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Chapter 9: The Worlds of Islam

Key Concepts:

Terms in this set (18)

• The Quran included a mix of rights, restrictions, and protections for women. It banned female infanticide, gave women the right to own property and granted them rights of inheritance, defined marriage as a contract between consenting parties, granted the right to sue for divorce under certain circumstances, and regulated polygyny. It also allowed men to have sexual relations with consenting female slaves, but only under the condition that any children born of these unions were free, as was the mother once her owner died.
• In practice, as the Arab Empire grew in size, the position of women became more limited. Women started to pray at home instead of in the mosque, and veiling and seclusion of women became standard practice among the upper and ruling classes, with special areas within the home becoming the only place where women could appear unveiled. Such seclusion was less practicable for lower-class women. These new practices derived far more from established traditions of Middle Eastern cultures than from the Quran, but they soon gained a religious rationale in the writings of Muslim thinkers.
• Other signs of tightening patriarchy, such as "honor killing" of women by their male relatives for violating sexual taboos and, in some places, clitorectomy (female circumcision), likewise derived from local cultures, with no sanction in the Quran or Islamic law. But where they were practiced, such customs often came to be seen as Islamic.
• Negative views of women, presenting them variously as weak, deficient, and a sexually charged threat to men and social stability, emerged in the hadiths, traditions about the sayings or actions of Muhammad, which became an important source of Islamic law.
• Islam also offered new outlets for women in religious life. The Sufi practice of mystical union with God allowed a greater role for women than did mainstream Islam. Some Sufi orders had parallel groups for women, and a few welcomed women as equal members.
• In Shia Islam, women teachers of the faith were termed mullahs, the same as their male counterparts.
• Islamic education, either in the home or in Quranic schools, allowed some women to become literate and a few to achieve higher levels of learning.
• Visits to the tombs of major Islamic figures as well as the ritual of the public bath provided some opportunity for women to interact with other women beyond their own family circle.
• The Islamic world valued commerce and fostered vibrant networks of exchange. Muslim merchants plied the Silk Roads, Sea Roads, and Sand Roads of the Afro-Eurasian world, and the Islamic world promoted long-distance economic relationships by actively supporting a prosperous, highly developed, "capitalist" economy.
• Islamic civilization also facilitated a substantial exchange of agricultural products and practices. Rice, new strains of sorghum, hard wheat, bananas, lemons, limes, watermelons, coconut palms, spinach, artichokes, sugarcane, and cotton came to the Middle East from India. Sugarcane and cotton also came with knowledge of complex production processes. Some of these Indian crops subsequently found their way to Africa and Europe from the Middle East.
• Technology also diffused widely within the Islamic world. Ancient Persian techniques for obtaining water by drilling into the sides of hills spread to North Africa. Muslim technicians made improvements on rockets developed in China. Techniques for manufacturing paper also arrived in the Middle East from China and later spread from the Middle East to India and Europe.
• Ideas also spread, with Jewish and Christian precedents influencing Islamic thinkers; Persian bureaucratic practice, court ritual, and poetry influencing the elite in particular; and Greek and Indian scientific, medical, and philosophical texts being systematically translated into Arabic and studied throughout the Islamic world.
• Those traditions mixed and blended to generate a distinctive Islamic civilization that made many original contributions to the world of learning—including the development of algebra as a novel mathematical discipline, original work in astronomy and optics, and medicine and pharmacology.