In the name of Allah ,the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

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Chapter Two: Status of Women throughout Ages

Women in the Pre-Islamic Society

            Prior to the commission of Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as a Prophet and Messenger, women suffered great injustice, unfair treatment and were exposed to humiliation of all kinds. Women were not entitled to inherit from their parents, husband or other relatives because Arabs believed inheritance should only be granted to those who could ride a horse, fight, gain war booties and help protect the tribe and territory. In fact, more humiliation was even applied to women, in that she herself could be inherited as a commodity after the death of her indebted husband. Women were treated like material items of this world. If a woman's deceased husband had adult sons from other marriages, the oldest son amongst them had the right to add the wife of his deceased father to his household, exactly as such a son inherits the wealth of his deceased father. This widow, the wife of the deceased, was unable to leave the house of her stepson unless she paid a ransom for her life and liberation.

            Women, also were forbidden to remarry if a husband divorced them. Women had no right then to choose, or even consent, to their marriage. Man, on the other hand, had the freedom to acquire as many wives as so desired, with no set limit. Moreover, there was no justice system that may forbid a man from practicing anything unjust or unfair to his wives.

            Arabs, during the pre-Islamic era, never liked or welcomed the birth of a female baby into their family. They hated such a birth, and considered it an evil and bad omen. A father who received the news of the birth of a female baby was usually extremely sad, disappointed and depressed. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala), described the father's situation when receiving the news about the birth of a daughter in the family in the pre-Islamic era: �When the news of (the birth of) a female (baby) 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 of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her in the Earth? Certainly, evil is their decision.�[7]

            Women even were not able to practice some natural rights, such as eating certain types of foods for instance. Some specific types of food were allowed only for males. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala), stated in the Glorious Quran (6:139) which the meaning of is translated as: �And they say: What is in the bellies of such cattle (milk or fetus) is for the male alone, and forbidden from our females (girls and women), however, if it was born dead, then all have shares therein...�

            In fact, the hatred of female baby girls reached the extent of burying them alive at a very early age. Some Arab tribes were well known for burying their newborn girls alive at a very early age. The reasons for burial of young females alive varied, however, according to the social status of the family. Some families, or rather the head of the family, the father, buried their daughters at a very early age fearing a shame that girls may bring to the family (if they are indulged in any shameful practices, i.e. adultery, fornication or prostitution). Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala), stated in the Glorious Quran (81:8-9) with reference to the Day of Judgment which the meaning of is translated as: �And when the female (infant) buried alive [as the pagan Arabs used to do] shall be questioned; for what sin she was killed?�

            Other fathers used to bury alive their female child at a very early age if the child was leprous, lame or had any other major handicap or birth defect. Those were the poor Arab pagans. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala), stated in the Glorious Quran (17:31) which the meaning of is translated as: �And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin.�

            The only thing women could be proud of during the pre-Islamic era was the protection of the man and his revenge against others who humiliate or dishonor her in an attempt to maintain her dignity and honor in the tribe.

Women in the Indian Society

            Women were treated as maids or slave-girls in the Indian society. Women had no will or desire of their[8] own. They followed their husbands fully with no questions asked. Women were easily lost in a gambling game played by the husband[9]. They were never allowed to remarry after the death of their husbands. In fact, women were not even entitled to live after the death of their husbands as both usually were burned in the same funeral pyre[10]. The widow had to be buried on the same day of the death of her husband[11].

            This practice lasted until the end of the 17th century when this custom was outlawed in spite of the dismay caused to the Hindu religious leaders. In fact, in certain areas of India, women were brought as a sacrifice to the Hindu gods in order to please them or to seek the fall of rain from heaven. Some Hindu laws declare that: "The predestined patience, the blowing wind or tornadoes, death, hellfire, poison, snakes and fire are no less worse than women (the female)."[12]

            It is also stated in Hindu religious books[13], 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 attitude, behavior and conduct."[14] In the teachings of Manna Herma Sistra[15] concerning women, one can read: "A woman may live without any 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 actually own, or possess anything, as whatever she may gain or acquire shall go straight and immediately to the ownership of her husband."[16]

            In fact, in some, maybe rare cases a woman may have several husbands at the same time [17]. This made her look like a prostitute in the society.

