Arabia Before Islam
Arabia Before Islam
In order to acquire a close familiarization with Islam it is necessary to know the environment in which Islam took birth and started to spread since such an understanding greatly aids the recognition of that entity.
It is possible to have a superficial knowledge of certain matters without being familiar with their knowing their background or the conditions of their origin. But a profound understanding of a certain being or phenomenon depends wholly on a thorough familiarization of the background of that being or phenomenon.
This applies equally to individuals or technical , artistic or social phenomena. For this reason, a deep understanding of the environments of Islam at the time of its birth is essential. The environments at the time of the birth of Islam may be misconstrued to mean the region including Mecca, or Mecca and Medina, or Mecca, Medina and Ta'if, or Hejaz or Arabia. It should be noted though that the noble Prophet of Islam from the very outset as he began his call to Islam while he was still at Mecca and Islam had not yet spread to Medina, began his call in the following manner:
"Come and embrace a faith the light of which will spread over Iran, Rome, Abyssinia and all other places." Thus from beginning the Prophet's call was a universal one addressing the civilized world of that time. Moreover, in the 6th year of (Hijra) migration, namely six years after the prophet's immigration to Medina, he wrote letters all of which are found in historical records namely to Khusrow Parviz King of Persia, Heraclius ruler of a part of the Roman Empire, Mequqass ruler of Egypt, Najashi (or Negus) ruler of Abyssinia, Ruler of Ghassan as a deputy of Rome, and to the ruler of Hira of the tribe of AI-e-Mundir and a vice regent of the throne of Iran, inviting all of them to accept Islam. Thus it becomes apparent that in order to know the background of the rise of Islam, we cannot con fine ourselves to Mecca, Medina and Ta'if, or to the Arab Lands but expand our view to at least include all such regions as the Prophet himself called to accept Islam in his own time.
A brief description of Arabia
The name Arabia is applied to a land populated by Arabic-speaking people. At the time of the birth of the Prophet, the Arabic-speaking region was not so vast as it is to-day; on one side it was bounded by the Persian Gulf much as it is to-day, since at that time, too, the southern borders of the Persian Gulf were inhabited by Arabs In Iraq the boundary was almost along the Tigris and the Euphrates namely that side of the Tigris where Arabic is now the main language In the region between Iran and the Tigris the main language was not Arabic, but Kurdish, Persian and some local dialects with Arabic as the main language that side of River Tigris. In fact the Arabs now inhabiting Khuzestan are not the original inhabitants but migrated to this region after Islam. In the north were the present countries of Shaam or Syria and Jordan where a number of Arab migrant tribes lived in the time of Islam, the period of that migration will be explained later. In the north, too, Arabic was not, unlike to-day, the main language, though a considerable Arab migrants had settled in the valley of the Jordan River.
It may be observed that at present the Arab land, have extended as far as Turkey, whereas at that time it was limited more to the south towards Jordan. The present Lebanon and Syria were not Arabic speaking. In Jordan, too, Arabic was not the main language, and only the Arab migrants spoke Arabic. In this respect Jordan resembled the present Khuzestan where a group speak Arabic and another speak Persian.
In the west, in a significant part of Africa where Arabic is now spoken, the main language at the time was not Arabic. Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and even Abyssinia and other parts where Arabic is now spoken, Arabic was not the main language at that time. Thus we see that at the time of the birth of Islam the region of Arabia and the Arab land from the viewpoint of the Arabic language was located in the south of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman extending in the west up to the Red Sea - beyond which Arabic was not prevalent - and in the north till the Jordan River valley beyond which Arabic was not prevalent, and in the east to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This, then was the extent of Arabia at the time of the birth of Islam.
Here it should be pointed out that the language spoken in the regions beyond these frontiers, namely in a part of Africa, Shaam, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and to the east of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, had been branches of Semitic languages, having a common root with Arabic - in the same way that Persian has a common root with German, Indian Sanskrit and Indo-European languages.
The local languages of Somalia, Abyssinia, Egypt and a part of Jordan (which was Hebrew) and those of the present Lebanon and Syria (which had been Phoenician), and those of other parts (which had been Chaldean, Assyrian etc.) were all like the Arabic language Semitic in origin and are recognized as Semitic languages and both from the viewpoint of script as well as vocabulary linked together.
