Gender in the Mediterranean Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


Leila Ahmed's 1992 book Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate is divided into three parts. One is devoted to the pre-Islamic Middle East including Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. This background section provides an historical and cultural context that is often omitted from discourse on gender and Islam. The second section of Women and Gender in Islam is on the founding discourses, and encompasses the period from the beginning and Muhammad to the Medieval era of Islam and its spread throughout the Mediterranean world. The last part of Ahmed's book is entitled "New Discourses," and it bridges the gaps between past and future, and between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. Ahmed's thesis in Women and Gender in Islam is multifaceted. The author suggests that the multiple and heterogeneous discourses on the subject of gender in Islam must be taken into consideration of their cultural and historical contexts. Moreover, Ahmed presents the scope of gender and Islam within a broader political context. The author affirms that gender raises "complicated questions" and that the history of women in Islam is more "kaleidoscopic" than straightforward (Ahmed, 1992, p. 4-5).

Much of Women and Gender in Islam is exploratory in nature, but the arguments are substantiated with fact and scholarly research. One of the elements of support lending credence to Ahmed's argument is that Islam, like Christianity, borrowed from and blended with the "earlier and adjoining societies" it would later influence (Ahmed, 1992, p. 5). Thus, elements of gender demarcation like the veil cannot be considered as a strictly Muslim phenomenon but should be considered in light of the pre-Muslim societies that promoted gender segregation via the use of the veil. The author then draws upon primary source material ranging from the Quran to the codified laws of Muslim societies until the medieval era throughout the second part of Women and Gender in Islam.

The author uses primary sources whenever possible. When discussing most of the pre-Islamic societies for their political, historical, and cultural contexts, the author relies on secondary sources or translations of primary source material such as Hammurabi's Code. The author uses primary sources for the second and third parts of the book, in addition to a cornucopia of secondary sources. Ahmed's background enables a rich evaluation of both primary and secondary source material.

In terms of methodology, use of evidence, framework or theory the author employs, Ahmed carves out a unique path for Muslim feminism. The author frames patriarchy as a political issue from the opening of the book, as Ahmed notes that women were held in high esteem in most societies prior to urbanization. The competition for male labor may have led to the theft of women by warring tribes. As warrior tribes kidnapped and raped women, women became increasingly viewed as a form of political, social, cultural, and economic property. Urbanization led to an even more severe…

Sources Used in Document:


Ahmed, Leila, 1992. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. Yale University.

Bass, Laura R. And Wunder, Amanda, 2009. The Veiled Ladies of the Early Modern Spanish World: Seduction and Scandal in Seville, Madrid, and Lima. Hispanic Review, Vol. 77, No. 1, Re-Envisioning Early Modern Iberia: Visuality, Materiality, History (Winter, 2009), pp. 97-144.

Berkey, Jonathan P. 1996. Circumcision Circumscribed: Female Excision and Cultural Accommodation in the Medieval near East. International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 19-38.

Martin Riesebrodt. Review of Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate by Leila Ahmed. The Journal of Religion, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 453-454.

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