It was towards the end of the sixth century that the world witnessed the greatest emancipation of women. The country was Arabia and the place was Mecca. The Arabs and those living in and around the precincts of the Kaabah conducted all kinds of trade, attracting visitors from near and wide even as far as Persia, what is today known as Iran.
This period was known as the 'Ayyim Jahilliyah' or the Age of Ignorance. It was a time when women were not regarded as full citizens of the country. They had to obey their husbands and sons.
A woman who displeased her husband could be summarily divorced by her spouse by the simple words, "You are to me like the back of my mother!" And she had to leave the house with no legal recourse anywhere. In fact, there was no law or court where a woman could lay out her case and fight the injustice.
A woman was also expected to share her favours with her husband's friends. If a male visitor came from a far-off place, and the man of the house invited him to stay over, the wife would then have to sleep with him at the request of her husband.
Females were severely punished when they overstepped the boundaries laid down for them by their spouses. The Arabs thought nothing of tying a woman between two horses and having her ripped apart as an example to other would-be transgressors. Girl babies were buried alive for fear of bringing bad luck to the household.
It was at such a time that the abyss the Arabs had created for themselves seemed to swallow them in. It was at such a moment that Muhammed (PBUH), son of Abdullah and Amina, appeared on the world stage.
At the age of 25 he married Khadija, who bore him a daughter, named Fatima or Fatima Al-Zahra (the fair one).
Khadija was 40 and a woman of great standing in her community. She was one of the very few women allowed to trade in Mecca, and Muhammed (PBUH) became manager of her businesses.
Strangely enough, though, Muhammed, albeit the envy of many an Arab for having married Khadija, showed scant interest in the prospects of obtaining great wealth. He was more interested in how the Arabs were conducting their aimless lives and how ill they treated their women. He spent endless hours in a cave called Hira, on Mount Tuhr, meditating and wondering why the Arabs were doing what they did, why he was different from them, and why he could not indulge in the popular pastimes of womanising and whatever went with it.
It was on one such occasion, while he was meditating in the cave, that the Archangel Gabriel appeared unto him and commanded him to read.
Muhammed (PBUP) never went to a formal school. In fact, he could not read or write. He could not even spell his own name. Nowhere in the annals of history is there any evidence of him being taught in any institution. So when Gabriel commanded him to read a second time, Muhammed (PBUH) shook his head and lifted his hands in confusion. One can only imagine what must have gone through his mind at that moment. Here was someone whom he had never seen in his life. appearing literally out of thin air, commanding him to read. What was he to read in any case?
It was then that the Archangel embraced him, and whether through the pressure of his powerful grip or something Muhammed (PBUH) did not understand himself, he blurted out the words, "Read! In the name of Your Lord Who Creates. Read! In the Name of Your Lord, Who taught Man the use of the Pen."
Shaking and half out of his mind with fear and consternation, Muhammed (PBUH) immediately sought the comfort of his wife, Khadija, and she, in turn, consulted her cousin, Waraqah bin Naufal, who informed her that Muhammed was going to be the next prophet of God.
Waraqah was not a Muslim. In fact, Islam was not yet established as a formal religion at that time. The Arabs were indulging in all sorts of pastimes, notably the drinking of wine and the pleasures of women. Law, as such, was something nobody knew about. Disputes were settled either by the throwing of stones on the ground or by hand-to-hand combat. These Arabs were so immersed in their wrongdoing that even their women believed it was part of life to be ill-treated and abused by their menfolk.
These were some of the fundamental evils that Muhammed (PBUH) set out to change. He brought a complete turn-about in the way that people saw themselves and those around them. He brought them a complete new way of life.