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THE STATUS OF WOMEN PRIOR TO ISLAM

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THE STATUS OF WOMEN PRIOR TO ISLAM

 

 

WOMEN IN THE PAST

Prior to Islam, a woman’s status in the sight of all nations of the World was nothing more than the value of household goods. They were treated like animals. They were bought and sold. They had no choice in the matter of marriage; they had to silently accept the highest bidder. They never inherited, even from their close relatives. In fact, she herself would become an item of distribution just like any other commodity of inheritance in a descendant’s estate. Women were regarded merely as properties and possessions of men. Even in the so-called modern European countries they were not even regarded as human. Even in religious matters women were given no status by the men, for they were not considered to be worthy of prayer or fit to be counted as human. 

 

It was generally accepted that it was permissible for men to bury their daughters alive, and this heartless act of inhumanity was regarded as an act sight of humanity and respect. Further more, it was generally accepted that if a lady was murdered then her murderer could not be punished in any way. Neither was he to be killed in retaliation nor was he to pay blood money. According to many religions, when a man dies, his wife has to burn herself to death. 

 

 

WOMEN & MAN

In fact, it was as late as 586 AC that a little concession was given to women and after much arguing, debates and disputes, revolution was passed stating that a woman was a human but that she was created and born only to serve man. As late as 1856 women in Britain were not allowed their earnings and had no right to inheritance. In that year women perhilitioned pastinant which was composed safely of male members to allow married women to keep their own earnings and inherit property. In 1857 divorcee women were given the same rights as single woman but married women had to wait until 1893 to receive the same rights. 

 

Testullion, a religious leader of the early period of Christianity interprets the Christian idea of women in these words: “She is the gate through which the devil enters she is the beginner of man to the forbidden tree, she is the breaker of the law of God and is the plunderer of man who is the image of God. 

 

 

THE PROPHET saw23X22.gif REGARDING WOMEN

May our lives be sacrificed for that mercy unto mankind the Prophet Muhammad saw23X22.gif and the religion of truth which he brought and which opened the eyes of the World. He saw23X22.gif, with divine guidance taught mankind the real value of humanity. From the swarm of darkness and polytheism into the paradise of light and monotheism. 

 

He enforced justice, making it obligatory for men to fulfill the rights of women. Just as it is necessary for them to fulfill the right of men. He freed women from the slavery of man. A woman was granted the ownership of her life and property. Thus, no man not even a father or a grand father could force a mature woman to marry against her wishes and desires, nor without her consent. 

 

No person has the right to use her wealth without her permission. Just as males are entitled to their share in the estate of their relatives, females also have their own rights. To spend upon ones wife and to keep them happy within the boundaries of Islam is regarded as an act of worship. The blessed Prophet saw23X22.gif has stated: 

 

To have intercourse with ones wife is charity and a means of reward ". The Sahabah ? inquired. “O’ Prophet ? is there a reward for fulfilling your desires also?” The Holy Prophet saw23X22.gif replied, “Had he fulfilled his desires in the wrong place would he not have sinned?” The Sahabah rah27X23.gif answered “Yes.” So the Prophet saw23X22.gif then said, “In order to safeguard oneself from sin one will undoubtedly attain reward.” 

 

 

DEPRIVING WOMEN

To deprive a woman of her rights is undoubtedly a severe oppression, which Islam has wiped out by means of very just and moderate laws. The so-called lifestyle of women is also a form of injustice to give them a free right depriving them of the guided authority of men and making them equally responsible to pursue their own livelihood to lead them to their destruction. 

 

 

PARENT'S UPBRINGING OF A CHILD

Unfortunately, nowadays, the parents themselves encourage their young daughters to go and earn their own livelihood and when things go wrong they question themselves as to how the situation came about. They will cry for months on end little knowing that they themselves sent their daughters to the fire. 

