When Francophone creative artist Assia Djebar decided to write a semi-fictional work on the early years of Islam, she brought to this endeavor her life experience in the context of Algerian history and French colonial influence. Her writing reveals changing attitudes towards Algerian women and Islam, in response to ongoing events.Far from Medina was influenced by the chain of modern biographies of the Prophet Muhammad produced in English, French and Arabic. Early Islamic feminist endeavors also informed her work. Most fascinating is the dialogue that Djebar seems to have carried out with classical Islamic texts, revealed in the format and style of the book.Djebar proposes that the death of Muhammad, and to a greater extent the death of his daughter Fatima six months later, were turning points in women's roles in Islamic society—taking the Muslims "Far From Medina," where women were strong and stood up for their rights.
The gendered messages in the paintings and text of Dinet and Sliman's Life of Mohammad are the products of a fascinating social and cultural interchange that developed over three decades between the Frenchman and Algerian life. In this social and cultural context, Dinet produced his Orientalist paintings and collaborated with Ben Ibrahim on a series of illustrated books. At the same time, Dinet undertook a spiritual journey from Orientalist painter to Islamophile, formally converting in 1913. La Vie de Mohammed was composed and published in French during World War I and immediately after appeared in English. Dinet's visual gendered perception of the life of the Prophet projects an image of dignified women believers participating in communal religious life, separated to varying degrees from men. The text of the book sends a more diffuse, stock message about Muslim women. Originally produced in a limited edition, Dinet and Sliman's work was to bring the life story of the Prophet to far-reaching parts of the world.
The Arabic phrase “al-rijāl qawwāmūna ʿalā al-nisāʾ’” which defines gender relations in the Qurʾān (Qurʾān 4:34) has been interpreted by Muslim men functioning in patriarchal societies, and reinterpreted by Islamic feminists. The parallel phrase from the Hebrew bible “vehu yimshol bach” (Genesis 3:15) also defines gender relations, although its original context differs. This article aims to explore similarities, differences and parallels between the Islamic and Jewish understanding of gender as reflected in the sacred books.
A comparative exposition of the differing contextual meaning of the Biblical and Qurʾānic phrases will be followed by an explication of their patriarchal exegesis in medieval and in modern times. Finally, the efforts by religious feminists to redefine the terms yimshol and qawwāmūn—their methods and strategies—will be compared and contrasted.