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Gustavo LaRotta

Classical Islam Paper


11/6/14

Islamic Views Towards Women in the Quran

Women often play significant roles in times of dramatic religious change. Alongside with
religious change comes social change, an effect that Islam is no exception to. However, once the
dramatic religious and social upheaval subsides, womens roles diminish as social change becomes more
gradual1. In the case of Islam, this period comes after the hajj when the Islamic community makes its
residence in Medina. The suras in the Quran can be separated between those suras revealed in Mecca
and Medina. While reading these texts, one can discern and see the difference between these two types
of suras and see how the view towards women changes from the initial founding of Islam and when the
community is entrenched safely in Medina in a political haven. My task in this paper will be to call on
scripture to demonstrate the particular examples of how the view towards women has changed and
how Islams view of salvation differs for men and women. Along with that, I will also interpret my
findings, placing them within a wider socio-religious context to gain a deeper understanding for what
was going on in the early Islamic community.
The earlier Meccan suras demonstrate a more inclusive view towards women2. For example,
16:97 says, The men and women who do righteous deeds and are believers, we shall cause them to live
a good life. We shall pay them their recompense according to the best of their deeds.3 Here we see that
men and women get rewarded for their good deeds. Along with this idea, 43:70 says Enter the garden,
1

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and Ellison Banks Findly, eds. Women, religion, and social change. SUNY Press, 1985. Pg
19
2

"Chronological Order of the Qur'an." - WikiIslam. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.


<http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Chronological_Order_of_the_Qur'an>. (All references to Meccan and Medinan suras)
3
Jones, Alan.
. Cambridge: Gibb Memorial Trust, 2007. Print. Pg 258

you and your wives. You will be treated with honour.4 Thus, we see that in the eyes of God, men and
women are equal in the way that they both indeed gain entrance into heaven. 40:40 reciprocates this
view saying, while those who do a righteous deed, be they male or female, and are believers- they
will enter the garden.5 It is then clear that God views women and men the same way in terms of getting
to heaven, as these Meccan suras dictate. However, one Medinan verse that demonstrates a positive
view towards women is as follows. Their lord has answered them, saying, I shall not neglect the work of
any of you, male or female.6 Here we see a Medinan verse that speaks highly on the equality of the
work each do in the eyes of God. However, the problem with this verse is that it fails to speak on the
particular rewards each gender will get, speaking only on the acknowledgement of their good deeds.

In terms of spirituality and salvation, the Meccan suras demonstrate equality between men and
women in the eyes of God. However, when we look at the Medinan verses, we begin to see that the
view towards women changes drastically. 52:20 depicts men in heaven as reclining on couches placed
in rows. And we shall pair them with maidens with dark, lustrous eyes.7 The depictions in the Quran of
heaven seem to be highly tailored to men, mentioning women only as a sexual reward for men as these
maidens are depicted as being beautiful and virgins. With regards to heaven, The Prophet said, "I looked
at Paradise and saw that the majority of its residents were the poor; and I looked at the (Hell) Fire and
saw that the majority of its residents were women."8 (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 126).
This particular hadith echoes the Quranic view that women are inferior to men in terms of achieving
salvation, even though there are Quranic verses that speak to the level of equality between men and
women. What is unfair is that the punishments for men and women are the same, when it is clear that

Jones pg 453
Jones pg 432
6
Jones pg 85-86
7
Jones pg 485
8
"Sahih Bukhari : Book of "Marriage"" Sahih Bukhari : Book of "Marriage" Accessed 07 Nov. 2014.
<http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_7_62.php>.
5

the rewards in heaven are directed towards men. 5:38 says the thief, male and female: cut off their
hands9 The Medinan suras continue with the harshness towards women. Women in the Quran are
seen as unclean in 5:6 in that a man is mandated to cleanse himself before prayer if he had come in
contact with a women.10 Along with that, men seem to have more rights than women, as 2:228 says
women have the same rights as obligations in what is recognized as proper, though men have a rank
above them.11

One has to question this difference in the Quran and how this may relate to historical events
within the early Islamic community. It would make sense that early on in the Meccan period, obtaining
new converts to the religion is important, thus the inclusiveness towards women could be interpreted as
a method to obtain female converts. Female converts are important for several reasons. Firstly, it
increases the number of converts directly. Secondly, it increases the number of converts indirectly in
that the women that convert are expected to bear as much children as possible. This idea is also
connected with the allowed polygamy in that men can have multiple wives, a tradition potentially used
to populate the community depleted of men after fighting numerous battles. With this depletion of
males, it would also be clear that women be held in high esteem early in Islamic history, before the
community was safe in Medina. Thirdly, it incentivizes men to convert due to the sexual attraction men
have for women. Thus, if men see that women are converting to Islam, it would make plenty sense for
men to convert along with them, as many of the rules Mohammad and God laid out include the idea
that Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men (2:221)12.

If the Meccan suras had the purpose to convert women to Islam, then why did the Medinan
suras turn on women so harshly? One possibility is the wish to control the women physically, as the men
9

Jones pg 116
Jones pg 112
11
Jones pg 53
12
Jones pg 52
10

knew of the sexual control women had over them. The use of the hijab is a good example of how men
attempt to subjugate and control a womans sexuality, demonstrated in 33:5913. The use of the Hijab is
possibly an attempt to curb the unruly sexual appetite for men in that the law wishes to prevent women
being the center of a mans life in favor of god and good works. Thus it is not so much female
subjugation that is occurring but instead the protection of the male. Essentially, the hijab segregates
women from the social realm so as to not provoke misdeeds by on looking men. Some may view the
hijab as being an element of liberation in the sense that it protects the women from being seen solely as
sexual objects. However, I think that it is clear in that the hijab is seen as men protecting their women,
their wives, from being seen lustfully from other men. Also, I see the hijab as a method to reduce the
attractiveness of women, to hide it from view so that men are not tempted by a womans physical
beauty or go astray in attempting to woo or seduce a particular woman who he may deem attractive.
Women are now not only prevented from showing their bodies but also prevented from going out in
public, as the Medinan verse 33:33 tells women to stay in your apartments. Do not adorn yourselves
with the adornment of the age of ignorance of old14. These ideas all point to men wanting to control a
womans child bearing ability. The roots to this potentially lie in the idea that men want to keep track of
who is their descendant in a medieval society devoid of modern paternity tests. Men also attempt to
control women physically by essentially mandating that they have sex, cursing women who do not
participate.15 (Volume 7, Book 62, Number 121).
The conclusions outlined in this paper are obviously preliminary and deeper investigation could
and must be done before a clearer picture can emerge regarding the state of the early Islamic
communities view on women and its evolution over time. The differences between the Meccan and
Medinan suras could be explained by the evolution of the needs and wishes of the early Islamic
13

Jones pg 389-390
Jones pg 386
15
Sahih Bukhari
14

community. Initially, converts were desired and this included the need for women. However, once the
community was politically safer in Medina, these needs changed and women were to be controlled
more. Thus, the idea that there is a sensible shift between the Meccan and Medinan suras regarding
their view of women can be interpreted as being the effect of a shift in goals, needs and desires in the
early Islamic community.

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