Gender Roles In Egyptian Society
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Gender Roles and Stereotypes
These personified ideas range from deities that were important in myth and ritual to obscure beings, only mentioned once or twice, that may be little more than metaphors. Confronting these blurred distinctions between gods and other beings, scholars have proposed various definitions of a "deity". One widely accepted definition,  suggested by Jan Assmann , says that a deity has a cult , is involved in some aspect of the universe, and is described in mythology or other forms of written tradition.
From this perspective, "gods" included the king, who was called a god after his coronation rites , and deceased souls, who entered the divine realm through funeral ceremonies. Likewise, the preeminence of the great gods was maintained by the ritual devotion that was performed for them across Egypt. The first written evidence of deities in Egypt comes from the Early Dynastic Period c. Predynastic artwork depicts a variety of animal and human figures.
Some of these images, such as stars and cattle, are reminiscent of important features of Egyptian religion in later times, but in most cases, there is not enough evidence to say whether the images are connected with deities. As Egyptian society grew more sophisticated, clearer signs of religious activity appeared. Many Egyptologists and anthropologists have suggested theories about how the gods developed in these early times. Predynastic Egypt originally consisted of small, independent villages. Others have argued that the most important predynastic gods were, like other elements of Egyptian culture, present all across the country despite its political divisions. The final step in the formation of Egyptian religion was the unification of Egypt, in which rulers from Upper Egypt made themselves pharaohs of the entire country.
New deities continued to emerge after this transformation. Some important deities such as Isis and Amun are not known to have appeared until the Old Kingdom c. Some non-royal humans were said to have the favor of the gods and were venerated accordingly. Through contact with neighboring civilizations, the Egyptians also adopted foreign deities. Dedun , who is first mentioned in the Old Kingdom, may have come from Nubia , and Baal , Anat , and Astarte , among others, were adopted from Canaanite religion during the New Kingdom c. Modern knowledge of Egyptian beliefs about the gods is mostly drawn from religious writings produced by the nation's scribes and priests. These people were the elite of Egyptian society and were very distinct from the general populace, most of whom were illiterate.
Little is known about how well this broader population knew or understood the sophisticated ideas that the elite developed. The populace may, for example, have mistaken the religion's symbolic statements about the gods and their actions for literal truth. The two traditions form a largely cohesive vision of the gods and their nature. Most Egyptian deities represent natural or social phenomena. The gods were generally said to be immanent in these phenomena—to be present within nature. For instance, Khnum was the god of Elephantine Island in the midst of the Nile , the river that was essential to Egyptian civilization.
He was credited with producing the annual Nile flood that fertilized the country's farmland. Perhaps as an outgrowth of this life-giving function, he was said to create all living things, fashioning their bodies on a potter's wheel. Most prominently, Apep was the force of chaos, constantly threatening to annihilate the order of the universe, and Set was an ambivalent member of divine society who could both fight disorder and foment it. Not all aspects of existence were seen as deities. Although many deities were connected with the Nile, no god personified it in the way that Ra personified the sun. The roles of each deity were fluid, and each god could expand its nature to take on new characteristics. As a result, gods' roles are difficult to categorize or define.
Despite this flexibility, the gods had limited abilities and spheres of influence. Not even the creator god could reach beyond the boundaries of the cosmos that he created, and even Isis, though she was said to be the cleverest of the gods, was not omniscient. Wilkinson , however, argues that some texts from the late New Kingdom suggest that as beliefs about the god Amun evolved he was thought to approach omniscience and omnipresence , and to transcend the limits of the world in a way that other deities did not.
The deities with the most limited and specialized domains are often called "minor divinities" or "demons" in modern writing, although there is no firm definition for these terms. Others wandered through the human world and the Duat, either as servants and messengers of the greater gods or as roving spirits that caused illness or other misfortunes among humans. The protective deities Bes and Taweret originally had minor, demon-like roles, but over time they came to be credited with great influence. Divine behavior was believed to govern all of nature.
Heka was a fundamental power that the creator god used to form the world and the gods themselves. The gods' actions in the present are described and praised in hymns and funerary texts. The events of this past time set the pattern for the events of the present. Periodic occurrences were tied to events in the mythic past; the succession of each new pharaoh, for instance, reenacted Horus's accession to the throne of his father Osiris. Myths are metaphors for the gods' actions, which humans cannot fully understand. They contain seemingly contradictory ideas, each expressing a particular perspective on divine events. The contradictions in myth are part of the Egyptians' many-faceted approach to religious belief—what Henri Frankfort called a "multiplicity of approaches" to understanding the gods.
