contributor.author: Andriia Cristina Lopes Frazco

title.none: Hambly, ed., Women in the Medieval Islamic World (Frazco)

identifier.other: baj9928.9908.015 99.08.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andriia Cristina Lopes Frazco, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, andmar@centroin.com.br

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Hambly, Gavin R. G., ed. Women in the Medieval Islamic World. The New Middle Ages, vol. 6. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 566. $59.95. ISBN: 0-312-21057-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.08.15

Hambly, Gavin R. G., ed. Women in the Medieval Islamic World. The New Middle Ages, vol. 6. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 566. $59.95. ISBN: 0-312-21057-4.

Reviewed by:

Andriia Cristina Lopes Frazco
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
andmar@centroin.com.br

The history of women has been attractive to many historians in the last decades. Every year, in several countries, dozens of books are published with a common concern: to reconstruct several aspects of the women's life in the past. However, in spite of all this interest, the historians have been concentrating their studies in western women's history, especially Europeans or from North America.

Although we can find works that focus on African, Asian and Latin American women, these are, in the great majority of cases, monographic works, with very specific temporal and spatial foci, produced by local historians, mainly post- graduation students who don't find space for the publication of their texts in their countries. Works of synthesis, therefore, are rare.

Thus, the situation is not very different from that of almost ten years ago, when the The History of Women, organized by Georges Duby and Michele Perrot, was published. We read in this introduction, elaborated by the coordinators of the book, that the work was a history of western, white women, but not out of desire for exclusion or judgement of value. And they add: "We dreamed of a history of women in the oriental world and on the African continent, that will fit to the women and the men of those countries to write and that will be completely different from ours, because it presupposes a double look: on themselves and on us." (Lisbon, 1993).

The book that I reviewed tries to fill this gap. Women in Medieval the Islamic World: Power, Patronage, Piety is the sixth title of the series The New Middle Ages, edited by Bonnie Wheeler, of Southern Methodist University, that has as its objective to publish studies in medieval history, especially works on women's histories in several cultures, both monographs and collections of essays. The volume under review fits in the latter case. Organized and presented by Gavin R. G. Hambly, history professor of the University of Texas at Dallas, this book draws together twenty-three works, written by researchers of several nationalities, that possess as common goal to present new information and reflections on the women of pre-modern Muslim culture.

The title of this work can bring some confusion for a non- specialized reader, since its chapters diverge from the traditional chronological conventions and present works with temporal ranges that go from the end of antiquity to the nineteenth century. In this sense, some texts are about the pre-Islamic period (chapters 1 and 2) and others of the neocolonial period (chapters 21, 22 and 23). On the other hand, although the book intends to be "the first publication devoted to Muslim women in pre-modern terms" (p.xi), it concentrates only on the study of women from the oriental Islamic world. Without doubt, the inclusion of articles on women in Al-Andalus and the Magreb, investigations developed by Maria Jesus Vigueira (mentioned in the final bibliography), Manuela Marin, Maria Luisa Avila, Teresa Garulo, Maria Isabel Fierro and Maria Jesus Rubiera, and others, would further enrich, this edition.

The articles gathered in Women in Medieval the Islamic World possess many different themes. For studying the Muslim women, real or fictitious, the authors have used different theoretical lines, methods and diverse primary sources, concentrating mainly on women of the upper classes. The result is very unequal: there are narrative works, which seem to be the fruit of a first approach to the theme; others present original problems and solid analyses of the subject. This inequality among the works can also be explained by the different investigative fields in which the several authors are located. And, as is possible to infer from the brief presentation of each collaborator at the end of the book (p. 561-566), few had already published specific works on Muslim women.

After the presentation of the series The New Middle Ages, by Bonnie Wheeler, of the foreword, written by the editor, and of the index of illustrations, are the twenty-three chapters, organized chronologically, preceded by an introduction, also written by Gavin R. G. Hambly. The work contains a final bibliography and the already-mentioned collaborators' presentation.

