Religious and social views and practices of the arabians before islam
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Religious and social views and practices of the Arabians before Islam. 3 Chapter 3, Arabia before Islam. Chapter Three: The Beginnings of Islam. The Arabs and their religion before Islam (this session) The career of the Prophet Muhammad (next session)

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Religious and social views and practices of the arabians before islam

Religious and social views and practices of the Arabians before Islam.

3 Chapter 3, Arabia before Islam


Chapter three the beginnings of islam
Chapter Three: The Beginnings of Islam before Islam.

  • The Arabs and their religion before Islam (this session)

  • The career of the Prophet Muhammad (next session)

  • Conflict and conquest after Muhammad (following session)


Earlier Arabian communities and civilizations  before Islam.

  • South Arabia (Yemen)

    • Saba, c1000 BCE? – c 500 CE? Biblical Sheba?

    • Himyar: From 4th century CE ?

      • Jewish kings from 5th century.

      • Dhu al-Nawas (king, c 518?-525) persecuted Christians (possibly referred to in Qur’an 85:4–9)

    • Ethiopian invasion 525;

      • Abraha Ethiopian governor, later virtually independent

      • Abraha’s expedition to Mecca destroyed c 570? (Qur’an 105)

    • Persian invasion, c 575, and predominance to c 630.

    • Najran: Christian settlement, from the 4th century or later.

      • (Qur’an 3:64 is said to refer to a deputation from them to Muhammad.)


North Arabia: before Islam.

  • Nabateans at Petra c 4th century BCE – 106 CE

  • Palmyra – suppressed 273 CE after Queen Zenobia revolted against Romans

  • Thamud – known from inscriptions, mentioned in the Qur’an.

  • Philip the Arab was Roman Emperor 244-9 CE

  • Ghassanids: 483±? – c 640? – Monophysite Christian

    • Byzantine vassal and “buffer state”

  • Lakhmids (al-Hira )– 550±?-602 - Nestorian Christians (ruler Christian from c594)

    • Persian vassal and “buffer state”


  • Central Arabia before Islam.

    • Mecca

      • Ibrahim said to have settled Hagar and Isma‘il there.

      • Built (or rebuilt) the Ka‘ba.

      • (Probably already connected with Ibrahim before Muhammad’s time)

      • Quraysh established there by Qusayy, 400 CE+

      • A Shrine city: derived income from the activities connected with the Ka‘ba

      • ‘Abd al-Muttalib, the great grandson of Qusayy and grandfather of Muhammad become custodian of the Ka‘ba

      • A trading city

      • Long distance caravans to Yemen and to Syria. (Qur’an 106: 1-2)

      • But some (Western) scholars think their trade was only local (e.g. Crone, Peters).

    • Yathrib (Later Medina)

      • Agricultural settlement.

      • Two main Arab tribes, Aws and Khazraj, in conflict with each other.

      • Three main Jewish tribes, Banu Nadir, BanuQurayza and BanuQaynuqa‘.

      • From mid-6th century (?) clients of the Arab tribes.


Religion – gods, spirits, etc before Islam.

  • Stones, trees, heavenly bodies (or the gods residing in/symbolized by them) worshipped or venerated

    • Over time sacred stones were increasingly shaped into human likeness, i.e became idols.

  •  Jinn:

    • non-material beings, created of fire (Qur’an 15:27)

    • like humans in some respects, more powerful

    • could help or harm humans, more likely to harm

    • could become believers (Qur’an 72:1-3)

    • shaytans and ifrits: classes of jinn, more powerful, (later?) more evil

  • Higher gods (or angels) also worshipped,

    • Sometimes associated with heavenly bodies

    • Each tribe or confederation had a patron god

    • Some gods:

      • Hubal: important at Mecca and throughout Arabia and beyond

      • Wadd, Suwa’, Yaghuth, Ya’uq, Nasr , mentioned in the Qur’an (71:23)

    • Al-Lat, Manat, Uzza , daughters of Allah (Qur’an 53:19-21)

  • Worship was generally quite pragmatic, depending on receiving what was requested.


Allah before Islam.

  • High god, creator of all

  • No image

  •  Normally approached through “associates”, e.g. his “daughters”, but might be approached directly in some situations:

    • “If you ask them,

      ‘Who created the heavens and the earth

      And subjected the sun and the moon?’,

      They will say, ‘Allah’. . . .