They feel emotion; they can eat, drink, fight, weep, sicken, and die. Yet overall, the gods are more like archetypes than well drawn characters. The first divine act is the creation of the cosmos, described in several creation myths. They focus on different gods, each of which may act as creator deities. Each gives a different perspective on the complex process by which the organized universe and its many deities emerged from undifferentiated chaos.
The gods struggle against the forces of chaos and among each other before withdrawing from the human world and installing the historical kings of Egypt to rule in their place. A recurring theme in these myths is the effort of the gods to maintain maat against the forces of disorder. They fight vicious battles with the forces of chaos at the start of creation. Ra and Apep, battling each other each night, continue this struggle into the present. The clearest instance where a god dies is the myth of Osiris's murder , in which that god is resurrected as ruler of the Duat. In the process, he comes into contact with the rejuvenating water of Nun , the primordial chaos. Funerary texts that depict Ra's journey through the Duat also show the corpses of gods who are enlivened along with him.
Instead of being changelessly immortal, the gods periodically died and were reborn by repeating the events of creation, thus renewing the whole world. Some poorly understood Egyptian texts even suggest that this calamity is destined to happen—that the creator god will one day dissolve the order of the world, leaving only himself and Osiris amid the primordial chaos. Gods were linked to specific regions of the universe. In Egyptian tradition, the world includes the earth, the sky, and the underworld. Surrounding them is the dark formlessness that existed before creation. Most events of mythology, set in a time before the gods' withdrawal from the human realm, take place in an earthly setting. The deities there sometimes interact with those in the sky.
The underworld, in contrast, is treated as a remote and inaccessible place, and the gods who dwell there have difficulties in communicating with those in the world of the living. It too is inhabited by deities, some hostile and some beneficial to the other gods and their orderly world. In the time after myth, most gods were said to be either in the sky or invisibly present within the world. Temples were their main means of contact with humanity.
Each day, it was believed, the gods moved from the divine realm to their temples, their homes in the human world. There they inhabited the cult images , the statues that depicted deities and allowed humans to interact with them in temple rituals. This movement between realms was sometimes described as a journey between the sky and the earth. As temples were the focal points of Egyptian cities, the god in a city's main temple was the patron deity for the city and the surrounding region.
They could establish themselves in new cities, or their range of influence could contract. Therefore, a given deity's main cult center in historical times is not necessarily his or her place of origin. When kings from Thebes took control of the country at start of the Middle Kingdom c. In Egyptian belief, names express the fundamental nature of the things to which they refer. In keeping with this belief, the names of deities often relate to their roles or origins. The name of the predatory goddess Sekhmet means "powerful one", the name of the mysterious god Amun means "hidden one", and the name of Nekhbet , who was worshipped in the city of Nekheb , means "she of Nekheb". Many other names have no certain meaning, even when the gods who bear them are closely tied to a single role.
The names of the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb do not resemble the Egyptian terms for sky and earth. The Egyptians also devised false etymologies giving more meanings to divine names. The gods were believed to have many names. Among them were secret names that conveyed their true natures more profoundly than others. To know the true name of a deity was to have power over it. The importance of names is demonstrated by a myth in which Isis poisons the superior god Ra and refuses to cure him unless he reveals his secret name to her. Upon learning the name, she tells it to her son, Horus, and by learning it they gain greater knowledge and power. In addition to their names, gods were given epithets , like "possessor of splendor", "ruler of Abydos ", or "lord of the sky", that describe some aspect of their roles or their worship.
Because of the gods' multiple and overlapping roles, deities can have many epithets—with more important gods accumulating more titles—and the same epithet can apply to many deities. The Egyptians regarded the division between male and female as fundamental to all beings, including deities. Sex and gender were closely tied to creation and thus rebirth. Female deities were often relegated to a supporting role, stimulating their male consorts' virility and nurturing their children, although goddesses were given a larger role in procreation late in Egyptian history. Female deities also had a violent aspect that could be seen either positively, as with the goddesses Wadjet and Nekhbet who protected the king, or negatively.