The articles gathered in Women in Medieval the Islamic World don't necessarily present women, as their central object, through studies of gender or social history, but they analyze several aspects of Muslim culture and society where the women were found as one of the key elements. Thus, there are articles that use the approach of the history of literacy, as in chapter 13, which studies the conversion of oral texts to writing in the Ottoman court of Aintab; of cultural history, as in chapter 3, which discusses the feminine representations present in shi'ite devotional literature; or even of the history of daily life, as in chapter 17, in which feminine day- to-day life in Safavid Iran is reconstructed from European travelers' testimonies.

The Introduction of the work, entitled "Becoming Visible: Medieval Islamic Women in Historiography and History " (p. 3- 27), of Gavin R. G. Hambly, starts with the fact that works on Islamic History give little information on women and, when they do, they concentrate on themes such as the use of the veil, polygamy, concubinage and the harem. The author concludes, therefore, that these women are not really well-known, since most researchers ignore them, considering them "invisible", reinforcing the stereotypes of Muslim women. The author presents the principal researchers and studies that during the twentieth century have tried to elucidate the Muslim woman's situation. Starting from the pioneer, Nabia Abbott, who began to publish works on this subject in 1941, several aspects of Muslim women's history began to be explored: women and popular religiosity; women and Sufism; female Islamic scholars; women and public life; women and power. The author points out, even so, that many of these themes deserve to be deepened and that several subjects still stay unexplored. He affirms that it is with this objectivity that the work was organized: "this book will modify the stereotypical assumption that in traditional Islamic society women were somehow 'invisible'." (p.19)

Chapter 1, "Three queens, two wives, and the goddess: role and images of women in Sasanian Iran", was written by Jenny Rose, an independent scholar who studies childbirth and divorce in the Zoroastrian world. Using iconography, plastic art and Zoroastrian texts, the author tries to reconstruct the several roles and the physical appearance of prominent women in Sasanian Iran. The author begins her text by discussing marriage and its several social implications for women in pre- Islamic Iran. In a second section, she is concerned, fundamentally, with the figurative images of feminine illustrations: the goddess Ardwisur Anahid; the queens Ardashir-Anahid, Shapurdukhtag, Buran, and of unidentified character. Rose concludes that a lot of women received prominence in Sasanian Iran, to the point that they were represented artistically: queens, concubines, goddesses, legendary figures of the Sasanian dynasty and the powerful families' followers of Zoroastrianism. Although in this group of women we can find some who possessed a Christian, Jewish, or pagan past, through marriage or concubinage, and since they accepted and assumed the principles of Zoroastrianism, not only they were accepted socially, but they started to have a prominent role in the Sasanian Empire's development.

Chapter 2, "Women in central pre-Islamic Asia: the Khatun of Bukhara" (p.55-69) was written by Richard N. Frye, Emeritus Aga Khan Professor of Iranian Studies at Harvard University and the former President of the Asia Institute of Pahlavi University, Shiraz. Based on archaeological vestiges, especially cult objects and coins, and in general theories on the old societies--such as the presence of the matriarchy, polyandry and the polytheism in some societies, called by the author, as prehistoric--Frye traces some considerations on women's roles in Central Asia during antiquity before starting the study of the queen of Bukhara. For Frye, women's roles in old Iran and in Central Asia did not differ much from the present in other primitive societies, which can be evidenced by the outstanding role of feminine divinities, like Anahita and Ashi, which survived even in this area with the contact with other cultures, such as the Hellenistic. This prestige of feminine illustration would be connected to the nomadic character of these societies. The author adds, however, that there is also evidence that not all women possessed, in this area, honors and privileges and only in exceptional cases a woman got to reach a position of authority, like Khatun of Bukhara, for whom, in spite of countless legends, a historical illustration can be considered. Khatun was queen regent in Bukhara in the seventh century AD, for fifteen years, while her son, Tughshada, was an infant, and had her authority recognized by her people.