Georgie Zeydan, in his book, 'History of Civilization, narrates that at that time if someone went from Arabia to Abyssinai, or from Jordan or the Lebanon to Hejaz, he did not feel like an alien, the languages were so much alike that he could understand the local language without the aid of an interpreter, and if he stayed there for a little while, he could learn the local language - the same way that a Persian-speaking person visiting Kurdestan can learn the local language within a short time. Thus the Arabic speaking region of to-day used to be the region of Semitic languages, which have common roots with Arabic, and is thus easily understood by their neighbors, while the Arabian peninsula was the home to Arabs who spoke pure unmixed Arabic.
Origin of Arab Tribes
The inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula who were generally called Arabs, were in two groups: Qahtani Arabs' and 'Adnani Arabs.' Qahtani Arabs were those whose original abode was Yemen. The Yeminis and Yemen of that time included the present Aden, the Sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf littoral and the Sea of Oman.
The Adnani Arabs were centered around Najd and Hejaz that is to say around Mecca stretching as far as the Hejaz Desert. Both the Qahtani and Adnani Arabs share a common historical root, originating from the same ancestors. You can imagine an Arab family of three thousand years ago steadily multiplying in numbers, then branching into two sections The descendants of Ya'rib Ibn Qahtan went to Yemen. Others who went to Mecca - and founded Mecca - the descendants of Ismail, because they had an ancestor named Adnan, came to be called Adnani.
Arabs who went to Yemen, the Qahtani Arab, had come to the land of good fortune, because Yemen was a better land compared with Mecca, Najd and the Arabian Desert from the viewpoint of natural potential climate and water. Accordingly in the lands of Yemen, civilization and industry and urban development began much sooner. The history of urban development and civilization in Yemen, the home of the Qahtani Arabs, dates several centuries before Hejaz and Najd, the home of the 'Adnani Arabs. It would be pertinent at this stage to consider how the factor of environment influenced the development of two branches of a common stock who shared common language as well as many other characteristics. According to historians, not only from the viewpoint of urbanization and development, but also from the viewpoint of political organizations and government, Yemen and Qahtani Arabs were centuries ahead of Najd and Hejaz and the Adnani Arabs. Further explanations will follow about this aspect.
In Yemen the Hemyari Kings ruled as the crowned monarchs at the time when in Hejaz social organizations had not developed beyond tribal ways. Ya'qubi, the great Islamic historian narrates that the crown worn by Hemyar, founder of the Hemyari dynasty was made of silver with a large ruby set in the middle and such was the situation prevailing in Yemen several centuries before the establishment of a government in Hejaz, Najd and Arabia. From the viewpoint of technology and civilization, long before the appearance of such developments over the ordinary tribal life in Najd and Hejaz, the historical 'Mareb Dam' had been constructed.
In this regard a historian narrates that this dam was six kilometers in length situated between two mountains so that the winter rains and torrents would collect in the form of a lake. It had a number of sluice gates through which passed seventy irrigation channels passed for irrigating seventy agricultural sectors. Mareb Dam had been built eight centuries before Islam and as it happened two centuries before Christ, the object is to show the background of the birth place of Islam, as also to compare Yemen with Hejaz which was the location of the advent of Islam.
Mareb Dam played an effective role in the development of Yemen which flourished alongside of it. Strabon, the famous Greek geographer and traveler (about 63 B.C. to 26 A.D ) whose name is mentioned frequently in the annals of history, has written many strange accounts about the city of Mareb and its wonders and fine palaces which have been quoted in various books of history. This city had attracted travelers from many parts of the world and flourished until the second century A.D. From the beginning of the second century A.D. it started to deteriorate. The interesting point which historians have recorded is that since individuals were unable to maintain the Dam, this task had to be performed by their governments, but as public authorities had become inefficient and were too busy feasting and drinking, they neglected their responsibility of preserving the Dam. Consequently it fell into disrepair.
This shows that in those times the people of Yemen expected their government to undertake such tasks. Mareb Dam began to deteriorate in the beginning of second country A.D. so that all realized that it would collapse within the next ten or twenty years So the Qahtani Arabs of Yemen began to abandon their homes fearing that with the collapse of the Dam no water would be available for irrigation or farming. They were also alarmed that when the Dam collapsed it would release a torrent which would destroy their homes and fields and everything else that came in its way Consequently such fears caused the Qahtani tribes to begin emigrating.
