How did the position of women change as Islam expanded?

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Islam expanded first across the Arabian peninsula and later into areas of Southwest Asia, Turkey, Southern Europe and North Africa. Each of these societies had its own gender-related customs and practices. In many areas of North Africa and Southern Europe for example, women were subjected to a strict patriarchy in which their status was barely distinguishable from that of slaves. In France, for example, women who married assumed the legal status of coverture, in which her rights to enter into contracts, acquire property, and even present herself in court were conferred to her husband. Islam generally elevated the status of women in these communities as it expanded. In other communities, notably Turkey, women already enjoyed a wide range of political, economic, and social rights and opportunities. In the early decades of its expansion, Islam provided a universal set of rights, norms and duties that generally elevated the status of women. The religion introduced the idea of matrimonial property; women did not confer their property to husbands upon marrying. Instead they retained property themselves or bequeathed it as inheritance for their children. Many scholars note that although early Islam emphasized women's independence and equality, as the religion and empire expanded, the status of women diminished under local customs as well as Islamic law.

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