Chapter 3, "Zaynab Bint'Ali and the place of the women of the households of the first imams in shi'ite devotional literature " (p.69-98) is, in my personal opinion, one of the better elaborated articles of the whole book. It was written by David Pinault, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. This article tries to reconstruct shi'ite models of spirituality, through the analysis of medieval and contemporary devotional literature, synthesized in the feminine figures of the Mohammed family and of first Imans--Husayn, son of Fatima al Zahra and grandson of the Prophet, and Qasin, nephew of Husayn--who died in the battle of Karbala. The feminine figures analyzed are: Fatima al Zahra, daughter of Mohammed, symbol of passive tolerance and of eternal mourning; the daughters of Husayn, Sakina Bint Husayn and Fatima Kubra, this last one also bride of Qasin, figures of vulnerability and sorrow; Shahrbanu, daughter of the Sasanian king Yazdigird III, who came to Islam and became the wife of Husayn, and who symbolizes the union between the old Iranian monarchy with the Prophet's house; and Zaynab Kultheim, sister of Husayn, who is seen as the representation of the resistance from defeat. For Pinault, the memories and narratives on the episode of Karbala should be seen as a myth: "... the story that makes sense of shared historical experience, that tells the people who they are, that defines them by insisting on the necessity and inevitability of the suffering they have collectively had to undergo " (p.95). The author, even so, argues that it is not a static myth, but one that can undergo modulations in the passage of time.

Chapter 4, " The bold and the beautiful: women and fitna in the 'Sirat Dhat Al-Himma ': the story of Nura " (p. 99-116), was written by Remke Kruk, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Culture at the University of Leiden. In this chapter, taking as a point of departure wider research on women in Arab epic texts, the author states that in popular Arab narratives, which includes the epic texts, women's roles are different from those present in the learned literary texts. In those popular texts, the women are characterized as sagacious, astute and ingenious, while the fellows of the opposite sex just possess the qualities of being handsome and virile. According to Kruk, in the epic literature, "many women, among them female warriors, make their appearance the part of the inner circle of leading heroes " (p 100). The author, to base her hypotheses, chooses to study two feminine characters which are represented in the long epic text Sirat Dhat Al-Himma: Dhat Al-Himma, the heroine that gives her name to the text and acts as a type of horsewoman, and Nura, Byzantine princess who enchants all men. She centers her analysis on two points: in the loss of responsibility and dignity of the male heroes who link with Nura and in her relationship with Dhat Al-Himma. She concludes that these characters synthesize the roles developed by women in society: Nura represents feminine sexuality and social disorder and Dhat Al-Himma, the denial of the sexuality, and the responsiblity for order and social stability.

The Chapter 5, entitled "Sayyida Hurrah: the Isma'ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen" (p.117-130), written by Farhad Daftary, Head of the Department of Academic Researches and Publications at the Institute of Ismaili Studes, presents a biography, just as the title suggests, of the queen of Yemen who lived in the twelfth century, Sayyida Hurrah. According to the author, this woman was an exceptional case because she was the only medieval feminine figure who exercised, simultaneously, political and religious leadership in Sulayhid Yemen: hujja of Yemen was designated also the person officially responsible for the business of the caliph-iman al Muslansir in the west of India. The text is a narrative of many facts that allow us to conclude that Sayyida Hurrah owed great dignities, in first place, to the good relationships maintained with the Fatimids, who not only demonstrated a renewed tolerance in religious matters, but also adopted an unprecedented policy concerning feminine education. We can even deduce, in the second place, that this caliphate paid attention to Yemen because it possessed a great interest in integrating Egypt to India commercially, through the Red Sea.

The Chapter 6, "Women's lamentations: the protest in the 'Sahanama'" (p. 131-146), was written by Olga M. Davidson, Assistant Professor in Arabic and Persian Languages and Literatures in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. This chapter is a comparative study of the fictitious lament of Tahmina--present in the Persian epic text composed by Firdawsi, Shahnama, in the beginning of the eleventh century--and laments observed by ethnographers in several cultures. Taking as a point of departure the presupposition proposed by anthropologists, that emotion is built culturally, the author notes that laments are cultural manifestations that are gender specific. In this sense, she concludes that the feminine laments are "gender- specific protest" (p.132). The feminine protests, therefore, not only refer to the specific and private situations of misery, but they also arise against the destiny generally allotted to all women. Of all the chapters of the book, this is the only one that presents long transcriptions in Arabic, followed by translations in English, radically out of harmony with the others. As probably the great majority of readers of this work don't know Arabic, an interesting resource would be to include such texts in the notes, maintaining in the body of the work only the translation. Such a procedure would have made the reading most agile and pleasant.