The Egyptian conception of sexuality was heavily focused on heterosexual reproduction, and homosexual acts were usually viewed with disapproval. Some texts nevertheless refer to homosexual behavior between male deities. Other couplings between male deities could be viewed positively and even produce offspring, as in one text in which Khnum is born from the union of Ra and Shu. Egyptian deities are connected in a complex and shifting array of relationships.
A god's connections and interactions with other deities helped define its character. Thus Isis, as the mother and protector of Horus, was a great healer as well as the patroness of kings. Family relationships are a common type of connection between gods. Deities often form male and female pairs. Families of three deities, with a father, mother, and child, represent the creation of new life and the succession of the father by the child, a pattern that connects divine families with royal succession. The pattern they set grew more widespread over time, so that many deities in local cult centers, like Ptah, Sekhmet, and their child Nefertum at Memphis and the Theban Triad at Thebes, were assembled into family triads. Hathor could act as the mother, consort, or daughter of the sun god, and the child form of Horus acted as the third member of many local family triads.
Other divine groups were composed of deities with interrelated roles, or who together represented a region of the Egyptian mythological cosmos. There were sets of gods for the hours of the day and night and for each nome province of Egypt. Some of these groups contain a specific, symbolically important number of deities. Ra, who is dynamic and light-producing, and Osiris, who is static and shrouded in darkness, merge into a single god each night.
These deities stood for the plurality of all gods, as well as for their own cult centers the major cities of Thebes, Heliopolis , and Memphis and for many threefold sets of concepts in Egyptian religious thought. Nine, the product of three and three, represents a multitude, so the Egyptians called several large groups " Enneads ", or sets of nine, even if they had more than nine members. This divine assemblage had a vague and changeable hierarchy. Gods with broad influence in the cosmos or who were mythologically older than others had higher positions in divine society. At the apex of this society was the king of the gods , who was usually identified with the creator deity. Horus was the most important god in the Early Dynastic Period, Ra rose to preeminence in the Old Kingdom, Amun was supreme in the New, and in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, Isis was the divine queen and creator goddess.
The gods were believed to manifest in many forms. The spirits of the gods were composed of many of these same elements. Any visible manifestation of a god's power could be called its ba ; thus, the sun was called the ba of Ra. The cult images of gods that were the focus of temple rituals, as well as the sacred animals that represented certain deities, were believed to house divine ba s in this way.
Nationally important deities gave rise to local manifestations, which sometimes absorbed the characteristics of older regional gods. During the New Kingdom, one man was accused of stealing clothes by an oracle supposed to communicate messages from Amun of Pe-Khenty. He consulted two other local oracles of Amun hoping for a different judgment. Horus could be a powerful sky god or vulnerable child, and these forms were sometimes counted as independent deities. Gods were combined with each other as easily as they were divided. A god could be called the ba of another, or two or more deities could be joined into one god with a combined name and iconography.
Unlike other situations for which this term is used, the Egyptian practice was not meant to fuse competing belief systems, although foreign deities could be syncretized with native ones. Syncretic combinations were not permanent; a god who was involved in one combination continued to appear separately and to form new combinations with other deities. Horus absorbed several falcon gods from various regions, such as Khenti-irty and Khenti-kheti , who became little more than local manifestations of him; Hathor subsumed a similar cow goddess, Bat ; and an early funerary god, Khenti-Amentiu , was supplanted by Osiris and Anubis.
In the reign of Akhenaten c. Akhenaten ceased to fund the temples of other deities and erased gods' names and images on monuments, targeting Amun in particular. This new religious system, sometimes called Atenism , differed dramatically from the polytheistic worship of many gods in all other periods. The Aten had no mythology, and it was portrayed and described in more abstract terms than traditional deities. Whereas, in earlier times, newly important gods were integrated into existing religious beliefs, Atenism insisted on a single understanding of the divine that excluded the traditional multiplicity of perspectives. There is evidence suggesting that the general populace continued to worship other gods in private.
For these reasons, the Egyptologists Dominic Montserrat and John Baines have suggested that Akhenaten may have been monolatrous , worshipping a single deity while acknowledging the existence of others. Scholars have long debated whether traditional Egyptian religion ever asserted that the multiple gods were, on a deeper level, unified. Reasons for this debate include the practice of syncretism, which might suggest that all the separate gods could ultimately merge into one, and the tendency of Egyptian texts to credit a particular god with power that surpasses all other deities.
