In the time before Muhammad ﷺ received revelation and subsequently declared a prophet of Allāh, the Arabs were a wretched people. Out of the many evils they would perpetrate, one was to severely mistreat women.
To them, a female was a liability, a burden, a commodity, and bad news. Allāh mentions regarding the Arabs of that era:
(وَإِذَا بُشِّرَ أَحَدُهُمْ بِالْأُنْثَىٰ ظَلَّ وَجْهُهُ مُسْوَدًّا وَهُوَ كَظِيمٌ) (يَتَوَارَىٰ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ مِنْ سُوءِ مَا بُشِّرَ بِهِ ۚ أَيُمْسِكُهُ عَلَىٰ هُونٍ أَمْ يَدُسُّهُ فِي التُّرَابِ ۗ أَلَا سَاءَ مَا يَحْكُمُونَ)
When one of them is given the good news of a female child, his face becomes gloomy and he is choked with grief. He hides himself from people because of the (self-presumed) bad news given to him (and wonders): Shall he keep it despite the disgrace (he will face in the society), or put it away into the dust? In fact, evil is what they decide. (16:58-59)
Not to mention how they would treat widows and their divorcees (gruesome details).
Islām then came and changed the whole concept of these people, elevating the woman, giving her the right to live, be nurtured, cared for, sustained, respected and honoured by every male she encountered in her life.
Islām taught the fathers virtue in bringing up their daughters well:
Anas ibn Mālik رضي الله عنه narrates that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “Whoever brings up two daughters well until they mature, I and he shall come on the Day of Judgement [and he ﷺ then gestured by holding two of his fingers].” (Muslim)
It taught the husbands to treat their wives well:
‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها narrates that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “The best amongst you are those who are the best [mannered] to your household, and I am the best among you to the members of my household…” (At-Tirmidhī)
It taught the children that their mother was to be obeyed the most after Allāh and His Messenger ﷺ, and that paradise lay in her service.
It also taught the nephews and nieces that the aunt held the same rank as the mother.
Islām also obligated that close female relatives to the deceased be given a share of the estate, when previously this had been unheard of.
Not only that, Islām advised the men to lower their gazes and not lustfully stare at the women:
قُل لِّلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ يَغُضُّواْ مِنۡ أَبۡصَـٰرِهِمۡ وَيَحۡفَظُواْ فُرُوجَهُمۡۚ ذَٲلِكَ أَزۡكَىٰ لَهُمۡۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ خَبِيرُۢ بِمَا يَصۡنَعُونَ
‘Tell the believing men that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts; it is more decent for them. Surely Allāh is All-Aware of what they do.’ (24:30)
In his speech at the farewell Hajj, which arguably had the largest audience in his life, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم made a plea to the men, emphasising the importance of giving women their rights, and treating them well.In conclusion, Islām gave rights to women, at a time when they were regarded as the scum of the society. Unfortunately, it is these very teachings that many non-Muslims, and Muslim women alike, are unaware of or misunderstand. Let not your ignorance of Islām and its teachings drive you away from it; rather, draw nearer to it in trying to understand its beauty. Let us men, also value these teachings, and treat our women the way they deserve to be treated, in light of the teachings of Islām.