Chapter 7, "Heroines and others in the heroic acts of the turks" (p. 147-160) was written by Geoffrey Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Turkish in the University of Oxford. According to this author, the epic traditions of the Turks were transmitted vocally for centuries until they were fixed in writing in several texts, especially the book Dede Korkut. This work, probably organized in the end of the twelfth century, gathers together twelve stories of the Heroic Age of Oghuz, preceded by a translation. Lewis tries to demonstrate that these reports maintain traditions that go back to the period in which Turkish Oghuz entered in contact with Islam, since they give evidence of a superficial Islamization and contain countless non-Islamic habits. In the observation of these, the aspect that is most highlighted is the role assumed by women and their way of life. In such a work, the women possess great freedom, they are active and behave more heroically than the men, to the point that the protagonist of the sixth story, the princess Saljan, is, according to Lewis, the representation of ideal Oghuz.

In Chapter 8, "Female piety and patronage in the medieval 'Hajj'" (p. 161-179), by Marina Tolmacheva, Professor of Middle Eastern History at Washington State University, the object of study is the feminine pilgrimage to Meca, the hajj. According to the author, the hajj was one moment in which a considerable freedom granted to women. Thus, agreeing with William C. Young, she affirms: "the hajj presented Muslim women with a ritual model which temporarily allowed them to transcend profane models of gender of ordinary life" (p.161). In the article two aspects related to the pilgrimage are studied: the spiritual meaning of the hajj for women and their philanthropic activities. According to the author, these two elements are linked, because feminine piety fed patronage and this transformed piety into philanthropy, which meant that a larger number of people, men and women, could participate in the hajj.

Chapter 9, "Sultan Radiyya Bint Iltutmish " (p. 181-197), is by Peter Jackson, Lecturer in History in the University of Keele. In this text the reign of Radiyya bint Iltutmish, who governed for about three years the sultanate of Delhi, during the thirteenth century, is reconstructed with the few existent sources. The article is a narrative of many political and military facts. Even so, as the narrative progresses, the author tries to explain how and why Radiyya arrived at the sultan's position. To Jackson, this was only possible with the support of the official Turkish slaves, who belonged to the first generation of converted to Islam, coming from a society in which the women possessed a more active role.

In Chapter 10, entitled "Timurid Woman: the cultural perspective" (p.199-226), Priscilla P. Soucek, Professor of Islamic Art at New York University, reconstructs the biography of three women of the family of Timurlane, a Turk originating from Transoxiana who reconstructed Genghis Khan's Empire in the fourteenth century: Qutlugh Tarkhan Agha, his older sister; Saray Mulk Khanim, his main wife; and Khanzada Begum, his favorite daughter-in-law. Starting from iconographic and written sources and concentrating on these women's biographies, Soucek traces the several roles carried out by the women of the Timurid dynasty, as much in the ambit of private as public life. The author concludes that, concerning personal and private life, this dynasty maintained many practices of the Ghingizid Mongols, which provided feminine participation in the court. In relation to public space, breaking with the past, they started to share several average Islamic traditions in the cities of Central Asia.

Chapter 11, "Married rights versus class prerogatives: the divorce marries in Mameluk Cairo" (p. 227-240), written by Carl F. Petry, Professor of History at Northwestern University, analyzes a case of divorce which happened in the city of Cairo, in 1470, registered by columnist Nur al-Din Ali ibn Da'ud al Jawhari al-Sayrafi. According to the author, this juridical case allows us to see the presence of gender relationships in pre-modern Muslim society. Starting from the analyzed case, the author concludes that a woman was capable of presenting a process to the court, without her parents' mediation or that of a masculine agent; possessing the perspective that the litigants could be accused of violating her rights; and the possibility that the accused were punished by its lack.

