Prof Nilgun Sarp PhDAnkara UniversityTurkey 


Studies on women in Islam have emphasized the context and settings, since these have a great impact on a religion and its effects on a society . According to the literature, Islam was a reform that took place after the Jahiliyyah10 period . References to this period presents women as weak, sick human beings who were treated worse than animals and even killed when they were born. Islam provided women with some rights and, these rights were equal to half of what men had at that time(1,2,3,4). 

Islam maintains that men are dominant. Women are subordinated to men for economic reasons. The man spends his earnings to take care of his wife and brings home food, and in exchange the wife obeys the husband’s requests. The economy legitimizes men’s superiority in many Muslim countries, and the Quran strengthens men’s economic power with the suwar. Some interpretations, however, emphasize the importance of women; they are considered precious and have to be taken care of and treated well. 

According to the Quran, two women are equal to one man when it comes to inheritance rights. The   justification for this dictate in the Quran is the economic responsibility of men. Because men are responsible for taking care of their families, they need to inherit more. And since women receive money before their marriage, it is just that a man inherit twice the share.  

The Quran does not mention women’s work, nor it does consider their domestic responsibilities as work. The emphasis is on their roles as mother and wife. Women have a very important duty in Islam: They are responsible for pleasing their husbands under any conditions. A woman does not have the right to resist her husband, even if he stops taking care of her and bringing home food. According to Islam, men should work and women should stay at home, taking care of the husband and children. There is a saying in the Quran, “Heaven is beneath the mother’s feet,” which places importance on women’s child-bearing responsibilities. They are responsible for raising good, healthy Muslim children (5,6). 

Since women were not engaged in any business-related issues at the time, it does not degrade women’s intellect but instead seeks to avoid any mistakes women may make in calculations and decisions that are business related (7). 

The contrast between women and men in Islam is clear in social life. As some religious experts say there are also some laws that protects women, like when a woman get married the man must give an amount of money to her. This money would stay with her and can just be used with her consent. Woman can only marry a man but a man can marry more than a woman. Polygamy was due to two points. The first one is explained through the reason that at ancient times a lot of men died in wars. Allowing a man to marry more than a woman would mean that this woman could give birth to kids that would turn into men and increase the army of the country. So on this way the Koran is protecting the state. The second point is explained on the fact that a lot of men die in the war and they would leave their widow alone without any financial support. At that time women was not as independent as today, they did not sustain themselves financially and they did not have any profession. Giving the right for a man to marry more than a woman was also thinking in a way of protecting this women 

The husband was allowed to divorce his wife without giving a reason and without any legal exercise. When the husband made his divorce claim three times verbally, it was considered valid. When the couple divorces, it is the man’s duty to provide maintenance for the woman in order to pay for her food, clothes, accommodations, medical expenditures, and other things during her waiting period [of her after termination of marriage]; however, the woman has no such duty(4,8). The leader is a protector, the man is a protector of his family, and the woman is a protector of her husband’s house and his children. So every one of you are protectors and everyone of you are responsible for his/her subjects.According to the Quran, women should stay at home, If it is not necessary, they should not go out to pray at a mosque; instead they should pray at home. When women are in the presence of men who are not halal to them, they should cover some parts of their bodies.  The parts that should be covered are not specifically stated. The interpretations of this verse are diverse in Muslim countries. While in most Arab countries women cover their faces and sometimes even their eyes.  Even before the Quran’s legitimization of women’s veiling, women were already covering their faces in Babylon and Assyria. Veiling was a sign of belonging to a higher class, and women who were from the upper classes wore veils. At the time slaves were not allowed to veil themselves. A headscarf worn by Muslim women; conceals the hair and neck and usually has a face veil that covers the face .  Veil or Cover. This is the Islamic dress for Muslim women, which covers the whole body except the foot and the hands (9,10). 




Third World countries now face the consequences of modernity with the effects of globalization,. Their degree of interaction with modernity affects different cultures in many aspects of life. The consequences of this encounter will vary, since different cultural and religious backgrounds have different norms and values that form the social structure. Especially in the Middle East, the interaction between religion and modernity has given rise to debates in many different areas. One of the most important and complex fields of study related to religion and modernity in the Middle East is that of women’s studies. 

