Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 5/6, September 2004 (
“Islam and Woman: Where Tradition Meets Modernity”:
History and Interpretations of Islamic Women’s Status
Jeri Altneu Sechzer
The status of Islamic women varies in different Muslim countries, which interpret Islamic re-
ligion and law differently, especially with regard to their attitudes toward women. Most of
these Islamic countries have speciﬁc beliefs about women and have restrictions concerning
them. Gender stereotypes of Islamic women have their origin in the evolution of the Muslim
religion. This is similar to the early development of many other religions and how the gender
stereotypes of women developed along with the development of these religions. This paper
describes the meaning of being a Muslim and the doctrine of the Qur’an, which came from the
revelations to Muhammad, Islam’s founder and prophet about 610
life, he was sympathetic toward women and was concerned about their equal treatment, in-
cluding full religious responsibility. Although the restrictions were still there on women, their
treatment was much more favorable than after Muhammad’s death. Conditions for women
under Muhammad’s successors became worse. Attitudes and perceptions about women were
even more negative. Women were isolated, secluded, forced to pray at home—not in the
mosque, and exclusion was put into practice. Women were essentially removed from most
sectors of society. Veiling of women included covering speciﬁc parts of their body to prevent
enticing men. Women’s status declined rapidly and any freedoms they had were essentially
abolished. And as Islam spread across the centuries, these restrictions and practices were
adopted, amended, or made more extreme by most if not all Muslim countries and have con-
tinued until the present time. The current status of women in Islamic countries is described
along with the intensiﬁed discussions and debates concerning women, presently taking place.
In some states, bills and laws were passed to improve conditions of women but some have al-
ready been revoked. In other countries, new restrictions have been proposed. Nevertheless,
Islamic women and women’s groups are continuing the struggle for their rights. This struggle,
amidst the continuing turmoil in the Middle East and the increase in fundamentalist groups,
has unfortunately made the ﬁnal outcome for women yet to be decided.
KEY WORDS: early islam; islamic women; muhammad and women in islam.
HISTORY AND INTERPRETATIONS
OF ISLAMIC WOMEN’S STATUS
From 3000 B.C.–A.D. 1100, man’s view of
himself as superior in all ways to women
soon became enshrined in the law and cus-
tom of the world’s earliest civilizations,
Part of this paper was adapted from Denmark, Rabinowitz, and
Sechzer (2000), with permission of Allyn & Bacon.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at J. Sechzer
Dept. of Psychology Pace University, Pace Plaza New York, NY
12038; e-mail: Jsechzer@pace.edu.
those of the Near East. Women became a
chattel ﬁrst of her father, then of her hus-
band, then of her son.
—Reay Tannahill, 1982
The status of Islamic women differs among the
various Islamic countries, each with its own view
and considerations about women. In addition to
the Arab countries all of which follow some form
of Islam, there are many non-Arab Muslim coun-
tries in which the majority of the population is
Muslim. Some include Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran,
2004 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.