Medieval Islamic Women
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Medieval Islamic Women


Women in medieval Islam

April 2017 - 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, and in general women had more rights under Islam than they had had before. Now women's had to agree to get married in order for the marriage to be legal. 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 legal 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

Other things stayed the same under the Islamic Empire as they had been before. Most girls still did not get to go to school, and women still did a lot of work spinning and weaving linen and wool and cotton, cooking and cleaning, and taking care of children. Where Roman men could have only one wife, the Quran let men marry up to four women each. Most men still just had one wife, but rich men often had four wives - this was sometimes good for the women, and sometimes not so good.

But some Islamic women certainly were educated, like the Sufi poet Lalla Arifa. And even though the Islamic empire generally kept power for men, some women did get political power, like the Ayyubid queen Shajar al-Durr, or religious power, like the woman imam in the picture.

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, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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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