Mr. Pahary S. M. Y. (Educator Islamic Studies)
Pre Islamic Arabia
The time before the coming of the holy prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) in Arabia for the spreading of the religion of Allah, Islam, is known as Pre Islamic Arabia. That period is also known as the Jahiliyya period that is the age of ignorance. It is also known as the darkest period of history and the worst period of the human era. This is due to the fact that during that period the inhabitants of Arabia were deprived of a guide and a book of guidance. Another reason is that they had forsaken their prophets and the last one coming to them was Hazrat Isa (a.s). Another reason was that they had started falsifying their texts. In order to understand that specific period, let us study it on five levels, namely social, economic, religious, political, and cultural aspects.
The society of pre-Islamic Arabia was corrupted with sins and immoral aspects and deeds. Sins such as adultery, fornication, prostitution, crimes, highway robbery, theft, infanticides and all thinkable illicit activities like alcoholic drinking, dancing, singing, kidnapping, bribery, interest and so many others were rampant. Women and girls were not respected in that said society. Their rights were tampered. They were considered as sexual objects at the hands of men. They were not allowed to take part in the social aspects of the community. They received no education and they had no right to share or to have a part of the inheritance of their parents. Girls were considered as bad omens. There were three treatments reserved for them. Firstly, some were killed at birth. Secondly, some were buried alive at the age of six. Thirdly, they were let alive to lead a life of misery like women. Slavery was much common among the better off and rich Arabs. There were men, women, and children slaves. Men were reserved for market works, business, and cultivation. Women were kept as maids, house cores, and sexual satisfaction. Children were meant for helping the wives of rich Arabs and for sexual infanticide. The lives of these slaves depended on the mood and character of their masters. Men were the owners and decision-makers of Macca. They were the ones to decide on any of the activities of Arabia. They were the masters and had the rights to get married and divorced at will and at any time.
The economy of Arabia depended on several sectors like agriculture, industries, markets and business. Agriculturally speaking, the land of Macca was not fertile and only dates were able to be cultivated. They were thus used locally. The land of Madina and Ta‘if was much fertile and products like dates, grapes, barley, wheat, rice as such were cultivated. They were used both locally and for export. Ta‘if was known as the industrial city where skins of dead animals were transported there for treatment in various tanneries and then in industries for the production of bags, shoes, belts, and luxuries and fantasies. There were three kinds of markets. The common market was used by each and every one. All Arabs had access therein. The slave market was meant for the buying and selling of slaves and was occupied by the middle class and rich people. The aristocrat market was meant only for the rich where only luxuries were sold. Levies were imposed on anyone, such as travellers, foreigners, and caravans for entering, staying, and leaving the city of Macca. Bribes were common among them for ―progress‖. A high rate of interest was imposed on the borrowers. Each year it would increase by one hundred per cent and at the end of the third year, beginning the fourth year, the properties of the borrower would become the properties of the lender, including wife and children. They engaged in business with China for luxuries, Africa for crafts, Syria for carpet, and India for spices. There were barter and monetary systems.
The religious aspects of pre-Islamic Arabia were divided into different religions like polytheism, idol-worshipping, Judaism, Christianity, and Hanif. All of them knew about Allah but most of them forgot Him and started to worship idols. The polytheists and the idol worshippers took other gods and goddesses for worshipping. Instead of worshipping Allah, they associated objects like the sun, moon, stars, trees, mountains, rocks, stones with Allah. They worshipped Laat, Uzza, Manat, and Hubal. They considered angels as daughters of Allah. They sacrificed animals and virgin girls to be freed from the wrath and anger of Allah and to obtain favours. They circumambulated the Ka‘bah in the state of nudity. They would take advice from their priests or the fortune-tellers and kahin – soothsayers. The Christians would follow their monk and their Injeel but it came a time where they started falsifying their books and message. They considered Hazrat Isa (as) as the son of God and god himself. Their monks lived in seclusion in their cells in churches. The Jews followed the principles of Hazrat Musah (as) and the Tawraat but they falsified it. Their synagogue was divided into two sections – one for men and one for women. They observed the day of the Sabbath on Saturday. The Hanif were the followers of Hazrat Ibrahim (as) and they were waiting for the coming of the holy prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). They continued the principles of Ibrahim (as) and Ismail (as) and the Suhuf.
