Fall 2017 HC 231H: Muslim Women of the Early Islamic History

Fall Term, 2017-2018

Professor: Irum Shiekh

4 credits

  • CRN 12782: Monday & Wednesday, 14:00 – 15:20 @ FR 221
  • CRN 12784: Monday & Wednesday, 16:00 – 17:20 @ ESL 193

In this class, we will learn about the lived experiences of Muslim women of the early Islamic history (7th-14th centuries) from the geographic areas of the Middle East, Central and South Asia, Africa, and Europe. Using a variety of historical texts, we will contextualize the narratives of these women within the existing sociohistorical, cultural, and religious practices across the globe that intermingled with Islam to shape their lives and identities. Examples include Khadija b. Khuwaylid (d. 620), Syeda Fatima bint Muhammad (d. 632), A’isha b. Abi Bakr (d. 678), Rabi’a al-Adawiyya (d. 801), Lubna of Cordoba (d. 984), and Razia Sultan (d. 1240).

The early Islamic time period between the 7th to the 14th century is generally labeled as the Golden Age of Islam—a historic period when Islam spread and established itself from Morocco to Indonesia to Spain through warfare, conquest, trade, and teachings. Scholars from historical and religious disciplines have affirmed that women held a much higher status right at the advent of Islam than the years following the spread of Islam around the globe. A detailed review of the lives of Khadija, Fatima, and A’isha during the life and the period immediately after Prophet Mohammad’s death reveal many of the privileges that these women held and exercised.

However, as Islam moved north, south, east and west, interpretations around gender roles differed and often gender roles accommodated the existing sociocultural and religious practices of the areas that became Islamicized. Women exercised power as spiritual, political, and religious leaders in some Islamic areas and did not do so in other Islamic cultures due to pre-existing gender norms and relations. Inheritance laws, marriage customs, family lineage, and veiling practices differed across the globe and overtime. In addition, splinter groups within Islam such as Shiites, Sufis, and Kharijs developed their own interpretations that differed from the mainstream Sunni  interpretations. As a result, the lives of Muslim women of this vast and diverse region of civilizations, cultures, languages, and religions differed greatly from one location to another and from one century to another. 

We will study the history of Islam through the narratives of Muslim women who lived as merchants, mothers, storytellers, religious and political leaders, battlefield warriors, scientists, inventors, advisors, poets, writers, queens, slaves, and sex workers. By studying their narratives, we will explore the intersectionality of history, geography, culture, language, gender, and religion.