Though both existed around the same time, the structures of social life and the treatment of women varied greatly in the civilization of Africa and the Islamic world. Not only were their political structures radically different, but their ideas of how women should act and be treated contrasted greatly to one another.
To begin with the treatment of women, one should mention that in African society, their lives were very free. Even with the introduction of Islam, women were allowed privileges unheard of in other societies. Though polygamy was common and the women was mostly submissive to the man, they could inherit property and played an important role in society by working in the fields along side the man. When they married, it was the man that moved into the women’s house, something not commonly practiced in other societies. The linage was also matrilineal rather then patrilineal, giving women considerable power. And unlike Islamic cultures, women could be befriend males outside of their families, and were not required to veil themselves in public.
The social structure was almost non-existent. In small villages, often of a single linage group, elders held most of the power. The village was led by a single ruler, often known as the “big-man”. Slavery was also accepted, and captors were often used a forced labors.
Islamic civilizations were different in their views toward women. Women were restricted. They cold not inherit property or divorce. They were required to cover all parts of their body, and were locked up inside of the homes. Forbidden to have any contact with males outside of their family, and submissive to the dominant male, they lived a controlled life radically different that those of African societies.
The social structure in Islamic societies was egalitarian, due to the Muslim belief that all were equal in the eyes of Allah. While they did have an upper class, there were no hereditary positions, and slavery was restricted to non-Muslims. Towns were not of a single linage, but of many. Even today, many of these attributes hold strong,
The societies of African and Islam undoubtedly were very different. While one was based mostly on religious beliefs, the other was based on tradition. In the end, both were held so sacred, that neither could over-influence the other.