 

 

WHAT QURAN HAS REVEALED REGARDING WOMEN

Allah states in the Qur’ân: “And stay in your houses and do not display yourselves like that of the time of ignorance.”
(Surah Ahzab) 

 

And at another place: “And tell the believing women to lower their gazes (from forbidden things) and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornments only that which is apparent.” 
(Surah Nur) 

 

In Surah Baqarah Allah has declared: “And the men have superiority over the women.” In other words, men are their guardian governors. The difference could be likened to the necessity of appointing a captain in a football team, where the captain is subjected to the same rules and privileges of his teammates. But a greater responsibility and a higher rank have been conferred upon him in order to maintain a proper system for the smooth running of the team. 

 

 

WOMEN AND THE MODERN SOCIETY

During the pre-Islamic era women were treated like animals and household goods. Unfortunately today the modern world has ushered in a second period of ignorance in which, in its attempt to rectify the folly of the pre-Islamic times. 

 

Some of the ill effects created by removing women from under the guardianship and authority of men: 

 

 

a) The respect for women has been lost.

b) Marked increase in the divorce rate.

 
c) Neglect of children. 

d) Children are not being educated and trained in an Islamic way. 

e) Jobs of male personnel being taken by females, resulting in the increase of unemployment. 

f) Increase in the instances of rape. 

g) The rise in the unemployment amongst males leads to loafing idleness which encourages alcoholism, drug abuse, rape, murder, robbery and a host of other social evils.

 

All this in the name of liberation. 

 

Nowadays, there are some misguiding and misleading notions regarding the status of the rank of women in Islam. This information is given by people who consider women in Islam to be prisoners and someone who has no rights and is always under the domination of man. The importance given to a woman can be deduced from the following Hadith:

 

 

PROPHETS WORDS REGARDING WOMEN.

The Holy Prophet saw23X22.gif has stated : 
The best amongst you is the one who is the best towards his wife.” 
(Tirmidhi, Ibne-Majah, Dasimi.) 

 

On another occasion the Prophet saw23X22.gif stated: “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.” 
(Bukhari) 

 

On another occasion the Prophet saw23X22.gif was questioned, “Who deserves the best care from me?” The Prophet saw23X22.gif replied, “Your mother.” He repeated this three times. When he was asked a forth time he replied, “Your father and your near relatives.” 
(Adab-ul-Mufrad) 

 

 

THE FIRST PERSON TO ACCEPT ISLAM

Also, the first person to accept Islam was not a man, but it was a woman. Hazrat Khadijarah27X23.gif the wife of the Prophet saw23X22.gif.

 

 

THE FIRST MARTYR.

The first person to get martyred was also a woman. Abu-Jahal tied the right arm and leg onto one camel and tied the left arm and leg to another camel and shouted out: 

 

O’ Sumayyah radiallhu anha forsake the religion of Muhammad saw23X22.gif?.” She replied, 
O’ Abu-Jahal make this camel run one-way and the other camel in the opposite direction, but I will never forsake the religion of Muhammad saw23X22.gif ” She was then martyred. 

 

From the above it is clearly proven just what an important position is given to women in Islam. May Almighty Allah guide both the Muslim men and women and grant them the correct understanding of the true religion. Aameen

inter-islam

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Status of women in Indian society

In Indian society women were treated generally as maids or slaves as if they had no will or desire of their own. They had to follow their husbands in all matters. Women were given as payment for loss to a gambling opponent. To show devotion, they were forced to burn themselves alive by jumping onto the funeral pyre of their husbands after their death. This practice, called "sutti" continued until the end of the 17th century when this custom was outlawed in spite of the dismay it caused the Hindu religious leaders. Although outlawed formally, "sutti" was widely practiced until the end of 19th century and still continues in some of the remote areas of India.

 

In certain regions of India, women are offered to the priests as concubines, or as prostitutes to be exploited. In others, they were sacrificed to the Hindu gods to please them or seek rain. Some Hindu laws even declare that: "The predestined patience, the blowing wind or tornadoes, death, hellfire, poison, snakes and fire are no less evil than women". It is also stated in Hindu religious books, that "When Manna [the Hindu god of creation] created women he imposed onto them the love of bed, seats, decoration [make-up], filthy lust (of all types and kinds), anger, rebellion against honor and dignity and evil attitudes, behavior and conduct".

