For more on this topic, see Gender and Islam


The status and rights of women are contentious issues within and across cultures. Opinions diverge for the most subjective of reasons, due to fluctuations in personal biases that are susceptible to changes in time and place. This becomes evident when examining perceptions of women in any particular society through the lens of its own people, while taking into account biases within the religious, historical, and social context of that society.
In current times, such differences between cultures continue to be hotly contested, with divergent views on the function of gender within society still spurring both intra- and inter-societal debates. To explore such discussions in depth is beyond the scope of the current paper. Rather, we focus on a period of time in which one particular society was remarkably successful in overcoming the malignancy of misogyny. Over a relatively short period of time in 7th century Arabia, deeply ingrained negative perceptions of women were reversed, and their treatment markedly improved.
Through the impact of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s message, highly problematic cultural attitudes towards women that were widespread during the time later referred to as ‘the Age of Ignorance’ saw an extraordinary transformation. Islam’s acknowledgment of women’s equity in the societal,  familial, and spiritual spheres was unprecedented at its time, and its demarcation of rights and obligations between men and women remains unmatched to this day. Through the application of Islam’s ethical principles and a paradigm placing women on an equal spiritual footing with men, pre-Islamic society was forever transformed for the better.
This paper will overview that transformation, one that can be demonstrated by the shift in one prominent man’s perspective. A companion of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) became the second Caliph of Islam and one of the most influential leaders in recorded history. His own view of women changed significantly under the Prophet ﷺ’s gentle guidance after he embraced Islam. As he testifies in his own words: “In Jâhiliyya,[1] we used to have no regard for women whatsoever. But when Islam came and Allah made mention of them, this caused us to realize that they have rights upon us…”[2] To truly fulfill Islam’s mandate of justice and mercy, Umar’s realization of the proper status of women must continuously be revived in the hearts of all Muslims, at all places and times.

Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while a believer—We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do. [Qur’an 16: 97]

Societal Regard

Familial Regard

Spiritual Regard


Appendix: The Qur’an’s Regard for Women