Another point of contention is the appearance of the word "god" in wisdom literature , where the term does not refer to a specific deity or group of deities. Wallis Budge believed that Egyptian commoners were polytheistic, but knowledge of the true monotheistic nature of the religion was reserved for the elite, who wrote the wisdom literature. In , Erik Hornung published a study [Note 3] rebutting such views. He points out that in any given period many deities, even minor ones, were described as superior to all others. He also argues that the unspecified "god" in the wisdom texts is a generic term for whichever deity is relevant to the reader in the situation at hand.
Henotheism , Hornung says, describes Egyptian religion better than other labels. An Egyptian could worship any deity at a particular time and credit it with supreme power in that moment, without denying the other gods or merging them all with the god that he or she focused on. Hornung concludes that the gods were fully unified only in myth, at the time before creation, after which the multitude of gods emerged from a uniform nonexistence.
Hornung's arguments have greatly influenced other scholars of Egyptian religion, but some still believe that at times the gods were more unified than he allows. It equated the single deity with the sun and dismissed all other gods. Then, in the backlash against Atenism, priestly theologians described the universal god in a different way, one that coexisted with traditional polytheism. The one god was believed to transcend the world and all the other deities, while at the same time, the multiple gods were aspects of the one. According to Assmann, this one god was especially equated with Amun, the dominant god in the late New Kingdom, whereas for the rest of Egyptian history the universal deity could be identified with many other gods.
Allen says that coexisting notions of one god and many gods would fit well with the "multiplicity of approaches" in Egyptian thought, as well as with the henotheistic practice of ordinary worshippers. He says that the Egyptians may have recognized the unity of the divine by "identifying their uniform notion of 'god' with a particular god, depending on the particular situation. Egyptian writings describe the gods' bodies in detail. They are made of precious materials; their flesh is gold, their bones are silver, and their hair is lapis lazuli. They give off a scent that the Egyptians likened to the incense used in rituals.
Some texts give precise descriptions of particular deities, including their height and eye color. Yet these characteristics are not fixed; in myths, gods change their appearances to suit their own purposes. The Egyptians' visual representations of their gods are therefore not literal. They symbolize specific aspects of each deity's character, functioning much like the ideograms in hieroglyphic writing. His black coloring alludes to the color of mummified flesh and to the fertile black soil that Egyptians saw as a symbol of resurrection. Most deities were depicted in several ways. Hathor could be a cow, cobra, lioness, or a woman with bovine horns or ears. By depicting a given god in different ways, the Egyptians expressed different aspects of its essential nature.
These forms include men and women anthropomorphism , animals zoomorphism , and, more rarely, inanimate objects. Combinations of forms , such as deities with human bodies and animal heads, are common. Certain features of divine images are more useful than others in determining a god's identity. The head of a given divine image is particularly significant. In contrast, the objects held in gods' hands tend to be generic. The forms in which the gods are shown, although diverse, are limited in many ways. Many creatures that are widespread in Egypt were never used in divine iconography.
Others could represent many deities, often because these deities had major characteristics in common. For instance, the horse, which was only introduced in the Second Intermediate Period c. Similarly, the clothes worn by anthropomorphic deities in most periods changed little from the styles used in the Old Kingdom: a kilt, false beard, and often a shirt for male gods and a long, tight-fitting dress for goddesses. The basic anthropomorphic form varies. Child gods are depicted nude, as are some adult gods when their procreative powers are emphasized. Some inanimate objects that represent deities are drawn from nature, such as trees or the disk-like emblems for the sun and the moon.
In official writings, pharaohs are said to be divine, and they are constantly depicted in the company of the deities of the pantheon. Each pharaoh and his predecessors were considered the successors of the gods who had ruled Egypt in mythic prehistory. The few women who made themselves pharaohs, such as Hatshepsut , connected themselves with these same goddesses while adopting much of the masculine imagery of kingship. For these reasons, scholars disagree about how genuinely most Egyptians believed the king to be a god. He may only have been considered divine when he was performing ceremonies. However much it was believed, the king's divine status was the rationale for his role as Egypt's representative to the gods, as he formed a link between the divine and human realms.
