This article surveys early Islamic legal opinions concerning differences between women and men related to law, politics, and personal conduct.
Contained in a 2nd/8th century tract, a list distinguishing features of the sexes reflects notions held by the very young Muslim community–both Shī܂ī and Sunnī–on gender. It represents one of the earliest examples of what remains a common stance of Muslim modernists who espouse the idea of “equality but not uniformity” in discussing the status of women and women’s rights in Muslim contexts.
In a chapter of his book The Rights of Women in Islam (1998) entitled “Equality but not uniformity,” Murtaza Mutahhari , the prominent Iranian theologian and philosopher (d. 1979), writes: According to Islam, a woman and a man are … appropriated equal rights. [However,] women and men, on the basis of the very fact that one is a woman and the other is a man, are not identical with each other in many respects. The world is not exactly alike for [the two] of them and their natures and dispositions were not intended to be the same. Eventually this requires that in very many rights, duties and punishments, they should not have an identical placing. In the western world they are now attempting to create uniformity and sameness in laws, regulations, rights and functions between women and men, while ignoring the innate and natural differences. It is here that the difference between the outlook of Islam and that of western systems is to be found.
Dissimilarities between men and women in Islamic tradition to which Mutahhari refers have been the subject of modern studies, including a number of recent monographs in Arabic2 and Persian.3 This is, however, an old genre in Islamic tradition as lists of those differences appear in medieval Islamic legal and socio-ethical works.
Title: Women in Traditional Sharīʾa: a List of Differences between Men and Women in Islamic Tradition
Author: Amineh Mahallati
Published in: Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, Volume 12, 2010 – Issue 1
Length: 9 pages