Chapter 12, entitled "Invisible Women: residents of early sixteenth-century Istanbul" (p. 241-268), written by Yvonne J. Seng, Visiting Professor Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Georgetown University and at Wesleyan Theological Seminary in Washington, analyzes the economic and social roles occupied by the women in the city of Istanbul during the last years of reign of Sultan Sulayman, using material from legal courts. According to the author, through this documentation, the women become visible, which not always is possible using another source type, especially in the foreigners' texts. According to the author, "Muslim women were not seen by strangers" (p. 242). For the author, the women were indeed engaged in the community's social and economic life. Their presence was not limited to going to the Mosque or public bathing, but also to the markets, where they acted as saleswomen and buyers, as well as in the courts, in which their complaints were presented and their mistakes were judged.

The Chapter 13 "'She is trouble ...and I will divorce her': orality, honor, and representation in the ottoman court of Aintab" (p. 269-300), written by Leslie Peirce, Associate Professor in Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, is an important work in the field of the history of literacy, since it explores the meaning of oral speech in the courts of Aintab, county of the Ottoman Empire, and its transformation into written text, during the period of September of 1240 to 1241. The author centered his study on cases of divorce. According to Peirce, the passage from oral speech to written in the analyzed cases don't happen in a uniform way. The author defends the hypothesis that these variations are related not only to the demands of the legal processes, but also for the great social and collective interest of preserving the individuals' well-being and that of the community. In this sense, adds the author, not all the cases of divorce that happened in the county of Aintab in the analyzed period arrived in the courts. The individuals who opted for presenting their cases of divorce before the court did so, above all, in search of a form of social sanction. This chapter presents a great concern with the theoretical-methodological aspects, which gives it a singular face compared to the other researches of the book. With mastery, the author is presenting his key concepts and the limits of his own investigations, giving a true type of cultural history.

Chapter 14, "Women and the public eye in eighteenth-century Istanbul" (p. 301-324), was written by Fariba Zarinebf-Shahr, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. In this work the transformations operating on social morality in the city of Istanbul during the eighteenth century are studied. This moment is, in the opinion of specialists, the culmination of Ottoman decline. Analyzing the registrations of the courts, Zarinebf-Shahr tries to capture the legal and social dynamism of Ottoman society of the period, which a lot of times is not contemplated by historiography. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was a process of crisis in civil society, in which, according to Zarinebf-Shahr, the women occupied an important role. In this period, the courts occupied a role of middlemen between the government's authority and the civil society. In this context, the courts, as much ruled by the Islamic law as by the imperial ordinances, reveal an attenuation of attitudes, tolerance and change of habits in a cosmopolitan and international city like Istanbul.

Chapter 15, "The 'jewels of wonder': learned ladies and princess politicians in the provinces of early Safavid Iran" (p. 325-347) is by Maria Szuppe, Researcher in the History of Iran and Central Asia at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of Strasbourg. Starting with information present in Persian texts of different natures, the author reconstructs aspects of the life of the women of the upper classes, not only from the capital, but of the counties and marks of the Safavid Empire. Szuppe studies the feminine literary manifestations and the political activities exercised by women during the sixteenth century and she concludes that "... women took in the unexpectedly large part in public life during the first century of Safavid rule in Iran" (p. 335). In Safavid Iran's first century, the cultural and social models of the Timurid Empire still stayed alive. The author argues, however, that in spite of the Timurid traditions, which qualified women to participate in the intellectual and artistic life, the cultural past of the semi-nomadic and militarized Turks, who formed the Safavid Empire, became the base of the private social status that the women occupied in this area in this period.

Chapter 16, "The 'Aqa'id Al-Nisa': the glimpse at Safavid women in local Isfahani Culture" (p. 349-381), written by Kathryn Babayan, Assistant Professor of Persian Studies at the University of Michigan, looks to reconstruct the marriages, the social space, the attitudes of the relationships of urban women of Isfahani in the seventeenth century. To do this, she analyzes the work Aqa'id Al-Nisa, probably written in the second half of the seventeenth century, by a clergyman. The choice of the study of this source is justified by Babayan by the fact that this illuminates certain aspects of women's life, which is not possible to notice through other texts. The author tries to demonstrate as the changes of certain traditions are legitimated, that they checked the women an active role in the family, they affected the political universe and the court, when the institutions of the Safavid state became more sedentary and the administration centralized.

