We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Iraq - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Iraq

By:
Alexandra M. Jerome
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women What is This? A single source for accurate overview articles covering the major topics of scholarly interest within the study of women and Islam.

Iraq

The modern state of Iraq has its origin in part of the ancient kingdoms of Sumeria and Mesopotamia and embraced a polytheistic system of belief that mirrored the Roman calendar and the seasons. Of the many deities in the Sumerian hierarchy was the goddess of sex, fertility, and war: Inana. Inana's temple, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, was a site of ritual prostitution, indulgence, and a much-adorned polytheism. In the seventh century, Inana's legacy was replaced by the introduction of the monotheism of Islam. Islam came to Iraq through the conquest of tribal regions surrounding the Arabian Peninsula after Muḥammad's death in 632 CE The majority of Iraqis are Shīʿī, owing their allegiance, both spiritually and genealogically, to the Prophet Muḥammad's grandsons, Hassan and Hussein. The city of Karbala, just south of Baghdad, where Hussein was martyred by his rival Yazid Ibn Muawiyya in 680, remains an important site of pilgrimage for women, who go to honor their foremother, the Prophet's daughter, Fatimah, and to mourn the loss of her son.

Islam in Iraq, as in other Levantine countries, ebbed and flowed with the rise and fall of dynasties, such as the Abbasids, whose dynastic seat was Baghdad from 750 until the Mongols invaded in 1258. During the Abbasid period, women's participation in society was curtailed, as the practice of seclusion became more prevalent. Women, once active in political life and culture, were relegated to the domestic sphere. However, women were still able to influence society, especially noblewomen at court. One of these women, al-Khayzuran bint Atta, was particularly influential, convincing her aging husband to appoint her sons as his heirs and retaining influence over her more famous son, the caliph Harun al-Rashid. Such were her influence and antics at the Abbasid court, that Al-Khayzuran's life at the Abbasid court may have inspired the character of Scheherazade, the narrator of the 1001 Arabian Nights.

The centuries following the Abbasids brought more dynastic rule, with varying degrees of Islamicization of Iraq: the Mamluks; Ottomans; and, eventually, a secular, British, rule. The establishment of modern European and American styles of education occurred through British influence and the establishment, briefly, of a Hashemite monarchy in Iraq. Beginning in the 1920s, women began to be university educated. The overthrow of the British-supported Hashemite royal family in Iraq in 1958 and the installation of the Baʿath Party as leaders of the new Republic of Iraq ushered in decades of a precarious balance between secular and religious. Between 1970 and 1980 until the start of the war with Iran, education in Iraq was among the best in the Middle East, with almost gender parity and a literacy rate of 90 percent for Iraqis between the ages of fifteen and forty-five. Outside the realm of education, Personal Status Laws in Iraq were separated from Sharīʿah and secularized, granting women unprecedented access to divorce, inheritance, and disallowing polygamy except in exceptional circumstances. The Baʿath Party also established the General Federation of Iraqi Women (GFIW), which, although mostly for propaganda purposes within a frame of state feminism, offered women at the local level access to vocational and educational training.

The outbreak of war with Iran in 1980 signaled the decline of education as well as an increasing Islamic conservatism, which negatively impacted Iraqi women. As an Islamic state, like its enemy Iran, the war effort emphasized martyrdom. Then-president of Iraq Saddam Hussein promised widows a tract of land and financial compensation for the loss of their primary breadwinner. Many women, even those who were university educated, were unable to find employment to support their families. The condition of Iraqi women continued to decline through the 1990s as Saddam Hussein, in an effort to reinforce his own legitimacy, began to court powerful Sunnī leaders and tribal elders. The effect of this liaison was a gradual repeal of secular laws that benefited women, including the most progressive personal status laws in the region, in favor of Sharīʿah. During this period, single-sex education was reintroduced at the high school level and the sentence for an honor killing was reduced to a maximum of eight years.

More than two decades after the war, Iraqi widows still struggled, especially with the introduction of sanctions against the country following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The international community, in an effort to punish Saddam Hussein's aggression, enforced strict economic sanctions that inevitably left Iraqis, especially women, languishing in an even more precarious economic and social position. The Oil-for-Food program, introduced in 1997, was now the main source of sustenance for 80 percent of Iraqis. In 2003, with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Baʿathist regime, Shīʿī authorities such as Muqtada Sadr replaced the Sunnī authorities of the Baʿath Party, and the once-progressive personal status laws in Iraq were replaced wholesale with Sharīʿah Law. Postinvasion Iraq ushered in a period of terroristic policing of women and sectarian competition between groups such as al-Qaida in Mesopotamia and Shīʿī militia groups. Young women, especially, not used to the new rigid limitations on movement and unofficial dress code, were terrorized by religious vigilantes. Further violence against women was manifest in the actions of groups claiming affiliation with anticoalition groups initiating a campaign to actively involve women by recruiting them as suicide bombers.

The new constitution of Iraq guarantees that 75 seats in parliament must be given to women and that, as an Islamic state, no law can be enacted that contradicts the Sharīʿah. Further, the controversial Article 41 guarantees that the state will not intervene in personal status affairs and that those are to be governed by the religion of those affected. Critics of Article 41 argue that it undermines moderate Islam and enables conservatives. In postinvasion Iraq, women are being forced to rely heavily upon religious leaders and institutions for support that was once provided by the state, creating an uneasy tension between sectarian groups, moderates, and conservatives.

Bibliography

  • Aghaie, Kamran Scot, ed. The Women of Karbala. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. Find it in your Library
  • Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. Find it in your Library
  • Al-Ali, Nadje. Iraqi Women. London: Zed Books, 2007. Find it in your Library
  • Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Find it in your Library
  • Lasky, Marjorie P. “Iraqi Women under Siege.” Washington, D.C.: Code Pink, 2007. Find it in your Library
  • Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherazade Goes West. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001. Find it in your Library
  • Susman, Tina. “Iraqis Divided by Treatment of Women in Constitutions.” The Los Angeles Times. 9 October 1997. articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/09/world/fg-constitution9. Find it in your LibraryFind it in your Library
  • UNESCO. “Situation Analysis of Education in Iraq.” Paris: UNESCO, 2003. Find it in your Library
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice