Speak to any half believer, he / she will tell you that among the many bounties brought to the world by Islam, the largest one is how it revolutionised the status of women. Then they will narrate the story about Daur e Jahaliya (the age of ignorance) where the Arabs would bury their girl children. So here are some insights into how Islam brought ‘the change’. First of all, the Arab culture pre Islam was also similar to the early post Islamic culture as far as this element was concerned. Here we talk about early post Islamic era because at that time, traditions were not etched in stone and were somewhat fluid. In the tribal Arab culture, the role of women was defined to an extent that they had freedom to move within their tribe, engage with men, hold their businesses etc. There was an amalgamation of people following Murti worship, fire worship, Judaism, Christianity and nature worship. Women in general were still controlled by men, and they were considered owners of their women. The Quran talks about the powerful, elite women hailing from the era before Islam who later became Muslim. Beyond that, there is no mention of any other Muslim women. Islam did not do anything to protect the rights of women all across the classes. It continued to let women be exploited as children when their father / guardian has the authority to get them married to a much older man, where their brothers / husbands have a larger share in property etc. Further, most Khalifas, their sons and grandsons are known to have numerous wives and concubines in their harem. This was also a Bedouin custom, where people who could afford, had keep women living behind their places of abode, just like cattle is kept in a barn. During the times post Islam, the tradition of slavery continued, and the Harems became more organized under the Khalifas, even close relatives of the Prophet. This tradition has not been decried in Quran. It does talk about adultery being a grave sin and but men are given various routes to make it Halal for themselves to indulge in extra marital affairs. They are able to enjoy women via the route of slavery, war booty, by forcing them into prostitution where they can be engaged in ‘halal’ sexual activity under the guise of short term marriages to name a few. During the days before Islam, the virginity of women was a very important issue, and no scripture, test or practice is observed for the same as far as men went. This practice was also made an important element in Islam. Cousin marriage is also a pre Islamic practice, which was not only encouraged but almost made mandatory in Islam. The Bedouins were encouraged to remain in marriage with women from their families or their clans. All of this is a part of pre existing cultural norms in the Bedouin (Tribal Arab) society, and it has now been made a proper part and parcel of the Sharia. We will be discussing more similarities in other write ups to follow as there are numerous of them.
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