar as possible because they were both following the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. In his teachings, Mohammed explained how people should relate to one another and the role of both men and women in the society. It is intriguing therefore, which dynasties that came soon after his death had completely different views about important issues such as the role of women in the society.
In the modern Islamic society, women are yet to gain full freedom, especially in countries such as Saudi Arabia that is believed to be the center and origin of Islam. Women are still viewed as being inferior to men, and there are a number of things they are expected not to do primarily because they are women. Bouachrine (2014) blames this practice on Abbasid Dynasty and the impact it had in the Middle East and North Africa regions. It created a culture where women were denied their rights and were expected to take care of children back at home and to avoid active engagement in leadership and important socio-economic activities. A critical analysis of these two dynasties shows that they took completely different approach towards the issue of role and rights of women in the society. In this paper, the focus will be to compare women’s rights in Cordoba and Abbasid dynasties.
Understanding Women’s Right in Islamic World
A critical analysis of Islam as a culture and a religion shows that women played as important role as did men in its development at early stages. In fact, El-Cheikh (2015) says that it would be difficult for Prophet Mohammed to have founded Islam without direct help from women. Mohammed was once an employee of Khadija bint Khuwaylid, the women who later became his wife. Khadija was a successful merchant in Mecca. She was an elite figure in her society and it was her marriage to Mohammed that made it possible for the prophet to concentrate on the new religion. She was the first person to convert to Islam after Prophet Mohammed shared with her the encounter with Angel Gabriel. Khadija fought alongside Mohammed and even sacrificed her prestigious life and wealth to help Mohammed spread his new religion to the world. They both fled Mecca and were forced to settle in Medina.
Nusayba bint Ka‘b al-Anṣārīyya was another successful woman and a warrior who defended Prophet Mohammed with her own life (Brubaker, 2004). She is fondly remembered to have personally protected Mohammed at the Battle of Uhud where she almost lost her life. She sustained serious wounds during this war, but was successful in protecting Mohammed from the raiders. Mohammed himself talks fondly of her contributions towards the spread of Islam. When she died, she was celebrated and given a burial ceremony similar to that which would be given to a great military commander of that time. Her life achievements clearly demonstrated that women during the time of Mohammed’s life were just as powerful as men. Khawla b. al-Azwar and Ā’isha b. Abī Bakr were other very powerful women who participated in various battles primarily to protect Prophet Mohammed and to ensure that Islam was spread to the world.
The role of women in the Islamic society during and soon after the death of Prophet Mohammed was similar to that of men. They were successful businesspeople like Khadija. They were successful warriors such as Nusayba, Khawala, and Aisha. They participated in important ceremonies in the societies in equal capacities as men. The society at that time did not in any way consider them as being less equal to men primarily because of their gender. El-Cheikh (2015) says that during that time, there was absolutely nothing that women were stopped from doing, that men could do. It was a society where people were considered equal irrespective of their Gender. In fact, Khadija, a woman, had so many male employees including Prophet Mohammed who helped her in creating more wealth for herself. It was normal in the society at that time. However, a lot of things changed when other dynasties came to power. The role of women and their rights in the society were redefined, making them less deserving than men. This change significantly influenced later Islamic dynasties. In fact, Bouachrine (2014) notes that modern-day Islamic women are yet to gain the full freedom that they enjoyed during the Prophet Mohammed era despite the civilization that has been witnessed across the world.
Differences in Women’s Right in Cordoba and Abbasid Dynasties
The Abbasid and Cordoba dynasties are some of the earliest Islamic dynasties that played critical roles in defining the Islamic culture that we currently have in the modern society. According to Brubaker (2004), although these two dynasties practiced Islam as the religion that defined their faith and socio-cultural practices, they had very different social practices. The Cordoba Dynasty was founded by the Ummayad Dynasty rulers who had been forced out of power by the Abbasid Dynasty. These rulers were forced to flee from the Middle East to Spain where they had to reestablish new kingdom. Their success in the foreign land saw them successfully develop a powerful and civilized Cordoba Dynasty. Back in the Middle East, the Abbasid Dynasty remained the unchallenged kingdom in the region. It established a powerful dynasty that spread Islam in the entire region. The new rulers of Abbasid Dynasty had strained relationship with the former rules of the region under the Ummayad Dynasty.
Bouachrine (2014) says that the Abbasid rulers did everything to trace and kill the former rulers of the region under Ummayad Dynasty, especially those who did not flee to Spain. These new rulers also introduced a number of changes in the social systems that were deliberately meant to stop the former Ummayad rulers from regaining power in this region again. Their strategy worked and the dynasty became very powerful. The current Islamic practices common in many Islamic nations, especially in Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries, were defined by the Abbasid Dynasty. During this era, the role of men and women were redefined. The rulers believed that it was necessary to redefine role of both men and women as a way of creating social order in the society. It was this new approach that was embraced by these new rulers that created differences in roles and rights of men and women in the society. To understand the differences in women’s right in Cordoba and Abbasid dynasties, it is important to look at how women were treated in these two dynasties.