In the beginning, the confrontation of the Middle East with modernity forced Muslim countries to develop modernization projects. In Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, efforts took place toward modernization. The notion behind nation-state projects was to combine traditional institutions with new, modern practices. Developments in family law, women’s rights, and the political arena were the main goals of these modernization projects. 

Ideologies within these societies put women in the center of the debate rather than discussing aspects of modernity. Although these ideologies wanted to liberate women by supporting their unveiling, education, and participation in the public sphere, they also supported women’s domestic roles in the private sphere. Nationalism was the central ideology both for legitimizing public appearance and domestic adhesion; women were placed in the middle of these projects. Being a good citizen and being a good mother to raise good citizens were legitimized with the idea of nationalism. The interaction between modernity and the public sphere regarding women’s status mainly consisted of applying new, scientific techniques to domestic roles, such as being an educated mother who uses her knowledge to raise her child according to new developments. Furthermore, with education and knowledge women were expected to become good citizens of the nation. But these practices  were not practical and did not influence all classes; rural and working class women, with their limitations on receiving education, went unnoticed (11) . According to the literature, these women became the driving force of the Islamist women’s movements. Despite women’s movements,  all fundamentalist religions like Taliban, first action is to limit women’s rights and sexuality; that betrays Islam as a religion.  Taliban restrictions and mistreatment of women include the :1- Complete ban on women’s work outside the home, which also applies to female teachers, engineers and most professionals. Only a few female doctors and nurses are allowed to work in some hospitals in Kabul. 2- Complete ban on women’s activity outside the home unless accompanied by a mahram (close male relative such as a father, brother or husband). 3- Ban on women dealing with male shopkeepers. 4- Ban on women being treated by male doctors. 5- Ban on women studying at schools, universities or any other educational institution. (Taliban have converted girls’ schools into religious seminaries.) 6- Requirement that women wear a long veil (Burqa), which covers them from head to toe. 7- Whipping, beating and verbal abuse of women not clothed in accordance with Taliban rules, or of women unaccompanied by a mahram. 8- Whipping of women in public for having non-covered ankles. 9- Public stoning of women accused of having sex outside marriage. (A number of lovers are stoned to death under this rule). 10- Ban on the use of cosmetics. (Many women with painted nails have had fingers cut off). 11- Ban on women talking or shaking hands with non-mahram males. 12- Ban on women laughing loudly. (No stranger should hear a woman’s voice). 13- Ban on women wearing high heel shoes, which would produce sound while walking. (A man must not hear a woman’s footsteps.) 14- Ban on women riding in a taxi without a mahram. 15- Ban on women’s presence in radio, television or public gatherings of any kind. 16- Ban on women playing sports or entering a sport center or club. 17- Ban on women riding bicycles or motorcycles, even with their mahrams. 18- Ban on women’s wearing brightly colored clothes. In Taliban terms, these are “sexually attracting colors.” 19- Ban on women gathering for festive occasions such as the Eids, or for any recreational purpose. 20- Ban on women washing clothes next to rivers or in a public place. 21- Modification of all place names including the word “women.” For example, “women’s garden” has been renamed “spring garden”. 22- Ban on women appearing on the balconies of their apartments or houses. 23- Compulsory painting of all windows, so women can not be seen from outside their homes. 24- Ban on male tailors taking women’s measurements or sewing women’s clothes. 25- Ban on female public baths. 26- Ban on males and females traveling on the same bus. Public buses have now been designated “males only” (or “females only”). 27- Ban on flared (wide) pant-legs, even under a burqa. 28- Ban on the photographing or filming of women. 29- Ban on women’s pictures printed in newspapers and books, or hung on the walls of houses and shops(12). 



