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The 19th Century Harem and Egypt and Syria

There is ample evidence of a tendency in progressive Western culture to deplore polygamy, slavery, the harem, and the inferior status of women, even though there is also evidence of oppression of women in Western culture. What makes the status of women particularly noteworthy in Islam, however, is that their institutional inferiority as a matter of what could be called cultural policy has survived or been reinvigorated in the face of progressive tendencies in non-Islamic cultures. As Croutier says, "Islam holds women in particularly low esteem, considering them intellectually dull, spiritually vapid, valuable only to satisfy the passions of their masters and provide them male heirs. 'Woman is a field, a sort of property that a husband may use or abuse as he sees fit,' says the Koran." This doctrine of women, recognizable in the history of Islamic countries to the present day, is consistent with such traditions as polygamy, slavery, and the institution of the harem and is widely perceived as retrogressive. However, Croutier explains Mohammed's "altruistic intentions when he sanctioned polygamy, seeing it as a solution to the pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide, as well as a practical way to deal with the surplus female population." To put it another way, the rationale behind institutional polygamy, while undoubtedly meant to serve the interests of men in the culture (who could divorce their wives more or less at will), also had


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The 19th Century Harem and Egypt and Syria. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 12:53, October 24, 2014, from
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