Women in Islam



Women in Islam and the Middle East is a course about women within and without the Islamic community. It focuses on women from the early time periods of the rise of Islam until modern times. We consider the textual references to women in the arts, literature and religious texts (poetry, Qur’ān and the Sunnah) and references and stories of prominent women as told in the Islamic history books. In order to provide a comprehensive exploration of the status of women and gender issues, the course will also rely on interviews, guest lectures, images, documentaries, and films produced from a variety of perspectives and through the lenses of a number of disciplines.


In this course, we aim to explore the role and status of women in the modern and pre-modern Middle East with respect to institutions such as the law, religious practices, work, politics, family, and education. Additionally, we will examine themes of social protocols, sexuality, gender roles, and authenticity as contested norms.


We also discuss contemporary women (Muslim and non-Muslim), the factors informing constructions of gender and sexuality. We focus on contemporary women in a number of different cultural contexts in order to highlight a variety of significant issues including, veiling and seclusion, kinship structures, violence, health, feminist activism, literary expression, body and mind, and other themes.


These are some of the topics that will be discussed:


·          The rise of patriarchy in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and a comparison of its quality and intensity in both areas over time, based on translated historical texts and modern historians' interpretations

·          Comparative treatment of religion-based patriarchal ideologies in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

·          Sexual relations and sexual practices and their place in the institutions of law, family, and, government (society); sexuality and economics of power; sexual practices and culture; sexual practices and change

·          Contextualizing discrimination, prejudice, rights, and privileges in modern, Islamic, and Arabic discourses

·          The parameters and implications of theories of the "origins" of patriarchy, of "Orientalism," and ethnocentrism

·          The traumatic impact of European imperialism and colonialism upon Islamic and Middle Eastern communities, especially upon gender relations

·          Surveying women’s concerns in the post-colonial period and their contemporary struggle for economic, political, and civil viability and equality within the family and the society

·          Legal, social, and political status of women during and after the protest movement popularly known as the Arab Spring




The course is developed as an interdisciplinary one in order to satisfy requirements of various departments. The important topic that it is, it is essential that various methodologies and disciplinary approaches are adopted. Historical, sociological, anthropological, literary, legal, philosophical, and political themes will be addressed in order to balance the treatment of such a rich topic.




In addition to selected chapters contained in the textbooks, there will be additional reading materials to be made available to students online. Students are expected to make use of the World Wide Web and to read current events relevant to the course's theme as they become available in-print or on the Internet.


A detailed schedule of lecture topics, reading assignments, and in-class activities will be made available on ICON. The schedule will be updated regularly as the course progresses.


Textbooks (Required):


·          Reading Packets: Collection of Chapters and Articles  (ICON)

·          A detailed weekly schedule of Reading Assignments is available online


Supplemental (not required):


(Some suggestions for your research papers):


·         Women in Islam/from Medieval to Modern Times Author: Wiebke Walther

·         Islam, Gender, and Social Change (Y. Yazbeck Haddad, John L. Esposito (Editors))

·         Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, (Yale University Press, 1993).

·         Denise Carmody, Women and World Religions, (NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989).

·         Nikki R. R. Keddie and Beth Baron, Women in Middle Eastern History, (Yale University Press, 1993).

·         Barbara Stowasser, Wo m en in the Qur’an, Traditions and Interpretation (Oxford, 1994).

·         A. Souaiaia, Contesting Justice: Women, Islam, Law, and Society (SUNY Press, 2008)

·         Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil, (Indiana University Press, 1990).

·         Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire, (Knopf Publishing Group, 1995).

·         Mohja Kahf, Western Representation of the Muslim Woman, (University of Texas Press, 1999).

·         Margot Badran (Editor) and Miriam Cooke (Editor), Opening the Gates, (1990).

·         Gisela Webb (Editor), Windows of Faith, (Syracuse University Press, 1999).


For an extended bibliography, see Women in Islam Biblio