Politically speaking the land was divided into the tribal system. A group of families makes a clan and a group of clans makes a tribe. There were many tribes with each leader with specific rules and regulations. What was allowed in one tribe may be prohibited in another tribe. Due to these differences, there were many tribal wars that lasted for decades. There was no inter-tribal marriage. There was loyalty on the part of the fellows of a tribe. The leader was selected for his experience as an administrator, his maturity, his experience at war, his nobility, his eloquence in speech, his influential capability among others. There were fights for the control of business and fame.
Culturally based, there were different feasts in circulation among the Arabs. All feasts related to their divinity such as the day of Sabbath, the day of assumption, the day of sacrifice and the day of fast were much praised. The use of the Arabic language was prominent. Due to its richness, there were poem competitions outside Macca at the Ukaz or Ukaiz market. The winner would be praised and considered as a chief, leader, priest, lawmaker and would be honoured in the society. His poem would be inscribed in golden letters and would be inscribed on the black cloth of the Ka‘bah. They were loyal, honest, resistant, and courteous towards their own people and foreigners. They made much attention to the safeguard of their culture. Any outside innovation unknown to them could be met with resistance.
Were the Arabs Religious?
If we consider it on the side that they followed their religions – whether good or bad – then we must say that they were religious. A Hindu is a religious person when he is abiding by his book and religion. BUT a Muslim is not a religious person if he is not abiding by the Qur‘an and the Hadith. So, whether pre-Islamic Arabs were religious or not, it depends on the elaboration of their religious beliefs and practices. It could be seen that the Arabs would always consult their priest and kahin before doing or attempting to something. They had different gods and idols for their different activities. They made sacrifices and fasted for favours from Allah. There are many ways to elaborate on the above question. However, if the question was compared to Islam, then they were not religious people as they went in contradiction to the principles of Islam.
To what extent were the Arabs Jalih – ignorant?
If we consider the fact that they committed many sins and atrocities upon Mankind and the way they behaved, we can rightly say that they were jahil. However, if we examine their lifestyle and especially how they obtained money, we can say that they were excellent in retrieving money from people. Their system of tax, levies and interest really worked. The way they took advantage of the ka‘abah and its strategic position for business was praiseworthy. They were experts in transplantation, business and treatment of skins for leather. They were loyal towards their leaders and their tribes for their welfare. Some of them were experts in poems. All positive aspects worthy of praise should be remembered and mentioned.
What was the importance and significance of Macca for pre-Islamic Arabs?
1. The ka‘bah was the centre of their religious ideals
2. The Ka‘bah had the main idols within itself and the 360 idols around it.
3. The ka‘bah was already predominant in all religions at that time (Christianity, Judaism, Idol worshipping, polytheism and Hanif)
4. The ka‘bah was important for all figures of religions known by them (Adam, Ibrahim etc)
5. It was a symbol of superiority for the one who had its key
6. All tribes fighting to achieve this standard proves the importance of Macca
7. It was a source of religious inspiration
8. The jews and the Christians knew that 70000 Prophets were buried in between the hajar aswad and the mizab rahmah
9. Developed ‗haram‘ with 20-mile radius of Ka‘ba, violence forbidden
10.The Arabs also made pacts with tribes not to attack caravans during the season of trade
11.It was the centre of trade in the desert situated on crossroads of trade routes, from Yemen to Syria, Abyssinia to Iraq
12.Meccans were shrewd financiers thus Mecca became the leading financial centre
13.Business flourished through its markets
14.Taxes and levies were imposed as means of obtaining money
15.Sanctity of Ka‘ba and pilgrimage to Mecca was essential to the survival of Quraish