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Does Islam Constrain or Liberate Women?

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Introduction

DOES ISLAM CONSTRAIN OR LIBERATE WOMEN? Few issues in the Islamic culture has attracted as much interest - and yet proven so susceptible to stereotyping - as issues concerning women. Women in Islamic societies have been the subjects of images and generalisations, romantic orientalist tales and feminist expose. For many non-Muslims, the subject of women in Islam is characterised by images of deserts, harems, veils and subordination. However, many Muslims counter this by stating that Islam liberates women - but they often present an ideal - without the problems and issues encountered in the diverse experiences of Muslim women. The study of Islam and Muslim society is complex, reflecting the diverse and varied realities of Muslim women and Muslim societies throughout the ages. The status of women in Islam was profoundly affected not only by the fact that Islamic belief interacted with and was influenced by various cultures, but also the fact that the primary interpreters of the Koran and the makers of the Islamic Laws and traditions were men from this culture. However, the western perceptions of Islamic women have been subjective - in many of the literatures about Islam and gender - it is not the Muslim women who are heard, but that of Westerners speaking for them. ...read more.

Middle

But, to what extent have these reforms affected the definiton of gender - the roles and status of women in society - in terms of authority or decision making? The answer is - very insignificantly. However, the practise of viewing women as objects is not a new one and historical analysis shows us that the position of Islamic woman is not just determined by her religion, but also the socio-economic and political conditions of that time. As said earlier, theory does not always translate into practise. Such was the case in the early interpretations and their implementations derived from the Koran. 'For example, while the Koran clearly lays down that women can inherit (usually half the share of men), is some Muslim societies their share was cut, with properties transformed into trusts, waqf. The dowry, mahr, legally owing to the bride has often been retained in practise by her family. Furthermore, since there is no concept of joint property in Islam, her wealth is, in some cases, unjustly used by her husband as his own. [ Yamani, 1996] The Islamic family law also allows polygamy for men - with them being allowed to marry up to four wives. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although, the question does remain that why these women have to veil to gain this right. But, in accordance to the history and the reality of their society, veiling probably does give them greater freedom than what they would have had got otherwise. Liberation and oppression of women in Islamic societies again vary across classes. In many cases, the laws of the Sharia do not affect the upper class women as much as it affects her poorer sister. On the other hand, the elite women are often faced with a greater social and moral responsibility to carry. Thus, even if they come from the upper classes and have had access to good education, they are expected to be subservient to their husband. Also, often they do not have the economic independence of the poorer woman and the subsequent sense of power achieved from it. Thus, in the light of all these arguments, I think it is best to say that Islam -as in the sayings of the Koran - has the scope to liberate women. But the laws derived from it's interpretations by men under definite socio-historical contexts and it's implementation over the ages, still perceive women as 'things', constraining them and denying them the right to power and authority. ...read more.

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