The situation of women before the birth of Islam was truly appalling. Female infanticide was a common practice and women had no rights. The Arab people lived in a fragmented and barbaric society that was patriarchal in nature. Its tribal practices afforded women no protection. Women were second-class citizens. This wasn't restricted to people in the Middle East, all around the world women were treated in a very similar way.
The birth of Islam mean a great change for the status of women in Muslim society. The prophet Muhammad pushed for an equality and treatment of women that was simply not there before. Islamic law finally pushed for legislation that guaranteed the rights of women. Matters pertaining to marriage and divorce were reformed to ensure that some safeguards to stop injustice against women were set in place. Before Islam goods were inherited only the male heirs, Islam changed that and accorded women equal rights. These kinds of rights were unheard of in most of the world and it was only hundreds of years later that they became the norm in the West.
A strict prohibition on killing newborn girls was also enacted and women were given the same legal status as men; before this, women were not even considered full human beings. Marriage in Islam also required the consent of the woman being married and was no longer a contract as was practiced in tribal society, much like selling livestock or doing business with grain or precious metals. Dowry was also changed to become a gift to the wife rather than a price that one paid for someone to take away their women. Women were also eligible to inherit property and goods, which greatly improved the status of widows in Arab society.
The position of women in the Middle East changed completely in a very short time, thanks to Islam. Muslim women were allowed to work and receive wealth, which belonged to them rather than a male guardian. The prophet Muhammad was an enthusiastic supporter of the rights of women and his support made it possible for women to gain access to an education as well as being able to own property and administer their wealth by themselves. The privileges that Islam, through the Qur'an, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, and Islamic law, gave to women were unheard of and greatly improved how women lived in Arab communities.
A challenge for Islam that continues to this day has been to stop and finally eradicate primitive and barbarian practices that have been in place in much of the Middle East. It is unfortunate that the same fight that Islam was engaging in the seventh century is still necessary today in many parts of the world. It is important to note that Islam, if followed correctly, is a powerful tool that from its very beginnings helped improve the status of women in Muslim society. The feminist's fight should not be against Islam but against those men that choose to keep women down for fear of losing the privileges that they have enjoyed for such a long time.
-- Al Arabiya Digital