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How Islam Transformed the Arabs

The advent of Islam in the 7th century marked a profound transformation in the lives of the Arab people, ushering in a new era of social, moral, and spiritual awakening. Islam’s teachings brought a revolutionary change, particularly, in the status and rights of women, addressing deeply ingrained cultural practices that marginalised and devalued them.

Pre-Islamic Arabia: A Grim Reality for Women
Before the arrival of Islam, pre-Islamic Arabia was characterised by harsh practices and customs that severely restricted women’s rights and dignity. One of the most egregious practices was the burial of infant daughters. Some Arab tribes viewed the birth of a daughter as a source of shame and economic burden leading to the horrifying practice of burying infant girls alive in order to avoid potential future shame. The Quran unequivocally condemns this practice, reflecting the profound moral stance of Islam against such injustices:
And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed (Quran 81:8–9)
“They ascribe daughters unto God, who is limitless in His glory — whereas for themselves (they would choose, if they could, only) what they desire for, whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of (the birth of) a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding all people because of the (alleged) evil of the glad tiding which he has received, (and debating within himself) Shall he keep this (child) despite the contempt (which he feels for it) or shall he bury it in the dust? Oh, evil indeed is whatever they decide!’ Quran 16: 57–59
Islam immediately abolished the practice of female infanticide. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphasised the value of daughters and condemned the injustice of the pre-Islamic customs. He said:
Whoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise” (Abu Dawood).
With the revelation of Islam, the status of women in society underwent a dramatic change. Islam’s teachings provided a clear framework for the protection and elevation of women, ensuring their rights and dignities were upheld.
Islam recognised women as individuals with their own rights and responsibilities, distinct from the property and ownership paradigm of pre-Islamic times. The Quran states:

“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women” (Quran 4:1).

This verse underscores the equality and common origin of men and women, reinforcing their inherent dignity and worth.

Economic and Legal Rights of Women

Islam also transformed the economic and legal landscape for women, granting them rights that were revolutionary for the time such as the right to inheritance, marriage and divorce rights and so on.

Right to Inheritance
Before Islam, women had no right to inherit property. Islam introduced inheritance laws that guaranteed women a share of their family’s wealth. The Quran explicitly states:
“For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much — an obligatory share” (Quran 4:7).
This provision ensured financial security for women, acknowledging their rightful place in the economic sphere as well as mandating that men are caretakers of women (Quran 4:34) and are financially responsible for taking care of the women in their family and community financially.

Marriage and Divorce Rights
Islam redefined marriage as a contract with mutual rights and obligations, ensuring women’s consent and fair treatment. Women were also granted the right to seek divorce under certain circumstances, a radical departure from pre-Islamic norms.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“The most complete believers in faith are those with the best character, and the best of you are those who are best to their women” (Tirmidhi).
The transformation brought by Islam to Arab society and beyond, particularly in the treatment and rights of women, stands as a testament to the religion’s foundational principles of justice and fairness. By elevating the status of women and condemning harmful practices, Islam laid the groundwork for a society that values and respects all its members, regardless of gender. Teachings and practices that only until recently were adopted by the wider rest of the world.


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