 

In the teachings of Manna Herma Sistra concerning women, one can read:

 

"A woman may live without a choice regardless of whether she is a little girl, a young lady or a mature woman. A young girl is under the command and choice of her father. A married woman is under the command and choice of her husband. A widow is under the command and choice of her male children, and she may never become independent (after the death of her husband). A widow may never remarry after the death of her husband, but rather, she must neglect all that she likes in terms of food, clothes, and makeup until she dies. A woman may not own or possess anything, as whatever she may gain or acquire shall go straight and immediately to the ownership of her husband".

Refer to 'Hindu Inter-caste Marriage in India", Chapter 3 [Forms of Marriage] part 2 [Polyandry], by Haripada Chakraborti.

 

In some rare cases, a woman had several husbands at the same time.(1) No doubt this made her as a prostitute in society.

 

  1. Refer to 'Hindu Inter-caste Marriage in India, & Chapter 3 [Forms of Marriage] part 2 [Polyandry], by Haripada Chakraborti.

 

 

Status of Women in Chinese Society

Women in Chinese society occupied a low and degraded status. They were customarily assigned the most despised and least important jobs and positions. The male child was looked upon as a "gift" from the gods, and treated accordingly. As for the female child, she had to endure multiple hardships, like the binding of her feet in order to cripple her from running and other customs. A Chinese proverb says:

 

"Listen to your wife, but never believe what she says."

 

The status of women in the Chinese society was not much better than that of the pagan pre-Islamic Arab and the Indian societies.

 

 

 

Women in Greek Society

Among the Greeks, women were degraded to the extent that men claimed that women were nothing but the epitome of evil. There was no system to protect women in that society. They were deprived of the rights to education; bought and sold like any other commodity; deprived of the right of inheritance; and considered as minors with no rights to make any transactions regard to possessions and wealth. Women were subjected to the will of men throughout their lives. Divorce was an absolute right of men. The common situation of women in the society led some Greek thinkers to say:

 

"Woman's name must be locked up in the house, as it is the case with her body."

 

Gustave Le Bon, the French thinker, stated about the status of women in the Greek society in his book "Arab Civilization":

 

"Greeks, in general, considered women to be the lowest creatures of the low. They were useful for nothing other than reproduction and taking care of the household affairs. If a woman gave birth to an 'ugly, retarded or handicapped' child, the man could take the liberty to kill the (unwanted or undesirable) child".

 

Demosthenes, the well-known Greek orator and thinker said:

"We Greek men enjoy the company of prostitutes for sexual pleasure; 'girl-friends' and 'sweet-hearts', to care of our daily needs, and we marry to get 'legitimate' children".

 

From this licentious double standard, and depraved morality, we can see what fortune women had in such a society based on the statement issued by one of their top rank, well-known thinkers.

 

 

 

Woman in Roman Society

A woman in Roman society was also looked upon as an inferior being that could not run her own affairs. All authority was in the hands of men who totally dominated all private and public affairs. Men even had the authority to sentence their wives to death in certain cases when accused of specific crimes. The authority of man over woman in the Roman society included the right to sell her, punish her with tortuous punishments, send her into exile or kill her. The woman in Roman society had to listen to and obey all commands given by the man. And they were deprived of the right of inheritance.

 

 

 

Status of women in Jewish Society

Women in traditional Jewish society were not more fortunate than those previously described.

 

In the Old Testament women were described as follows: "I applied mine heart to know and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart snares and nets, and her hands as bands...

[Ecclesiastes(7:25-26)]

 

In the Septuagint, it says, "And if a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she pleases not her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he had betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he takes him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. If he does not do these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money".

[Exodus (21:7-11)]

 

Thus, if a Jewish woman got married, her guardianship was transferred from her father to her husband and she became as one of his possessions such as his house, his slave, his maidservant or his money or wealth. Jewish teachings and laws deprived the girl of her father's inheritance if the father had other male children. In the Old Testament, the Septuagint, it says:

 

"And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, 'If a man dies, and has no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughters'."

[Numbers (27:8)]

 

Moreover, Jewish men never slept in the same bed with a menstruating woman, or ate with her or drank with her. Jewish men used to isolate themselves fully from a menstruating woman until she was completely free from her menses.

