Course Description, Rationale and Goal

[Note: This course is offered in two modes, face-to-face lecture (on-campus) and web-delivered (online); see Courses at UI]

Course Description, Rationale and Goal

Women in Islam and the Middle East is a course about women within and outside Muslim majority countries. It focuses on women since the rise of Islam. We consider the textual references to women in the arts, literature and religious texts and references and stories of prominent women as told in the Islamic history books. In order to provide a comprehensive exploration of the status of women, we study interviews, guest lectures, images, documentaries, and films produced from a variety of perspectives and through the lenses of a number of disciplines.

In this course, we investigate the role and status of women in the modern and pre-modern Southwest Asia and North Africa with respect to institutions such as the law, religious practices, work, politics, family, and education. Additionally, we examine themes of social protocols, sexuality, gender roles, and authenticity as contested norms.

We also discuss contemporary women (Muslim and non-Muslim), the factors informing the discourses on gender and sexuality. We focus on contemporary women in a number of different cultural contexts in order to highlight a variety of significant issues including, veiling and seclusion, kinship structures, violence, health, feminist activism, literary expression, body and mind, and other themes.

These are some of the topics that will be discussed throughout the course:

  • The rise of patriarchy in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and a comparison of its quality and intensity in both areas over time, based on translated historical texts and modern historians’ interpretations,
  • Comparative treatment of religion-based patriarchal ideologies in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,
  • The role of language in identity and value formation,
  • Sexual relations and sexual practices and their place in the institutions of law, family, and, government (society); sexuality and economics of power; sexual practices and culture; sexual practices and change,
  • Contextualizing discrimination, prejudice, rights, and privileges in modern, Islamic, and Arabic discourses,
  • The parameters and implications of theories of the “origins” of patriarchy, of “Orientalism,” and ethnocentrism; the traumatic impact of European imperialism and colonialism upon Islamic and Middle Eastern communities, especially upon gender relations,
  • Surveying women’s concerns in the post-colonial period and their contemporary struggle for economic, political, and civil viability and inclusion in the family and society, and
  • Legal, social, and political status of women during and after the protest movement popularly known as the Arab Spring.


The course is interdisciplinary, survey oriented, and social justice focused. The course appeals to students with different academic interests, including those interested in historical, sociological, anthropological, literary, legal, philosophical, and political themes and approaches.

Required Textbook/Media

The required texts for this course are:

  • Reading Packets: Collection of Chapters and Articles (available online, free download)

Some of the chapters are taken from the following textbooks, if a student wishes to purchase the books, the clickable links should open a window that contains all needed information including correct edition and prices.

Textbooks from which some chapters are required readings:

Books suggested for further readings:


For an extended bibliography, see Women in Islam Biblio