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Shifra Dayak

AP World History
Period 4
Religion and the Roles of Women (DBQ)

Between 600 c.e. And 1400 c.e., the three Abrahamic faiths — Christianity, Judaism, and

Islam — were taking hold in various parts of Europe and Southwest Asia. The schism occuring

in the Roman Catholic church, the Crusades, and the emergence of Islamic and Jewish

communities in Spain, among many other events, represented the widespread influence of the

Abrahamic faiths on a variety of people. These three faiths, the principles and practices of which

were conveyed through the Bible, Torah, and Qu’ran respectively, as well as through

commentaries on the aforementioned texts, made many references to women’s place in religion

and society; essentially, they set out the guidelines by which women must live and dictated how

others should interact with women. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were generally oppressive

toward women and relegated them to domestic and concealed roles in society. Religious doctrine

and practices of the Abrahamic faiths emphasized the submission, lack of knowledge, and

complete modesty of women, taking away much of their their independence and opportunities.

In the post-classical era, women were expected to be passive and not show objection to

their male counterparts, nor hold opinions or autonomy of their own. This was a general societal

trend, but was especially caused and enforced through the practices of the Christian faith, which

did not “permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man,” instructing that instead,

“she must be quiet” (D2). The Medieval Roman Catholic Bible, which gave these instructions,

was the sole conveyance of Christian doctrine at the time. Because it was most likely transcribed

and translated by men who held positions of authority over women in the previous Biblical era, it

is an adequate reflection of the general attitude toward women in society that was carried to the
Shifra Dayak
AP World History
Period 4
post-classical era. The Roman Catholic Bible is a primary source that references Eve’s supposed

inferiority to Adam by providing the popular and widely-accepted religious story of Eve’s sin,

thus providing its own justification for its advocacy of a woman’s lesser place compared to a

man. Judaism took a similar approach to Christianity regarding women’s submission — the

Torah explicitly states that women had no choice but to submit to their deceased husband’s

brother to bear children for the family. According to Jewish doctrine, a woman had no say in her

remarriage and “shall not be married abroad unto one who is not [her husband’s] kin” (D1). Like

the Bible, the Torah is a primary source that was likely transcribed by men who fully accepted

the submission of women and their lack of options in society. Although the attitudes represented

through the above passage of the Torah were not based on facts showing women’s inferiority,

they are a correct portrayal of the submission expected of women in Judaism from earlier time

periods to the post-classical era. This worldview of submission did face some disagreement

from women themselves — Christine de Pisan, for example, was a writer who admonished

Medieval men’s misogynistic attitudes in her book “The Book of the City of Ladies.” Pisan

exclaimed of women, “How can anybody [men] dare to speak ill of something which bears such

a noble imprint?” (D6). Although Pisan was an eventually-celebrated writer and expertly

referenced the Bible’s indication that humankind was created in God’s image, her position

favoring female autonomy was not commonly accepted in the post-classical era because of male

domination; therefore, her statement is not reflective of general women’s treatment.

The Abrahamic faiths, especially Judaism, also made it clear that women were not valued

for their knowledge nor qualified enough to pursue religious subjects. Maimonides, a Torah

scholar, wrote in the Mishneh Torah in the 12th century c.e. that “the majority of women have
Shifra Dayak
AP World History
Period 4
not a mind adequate for [the Torah’s] study, but because of their limitations, will turn the words

of the Torah into trivialities” (D4). Because they supposedly had no ability to process complex

information or adequately analyze cultural and religious material, women were discouraged from

taking on the role of a scholar, and were instead relegated to comparatively insignificant

household roles. Maimonides was an influential male figure who extensively studied the Torah,

and although his gender and authority probably led him to accept the Torah’s largely demeaning

attitude towards women without much question, his expertise in Jewish doctrine ensures that his

commentary is reliable. Women were treated similarly in the Islamic faith, having been regarded

as unworthy of entering places of worship and engaging in religion and religious study. A

modern-day commentary on Islam in the post-classical era states that “by about 700, Muslim

religious authorities completely banned women from mosques… to preserve the holiness and

dignity of religious ceremonies” (“Women”). Evidently, in the post-classical era, women were

viewed as not being able to adequately uphold the true reverence and meaning of Islamic rituals,

and thus were confined to domestic settings rather than welcomed into religious and cultural life.

While this commentary may not be the best detailed representation of Islamic women’s lives

many centuries ago, it contains expert research from the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies,

making it a reliable overall portrayal of the treatment of women in Islam.

Finally, the Abrahamic faiths, specifically Islam, emphasized women’s total modesty in

both appearance and character, forcing women to cover themselves and stay away from

attention. Women were encouraged to “wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not

display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers” (D3), as dictated by the Qu’ran.

The Qu’ran, like the Bible and Torah, was likely transcribed by men, as well as studied and
Shifra Dayak
AP World History
Period 4
received by men who strongly believed that women should literally conceal themselves as to

avoid being scandalous and allow men to hold attention and power. Naturally, as a primary

source, it does contain bias but is a true representation of the demeaning instructions given to

women through the post-classical era. A Medieval commentary on the Qu’ran shows similar

sentiments when it advocates for the metaphorical concealment of women by admonishing them

for “walking in the middle of the road and jostling men” and “discussing… matters regarding

buying and selling” (D5). Ibn al Hajj al-Abdari, who wrote this commentary around 1300, was a

strict upholder of Islamic religious doctrine, indicating that although he was biased against

women holding autonomy, his writings can be used as an adequate portrayal of society’s attitude

toward women in the era. Islam’s effect of increased modesty of women was ironic considering

the assertive role that Aisha, the prophet Muhammad’s wife, played in early Islamic society and

her lack of extreme modesty both in appearance and in her business operations, but it is clear that

during the post-classical era, the progression of Islam put women at a disadvantage.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam changed the lifestyles of many types of people,

especially women, from 600 to 1400 c.e, also known as the post-classical era. Women were told

to be submissive through Christian and Jewish doctrine, were discouraged from pursuing

religious and cultural study in both Judaism and Islam, and were told to live in total modesty by

the practices of Islamic faith. Despite slight dissent from women of the era, generally negative

and restrictive attitudes toward women remained in Europe and Southwest Asia, causing women

to take up concealed, domestic-based roles instead of being welcomed as productive members of

society. The emergence of Abrahamic faiths in the Eastern hemisphere generally oppressed

women and caused them to lead disadvantaged lives.


Shifra Dayak
AP World History
Period 4
Works Cited

“Women.” ​Oxford Islamic Studies Online,​ Oxford University Press,

www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/print/opr/t243/e370.