 

 

Status of women in Christian Society

Christian priests went to the extreme of considering the woman as the cause of "original sin" and the source of all catastrophes from which the entire world has suffered. For this very reason, the physical relationship between man and woman has traditionally been labeled as "filthy" or "dirty" even if it were officially done and performed within a legitimate marriage contract. Saint Trotolian says:

 

"Woman is the Satan's pathway to a man's heart. Woman pushes man to the "Cursed Tree." Woman violates God's laws and distorts his picture (i.e. man's picture).

 

Wieth Knudesen, a Danish writer, illustrated the woman's status in the middle ages saying:

"According to the Catholic faith, which considered the woman as a second class citizen, very little care and attention was given to her."

 

In 1586 a conference was held in France to decide whether women should be considered as human beings or not. The conference came to a conclusion that:

"Woman is a human being, but she is created to serve man."

 

Thus, the conference approved the rights for women as human beings, a matter that was previously in doubt and undecided! Moreover, those who attended the conference did not decide on full rights for the woman, but rather; she was a follower of man and a maidservant to him with no personal rights. This decision was in effect until 1938, when, for the first time, a decree wasissued to abrogate all the laws that forbid a woman from conducting her own financial affairs directly and opening a bank account in her own name.

 

Europeans continued to discriminate against women and deprive them of their rights throughout the Middle-Ages. It is also surprising to know that English laws turned a blind eye to the selling of one's wife! The rift between the sexes, men and women, continued to increase, so much so that women became fully under the control of men. Women were stripped completely of all their rights and whatever they owned.

 

All that a woman owned belonged to her husband. For instance, until very recently women, according to the French law, were not considered capable of making their own financial decisions in their private ownership. We can read article 217 of the French law that states:

 

"A married woman has no right to grant, transfer, bond, own with or without payment, without her husband's participation in the sale contract, or his written consent to it, regardless of whether the marriage contract stipulated that there should be a complete separation between the husband's and wife's possessions and ownership of various items."

 

Despite all amendments and modifications, which occurred in these French laws, we can still see how these laws are affecting married French women. It is a form of civilized slavery. Furthermore, a married woman loses her surname (family's name) as soon as she enters into a marriage contract. A married woman shall carry the family name of her husband. This, of course, indicates that a married woman will only be a follower of her husband and she will even lose her personal identity.

 

Bernard Shaw, the well-known English writer says:

 

"The moment a woman marries; all her personal possessions become her husband's in accordance to the English law."

 

Lastly, there is one more injustice that has been imposed upon the woman in the Western society which is that a marriage bond is made to last forever, in accordance with legal and religiousteachings. There is no right of divorce (according to Catholicism, at least). Husband and wife are only separated from each other physically. This separation may have contributed to all sorts of social decay and corruption, such as having affairs, mistresses, boyfriends, girlfriends, as well as possibly prostitution, and homosexual and lesbian relations. Moreover, a surviving widow is not given the chance to remarry and lead a normal married life after the death of her husband.

 

No doubt, what is called modern western civilization and which endeavors to dominate the globe, is indebted to the Greek and Roman traditions for its civil foundations, and to the Judaic-Christian traditions for its ideological and religious foundations. The abuses mentioned above collectively led, due to gradual and eventual effects of technological and social modernization, to the expected and natural reaction: movements demanding women's rights in the society, led by thinkers, educators, lobbyists, and human rights and women right's activists.

 

The pendulum was set to swing in the other direction, and they demanded absolute equal rights and liberation from male chauvinism and abuses. In many of the modern secular societies, women are indeed given numerous equal rights, but at the same time, equality has exposed them to the molestation and double standards rampant in the immoral materialistic culture that markets her as an object of sexual desire, for sale, contract or rent. The ensuing breakdown of the family unit, and the widespread sexual immorality, abortion, homosexuality, and criminal deviancy from sexual liberation, has led to some counter reactions in the society, especially from the religious conservatives, but apparently, the trends are too strong to turn the tide back.

 

In this global context, and from this historical legacy, we will present the salient features of women's rights in Islam and shed light on some common misconceptions in order to show the superiority of following Allah's guidance rather than men and women guiding each other by whim and desire.

 

"Woman in the Shade of  Islam" Abdul Rahman al-Sheha

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