Pernilla Myrne


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When early Islamic jurists outlined the marriage law, they codified a gendered model of conjugal rights and duties that privileged men over women. A similar development also took place regarding sexual rights as women’s pleasure and sexual gratification became secondary to those of men. Specialists in this period of Islamic history have argued that the gender ideologies prevalent in the early Abbasid society, which enabled an androcentric definition of Islam, should be seen as the primary cause for the inequality within the Islamic marriage system. This paper aims to show that Abbasid gender ideologies, contrary to popular descriptions, were not homogenous. Two major trends in understanding female sexuality during the early Abbasid period will be discussed. The first, androcentric trend that focused primarily on male sexual gratification was in conflict with a more women-friendly attitude; the latter was advocated in a number of literary genres, including medical handbooks, popular stories, educational and ethics literature. These works accentuated the importance of female sexual health and favoured female pleasure as a necessary element for mutual sexual satisfaction and marital happiness. The paper illustrates that some aspects from this more women-friendly approach to sexuality were adopted in later legal opinions that sought to correct the most visible cases of inequality in the social institution of marriage.


Sexual rights; women; marriage; Abbasid empire; ḥadīth; medicine


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