Islam emerged in an Arabian social order that was already grappling with these broad trends on the status of women. In the pre-Islamic Arabia, many people worshipped female deities and goddesses as well as angels with female names such as al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat, etc. In spite of such religious practices, like many other patriarchal societies around the world at that time and later, in pre-Islamic Arabia, the dominant male gaze betrayed a contempt for women- reflective in their preference for male progeny and regarding daughters as no more than a necessary evil. While the gender of the child should make no difference in the flow of parental love, it is the decadent social order that hinders the true appreciation of, and gratitude towards God, for the miracle of life in their midst. Indeed, to expound on its progressive outlook on women’s role and function in the social order of the believers, the Qur’an condemns the manifest contradictions in the pre-Islamic Arab attitudes on the question of women:
‘They ascribe daughters unto God, who is limitless in His glory- whereas for themselves (they would choose, if they could , only) what they desire (male issue): 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!’ (16: 58-60).
‘Why for yourselves (you would choose only) male offspring, whereas to Him (you assign) female: that, lo and behold, is an unfair division!’ (53: 22-23).
Hence, the Qur’an utterly condemns the pre-Islamic male attitudes towards the suppression of women. Female infanticide and foeticide are among the evil practices that continue to exist even in our times. The pre-Islamic practice of burying girls alive may or may not be happening on a larger scale now. However, its modern equivalents such as denying girls’ access to opportunities for developing their qualities and potentials continue to be a bane of several societies. For instance, it was only recently that the Taliban regime wanted to close down women’s education in Afghanistan. It is ironic that Muslim communities privilege pre-Islamic practices that ignore or evade or seek to bend Islamic teachings to suit their social conservatism. In the name of religion and customary practices, women are being denied ‘an equal sky’.