Women’s Right in Cordoba Dynasty
The Cordoba Dynasty was created by the Ummayad Dynasty rulers that were forced to flee Middle East after being overthrown by the Abbasid Dynasty rulers. When then came to Spain, they created a dynasty by defeating and then uniting small kingdoms to form Cordoba Dynasty. Spain was going through a period of civilization and this new Islamic kingdom did everything to promote it. According to Viguera and María (1992), the rulers of Cordoba Dynasty created an environment where other religious practices were tolerated. For instance, Christians and Muslims lived peacefully in this kingdom as they worked closely to ensure that the kingdom was developed. One of the most striking social practices common in this society was the role of women.
According to Ahmed (1992), it is believed by Ummayad Dynasty, whose rulers later formed Cordoba Dynasty was directly founded by the daughters of Prophet Mohammed. The rulers knew and appreciated the role played by many women such as Khadija, Khawla, and Nusayba in the life of Prophet Mohammed and in defending Islam at a time when people in Mecca did not want anything to do with this religion. As such, women in this dynasty were considered to be having equal rights as men. Given that Spain was in transition into a civilized society, women were allowed to take significant roles in this development. A study by Brubaker (2004) found out that in the education sector, women were at the forefront in championing for the education of both boys and girls. In fact, a number of women held position of professors, teaching both men and women within the society. In the political arena, women played very significant roles. They worked as copies and calligraphers of Islamic tests. They were also allowed to take part in important decision-making processes in the political arena. In this kingdom, a number of women became successful musicians, and poets. They had rights to own property and engage in various economic activities. The society had no cultural or legal requirement that denied women rights to engage actively in political, social, and economic activities.
Bouachrine (2014) says that the rulers of the dynasty allowed women, irrespective of their religion faiths, to be leaders in various spheres. Women were even allowed to be part of the military units because of the crucial role they played in defending Islam in the Middle East. The rulers knew that the best way of creating a powerful kingdom was to empower women and to eliminate any restrictions that would limit their ability to exercise their skills and talents. Women were allowed to take part in the religious activities in the kingdom. Although men were generally more active in the political and religious leaderships within this dynasty, it was generally accepted that women willing to play active roles in this positions had the right to do so (El-Cheikh, 2015). This freedom granted to women in this kingdom was unique given that at this time women were considered inferior to men not only in the other Islamic societies but also in many other kingdoms around the world.
Women’s Right in Abbasid Dynasty
The Abbasid Dynasty came to power after defeating Ummayad Dynasty in 756 AD. Bouachrine (2014) says that the dynasty was founded by a distant nephew of Prophet Mohammed. When the new rulers came to power, they came up with new rules that redefined the social order in the Islamic society in this country. One of the most important social orders that were created in this society was the position of women and their rights. The rulers deliberately created a system where women were considered inferior to men in all spheres of life. They were not allowed to hold any political or religious positions in this kingdom. According to El-Cheikh (2015), the rulers had a good reason of creating this new social order.
There was a fear among these rulers that the former Ummayad rulers might come back to power and overthrow them from leadership positions. They knew the history of Islam and understood that when Prophet Mohammed died, his daughters and other people- most of whom were women- took active roles in spreading the word. As such, women were just as entitled to leadership as men. The rulers particularly feared a possibility of daughters or granddaughters of Prophet Mohammed laying claim to the leadership of the entire Islamic nation that was founded by their father and grandfather respectively. They wanted to ensure that these daughters and granddaughters of Prophet Mohammed will not in any way find it possible to rise to the position of leadership in the kingdom.
A new social order was created where women were denied so many rights. They were not allowed to take any active role in the political and religious leadership within the community. From birth, women were considered inferior to men. In fact, the rulers introduced female infanticide as a sign of how worthless female life was in the society. Shatzmiller (1995) says that death of a boy child was as sad as birth of a girl child. Women were denied the right to own anything in the society. In fact, they were considered property of their husbands or fathers. Girls had no right to choose their husbands. In most of the cases, the father would marry them off to men of their choice, some of whom were very old. Wife battering was a common practice in the society and nothing was done to help protect women. The dynasty reduced the position of women to that of slaves. To the initial rulers of Abbasid dynasty, this system worked for them because chances of women rising to power and overthrowing them from leadership position were completely eliminated. However, the new social order redefined the position of Islamic women completely. Even in the modern Islamic society, women are still regarded as inferior to men, a position very different from that held by Khadija, the first person to become a follower of Prophet Mohammed.
Women’s right in the Islamic societies is an issue that has raised debate among scholars and human rights activists for decades. The Abbasid and Cordoba dynasties are two kingdoms that existed almost at the same time but had completely different approach towards women’s right although they were both based on Islam as a religion that defined their culture. While Cordoba Dynasty embraced women as people with equal rights as men, Abbasid Dynasty considered women inferior to men in all spheres of life.
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Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and gender in Islam: Historical roots of a modern debate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Bouachrine, I. (2014). Women and Islam: Myths, apologies, and the limits of feminist critique. Lanham, MD: Lexinton Books
Brubaker, L. (2004). Gender in the early medieval world: East and west, 300-900. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Univ. Press.
El-Cheikh, N. M. (2015). Women, Islam, and Abbasid identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Shatzmiller, M. (1995). Women and property rights in Al-Andalus and the Maghrib: Social patterns and legal discourse. Islamic Law and Society, 2(3), 219-257.
Viguera, M. J. (1992). Asluhu Li’1-Ma’ali: On the social status of Andalusi women. In S. L. Jayyusi (Ed.), The legacy of Muslim Spain (pp. 23-52). New York, NY: Brill.