These things were provided by the cults that the king oversaw, with their priests and laborers. Although the Egyptians believed their gods to be present in the world around them, contact between the human and divine realms was mostly limited to specific circumstances. The ba of a god was said to periodically leave the divine realm to dwell in the images of that god. In these states, it was believed, people could come close to the gods and sometimes receive messages from them. The Egyptians therefore believed that in death they would exist on the same level as the gods and understand their mysterious nature. Temples, where the state rituals were carried out, were filled with images of the gods. The most important temple image was the cult statue in the inner sanctuary.
These statues were usually less than life-size and made of the same precious materials that were said to form the gods' bodies. The gods residing in the temples of Egypt collectively represented the entire pantheon. To insulate the sacred power in the sanctuary from the impurities of the outside world, the Egyptians enclosed temple sanctuaries and greatly restricted access to them.
People other than kings and high priests were thus denied contact with cult statues. The more public parts of temples often incorporated small places for prayer, from doorways to freestanding chapels near the back of the temple building. Egyptian gods were involved in human lives as well as in the overarching order of nature. This divine influence applied mainly to Egypt, as foreign peoples were traditionally believed to be outside the divine order. Viewpoints regarding gender roles vary with different interpretations of the Quran , different sects of the religion, and different cultural and locational regions. Salafiyyah literally means "that which pertains to ancestry".
The ideas of Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz are characteristic of much of the salafiyyah sect. But even these must obey a strict separation of gender. The Qur'anic and prophetic terms for "moderation" are reflected in the word "wasatiyyah," which means the "middle way between extremes" and "upright without losing balance. Muhammad Al-Ghazali 's ideas characterise much of the wasatiyyah school of thought. She asserts that in the male mind society is divided into an economically productive section that is public and male and a domestic sphere that is private and female and that these two areas should not mix.
Heba Ra'uf born Ra'uf stresses the importance of new interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah traditions and sayings of Muhammad. Ra'uf argues that the advancement of women's causes in Arab and Muslim societies requires a reworking of Islamic thought. She criticizes the efforts of those who draw their inspiration exclusively from Western feminism. Ra'uf dresses in the Muslim veil. Ra'uf acknowledges that women belong in the public sphere, and she challenges any gender-based separation between the public and private spheres. As of June , women are allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. They were the only country in the world with such a restriction. Women's development in Saudi Arabia has been relatively slower than in its neighbouring Arab countries, especially regarding the improvement of female participation.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has witnessed a number of advancements and setbacks for women's roles in the past 40 years, especially following the Iranian Revolution of Initially laws were enacted that restricted women's freedom of movement such as a more strict enforcing of veiling and a segregation of the sexes in public space   Educational access was restricted and certain political positions and occupations were discouraged or barred to women. During the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, women were severely limited in employment opportunities. After the overthrow of the Taliban, education and employment opportunities improved.
Women could again work as teachers, doctors, and civil servants. The Women Judges Association was established, and advocates female participation in the law and equality for women under the law. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about gender roles in relationships between Islamic men and women, and their families. For related topics including Islamic women's clothing and juridical differences between the genders, see Women in Islam. This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling.
You can assist by editing it. August Learn how and when to remove this template message. Further information: Islam and gender segregation. Main article: Islamic sexual jurisprudence. This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. September Learn how and when to remove this template message. Main articles: Religious views on female genital mutilation and Female genital mutilation. Main articles: Women in Afghanistan and Women's rights in Afghanistan.
It's prohibited, prohibited, prohibited," Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said on the privately-owned al-Mahwar network. Accessed January 30, Archived from the original on July 7, Retrieved March 14, Archived from the original on July 1, Accessed March 14, The Majority of Muslim scholars are of the opinion that serving one's husband is not compulsory Al-Qayyim may Allah have mercy upon him cited that marriage contract enables a husband to enjoy his wife; it does not enable him to engage her in housework. Retrieved September 7, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. The Holy Qur'an. New York: Columbia University Press. Woman in Islam.
Inter-Islam, "Hijaab Veil. Retrieved September 8, It is necessary for women to cover their whole bodies from strangers except for the face and hands. No special kind and color of dress is recommended; anything with which the body can be covered would be sufficient. Accessed March 30, London, England: Oneworld Publications. ISBN Retrieved April 25, Retrieved BBC News. Rough Guides Ltd.
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