One group emigrated towards Hira and the land of Iraq and settled along the banks of the Tigris, and founded the government of Munadherah or Al-e-Mundher. The people & Munadherah on account of their proximity to Iran, became tributaries of the Iranian governments possibly maintaining political relations with them. Another group migrated to the territory near the present day Jordan, and settled in the flourishing Jordan Valley. They were the earliest Arabs to settle there and set up the Ghassani dynasty which normally had relations with Rome. A third group of them in their migration came to Yathrib (the present Medina) which was at that time home to the Jews, however this subject will be discussed later in the chapter related to Judaism. These last Arabs formed the twin tribes of 'Aus' and 'Khazraj' whose names appear frequently in the course of the history of Islam.
These two tribes settled in Yathrib where some farming land and water were available. Another group, namely Bani Khuza'a moved to Mecca and fought the Adnani Arabs of Mecca, drove them out and took control of Mecca themselves. Yet another group called Bani 'Addi went to Najd and became the rulers of the greater part of the desert.
What is note worthy here is that a civilized people accustomed to urbanization and well developed social existence should as a result of an anticipated catastrophe, migrate from their home land, and then organize their communities wherever they set foot. Those who went to Shaam, established the Ghassani rule; those who went to Hira, founded the dynasty of Al-e-Mundher, No'manian and Munadherah; whose who settled in Medina, namely the tribes of Aus and Khazraj, will be discussed in subsequent chapters; and the group that went to Mecca, pushed away the Adnanis who were the least developed. These were the ones who went to the desert, dominated the waste lands of the Arabian Desert. The remaining Arabs who stayed back in Yemen, either on account of laziness or hoping that no calamity such as the collapse of the Dam would occur, were annihilated by the well-known flood of 'Arem in the end of the second century A.D. which has been mentioned in the Chapter of Saba of the holy Qur'an, where a brief history of Yemen is narrated.
Thus the structure of Arabia in the second century A.D. consisted of the government of one group of Arabs in the present day Jordan neighboring ancient Rome; another group building a city state in the present Iraq and Hira set up a state neighboring Iran; another group settled in Yathrib as neighbors of the Jews, and lastly another group of Qahtani Arabs settled in Mecca and its suburbs. This then was the situation four centuries before the birth of Islam.
All historians are agreed that the highest manifestation of the development of Arab culture in the century preceding Islam was poetry which was not known before that time. A well known historian named Ya'qubi has written that poetry among the Arabs had taken the place of science, philosophy, history and everything else. If an Arab had a bright idea he would give it the form of a few verses and thus express it. Thus if someone should question what Arab culture was at that time, the answer would be 'a few stanzas of poetry'.
The Arabs were a people with a poetic bent even though their land was no land of flowers and nightingales, but only thorns and sand, yet it nurtured many a poet. As poetry was esteemed by them to be the highest manifestation of culture, their poets were on the lookout for a suitable spot to present their poems. The finest of their poems were then inscribed on posters and hung on the walls of the Ka'aba in the annual rendezvous of the Arabs.
They called these posters 'Mu'allaqat' meaning 'hanging verses'. Such display on the walls of the Ka'aba was the reward for the poets, who as a result became famous. Amra' al-Qais and other contemporary poets of early Islam were among the poets thus honored. They were the authors of 'the seven hanging pieces' that had found place of honor on the walls of the Ka'aba and in history Beside poetry there was another cultural source in the Arabia of that time, namely Jewish culture which will be discussed in detail later on.
The leading aspect of the Arabs economy of that time from the viewpoint of production was animal husbandry and agriculture wherever it was possible. As far as trade and exchange were concerned, their main trade was with foreign lands. Both the Arabs of Yemen and Hejaz were engaged in this activity, but since foreign trade must have links with home trade in order to exchange home-made products with foreign goods, the Arabs of that age resorted to the same practice in keeping with the level of their civilization as they do in modern times. In the developed world of today one of the most significant essential and effective of economic practices is the organizing of commercial and industrial fairs. The Arabs, too, at that time arranged fairs in the form of seasonal bazaars In the same way that today in each season a fair is held in a city or locality in relation to local conditions, the Arabs, too, followed the same practice at different times and in particular places. A few examples of the extensive and famous exhibitions which were held in Hejaz and Najd were as follows:
1. The 'Dumatul-Jandal Fair', held in the month of Rabial-Awwal under the auspices of two local tribes of Ghassan and Kalb near Shaam.