Women in the Chinese Society

            Women in the Chinese society occupied a very low place. She used to be assigned the most despised and least important jobs and positions. The male child, however, was treated and looked upon as a "gift" from God. As for the female child, nobody cared for her, but rather they would be pleased to see her die. A Chinese proverb says: "Listen to your wife, but never believe what she says."[18] Therefore, we notice that the status of women in the Chinese society was not much better than that of the pagan Arab pre-Islamic society.

Women in the Roman Society

            The woman in the Roman society was looked upon as a minor who could not run her own affairs. Men directed all of women's affairs. All authorities were in the hands of men. Men enjoyed full rights over their family's affairs. Men had the authority to sentence their wives to death in certain cases in which a woman was accused with certain crimes[19]. Similarly, men, as fathers, had the authority to run their daughters-in-law's affairs (the wives of their sons and grandsons). The authority of man over woman in the Roman society included, but not limited to the following: Selling the woman, torturing her, sending her into exile or killing her. The woman in the Roman society had to listen, obey and execute fully what the man says or judges. Women were deprived of the right of inheritance. In the meanwhile, the heir of the deceased father was his eldest son. In fact, Roman society permitted the man to add to the family members any person who might not belong to that specific family. Similarly, men had the right to kick out or sell any member of the family[20].

Women in the Greek Society

            Women in the Greek society did not enjoy any better status[21]. Women were deprived of the right to education. In fact, women were very discerned in the Greek society to the extent that man claimed that "Women are nothing but all evil."[22] There was no system to protect women in this society. Women were sold and bought like any other commodity. Women were deprived of the right of inheritance as well. Moreover, women in this society were considered minors who had no right to make any transaction with their own wealth. Women, throughout their lives, were subjected to the will of men. Women had no right to seek divorce. Divorce was an absolute right of man that led some Greek thinkers to say: "Women's name must be locked up in the house, as it is the case with her body."[23]

            Women in the Greek society therefore were in the lowest position.

            Gustave Le Bond, the French thinker, stated in his book Arab Civilization: "Greeks, in general, considered women as 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."[24]

            Demosthenes, the well-known Greek speaker and thinker even said: "We, Greek men, enjoyed the company of prostitutes for sexual pleasure, 'girl-friends', sweet-hearts, to care for our daily needs and we marry to get 'legitimate' children."[25] So, we can see what fortune women had in such a society based on the statement issued by one of their best and well-known thinkers!

Women in the Old Jewish Society

            Women in the old Jewish society were not more fortunate than those previously described. In the Old Testament (7:25-26) women were described as follows: "Both my heart and I searched and sought wisdom and good judgment, to know that evil (acts) are nothing but ignorance, and stupidity, foolishness and madness. I found that more better than death is a woman as she is a net, her heart is a trap, and her hands are shackles (or handcuffs)."[26]

            In the book of Exodus (21:7-11):
"7. And if a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
8. 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.
9. And if he had betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
10. If he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
11. If he does not do these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money."

            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.

            This is also understood from Exodus (20:17): "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's."

            In addition, the Jewish teachings and laws deprived the girl from her father's inheritance if the father had other male children. In the Old Testament, the book of Numbers (27:8): "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'."

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

Women in the Old Christian Society

            Christian priests went to the extreme considering the woman as the cause of "original sin" and the source of all catastrophes from which the entire world suffered. For this very reason, the physical relationship between man and woman labeled as "filthy" or "dirty", even if it was 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 laws and 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, there was a conference held in France to decide whether woman was to be considered a human being or not! After lengthy discussions, the people who attended 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 being, a matter that was 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 the man and a maidservant to him with no personal rights. This decision was in effect until 1938, where, for the first time, a decree was issued to abrogate all the laws that forbid a woman to conduct her own financial affairs directly and open a bank account in her own name. In England, women remained until 1850 with no citizen-status having no personal rights until 1964 when a decree from Oxford University was issued to declare equality between male and female students.

