Document Type

International Studies and Languages


The past fifteen to twenty years have seen a significant shift in focus to the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region as well as other primarily Islamic regions and countries, including Indonesia. Much of Western foreign policy has been allocated to tracking and stopping trans-national Islamic terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, and working with the governments of the countries throughout which these groups operate. Despite what popular culture may portray, those who study Islam and its adherents have come to recognize that these terrorist groups represent a severe minority of what is often a thoughtful and peaceful faith. However, the study of Islam by Western thinkers is still far from complete. While Islamic politics and traditions have been studied for decades, there is one major component that has been severely limited and all too often ignored: the study of women and their role in Islamic culture. This paper will focus on examining the role Muslim women play in politics. A literature review of the material already compiled in Western academia, will determine the degree to which most Muslim women are politically active and whether or not that degree is established by each woman’s own choice or by oppression from her male-dominated society. This paper categorizes political activity into three types, from least active to most active: 1. political discourse and community-affiliated activities such as meetings, 2. political protests and demonstrations, and 3. holding public office. The focus is primarily on women in the MENA region, although there is much more outside of this area worth considering. The examination is mainly on the recent past (1970’s-present) with some references to Islamic history and tradition. The working research question for this study is as follows: Are Muslim women relatively inactive (compared to Western expectations) in politics due to oppression by their male-dominated society or by personal choice? This paper will survey what Muslim women are doing for themselves to become more involved in politics and whether or not they want to be politically active in the ways that the West thinks that they should. It seems that the Islamic community in MENA is tolerant of women’s participation in politics to a certain extent and up to a certain level. When determining whether or not Muslim women are relatively inactive in politics due to oppression by their male-dominated society or by personal choice, this framework helps identify patterns and trends that can be used both in the development of policy and a better understanding of this population’s political desires and empowerment. The information collected in this paper lead to the conclusion that women who are minimally or mildly politically active are so by choice, not because they are pressured to be any more or less active. Second, women who are highly politically active, or wish to be, do indeed face oppression and obstacles in their progress and development as leaders. It appears to be socially acceptable for a woman to hold a position of leadership within a particular community, but there must still be a man of higher rank that can counter any of her decisions.

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