Popular belief, if not serious scholarship, maintains that the position of women in pre-twentieth-century Islamic society was an extremely depressed one. And although scholars were always cautious on this point, the popular belief, shared also, it would seem, by many Orientalists, is a stubborn one. The low status of women is said to have derived from the fact that the patriarchal family was supposedly the backbone of the social structure throughout Islamic society. Women, it was supposed, were often secluded in harems and, therefore, were barred from participating in public life, which meant that they could not pursue economic occupations, or go to court to defend their interests and legal rights. Moreover, it seems to have been generally agreed that women were frequently deprived of the benevolence bestwed on them by classical Islamic law, which mitigated the extremities of the pre-Islamic tribal law of Arabia. Thus, Islam reduced the number of women allowed to a man to four, in order to ensure their better treatment. Similarly, Islam denounced the usual deprivation of inheritance suffered by women, and assigned them a share in the estate of the deceased, although this was very much less than that assigned to male inheritors. It has generally been thought that even this modest improvement in the position of women was never, in fact, effected.