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Arabia Before The Prophet

Islam produced one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. While Europe
wallowed in the mire of the Dark Ages, Islam produced advances in science, mathematics,
literature, medicine, architecture, religion as well as many other fields of discipline. Islamic
cities such as Baghdad were the premier centers of learning and folks flocked there from all over
the world to study. When Europeans first saw Granada and other Muslim cities, they were
stunned by the sophistication and beauty. It was Islam's preservation of the great
Grecian/Roman texts of antiquity, as well as their own advances that allowed Europe to crawl
out from the depression it was in. The West owes much to the great civilization of Islam.
"I am not alone, for a delightful garden can be contemplated from this spot. Such a place has
never before been seen. This is the palace of crystal, he who looks on it will believe he regards
the mighty ocean and will be filled with fear. All this is the work of Iman Ibn Nasar, may God
keep his grandeur for other kings. His forebears in ancient time were of the most noble, giving
hospitality to the Prophet and his family.-"
Prehistory (c. 3000 BCE-500 CE)
The prehistory of Islamdom is the history of central Afro-Eurasia from Hammurabi of Babylon to
the Achaemenid Cyrus II in Persia to Alexander the Great to the Sasanian emperor Nushirvan to
Muhammad in Arabia; or, in a Muslim view, from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus
to Muhammad.
The potential for Muslim empire building was established with the rise of the earliest
civilizations in western Asia. It was refined with the emergence and spread of what have been
called the region's Axial Age religions--Abrahamic, centered on the Hebrew patriarch Abraham,
and Mazdean, focused on the Iranian deity Ahura Mazdah--and their later relative, Christianity.
It was facilitated by the expansion of trade from eastern Asia to the Mediterranean, and by the
political changes thus affected. The Muslims were heirs to the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians,
Persians, Hebrews, even the Greeks and Indians; the societies they created bridged time and
space, from ancient to modern and from east to west.
The rise of agrarian-based citied societies
In the 7th century CE a coalition of Arab groups, some sedentary and some migratory, inside
and outside the Arabian Peninsula, seized political and fiscal control in western Asia,
specifically of the lands between the Nile and Oxus (Amu Darya) rivers--territory formerly
controlled by the Byzantines in the west and the Sasanians in the east. The factors that
surrounded and directed their accomplishment had begun to coalesce long before, with the
emergence of agrarian-based cited societies in western Asia in the 4th millennium BCE. The rise
of complex agrarian-based societies, such as Sumer, out of a subsistence agricultural and
pastoralist environment, involved the founding of cities, the extension of citied power over
surrounding villages, and the interaction of both with pastoralists.
This type of social organization offered new possibilities. Agricultural production and intercity
trading, particularly in luxury goods, increased. Some individuals were able to take advantage

of the manual labor of others to amass enough wealth to patronize a wide range of arts and
crafts; of these, a few were able to establish territorial monarchies and foster religious
institutions with wider appeal. Gradually the familiar troika of court, temple, and market
emerged. The new ruling groups cultivated skills for administering and integrating non-kinrelated groups. They benefited from the increased use of writing and, in many cases, from the
adoption of a single writing system, such as the cuneiform, for administrative use. New
institutions, such as coinage, territorial deities, royal priesthoods, and standing armies, further
enhanced their power.
In such town-and-country complexes the pace of change quickened enough so that a well-placed
individual might see the effects of his actions in his own lifetime and be stimulated to selfcriticism and moral reflection of an unprecedented sort. The religion of these new social entities
reflected and supported the new social environments. Unlike the religions of small groups, the
religions of complex societies focused on deities, such as Marduk, Isis, or Mithra, whose appeal
was not limited to one small area or group and whose powers were much less fragmented. The
relationship of earthly existence to the afterlife became more problematic, as evidenced by the
elaborate death rites of Pharaonic Egypt. Individual religious action began to compete with
communal worship and ritual; sometimes it promised spiritual transformation and
transcendence of a new sort, as illustrated in the pan-Mediterranean mystery religions. Yet
large-scale organization had introduced social and economic injustices that rulers and religions
could address but not resolve. To many, an absolute ruler uniting a plurality of ethnic, religious,
and interest groups offered the best hope of justice.
Arabia was the birthplace of the Islamic religion; the Arabic language was the "tongue of the
angels," since God chose to reveal himself through that vehicle to Muhammad, the founder of the
faith. Arabia would become the center of the Islamic world, and the source of renewal and
inspiration for the faithful believers throughout an emerging Islamic empire.
Arabia Before The Prophet
Arabia before the birth of Muhammad had been a culturally isolated and economically
underdeveloped region. The Arabian peninsula is one-third the size of the continental United
States. Most of the land is arid and desert; rainfall is scarce, vegetation scant, and very little of
the land is suitable for agriculture. In the north of the region, several Arabic kingdoms were able
to establish contacts with the Byzantine and the Persian Sassanian empires as early as the fifth
century A.D. To the south, small Arabic kingdoms, including Saba (Sheba), were ancient centers
of Arabic civilization. But in the interior, dotted only with occasional oases, the nomadic life was
the only successful existence.
The Bedouins

