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Evaluate Strategies Muslim feminists employ to counter patriarchal readings of Islam. How Convincing are they?

Evaluate Strategies Muslim feminists employ to counter patriarchal readings of Islam. How Convincing are they?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by marian caulfield. Originally submitted for The Study of World Religions (Islam) at University College Cork, with lecturer Oliver scharbrodS in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by marian caulfield. Originally submitted for The Study of World Religions (Islam) at University College Cork, with lecturer Oliver scharbrodS in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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01/19/2014

 
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Marian Caulfield107159897
RG20101 - IslamEssay Nov 2010Evaluate Strategies Muslim feminists employ to counter patriarchal readings of Islam.How Convincing are they?
Whilst reading for this essay, I found myself lost in a swathe of journals and books on thesubject and still find it almost impossible to comprehend the subject fully. I am aware that Ihave not covered some aspects of the subject in this essay, particularly more modern thoughtsand writing by women actually living in Muslim countries. However I will attempt to give anoverview in this essay of my own impression of the strategies employed by some of the prominent writers, in their attempt to re interpret and re read Islam from a female perspective.I will argue that, whilst these strategies are indeed convincing and that some superficial and positive changes have happened in some Islamic societies as a result, in reality, nothing haschanged in the Islamic psyche or in its laws with regard to the role of women. I will putarguments forward to support my belief that this may never change.One of the leading figures in Islamic feminism in modern times has been Fatima Mernissi. Inthe early chapters of her seminal book ‘Beyond the Veil’ Mernissi examines the pre Islamicera, and describes the relationships between the sexes before Muhammad. She examines early patriarchal interpretations, which were then (and still are) used to highlight and defend thedifference between the male and female sexuality and she looks at the justifications by earlyscholars that the word of God deems the male species more superior to the female. It is here in
 
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Marian Caulfield107159897
my opinion, when quoting Imam Ghazali (1050-111) that she discovers, what went wrong withIslam from very early on, with regard to women. Simply, that it has always been men who haveinterpreted the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet. Scholars such as Ghazali saw civilizationas struggling to contain women’s ‘destructive, all absorbing power’, and that they must becontrolled in order to prevent men from being distracted from their social and religious duties.Mernissi asks: “Why does Islam fear the power of female sexual attraction over men? DoesIslam assume that the male cannot cope sexually with an uncontrolled female? (Mernissi 1985, p31). She finds one answer to is offered by Quasim Amin writing in 1928. Amin asks that if the power of women is so destructive, surely it is men who should need protection?“Are men considered to be less well able than women to control themselvesand resist their sexual impulse? Preventing women from showing themselvesunveiled expresses men’s fear of losing control over their minds” (Mernissi1985, p31).Mernissi suggests also that the idea of female sexual self determination, advocated by the term‘women’s liberation’ is likely to stir ancestral fears of returning to
 Jahiliya
and a state of 
 fitna
(chaos) in the social order. She believes there is a real underlying fear, for the Muslin male,that he could be deprived of all of his initiative, control and privilege. She also tells us that sheunderstands that Muslim marriage is based on the premise that social order can be maintainedonly if women’s dangerous potential for chaos is restrained by a dominating husband and thatthe only model Islam has for a conjugal relationship, is a master/slave one where love isexcluded and condemned as a weakness on the part of men (Mernissi 1985, p166-174).However, this not how things always were, according to Gertrude Stern writing in 1939.Mernissi directs us to her analysis of Pre Islamic traditions recorded by Ibn Saads’
The Book of 
 
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Marian Caulfield107159897
Great Classes,
which was a classification of the early Muslim community. She focuses her study on the records made on marriage, and concludes that before Islam, and discovers thatthere was no evidence of the existence of a fixed marriage institution. There was certainly noevidence of a system of polygamy, or of a man supporting and maintaining more than one wifeat a time. What did exist, rather than a legally regulated system of marriage, was a diversity of loose sexual ‘unions’. Mernissi tells us that there were actually two systems of sexual unionswhich appear to have existed before Islam, and describes them as ‘matrilineal’ and ‘patrilineal’.The form which the matirlineal union took, was where a women made a loose short termmarriage contract with a man (or even several men) if she so chose. However she, and anyoffspring as a result of that union, stayed within her own family or tribe. These matrilineal and patrilineal forms of marriage appeared to exist side by side up to the Prophets time, with hisown father recorded as contracting a matrilineal marriage with his mother and He himself  being reared with her family till her death. (Mernissi 1985, p68-72)Mernissi, goes on to say that even with the absence of historical texts written by women in thisera, there are instances recorded, after the Prophets death and the following years, of objections by women about the demise of their existing control and choice. One account quoted from a passage in the Quran gives details of Muhammad’s great-granddaughter objecting to polygamyand insisting on keeping total control of the marriage contract. She forbade her husband totouch another woman or prevent her from spending money or oppose any decision she mightmake. She also quotes from Ibn Saad where he relates the story of a rebellion by a group of women called ‘the harlots of Hadramaut’ who protested at the loss of their freedom of action ininitiating and ending sexual unions, and who rejoiced openly at the death of the Prophet. So itwas obvious that even in early Islam women weren’t happy about losing the relative freedom

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