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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) Conflict and conquest after Muhammad (following session)
Earlier Arabian communities and civilizations
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.)
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”
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). Agricultural settlement. Two main Arab tribes, Aws and Khazraj, in conflict with each other. Three main Jewish tribes, Banu Nadir, Banu Qurayza and Banu Qaynuqa„. From mid-6th century (?) clients of the Arab tribes.
Yathrib (Later Medina)
Religion – gods, spirits, etc
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.
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.
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
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. Umra: in Mecca, in month of Rajab. Hajj: outside Mecca, in month of Dhu al-Hijja
Pilgrimage: Umra and Hajj originally separate (joined by Muhammad?)
Four months were considered sacred, Rajab, Dhu‟l-Qa‟dah, Dhu‟l-Hijjah and Muharram. No fighting during these.
Significant people and activities 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 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) 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
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. „Amr ibn Kulthum:
"Let no one act fiercely (in a jahili way) against us, for we shall be fiercer than the fierce (for we shall outjahl the jahilis )."
Jahiliyya and hilm (moderation, self control)
“Although I be in need of hilm, of jahl I am at times in greater need”
Jews and Christians 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 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
Pre-Islamic Arabic in the light of the Axial Age theory:
Ultimate Reality Allah (transcendent but somewhat marginal); Fate
Jinn, Spirits, gods- connected with nature
Action, Ritual, ethical
Sacrifice, divination, circumambulation, etc. Sunna of tribe Diverse: Kahins, tribal leaders, others, (hanifs, marginal) Tribe, clan Individual immersed in group (some exceptions) No
Social group Individual Future life