Islam, Gender, and Social Change

Islam, Gender, and Social Change

Islam, Gender, and Social Change

Islam, Gender, and Social Change

Synopsis

For several decades, the Muslim world has experienced a religious resurgence. The reassertion of Islam in personal and political life has taken many forms, from greater attention to religious practice to the emergence of Islamic organizations, movements, and institutions. One of the most controversial and emotionally charged aspects of this revival has been its effect on women in Muslim societies.
The essays collected in this book place this issue in its historical context and offer case studies of Muslim societies from North Africa to Southeast Asia. These fascinating studies shed light on the impact of the Islamic resurgence on gender issues in Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Oman, Bahrain, the Philippines, and Kuwait. Taken together, the essays reveal the wide variety that exists among Muslim societies and believers, and the complexity of the issues under consideration. They show that new things are happening for women across the Islamic world, and are in many cases being initiated by women themselves. The volume as a whole militates against the stereotype of Muslim women as repressed, passive, and without initiative, while acknowledging the very real obstacles to women's initiatives in most of these societies.

Excerpt

In the early post-WWII independence period, many emerging Muslim nations pursued paths of modernization and development that were Western inspired or informed, ranging from "modern" Western dress to the institutions of state and society. Implicit were presuppositions that modernization would entail increased secularization--separation of religion from public life. Western models of development (political, economic, educational, and social) were adopted or adapted--nationalism and/or socialism, parliaments, legal codes, and modern educational curricula.

National liberation and emerging forms of nationalism provided the context and idiom for political and social development in many arenas, from politics to gender relations. Gender relations, however, proved more complex and enigmatic. In no area was the force of tradition felt more strongly and the clash of civilizations more apparent than that of the status and roles of women. Secular modernists were seen by religious leaders and more Islamically oriented Muslims as Westernizers whose reforms threatened religion and culture, family and society. The modernization paradigm, with its purported Western values of freedom, equality, and self-determination, seemed to be an indictment of Islam that threatened to undermine the Muslim community and Muslim family. It affected everything from dress, education, and employment to personal status or family laws (marriage, divorce, and inheritance). Women replaced the veil with Western dress, and the sex- segregated ideals and realities of Muslim societies were bridged by the greater visibility and participation of women in public life--that is, outside the more traditional confines of the home. Implicit in educational and employment reforms were new or additional roles for women beyond those of wife and mother. These new roles were seen by some as countering traditional Islamic belief, namely, that men have the primary religious duty to support the family and women have the duty to nurture the family at home. No place was the conflict more visible than in Muslim family law reform.

While Muslim governments had borrowed heavily from the institutions of the West in political, economic, and legal development, Muslim family law was generally not replaced by Western civil codes but reformed through legislation that affected laws of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Like most of the modern reforms, reform came from the state, not from the people. They were initiated not from below but from above; they did . . .

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