This history of Middle Eastern women is the first to survey gender relations in the Middle East from the earliest Islamic period to the present. Outstanding scholars analyze a rich array of sources ranging from histories, biographical dictionaries, law books, prescriptive treatises, and archival records, to the Traditions (hadith) of the Prophet and imaginative works like the Thousand and One Nights, to modern writings by Middle Eastern women and by Western writers. They show that gender boundaries in the Middle East have been neither fixed nor immutable: changes in family patterns, religious rituals, socio-economic necessity, myth and ideology—and not least, women’s attitudes—have expanded or circumscribed women’s roles and behavior through the ages.
Combining scholarship and theory, these essays are loosely organized to concentrate on the early Islamic centuries, the Mamluk period (1250-1517) and the modern age (essentially the 18th century through the 1980s). The authors generally focus on the subject of ``gender boundaries'' in order to demonstrate the changing position of women in Middle Eastern society. Because the region is culturally diverse and the span of time considered is vast, the collection remains miscellaneous, providing detailed studies of endowment deeds in late medieval Egypt and textile manufacturing in the Bursa factories during the 19th century but leaving enormous gaps. Much of the writing is awkward and overburdened with jargon. One bright spot is Paula Sanders's ``Gendering the Ungendered Body: Hermaphrodites in Medieval Islamic Law,'' a marvelous study of medieval Muslim jurists' struggle to incorporate the hermaphrodite in a world where the boundaries between male and female were strictly delineated. Keddie is the author of Roots of Revolution ; Baron teaches history at New York City College.