Fall 2019 HC 231H: Muslim Women of the Early Islamic History

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Irum Shiekh

4.00 credits

  • CRN 17203: Tuesday & Thursday, 14:00 - 15:20 @ GSH 117
  • CRN 17205: Tuesday & Thursday, 16:00 - 17:20 @ STB 253

In this class, we will learn about the lived experiences of diverse Muslim women of the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Europe, and South East Asia and contextualize their narratives 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), and Lubna of Cordoba (d. 984).

The early Islamic period between the 7th to the 14th century is generally labeled as the Golden Age of Islam—a historical 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 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 of Prophet Mohammad and the period immediately after his 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 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 regions 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 over time. In addition, splinter groups within Islam such as Shiites, Sufis, and Kharijites developed their 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 significantly 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.