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Gender and Islam - Essay Example

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Gender and Islam

Islamic law is derived from the Qura'n, the revelation of God to Prophet Muhammad. Life in an Islamic society is supposed to follow the tenets of Islamic law. Islamic law includes prayer, fasting, pilgrimage as well as laws pertaining to family, crime and commerce. Islam however does not have an official clergy. Therefore Islamic law or sharia, meaning the path, was developed by the ullema, the scholars who have come to assume a position of power and status in Islamic society. It is the ullema who issue fatwas or religious edicts.
However within Islam there have been voices of concern at a too strict interpretation of Islamic law without any consideration for the milieu into which Islam originated. The Egyptian Sheikh Muhammad Abduh had maintained that injunctions in the Qura'n relating to the observance of ibadat or tenets of worship were to be followed strictly but those relating to masdaba or rules of living should be interpreted with the consideration of the context they originated in. This is a view that is controversial and still unresolved in Islam. The view again that Islam is a patriarchal religion or misogynistic has been refuted by modern scholarly criticism which has proved that Islam inherited certain perceptions of women from biblical lore. Zayn R. Kassam states that interpretations about women entered Islam through certain strands of early Islamic literature such as the qisas al-anbiya, the asbab al-nuzul, the hadith, the tafsir and the fiqh. These were all oral sources of commentaries in Islam until they were collated and written quite later. The qisas al-anbiya literally means the "stories of the prophets" and was a principal source for the entry of biblical lore into Islam perhaps because the earliest Muslims were essentially converts from Judaism and Christianity. The asbab al-nuzul was incorporated into the tafsir, or commentaries on the Qura'n, providing an explanation of the particular reasons for a given revelation. The hadith were literary expositions of the Prophet's words and deeds. The fiqh or jurisprudence took as its source the teachings of the Qura'n, the hadith, local customs of the time and prevalent legal reasoning. To state an example, the Qura'n does not mention the companion of Adam to have emerged from his left rib. Such an account is believed to have entered the broader Islamic frame of reference through the qisas al-anbiya literature.
The fact that the extrapolation was stressed is largely because of the context surrounding early Islam. Prominent historians like Leila Ahmed states that early Islam encountered cultures such as Mesopotamian, Greek, Iranian, and Byzantine that had a patriarchal biased society. Eleanor Doumato has identified the source of much Qura'nic legislation as early Judaic and Christian legal practices. Early Muslim commentators thereby appropriated the biblical Eve as a more reasonable interpretation which suited the temperament of their subject people. These commentators used biblical figures of women to interpret a definitive model for the position of women. By this a concomitant definition of men also evolved. As Kassam points out however issues and tension in these interpretations remained. The status of Mary, mother of Jesus, was widely debated as well as the position of the Prophet's wives whose sayings constitute a part of the hadith. Early commentators also worked through ...Show more

Summary

Gender is viewed today as a social construct. Seeing it as a social construction enables one to understand the significance of gender in Islam. The dominant perception of Islam with a view to gender is that it is a patriarchal religion or worse a misogynist religion where women inherit a secondary and subservient status…
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