For women, Islam is a special blessing; and the Prophet of Islam is indeed the greatest single benefactor of womenfolk. In Arabia, before the advent of Islam, the birth of a female child was regarded as a great misfortune and a shame, and cruel fathers buried them alive: "When news is brought to one of them of (the birth) of a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inner grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had. Shall he retain it on sufferance and contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil choice they decide on." (The Qur'an: 16:58-59). Islam made this primal injustice a case for the highest court when on the Day of Judgment "the female (infant) buried alive, will be asked for what crime she was killed." (The Qur'an: 81:8-9).
"Prior to Islam," write the authors of Cultural Atlas of Islam, "a woman was regarded by her parents as a threat to family honor and hence worthy of burial alive at infancy. As an adult, she was a sex object that could be bought, sold and inherited. From this position of inferiority and legal incapacity, Islam raised women to a position of influence and prestige in family and society." Islam gave this oppressed section of humanity, as it did to all other classes and groups, their legitimate place in life. In a world where woman was no more than an object of sexual gratification for men, and at a time when the religious circles argued over whether woman was human or not, with a soul of her own, Islam proclaimed, "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female." (The Qur'an 49:13).
"O Mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, created of like nature his mate, from them scattered countless men and women. Fear Allah, through whom you demand your mutual rights and reverence the wombs (that bore you), for Allah ever watches over you." (The Qur'an 4:1). men and women are of the same family, and as such have similar rights and duties, and their Lord promises them "Never will I waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other." (The Qur'an 3:195).
Islam removed some of the false notions about woman. It for instance refuted the idea that Eve tempted Adam to disobey God, and thus caused his downfall. The Qur'an explicitly says that they both disobeyed and negates the idea that the woman is a source of evil. The Qur'an mentions some of the women with great respect, ea. the wives of Adam, Abraham, the mothers of Moses and Jesus. Some of them (Mary and Sarah, for instance) were visited by angels and they talked to them. This clearly puts woman on a pedestal of personal and social respectability they never enjoyed before.
Islamic civilization rests on two cardinal principles. One, belief in God, and that He is the Lord and Creator of all humans. As such all humans are equal and have similar rights and obligations as servants of God. Second, all humans, men and women, are created "from a single person," (or "from a single pair of a male and a female"). In other words they are children of the same parents, members of one family, and have similar rights and duties. If the first principle represents God-man bond, the second stands for blood ties or man's relationship with his fellow men and women. Emphasizing its importance the prophet (pbuh) said: "The word Ar-rahm (womb) derives its name from Ar-Rahman (i.e. The Gracious One, one of the names of Allah) and Allah said: 'I will keep good relations with the one who will keep good relations with you, (womb, i.e. kith and kin) and sever relations with him who will sever relations with you."' (Bukhari). The woman (or arrahm-womb) thus occupies a pivotal position in human society.
Islam elevated the position of woman in society and treated her on an equal footing with man, and in some cases, as a mother for instance, clearly gave her precedence over man. Thus when a man asked the Prophet (pbuh) "Who is most entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?" the Prophet (pbuh) told him "Your mother." The man asked, "Who is next?" The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Your mother." Again the man asked, "Who is next?" The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Your mother." The man asked for a fourth time, "Who is next?" The Prophet (pbuh) said "Your father." (Bukhari). On another occasion when a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and expressed the desire to join a military expedition, the Prophet (pbuh) asked him if he had a mother. When he replied that he had, the Prophet (pbuh) told him, "Stay with her, for Paradise is at her feet." (Ahmad, Basa'i and Al-Baihaqi).
In the transformed Islamic society, to have a daughter was no longer a stigma or a matter of shame but a source of perpetual blessing and a means of winning Allah's pleasure. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "If anyone cares for three daughters, disciplines them, marries them and is kind to them, he will go to Paradise." (Abu Dawud).
Islam gave woman an independent identity and declared that her moral and spiritual gains depend solely on her own performance. Like man, her ultimate failure or success rests on her own beliefs, attitude, behavior and conduct. She is a responsible being in her own right and carries the burden of her moral and spiritual obligations. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Everyone of you is a guardian and responsible for what is in his or her custody. The ruler is a guardian of his subjects and responsible for them; a husband is a guardian of his family and is responsible for it; a wife is a guardian of her husband's household and is responsible for it." (Bukhari).
In fact the Quran presents women as the role model for believers as well as non-believers. In Sura Al-Tahrim (66:10-12) we read, "Allah sets forth, for an example to the unbelievers, the wife of Noah and the wife of Lut. They were both under two of our righteous servants, but they were false to their husbands and they profited nothing before Allah on their account, but were told: 'Enter you the Fire along with others that enter! And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh. Behold she said: 'O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to You, a mansion in Paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those who do wrong.' And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her body of Our Spirit and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout." To enable both men and women to achieve their full potential Islam provides a social framework and seeks to create a healthy moral atmosphere. In Islam, a woman regardless of her marital status is fully capable of owning, buying, selling and inheritance. "Unto the women of a family belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave whether it be a little or much, a legal share." (The Qur'an, 4:7)
As a legal entity, her marriage is not possible without her consent, and where a genuine case is present she can even divorce her husband. Imam Malik has recorded in Al-Muwatta that a certain widow named Khansa was given by her father in marriage. She disapproved of that and went to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and he revoked the marriage. On another occasion a virgin came to the Prophet (pbuh) and mentioned that her father had married her against her will, so the Prophet (pbuh) allowed her to exercise her choice. (Abu Dawud). The wife of Thabit bin Qais came to Allah's Messenger (pbuh) and said, "O Allah's Messenger! I do not blame Thabit for any defects in his character or his religion, but I cannot endure to live with him." On that Allah's Messenger (pbuh) asked her, "Will you return his garden (he had given to her as a marriage gift) to him?" She said, "Yes." And he separated them. (Bukhari).
The Muslim women were equal partners with men in all spheres of life. The most important function of the Muslim community as described in the Qur'an is "enjoining good and prohibiting evil" in which women stand side by side with men: "The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil. They observe regular prayers, practice regular charity and obey Allah and His messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy, for Allah is exalted in power, wise. Allah has promised to believers, men and women, Gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of everlasting bliss." (The Qur'an 9:72)
At the conclusion of the treaty of Hudaibiyah the Prophet (pbuh) asked his companions to abandon their state of ihram, shave their heads and sacrifice their animals. They were so distraught by the seemingly humiliating terms of the treaty that none of them moved. In anger the Prophet (pbuh) went to his tent l and told his wife Umm Salamah of what happened. She advised him to go out and shave his head and sacrifice his animal, for if he did so, his companions will surely follow him. And this is what happened.
A Muslim woman, Umm Hani, gave protection to one of the idolaters. The Prophet (pbuh) approved of it and said, "We give protection to whom you (Umm Hani) have given protection."
Knowledge, which is the basis of all progress and advancement, is compulsory on all Muslim men and women. So when a lady asked the Prophet (pbuh), "Messenger of Allah, men have monopoly of all of what you say. Appoint for us a day on which you may teach us of what Allah has taught you," he appointed a time and place for them separately and he would go and teach them.
Aishah occupies a unique position in the history of Islam not because she was a wife of the Prophet (pbuh), but because she is one of the greatest teachers that Islam ever produced. In the new Islamic community women were so active and well informed that an old woman corrected Caliph Umar when he wanted to limit the amount of dowry. Umar was pleased and said, "The lady is right and Umar is wrong."