      When they embark on ships, they call on Allah,

      devoting themselves to Him exclusively,

      but when He brings them safely to land,

      they associate others with Him.” (Qur’an 29: 61, 65)

  • Some scholars think that more attention was given to Allah than is usually thought, speak of “imperfect monotheism” (Hawting )


Holy places and times – pilgrimage before Islam.

  • Sanctuaries/shrines frequented by a tribe or group of tribes

    • Cult centers, for a high god who was lord of the shrine (called masjid, place for prostration; later the term for mosque)

    • Some actions forbidden – e.g. fighting

    • Sites of specific rituals, pilgrimage

    • Sacred times associated with these; also have prohibitions such as no fighting

  • The Ka‘ba at Mecca – the best known of these, not the only one

    • Allah was lord of the Ka‘ba

    • There were said to be 360 pictures or statues of other gods, such as Hubal, or prophets, including Ibrahim and Jesus with Mary, in or around the Ka‘ba.

    • Rituals included circumabulation (sometimes naked), sacrifice, shaving head, fasting, retreat.

  •  Pilgrimage: Umra and Hajj originally separate (joined by Muhammad?)

    • Umra: in Mecca, in month of Rajab.

    • Hajj: outside Mecca, in month of Dhu al-Hijja

  •  Four months were considered sacred, Rajab, Dhu’l-Qa’dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah and Muharram. No fighting during these.


Significant people and activities before Islam.

People possessed or inspired by jinn or shaytans (Qur’an 52:29-30; 69:41-2)

  • Poets (shā‘ir, originally “knower”)

  • Kāhins (soothsayers, oracles; ecstatic utterances in rhymed prose)

  • Majnūns (jinn possessed, crazy)

  • Sāhirs (sorcerers, magicians)

    Divination with arrows was common (esp. in connection with Hubal at Mecca)


Significant people and activities before Islam.

Tahannuth

  • Period of retreat for prayer and fasting

  • Evidently done by some of the Quraysh

  • Possibly connected with ritual acts at the Ka‘ba

  • Possibly connected with feeding the poor, freeing slaves, etc.

  • Muhammad described as doing this before his revelation

    Hanifs: “natural” monotheists

  • Not claiming revelation

  • Not part of a community based on their faith

  • Individual seekers

  • (Some scholars question their existence)

  • Hanif is also used in reference to Ibrahim (e.g. Qur’an 2:135) and to Islam as the religion of Ibrahim


“Tribal humanism” (term from W. M. Watt) before Islam.

  • No belief in individual immortality (Qur’an 45:24)

  • “Time” or “Fate” determines one’s death

  • Centrality of the tribe’s lineage, honor and sunna

  • Frequent raiding for plunder

  • Sunna exemplified in the actions of past heroes, praised in poetry

  • Central ethical values and obligations:

    • values of generosity (karīm= noble, generous), courage, fortitude and loyalty

    • obligation of blood revenge

    • obligation of hospitality

  • Nobility based on lineage and appropriate action


Jāhiliyya before Islam.

  • Name for the period in Arabia (and earlier according to some) before Muhammad

    • Time of ignorance (i.e. of the truth about God) and rejection of Allah

  • Barbarism, excessive behaviour as the characteristics of people at that time

    • Qur’an “fierce arrogance of jahiliyya (48:26; cf. 3:154, 5:50, 33:33)

    • e.g. Hatim al-Tayyi and Imru al-Qays (see book)

    • e.g. ‘AmribnKulthum:

      "Let no one act fiercely (in a jahili way) against us,

      for we shall be fiercer than the fierce (for we shall out- jahl the jahilis )."

  • Jahiliyya and hilm (moderation, self control)

    “Although I be in need of hilm,

    of jahlI am at times in greater need”


Jews and Christians before Islam.

  • Jews at Yathrib, also Khaybar and elsewhere in Northwest Arabia.

  • Christians at Najran. Also scattered monks/hermits.

  • Some knowledge of Jewish/Christian ideas; e.g. in some pre-Islamic poetry.

  • Scriptural figures and stories known though not necessarily in the canonical forms

    • Possibly through Rabbinic midrash in some cases (e.g. Abraham breaking his father’s idols and being thrown into a fire)


Watt’s thesis on economic situation before Islam.

  • Growth of long term trade led to a greater degree of individualism on the part of the rich and a greater gap between the rich and the poor

  • •This threatened tribal solidarity and occasioned other stresses

  • The Qur’anic social teaching is aimed at mitigating these stresses.

    • revised moral ideal

    • new sanctions: Allah, Day of Judgment



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