Medieval Islamic Women
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Medieval Islamic Women


Women in medieval Islam

Mohammed loved and admired the women in his life, and tried to give women more rights than they had had before in Arabia, or under Roman and Sassanian law. The Quran tried to make rules that would help women, but while women had more rights under Islam in some ways, in other ways they were worse off than they had been before. Women were better off, because their consent was required for a legal marriage. Once they were married, the Quran said that their husbands could not take away their dowry. The Quran also said that men could not beat their wives too badly (it was legal all over Asia for men to beat their wives then, and it still is in most parts of Asia). And in theory, at least, women could divorce a bad husband.

woman riding in a litter
A woman imam, a religious leader

In other ways, women were worse off under Islam. Most girls did not get to go to school. Islam allowed men to marry up to four women each. Most men just had one wife, but rich men often had four wives, and this sometimes caused trouble.

But some Islamic women certainly were educated, like the Sufi poet Lalla Arifa. And some women got political power, like the Ayyubid queen Shajar al-Durr.

Women in Medieval Europe
Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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