Woman as symbol : a perspective on Islamic self-understanding
Jardim, Georgina Louisa
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Women's status in lslam is at the centre of socio-political debate, not only between 'East' and West', but amongst Muslims themselves. Furthermore, it is not only Islamic societies that are struggling with the question of women's status in religion, but other religious traditions as well. Women are caught up in this struggle, having to negotiate their identity between religious narrative and everyday life. This study sets out from the assumption that understanding others is enlightening to an understanding of firstly, oneself and secondly, the socio-historic forces that impact on personal identity formation. Therefore the aim of this study is to analyse how women function as symbols of Islamic religion, and whether there are similarities in the Islamic response to Christian views on women. Chapter one provides an introduction to the questions challenging religious communities today. It sets out the framework of the study and clarifies the methodology of a cross-religious investigation. Chapter two discusses conceptualisation of persons in religion, and what it implies for articulating meaning. It also explains how persons function at a symbolic level. Chapter three describes how stereotypical notions of persons are formed by the interaction of histories. It views the varied sources of ethical knowledge as factors that inform inter-religious dialogue. These aspects create ambiguity for one religion's perception of another. In this instance it focuses on the perceptions of Christianity and lslam respectively, finding the philosophical approach of ethnohermeneutics appropriate for this study. Chapter four sets out concepts of person informing an Islamic anthropology. The objective of this section, as indeed for the whole study, is to present conceptualisation of persons from Islamic points of view, and not just from a Christian, or humanist ethical, point of view. These Islamic concepts are then correlated in chapter five, to the ontological basis of identity from the religious text. This chapter draws on the image of Eve as presented in the religious traditions of Islam. It infers that extra-Qur'anic sources were appropriated for assumptions of women's inferiority in Islamic traditions, comparing it with Eve's image in Christianity. The section points out that androcentric hermeneutics are not exclusive to lslam, but play a role in Christian traditions as well. Chapter six concludes the study by confirming the androcentric hermeneutic informing women's status in religions. It explicates the construction of women's identity as an assumption of the natural deficiency of women based on biology that can be countered by her biology. The ideal of women's capacity as mothers is presented by the respective religious traditions as a role model to counteract the deficient nature found in the image of Eve (chapter five). This study views the essentialising of woman as temptress and mother as an archetypal myth that informs women's religious identity, that is not explicit in the religious text. The section proposes that a holistic approach to the gendered existence, and relations between genders, provides a more positive approach than focussing on religiously constructed one-dimensional character-types.
- Theology