In Chapter 17, "Woman in Safavid Iran: The Evidence of European Travelers" (p. 383-406), by Ronald W. Ferrier, an independent scholar who specializes in the history of Iran, is a study on the daily life of Persian women in Safavid Iran, in the period from 1501 to 1722, starting from several European travelers' testimonies. The author analyzes the writings of John Freyer, Thomas Herbert, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Jean Chardin, Raphael du Mans, and others, men who possessed several occupations, came from different places in Western Europe and traveled to Iran for varied motivations. Faced with countless questions on the validity of the study of these testimonies, the author defends their importance, although recognizing its limitations, because such sources are replete with prejudices and possess moralized character. Starting from the European travelers' testimonies, the author reconstructs the women's physical appearance, the husbands' choice, the several marriage types, marriage ceremonies, divorce, mortuary rites, superstitions, prostitution, the harem, etc.

The Chapter 18, "Contributors to the urban landscape: women builders in Safavid Isfahan and Mughal Shahjahanabad" (pp. 407- 428), written by Stephen P. Blake, Associate Professor of History at Saint Olaf College, is a comparative study of the construction activities sponsored by women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the cities of Isfahan, capital of the Safavid Iranian State, and in Shahjahanabad, capital of the Indian Empire of Mughal. Using the comparative method, the author identifies the women who sponsored the buildings, the place, the year and the type of building built. Blake verifies that while the women in Isfahan sponsored thirteen buildings, the ones of Shahjahanabad sponsored nineteen. Starting from this data, he concludes that the women in Safavid Iran were more confined and without capacity to act in the public sphere than in Mughal India. In this sense, he affirms: "...protection of women seems to have been crucial to maintenance of male honor and more deeply entrenched in Iran than in India" (pp.407-8). Even so, he still produces another conclusion that, although obvious, results in the reader questioning the previous ones: Safavid Iran was smaller and poorer than Mughal India.

Chapter 19, entitled "Armed women retainers in the zenanas of indo-muslim rulers: the case of Bibi Fatima" (pp. 429-67), was written by Gavin R. G. Hambly. This article tries to break with the whole fantasy and ignorance about zenanas, more known as harems, whose rise originated in the Middle Ages. Using coming sources of Muslim India, dated to the sixteenth century, Hambly is concerned with studying the organization and administration of harems, and he verifies that "sensual and exotic stereotypes of zenana life projected by eighteenth and nineteenth century European orientalists, whether scholars, romance-writers, or painters, had their origin in the indigenous values of Islamic elite society rather than, as is sometimes asserted, their own prurient imaginings" (p. 437). The author emphasizes that the harems had for their administration, besides the eunuchs, a feminine bureaucratic hierarchy. These women met the illustration of the urdubegis, a type of bodyguard combined with chambermaid. Hambly finishes this article with a study of the biography of one of those urdubegis, Bibi Fatima, who acted in the zenana of Mughal padshah Humayun in the sixteenth century.

In Chapter 20, "Private Lives and public piety: Woman and the practice of Islam in Mughal India" (pp. 469-88), written by Gregory C. Kozlowski, Professor of Islamic and South Asian History at DePaul University, the two opposite visions that are still discussed among historians regarding feminine spirituality in the south of India, in the Mughal Era. The tendency is either to see them as silent victims of a religion dominated by men, or to emphasize women's specific cases that received prominence. For Kozlowski these two postures are wrong because they think of the Muslim Indian woman as using categories and ideas from Europe and North America, such as the ideals of feminine freedom or the rigid division among private and public. The author marks that it is necessary to think that women can exercise real power in men's behavior in the domain of the private, as well as to break with the idea that their religious power was insignificant. In this way, he defends the idea that in the Mughal Era there was no misogynic prejudice and that in spite of the fact that we possess little information about individual personalities, it is possible to attest women's religious importance for the success of the dynasty.

