A fairly typical opinion one encounters on gender within Muslim societies is that such societies are highly gendered and that such gender differences reflect vast power disparities between women and men. This standpoint assumes that matters are improved elsewhere particularly in the west. Such a perspective often fails to note that power and wealth disparities exist between men and women throughout the world. Further, sexual division of labor has been a part of the human fabric since hunter gather times. Given this universality of differing gender roles in human society our starting premise is that Muslim societies, like all societies in the world, are gendered. With this in mind, there will follow an examination as to whether the Qur’an, Islam’s central scripture, has a significant input into shaping the discourses surrounding gender roles or if it endorses a gendered view of the world.
This essay will argue that whilst it can be conceded that the Qur’an says little regarding gender roles, the fact that it promotes a particular form of family structure ensures an outcome of gender differentiation with a corresponding power disparity in favor of men. This sets the basis for further elaborations of sexual differentiation in Muslim society. This essay will challenge Barlas contention that the Qur’an an anti-patriarchal text by demonstrating that the logic she uses in favor of a holistic reading of the Qur’an necessitates the inclusion of its patriarchal model of family. This discussion will focus mainly on the views put forward by Asma Barlas and Leilah Ahmed, however, in the unfolding of its argument it shall also consult the writings of Abdel-Wahhab Boudibah, Albert Hourani, and Sachiko Murata. This discussion will be limited to discussing the Qur’an itself and the classical period wherein most of the discourse surrounding Islam and gender became settled. Whilst much elaboration has followed this period, space dictates that this discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.