The nomads, or Bedouins, lived according to ancient tribal patterns; at the head of the tribe was
the elder, or sheik, elected and advised by the heads of the related families comprising the tribe.
Driven from place to place in their search for pastures to sustain their flocks, the Bedouins led a
precarious existence. Aside from maintaining their herds, some relied on plunder from raids on
settlements, on passing caravans, and on one another. The Bedouins enjoyed a degree of
personal freedom unknown in more agrarian and settled societies. Sheiks could not always limit
the freedoms of their tribesmen, who often rode off and hired themselves out as herdsmen or
warriors if the authority of the tribe became too restrictive. The Bedouins developed a code of
ethics represented in the word muru'ah or manly virtue. Far from brutishness and bragging,
muru'ah was proven through grace and restraint, loyalty to obligation and duty, a devotion to do
that which must be done, and a respect for women. Bedouin women also enjoyed a great degree
of independence. They were allowed to engage in business and commerce; they could choose
their own lovers, and conduct their lives without great restriction by the control of their
husbands. The freedom and independence of Bedouins sprang from the realities of life in the
desert, as did the values and ethics of the Arabs. One rule of conduct was unqualified hospitality
to strangers. A nomad never knew when the care of a stranger might be necessary to provide the
necessary water and shade to save his or her own life.
The Bedouins of the seventh century lacked a unifying religious system. Most looked at life as a
brief time within which to take full advantage of daily pleasure. Ideas of an afterlife were not
well defined or described. The Bedouins worshiped a large number of gods and spirits, many of
whom were believed to inhabit trees, wells, and stones. Each tribe had its own gods, generally
symbolized by sacred stones, which served as altars where communal sacrifices were offered.
Although the Bedouins of the interior led a primitive and largely isolated existence, some parts
of Arabia were highly influenced by the neighboring and more highly sophisticated cultures of
Byzantium, Persia, and Ethiopia. By the later half of the sixth century Christian and Jewish
residents were found throughout the Arabian peninsula; their religious systems and
philosophical positions probably had an influence on the Bedouin population.
Early Mecca
On the western side of the Arabian peninsula is a region known as the Hejaz, or "barrier." The
Hejaz rises from the western coastal plain from Yemen in the south to the Sinai peninsula in the
north. One of the oases in the Hejaz is Mecca, set among the barren hills fifty miles inland from
the sea. This site had several advantages: Mecca possessed a well (the Zemzem) of great depth,
and two ancient caravan routes met there. An east-to-west route ran from Africa through the
peninsula to Iran and Central Asia, and a northwest-southeast route brought the spices of India
to the Mediterranean world. Another significant advantage of Mecca was its importance as a
religious sanctuary. An ancient temple, an almost square structure built of granite blocks, stood
near the well of Mecca. Known as the Kaaba (cube), this square temple contained the sacred

Black Stone, which was said to have been brought to Abraham and his son Ishmael by the Angel
Gabriel. According to tradition, the stone, probably a meteorite, was originally white but had
become blackened by the sins of those touching it.
For centuries the Kaaba had been a holy place of annual pilgrimage for the Arabic tribes and a
focal point of Arabic cultural and linguistic unity. The Kaaba itself was draped with the pelts of
sacrificial animals, and supposedly held the images and shrines of 360 gods and goddesses.
By the sixth century, Mecca was controlled by the Koraysh tribe, whose rulers organized
themselves into syndicates of merchants and wealthy businessmen. The Koraysh held lucrative
trading agreements with Byzantine and Persian contacts, as well as with the southern Arabian
tribes and the Abyssinian (Ethiopians) across the Red Sea. In addition, a number of neighboring
merchant fairs, such as one usually held at Ukaz, were taken over by the Koraysh to extend the
economic influence of Mecca. The Koraysh were also concerned with protecting the religious
shrine of the Kaaba, in addition to ensuring that the annual pilgrimage of tribes to the holy
place would continue as a source of revenue for the merchants of the city.