The experiences of Muslim women (Arabic: مسلمات Muslimāt, singular مسلمة Muslimah) vary widely between and within different societies. At the same time, their adherence to Islam is a shared factor that affects their lives to a varying degree and gives them a common identity that may serve to bridge the wide cultural, social, and economic differences between them.
Among the influences which have played an important role in defining the social, legal, spiritual, and cosmological status of women in the course of Islamic history are the sacred scriptures of Islam: the Quran; the ḥadīth, which are traditions relating to the deeds and aphorisms attributed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions; ijmā’, which is a scholarly consensus, expressed or tacit, on a question of law; qiyās, the principle by which the laws of the Quran and the sunnah or prophetic custom are applied to situations not explicitly covered by these two sources of legislation; and fatwā, non-binding published opinions or decisions regarding religious doctrine or points of law. Additional influences include pre-Islamic cultural traditions; secular laws, which are fully accepted in Islam so long as they do not directly contradict Islamic precepts; religious authorities, including government-controlled agencies such as the Indonesian Ulema Council and Turkey‘s Diyanet; and spiritual teachers, which are particularly prominent in Islamic mysticism or Sufism. Many of the latter, including the medieval Muslim philosopher Ibn Arabi, have themselves produced texts that have elucidated the metaphysical symbolism of the feminine principle in Islam.
There is considerable variation as to how the above religious and legal sources are interpreted within the Sunni branch of Islam. In particular, extremist and fundamentalist Sunni movements such as Wahhabis and Salafists tend to reject Islamic mysticism and theology outright; this has profound implications for the way that women are perceived within these ideological sects. Conversely, within Islamic Orthodoxy, both the established theological schools and Sufism are at least somewhat influential.