Turkey, as a secular country, is the successor of an Islamic culture that was ruled by Islamic law known as Sharia. Turkey, which was never a colonized country, first faced the tenets of modernity in the late nineteenth century. The first ideas of modernity among the Ottoman elites paid attention to techniques that Western countries used. The modernization projects concerned reforms in the military. But the notion of becoming modern exceeded military interventions and spread to other aspects of society as well. It is important to present the modernity project of Turkey to understand the social structure in which women became active participants in society. Without an understanding of Turkey’s modernity project, Kemalism, and feminist discourses, it is hardly possible to understand Islamist movements and the status of women today(4).The secularization of Turkey started in the society during the last years of Ottoman Empire and it was the most prominent and most controversial feature of Atatürk’s reforms. Under his leadership, the caliphate—office of the successors to Muhammad, the supreme politico-religious office of Islam, and symbol of the sultan’s claim to world leadership of all Muslims—was abolished. The secular power of the religious authorities and functionaries was reduced and eventually eliminated. The religious foundations were nationalized, and religious education was restricted and for a time prohibited. The influential and popular mystical orders of the dervish brotherhoods (tarika) also were suppressed.In a 1923 speech made by Atatürk, marked the beginning of Atatürk’s active campaign in favor of women. He said, “A society, a nation consists of two sorts of people: men and women. How is it possible, to elevate one part of society while neglecting the other half, and expect the whole to progress? How is it possible for one half of society to soar to the heavens while the other remains chained to the very earth?” This empowerment for women, created a large number of women “penetrating” workplaces, from factories, schools, medical institutions, social centers, banks to commercial enterprises and university faculties. Turkish women were granted the privilege of voting and the eligibility for municipal elections in 1934; a great triumph for Turkish women, in comparison to their foreign sisters. French women were not allowed to vote until 1947, and Swiss women did not recieve the right until 1971. Women in Turkey make up a larger proportion of lawyers and doctors than they do in the USA. However, in Turkey only a 4% increase occurred with women in parliament. In USA it is 12.5%, 42.7% in Sweden and 14.2% in Mexico. Despite that, Turkey was added to the small list of nations who elected female prime ministers. Today polygamy is forbidden in Turkey and Tunisia. In Turkey a man can only marry a woman in the register office and the civil code is a copy of the Swiss code which was implemented by Ataturk the Founder of the Turkish Republic. Still in Turkey, in a religious ceremony in a mosque a man can marry more than a woman.Although Turkey was secularized at the official level, religion remained a strong force at the popular level. After 1950 some political leaders tried to benefit from popular attachment to religion by espousing support for programs and policies that appealed to the religiously inclined. Such efforts were opposed by most of the political elite, who believed that secularism was an essential principle of Kemalism (4,13).  

MUSLIM SURVEYSIn the 44-nation survey of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 14 countries where Muslims are either the overwhelming majority or prominent minorities were asked a series of questions pertaining specifically to the role of Islam and governance. In smaller, subsequent surveys, additional populations were surveyed. Those populations noted as “predominantly Muslim” are Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mali, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Smaller surveys incorporated the Palestinian Authority, Morocco, and Kuwait. Muslims surveyed in countries where they are a minority of their country’s population are Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. In three cases where there are Muslim minorities — Ivory Coast, Ghana and Uganda — gender breakouts are not reported due to small sample size(14).



According to Islam, men and women are equal and complete each other. There is no difference between men and women ontologically and in sharing religious responsibility. They both share religious responsibility in legal matters, and both have basic rights and freedoms. However, the social and cultural milieu, and especially the patriarchal family structure in which Islam flourished, were the dominant factors in determining the position of women. This situation is the main reason for various understandings or practices concerning women in Islamic societies.





1)  Altindal, Aytunc. 2004. Turkiye’de Kadin. Istanbul: Alfa Yayinlari. 

2)   Bilgin, Beyza. 2005. Islam’da Kadini Rolu; Turkiye’de Kadin. Ankara: Sinemis Yayinlari. 

3)  Ahmed, Leila. 1992. Women and Gender in Islam; Historical roots of a modern Debate. New               Heaven & London: Yale University Press. 

4)  Gurpinar,A.G.2006. Women In the Twentieth Century: Modernity, Feminism, and Islam In Turkey.   ProQuest Information and Learning Company. USA 

5)   www.submission.org/women 

6)  http://debate.domini.org/newton/women.html 

7 )  Roald, Anne. S. 2001. Women in Islam; The Western Experience. London & New York: Routledge. 

8)   www.diyanet.gov.tr 

9)   http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=hijab 

10)  www.islamcan.com/dictionary/cgi-bin/csvread.pl 

11)  Hatem, Mervat. 1993. “Toward a Critique of Modernization; Narrative in Middle EastWomen Studies” Arab Studies Quarterly 15(2):117-122. 

12)  http://www.rawa.org/rules.html 

13)   http://www.theturkishtimes.com


14)  http://pewglobal.org/reports