2. The Mashqar Fair' held in the month of Jamadi-al-'Ula in a place of the same name, under the auspices of Banu-Tim tribe.
3. The 'Sahar Fair', held on the first of the month of Rajab.
4. The 'Ria Fair' following their Sahar Fair' in the same month of Rajab, under the patronage of the Jalandi tribc and its ruler.
5. The 'Aden Fair', held at the beginning of the month of Ramadhan, According to historians since this fair dealt exclusively with perfumes and scents, it was the great market of perfumers.
6. The 'San'a Fair', held in the middle of Ramadhan
7. The 'Rabia Fair', held in the present Hadamut.
8. The 'Ukaz Fair', held in the month of Dhil-Qa'dah near Ta'if
9. The 'Dhil Majaz Fair', held when all other fairs had concluded and the merchants who had been busy making a round of these fairs during those months, finally headed to Mecca, making a pilgrimage to the Ka'aba in the month of Dhil Hajjah, and dispersed after performing the Hajj ceremonies. These fairs and seasonal bazaars were the most valuable and cherished commercial events in Arabia of those days. The merchant class who profited from those fairs did their best not to let them become mere exhibitions. They organized colorful ceremonies and musical shows and other celebrations as well as exhibits of literary works, poetry and arts. Thus these exhibitions were show places worth a visit both for those who intended to buy new and fineries and goods, or listen to the latest and the finest pieces of verse, or fine music. Thus the poets, too, were drawn to these exhibitions to recite their poems before judges who judged their poems. In this manner the fairs served both as commercial shows and literary societies.
Form of Government in Pagan Times
Sociologists say that in those days when man lived alone he had no need of a master, since he was his own master and servant; his own ruler, his own government and his own nation. But as soon as he emerged from this solitary state and formed a family, and as soon as their number rose to four, there rose the question of who headed the family and who was the chief.
Sociologists claim that in most parts of the world headship belonged to the men while in certain parts to the women, that is to say the father acting as the head in the former case, and the mother in the latter. As the family grew larger, several families formed a group, called tribe, the family then acquired a tribal form. Thereby the question of the chief, the elder, the senior and the 'grey-beard' of the tribe came up who should settle the affairs of the group.
When several tribes took form, the issue became more extensive and there came into existence national government, and the issues in turn became international though yet such a government has not appeared. With the rise of several tribes, these tribes that lived alongside each other neither knew their common ancestors nor did they regard each other as kith and kin. As they coexisted in one area and shared common interests, they found that they had need for a government in order to preserve their social system. Thus the formation of a government from the viewpoints of history and sociology began with the tribes' realization of a need for a guardian to safeguard their common interests and social system. This guardian then became their government.
From the viewpoint of political process, this was the most critical phase, namely the transfer of power from the tribal system and tribal chief to a central government. This critical phase had been accomplished in Yemen many centuries before Islam where a central government in its true sense had been formed and this was also the case in Ghassan and Hira where governments ruled. On the other hand in the interior of Arabia such a governments did not exist except in very rare instances.
Ya'qubi says in his book of history: "The tribal disputes or problems between individuals were usually settled by a number of persons known to be wise and far-sighted as well as unprejudiced and impartial. They settled the disputes through elderly intervention and arbitration. Such arbitrators were called magistrates. Ya'qubi mentions in his book of history (Vol. 1, p. 337) the names of a large number of such magistrates, who were not heads of a government but only arbitrators who adjudicated in the matters of disputes. In the history of the corresponding period in Arabia we come across only one or two cases when government is mentioned in connection with the interior of Arabia, namely in Hejaz and Najd. Among these accounts a Jewish historian writes that in the fifth century A.D., that is one century before Islam, Abu Karab, king of Yemen had assigned his son as the regent of Median. Since this governor had been installed by the ruler of Yemen, it could hardly be called the government of Medina.
