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A friend of mine has claimed that, historically, Islam and its prophet Muhammad's statements have improved the status of women compared to the earlier social or religious systems that they replaced. Is this true? In what ways did Muhammad's teachings change the status of women in society?

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All Praise to Allah Subhanahu wa Taala and blessings of Him be on Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him His family and companions,

Mankind inherited from the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him a great Islamic tradition when he said:

‘The best of you (men) are those who best treat their women.’

It was narrated from Ibn 'Abbas that: the Prophet peace be upon him said: "The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives."(Ibn Majah)

Islam has given outstanding respect for women.Women suffered great injustices in the pagan Arab society and were exposed to diverse kinds of humiliation prior to the mission of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him). They were treated like material property to be disposed of at the whim of the male guardian. They were not entitled to inherit from their parents or husbands. Arabs believed inheritance should only be granted to those who had martial abilities, like being able to ride a horse, fight, gain war booties and help protect the tribe and clan territory.Islam granted women contractual rights, conjugal rights, the right to inherit, to initiate divorce, to independently own and control wealth and property, to set up and run businesses, to earn and receive equal pay, to retain their maiden names, etc.,

The Prophet peace be upon him instructed men to deal with women in a good manner. He said in his famous farewell sermon delivered at `Arafah:

“Fear Allah with regards to women, you have taken them in the trust of Allah and have made their private parts halal with the word of Allah”. (Sahih Muslim)

Islam also ordered men to be gentle towards women and to care for their feelings. The Prophet peace be upon him says:

“There is nothing that you spend for Allah's sake but you will be rewarded for it, even the food that you raise up to your wife's mouth”.(Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)

As the Arabs, in the days of pre-Islamic ignorance, used to feel sad when informed of the birth of a female child, the Prophet peace be upon him promised those who have daughters of great reward from Allah.He says:

“Whoever had daughters and was patient with raising them, the daughters would be a protection for him from the Hell fire”.(Ibn Majah)

The Prophet (PBUH) respected women and dealt with them in a very unique way, so that when women complained to him that they couldn’t listen to his lessons as much as men, he dedicated a day per week for teaching them and informing them of their duties and rights.

Abu Said Al-Khudri narrated: “Some women requested the Prophet (PBUH) to fix a day for them, as the men were taking all his time. With that, he promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments. Once, during such a lesson, the Prophet (PBUH) said, ‘A woman whose three children die will be shielded by them from the Hell fire.’ At that, a woman asked, ‘If only two die?’ He replied, ‘Even two (will shield her from the Hellfire)" (Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)

Though the Prophet (PBUH) was burdened by his missionary duties and always engaged by the affairs of the new born nation, he noticed the absence of the woman who used to clean the mosque, although she was one of the common people who was never noticed or missed. However, the Prophet (PBUH) noticed her absence, and that indicates his fairness and his keenness to give everyone his due rights.

Abu Huraira narrated: “A black man, or a black woman, used to sweep the mosque and he, or she, died. The Prophet (PBUH) asked about her (or him). He was told that she (or he) had died. He said, ‘Why did you not inform me? Show me his grave (or her grave).’ So he went to her (his) grave and offered her (or his) funeral prayer”. (Muslim,Bukhari)

In the pre-Islamic era of Arabia, fathers commonly became extremely angry and disgraced with the birth of a female child into their family. Some considered it an evil omen. Allah, the Exalted, describes the father's reception of the news about the birth of a daughter:

(When the news of (the birth of) a female is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark, and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil (and shame) of that which he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor, or bury her in the dirt? Certainly, evil is their decision...) (16:59 Quran)

Women were not even able to practice some of the most natural of rights. For instance eating certain types of foods was allowed only for males. Allah, the Exalted, records this in the Glorious Qur'an:

(And they say: What is in the bellies of such cattle (whether milk or fetus) is for the male alone, and forbidden from our females, however, if it was born dead, then all have shares therein...) (6:139 Quran)

According to the bible, Satan seduced Eve to disobey God by eating from a forbidden tree and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for his disobedience, Adam blamed Eve, and so God condemned her:

“I (God) will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will bear children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

It was this image of Eve as a deceiving temptress that left a negative legacy for women throughout both Judaism and Christendom.Again, the Islamic conception of woman is radically different. The Quran clarifies that Satan was the only deceiver in the story of the Garden, while Adam and Eve receive equal blame for their disobedience. There is not the slightest hint that Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit or that she tempted Adam to do so. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin, asked God for His Forgiveness, and He duly bestowed it:

“They said: ‘Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and do not bestow upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (Quran 7:22-23)

This situation of women in the Arab society led Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph of the Muslims (may Allah exalt their mention) to say, as reported by Muslim:

"By Allah, we didn't use to think that women had anything until Allah revealed about them what He revealed in the Qur'an, and distributed to them what He distributed..."(Bukhari)

Sources:http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/287/viewall/veil-unveiled/ http://muhammadpbuh.org/index.php/biography/what-did-prophet-muhammad-peace-be-upon-him-say-about-women http://www.womeninislam.ws/en/status-of-women_pre-islamic-societies.aspx

Allah Swt and His Messenger knows best

  • Nice answer! Add to that he allowed women to vote when he became the leader in madina. 1300+ years before democracy even. Will provide citation if needed but it's in the seerah books. – Abu Nooh Aug 27 '16 at 5:54

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