In Chapter 21, "Woman and the feminine in the court and high culture of Awadh, 1722-1856" (pp. 489-519), written by Michael H. Fisher, Professor of History of Oberlin College, women's roles and feminine themes in the kingdom of Awadh, during the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries are studied. In the small kingdom of Awadh, the shi'ite faith and the regional traditions took part in the formation of an original culture. According to Fisher, in the court and in the culture of Awadh the women became prominent and many men adopted feminine identities, to the point that many Indians and English criticize it. This criticism, besides, worked as a ideological justification for English political aggressiveness against this kingdom and its later annexation.

Chapter 22, entitled "Embattled begams: women the power brokers in early Modern India" (p. 521-36), of Richard B. Barnett, Professor at the University of Virginia, is also about the kingdom of Awadh. The author studies the political and social power that two noble women, Beguns of Awadh, exercised in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Sadr al-Nisa Begam, daughter of the founder of the dynasty, and Bahu Begam, its daughter-in-law. Barnett reconstructs the women's trajectory and concludes that, despite facing important rivals-- such as the English--and cultural conventions, these women exercised power with creativity. In first place, they were not limited by the present gender prescriptions in their society; they acted to the side or occupied power vacuums of their husbands or children and they used their woman's status as source of power.

Chapter 23, "Sitt Nasra Bint ' Adlan: the Sudanese noblewoman in History and Tradition" (p. 537-49), was written by Idris al- Hasan, Visiting Professor of the Department of Sociology of the Addis Ababa University, and Neil Mc Hugh, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Fort Lewis Collage in Durango, Colorado. The latter already taught at the University of Gezira, Sudan and recently also acted as Visiting Professor at Addis Ababa University. This chapter presents a historical biography of a Sudanese noble woman, Sitt Nasra bint' Adlan, who lived from 1800 to 1860. For the authors, this woman has not received, until now, the importance owed by historians, given her social, political, and economic prominence. Starting from three groups different from sources--the testemunies of traveling Europeans, the oral and anecdotal social memory and the Sira, the biography--the authors try to reconstruct this feminine character's career. They conclude that each type of researched source presents a different vision of Sitt Nasra bint' Adlan. Foreigners are fascinated by her power, also over the men. In collective memory, they see Sitt Nasra as a personal autocrat, a woman in action who didn't submit to masculine authority. Finally, in Sira, she is criticized. For this text, of moral character, this woman, since she was not controlled by any man, didn't know limits to satisfy her desires; she is presented, therefore, as immoral.

The several chapters above mentioned, in spite of the divergences, present countless points of contact. Because of this, despite the fact that the book includes an introduction, in which the texts are presented by their thematic content, I believe that a final conclusion, containing a synthesis, would be fundamental. Several articles allow us to infer, for example, that pre-Islamic traditions, such as those of the Turks or Persians, survive after Islamicization, and were an important factor in the configuration of women's status in Islamic societies. Since the main objective of the volume is to break with the stereotypes of Muslim women who lived in the pre-modern period, what new vision of these women do these articles allow to emerge?

Women in the Medieval Islamic World is very nicely bound. The quality of the paper is excellent, since it is dull and it doesn't tire the reader. However, there are two formal aspects that hinder the reading and understanding of the texts: the option of putting the notes at the end of each chapter, which requires the interruption of reading by the search for the corresponding notes, and the fact that the photos are in black and white, which hinders observation, especially in the case of the scenes with many details and that were reduced, as the ones on pp. 215, 368 and 441.

This work is, without doubts, important for historians, anthropologists, scholars of literature and university students, as well as for everybody who is interested in women's studies and in studies of pre-modern Islamic culture. It doesn't demand great previous knowledge, except for knowledge about the spatial-temporal organization of the oriental world from antiquity to nineteenth century, data accessible in manuals, atlases and encyclopedias.

The merit of Women in Medieval the Islamic World is unquestionable: it gathers several unpublished works, is concerned with analyzing not very explored objects, takes as points of departure, in many cases, not very known sources, and, at base, is written by western and eastern authors. This work executes what intends, since it introduces Muslim women not as victims or as passive people, but as active members of pre-modern Islamic societies.