Thus at that time while there existed governments along the borders outside of Arabia, such as the Chassanis and Mundherian, and those who had remained in Yemen and in the coastal regions of the Persian Gulf, no progress had been made from a tribal society towards a central government in the central parts of Arabia.
Role of Judaism and Christianity
In order to make a thorough study of the history of Islam, we should also make a survey of the part played by Judaism and Christianity in side Arabia.
We are not altogether certain of the date of the Jews migration to Arabia, however the writer of the 'History of Judaism' writes in this connection: "There are different views concerning the migration of the Jews to Arabia and its causes and factors, but there is little doubt that most of the Jews abandoned their homes owing to the oppression of Roman rulers and sought refuge in Arabia. If the Jews had been denied peace and tranquility in Palestine, Europe and in the Roman holdings, in Arabia on the contrary their living conditions were satisfactory, since there they were no longer subjected to threats and persecution by Christian priests, being treated kindly by their neighbors.
What is certain is that owing to the remoteness of the Hejaz and Najd regions, a number of Jews had migrated to Arabia centuries before the birth of Islam, and in all probability concurrent with the appearance of Jesus (a s.) Christ or in the second and third centuries A.D.
According to the existing books of history, their migrations to the Hejaz must have begun at least about five centuries before Islam, that is to say by the end of the first century A.D. The Jews had realized that in that region they could live freely far removed from the oppression of Roman governors. The most important center of Jewish settlements was Yathrib, the present Medina. The Jews who came to Arabia, found that there was land and water in the Yathrib region, so they built a fort for themselves and settled down. In Mecca, too, the Jews were present but in small numbers.
Those who migrated from the north to the south found their way to Yemen, where the number of the Jews was not so great, but there occurred an event as a result of which Judaism became the official religion of Yemen. It so happened that Abu Karab's son was the governor of Yathrib, when his father was king of Yemen in the fifth century A.D. The inhabitants of Medina rose in revolt against this governor and killed him. Abu Karab, despite being engaged in a war with the kings of Iran over Yemen, on his way came to Yathrib and in order to punish the Jews and Arabs of Yathrib who had risen against him, and thereafter to proceed to the war with Iran. When he reached Yathrib, the inhabitants went inside their forts and shut the gates and took refuge within: Abu Karab besieged the forts, and as the siege drew on, the people in the forts were faced with acute shortage of food. At this time a number of Jewish rabbis came out of the forts and approached Abu Karab and declared that only four foolish men had killed his son, and begged the king for his forgiveness. In this meeting they started reciting some Jewish teachings for Abu Karab who was a heathen; their ardor so influenced him that he embraced Judaism and at once returned to Yemen.
When Abu Karab and his courtiers accepted Judaism as their religion, they began to propagate that faith. After Abu Karab died some time later, one of his sons, named 'Dhunavas' or 'Dhunuvas' became the king of Yemen and formally and zealously propagated the Jewish faith in Yemen and so it became the official religion of Yemen where they set about building a number of synagogues for the Jews. This happened about eighty or a hundred years before the rise of Islam.
Thus we witness that in the Arabia of that time, in the north existed the Jews and Christians, in the east the Zoroastrians and followers of Mazdak, the Iranians' religion, in the south and in a part of Yathrib the Jews, and in other parts were idolaters and Sabeans and followers of numerous other religions.
Judaism in Arabia
The author of the 'History of Judaism' has recorded that the Arabs treated the Jews kindly and associated with them treaty resulting in frequent intermarriages among them. On the whole the Jews exerted a great influence upon the Arabs since, firstly, they were well versed in economics and could hence manage the economy of those regions and, secondly, compared to the Arabs lettered and a people of the Book and consequently possessed higher learning than the Arabs who were quite illiterate. They could narrate tales and talk about many topics with the Arabs and hence gained considerable respect. While the Arabs could neither read nor write, most of the Jews were familiar with reading and even writing to some extent. Judaism exerted such a strong influence that a group of the Quraish tribe, namely Banu Kunanah had embraced Judaism.
Christianity in Arabia
The position of Christianity was a special one in Hejaz and in the Arabian peninsula. This religion had not made any inroads into Arabia till about the time of the Prophet of Islam, that is to say about a century and a half before the birth of Islam. Just as today the Christian missionaries go to African and South American lands and penetrate into the forests to propagate their faith, at that time, too, they went to the dry deserts of Arabia with the object of spreading their religion. The first group of Christian missionaries went to the Najran area.