            Europeans continued to discern women and deprive them their rights throughout the entire Middle Ages. It is also surprising to know that English laws permitted the man to sell his wife. The rift between the sexes, men and women, continued to increase, so much so, that women became fully under the control of man. Women were stripped completely of all 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, are not considered capable of making their own financial decisions in their private ownership. We can read article 217 of the French laws 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 whether the marriage contract stipulated that there should be a complete separation between the husband's and wife's possessions and ownership's of various items."

            Despite all amendments and modifications occurred onto these French laws, we can still see how these laws are affecting the married French woman. 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's. This, of course, indicates that a married woman will be only a follower of her husband and she will loose even 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 laws."

            Lastly, there is one more injustice that has been imposed upon the woman in Western society which is that a marriage bond is made to last forever, in accordance with the legal and religious teachings. There is no right for divorce (according to Catholicism, at least). Husband and wife are physically only separated from each other. 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, 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.

            For all these reasons collectively, the status of women became very negligent in the "modern" Western society. This led, at a later stage, to the movement in favor of women in the society led by the Western thinkers, lobbyists, human rights activists and educators. These "thinkers" demanded absolute equal rights, socially and otherwise, for women in the society.

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[7] Glorious Quran (16:58-59).
[8] See Pre-Islamic Religious Books, Pages 168-169, by Ali Abdulwahid Wafi. See further Woman In Islam and International Laws, Page 14, by Salim Bahnasi, Dar al-Kalam, Kuwait, 1986.
[9] What Has the World Lost in Muslim Degeneration, Pages 60-61, by Nadawi, quoting "the Great Indian Battle" of the story of Baharat.
[10] The Story of Civilization, Voluntary.3, pages 178, 180, 181, by W. Durant. Translated by: Mohammed Badran.
[11] See Comparative Religions, Part-3, Page 208 by Dr Ahmad Shalabi. See also Arab civilization by G. Lebon Pages 406-408, translated by Zuaiter. You may further refer to The Story of Civilization, Part-3, Pages 177-178 and 180-181 by W. Durant, translation of Muhammad Badran.
[12] Dr. Mostafa Al-Siba'iee, in his book "Woman between Jurisprudence and Law".
[13] Manna is a very strange personality, which has been surrounded with a lot of mystery in the Hindus culture. Some classify Manna as a god above people while other Hindu books classify him as the grandfather of their people.
[14] Ahmad Abdul Azeez Al-Hosaiyin Woman and her Position in Islam.
[15] Abbas Mahmoud Al-'Akkad, Woman in the Glorious Quran.
[16] See Women In Islam page 183 by Dr Samia Munaisi, quoting the last report of the International Seminar on Illiteracy on 1 December 1990, by UNESCO, entitled Islam and Woman Education by Nakib Exor Nicole Page 44 (ED/91/WS/22).
[17] What Has the World Lost in Muslim Degeneration, Pages 60-61, By Nadawi, quoting R.C.Dutt. 331.
[18] See Arab Civilization Page 406 by Dr G. Lebon, Translation of Zuaiter.
[19] The Story of Civilization, by W. Durant, Vol. 9, pages 118, 119 and 120. Translated by Mohammed Badran.
[20] Comparative Religions page 188, Part 3, by Dr Ahmad Shalabi. Also, Arab Civilization, Page 408. Rendered into Arabic by Adel Zuaiter. Al-Halabi Press - Egypt.
[21] Arab Civilization, by Dr. G. Lebon, translated by Zuaiter, page 408.
[22] Ibid, page 208, part 3.
[23] The Story of Civilization, by W. Durant, Vol.7, pages 117 and 118. Translated by Mohammed Badran.
[24] Arab Civilization, Page 406. Rendered into Arabic by Adel Zuaiter. Al-Halabi Press - Egypt.
[25] Husain Al-Shaikh, Studies in the Greek and Romans Civilization, Page 149.
[26] Shawqee Abu-Khaleel, Islam in the Accusation Cage.