The same goes for many issues with Muhammad and women. Critics attacked Muhammad for banditry, insulting pagan faiths and not being a convincing prophet, but never his relations to women. Marrying wifes of fallen enemies never drew objections, nor did having slave girls or polygamy. The only thing he did that Arabs found objectionable, atg least with regards to women, was marrying his son in law’s wife. The changes in women’s status in Arabia as a result of Muhammad seem overwhelmingly postive. Again, that’s not to justify the horrific oppression of women going on right now due to his example, but merely to discuss the issue of his environement.
Considering the issue from the perspective of the environment of paga Arabia, it may indeed seem that Islam – Muhammad’s new system – improved the lot of women. Indeed, Muslims will often say that women in Islam had a higher status in Islam than in Judaism, Christianity, pagan Arabia, or any other place.
There are a few issues, however, when considering the status of women in Islam.
1. We do not know, exactly, what the status of women was throughout pagan Arabia. Almost all descriptions of pagan Arabia we have are from Muslim sources, and thus negative. Back then, there was no obectivity in historical accounts, and so we can be sure that all Muslim accounts of pagan Arabia are biased and skewed. Was the status of women in the Hijaaz the same as elsewhere? We don’t know. It may possible that women in pagan Arabia had a status lower than in Islam; the opposite can also be true. We don’t.
2. If Islam did elevate the status of women, then it cannot be condemned. However, we do not live in the past. We live now. The irony may just be that while women in Islam had a status higher than in any other religious body, today they have a status lower than in any other religious body. Going back to a problem in the previous issue: there is no change. What was acceptable (and even laudable) in the past do not remain the same today.
3. Islam established certain laws and policies with regard to women. While Christians, Jews, Hindus, and many others have modernized and changed their laws and policies, the same cannot be said about Islam. While Islam’s dicta may have helped women in the past, today the very same dicta hinder women.
4. We can look at the status of women in Islam in that age, in that environment, and in those circumstances, but we cannot forget how those elements impact the world today. While Muhammad’s example and dicta were not reprehensible for his time, age, and environment, the lamentable fact is that they remain in force despite the world changing and evolving.