Course Description, Rationale and Goal

Women in Islam and the Middle East is a course about women within and without the Islamic community. It focuses on women from the early time periods of the rise of Islam until modern times. 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, the course relies on 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 aim to explore 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 will 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 constructions of 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:

  • 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 developed as an interdisciplinary one in order to satisfy requirements of various departments. Being the important topic that it is, it is essential that various methodologies and disciplinary approaches are adopted. Historical, sociological, anthropological, literary, legal, philosophical, and political themes will be addressed in order to balance the treatment of such a rich topic.

Students who need assistive technologies will have different computer and technology requirements. Please check with your Student Disability Services to determine the requirements for the specific technologies needed to support your online classes.

For questions, with virtual classrooms (i.e. Zoom) or UICapture (Panopto), please contact Distance and Online Education Technical Support (319 335-3925).

Need help with ICON or your Hawkid? Please contact the ITS Helpdesk (319 384-HELP).

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

Course Policies

As a registered student in a Distance and Online Education course through The University of Iowa, you are responsible for the course policies posted below.

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism Rules

Students must consult the University Handbook on academic integrity and plagiarism. For quick reference, I provide these simple rules:

  1. A student could be considered in violation of academic integrity if he or she,
  • represents the work of others as their own,
  • obtains assistance in any academic work from another individual in a situation in which the student is expected to perform independently,
  • gives assistance to another individual in a situation in which that individual is expected to perform independently, and
  • offers false data in support of findings and
  1. By submitting work for evaluation or to meet a requirement, a student is providing assurance that the work is the result of the student’s own thought and study, produced without assistance, and stated in that student’s own words, except as quotation marks, references, or footnotes acknowledge the use of other Submission of work part of which may have been used previously must first be approved by the instructor.
  2. By submitting an assignment, a student is agreeing that he or she have read the above guidelines and agree to the terms and conditions as
  3. Unless explicitly designated as a “group project”, students should not work collaboratively with other persons (students or otherwise) on any graded
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