Islam and Patriarchy: Comparative Perspective
In contrast to the growing body of historical scholarship on gender relations in the West, the question of women in Muslim societies has remained closely tied to a predominantly ahistorical consideration of the main tenets of Islamic religion and their implications for women. This has been attributed by some to the more general shortcomings of Middle Eastern historiography, namely the lingering influence of orientalism and an idealist bias that presents historical facts as flowing directly from ideology. 1 In the case of scholarship on women, these tendencies have been compounded by a high degree of confusion between polemical and analytical goals. There is a continuing output of exegetical writing by Muslim scholars, many of whom identify themselves as feminists. 2 This writing typically tries to establish Islam's compatibility with the emancipation of women. The favored sources of such works continue to be the Quran, the hadith, and the lives of prominent women in early Islam. There is a clear attempt to resuscitate early Islamic history and the holy text in order to formulate an indigenous feminist project, or at the very least to encourage more progressive reading of the texts that are regularly invoked by traditionalists to justify the status quo. That feminists and traditionalists are equally concerned with appropriating the "true" message of Islam indicates that all parties believe it to be the only legitimate ideological terrain on which issues pertaining to women can be debated. I will not discuss the adequacy or merits of this position, but merely point out that it has been one of the tendencies giving a longer lease of life to ahistorical approaches to the question of women in Muslim societies. 3
There is, on the other hand, a vigorous body of scholarship that locates women as historical and political actors firmly in the context of temporal processes of socioeconomic transformation. 4 Most work in this genre does not necessarily privilege Islam as an analytic category, but inserts gender into broader discourses about social transformation or the various theoretical paradigms of different social science disciplines. At one extreme of this spectrum, one finds studies that
Deniz Kandiyoti, "Islam and Patriarchy: A Comparative Perspective," in Nikki R. Kiddie and Baron Beth, eds. Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991): 23-42. Reprinted by permission.