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am 11. Dezember 1999
Leila Ahmed's WOMEN AND GENDER IN ISLAM is a wonderfully iconoclastic history of ideas about Muslim women. Cheerfully debunking every stereotype American readers have about women in the Islamic heartland, Ahmed weaves together theological and literary sources, statistics and travelers' tales, to create a narrative far more complex and even-handed than any other I have read on the topic. Her focus is on the development of ideas rather than the physical details of women's lives, yet many individual women sparkle in her tale. Whether she is identifying the cultural influences which led early Islam toward misogyny and away from egalitarianism (elements of both misogyny and egalitarianism existing in Arab society and thought at the time) or showing how Muslim modernizers were influenced by colonial European racism (which used a pseudo-feminism to denigrate traditional non-Western cultures), her writing is sophisticated and graceful. Never heavy or dogmatic, careful to limit her conclusions and generalizations, Ahmed's integrity is matched only by her feminism. She would be the first to suggest how much more work needs to be done in the study of Muslim women, but WOMEN AND GENDER IN ISLAM is a marvelous beginning.
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am 1. April 2014
This academic study covers several millenia without ever being superficial. It was first published in 1992, but it still reads like a novel to me. Ahmed is an amazing writer, and her scholarship is simply impressive. She digs up all the scholarship on women in what is now called the Middle East and shows historical gender ideologies and women's lives beginning in Babylonian times.
This then serves as a background on which to see the changes to gender in Muhammad's time and the time of the expansion of Islam.
Ahmed presents gender in Egypt just before the advent of modernity and the connections today's Western discourse of Muslim women has to colonialism. She presents early Egyptian feminists and their situation.
Obviously, this book does not cover very recent history, such as the Arab Spring, but it definitely adds some background information to these recent events too.
I took about 3 months to read this book, reading it on and off, chapter for chapter, very thoroughly - it is so full of information and I noticed I was going back to earlier chapters. So much to learn from.
The conclusion, too, is very inspiring, as it presents thoughts about the future of some sort of Islamic feminism that, unlike many westerners demand, would not want to abandon Middle Eastern cultures per se, but find a way to transform them towards more equality.
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am 29. November 1999
Excellent writing, Ahmed deals calmly and in depth with a potentially explosive and hot issue, how women have been treated in Islam, how Islam demands they be treated, and how Muslim women today are rationalized in the modern Islamic context. The author presents subjects such as hijab and women's legal status in such a way that both Muslims and non-Muslims alike can benefit and learn from.
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am 16. März 2008
This is an important contribution to understand the tradition of the treatment and status of women in Islam. I made my own observations while traveling in many different islamic countries. I also had the opportunity to talk to many people about the topic, especially in Pakistan. Many if not most muslims respect their wifes as what they are, wife and mother. But as for the status of a woman it seems to be different. One has to see that for a muslim man Muhammad is the model, except in the number of wives he had. If Christians keep to the model that Jesus gave them, which means to respect the woman as an equal human being, there will be hardly any rights women have to demand for. He treated the women better than the traditional jews. Muhammad treated the women also better than the traditional arabs. So why should muslims have a problem with their model?

In pre-Islamic Arabia women had the status of possession of the men. But Muhammad abolished some injustice practices. He said "Treat them properly!" But what was properly? According to Islamic laws male heirs get more than female heirs and mens evidence carries double weight than hers. Some religious duties cannot be carried out by women. The right to divorce is only mans. It is difficult to justify these Arabic customs as something else than specific tradition. The only argument is that if God ordered it like that it is like that. On the other side it is also said that God created humanity as man and woman. It seems that Muhammad could not leave the Arabic tradition although he struggled to improve things and abolish some unjust practise. This must be respected. He meant improvement. Muhammad certainly liked women.
European critics have viewed what they call the Prophets appetite" for women as excessive and irreconcilable with the spiritual role of a man who preached moderation and renunciation. Maybe they have in mind the self-appointed western "men of God" who preach moderation and Christian way of life but do not live according to it. But such consideration must not be taken emotional. Muhammad was just a human and no human is without weak points. Adolf Hitler is an example for a man who was - as far as we know - very modest in that one respect, but he was yet no saint neither a prophet of the Almighty.
Muhammads fondness for women did not necessarily limit his value as a messenger of his God. The denial of others religious freedom and thought which is a sort of dogma in Islam is much more open to question. The prophets`s marital privileges are astonishing, specified in numerous verses of sura 33. He could have more than the normal 4 wives, he was permitted to marry first cousins, he could take wives without payment of dowries and presence of witnesses, any female believer who gave herself to him, he was excempt from the obligation of respect for the equal rights of co-wives, if he sought a woman, any other suitor must desist, and after his death no other men might marry his widows. Also his wives were imposed special duties.
So what? Blame Muhammad as a forerunner of his followers? He is dead, his belief is still living. Is this the problem?
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