How did the rise of Islam change the lives of women?
View the slideshow of photos from the student responses.
Some things to consider (as well as the notes from today on this question LINK):
• The Quran included a mix of rights, restrictions, and protections for women.
• In practice, as the Arab Empire grew in size, the position of women became more limited. Women started to pray at home instead of in the mosque, and veiling and seclusion of women became standard practice among the upper and ruling classes, with special areas within the home becoming the only place where women could appear unveiled. Such seclusion was less practicable for lower-class women. These new practices derived far more from established traditions of Middle Eastern cultures than from the Quran, but they soon gained a religious rationale in the writings of Muslim thinkers.
• Other signs of tightening patriarchy derived from local cultures, with no sanction in the Quran or Islamic law. But where they were practiced, such customs often came to be seen as Islamic.
• Negative views of women, presenting them variously as weak, deficient, and a sexually charged threat to men and social stability, emerged in the hadiths, traditions about the sayings or actions of Muhammad, which became an important source of Islamic law.
• Islam also offered new outlets for women in religious life. The Sufi practice of mystical union with God allowed a greater role for women than did mainstream Islam. Some Sufi orders had parallel groups for women, and a few welcomed women as equal members.
• In Shia Islam, women teachers of the faith were termed mullahs, the same as their male counterparts.
• Islamic education, either in the home or in Quranic schools, allowed some women to become literate and a few to achieve higher levels of learning.
• Visits to the tombs of major Islamic figures as well as the ritual of the public bath provided some opportunity for women to interact with other women beyond their own family circle.