They so greatly influenced the people there that the first Christian sector took shape in Arabia. The Christians of Najran commenced their missionary work, and along with other missionaries who arrived from outside, founded a center of propagation in the interior of Arabia. At this time, as it has already been stated, Dhunuvas, the King of Yemen had embraced Judaism. Then there occurred a collision between this Jewish king who applied much pressure to spread Judaism in Arabia and the Christians of Najran. This clash had a political background in that the Emperor of Abyssinia coveted Yemen, the neighbor across the sea.
To retaliate this clash, Dhunuvas came to Najran to wipe out the Christians of Najran. This episode has been narrated in the holy Qur'an under the title of "the story of Ukhdood" where this deed has been condemned. Dhunuvas killed many of the Najran Christians and burnt a number of them alive. This roused the Christian Emperor of Abyssinia as well as the Roman Emperor to come to the aid of the Najran Christians. But as the Emperor of Rome was too far from Yemen he asked the Emperor of Abyssinia for help and asked him to take the revenge of this massacre from Dhunuvas and the people of Yemen. That is how the episode of Abraha and the Abyssinian campaign to Yemen occurred. Abyssinian troops reached Yemen and captured it. Dhunuvas and a large number of Yemenese were killed, and thus Christianity replaced Judaism in Yemen By the order of the Abyssinian governor officially churches were built there, eventually resulting in the story of Abraha and 'Amul-Feel.'
In this way, in Arabia at the time of the rise of Islam, Judaism took the first place, Christianity the second, Zoroastrianism third, Sabeans, who followed a kind of idol worship reaching as far back as the creeds of the time of the Prophet Abraham (a.s.) came fourth and some local faiths followed fifth in place as mentioned in the holy Qur'an. Thus from the viewpoint of religion, the Arabian peninsula of that time was under of influence of multiple faiths.
To get better acquainted with the peculiar conditions prevailing in Mecca, Medina and Ta'if, the three cities closest to the birthplace of Islam, further explanations are in order As already stated, in the second and third centuries A.D. the Qahtani Arabs migrated to various parts of Arabia, and a group of them named Banu Khuza'ah went to Mecca and seized the reins of affairs there however, before the arrival of Banu Khuza'ah group, various Isma'ili tribes of the 'Adnani Arabs had dominated that region, the most important of whom were the Quraish tribe.
Till that time however, this tribe had not assumed the importance it gained later on. When Banu Khuza'ah gained predominance in Mecca and secured control over the affairs of the Ka'aba, a child was born in the house of Quraish named Qussi bin-kalab, whose mother was of Banu Khuza'ah and father from belonged a branch of the Quraish tribe. As Qussi grew up, he decided to take back from the non-Quraish all the positions which had been taken away from the Quraish family at whatever the cost. This included the custody of the keys and coverings of the holy Ka'aba, positions that were highly esteemed and which position should have been inhabited by his uncle on the mother's side. Qussi's uncle was a drunkard and a libertine. Qussi as it happened, bought this position from his own uncle for a wine skin and one camel to barbecue and this idiotic deal became proverbial in the history of Arabia, thus the phrase 'Qussi Deal' implying an infamous and a stupid deal.
Qussi was a competent youth who gradually came to dominate Mecca completely and took control over all its affairs. From the time of Qussi bin Kalab onward, although no government had been formed, however a set up in Mecca takes shape as a result of his policies and ideas. According to his views the various tribes of Mecca, especially the branches of the Quraish tribe were involved into creating a central organization and establishing a relative order in the society.
Situation of the Heading Tribes of the Quraish
The Quraish tribe had many sub-tribes, however the leading ones were: The Hashemis, Umavis, Nufelis, Abduddaris, Asadis, Timis, Makhzumis, 'Adavis, Jamhis and the Sahmis.
There were the prominent sub-tribes' branches, but there were also others, less significant clans. At that time there existed only two or three positions in connection with the Ka'aba. To make these clans to co-operate with one another, Qussi bin Kalab created a number of new positions, giving each of the clans a position to be content with, and so abstain from internecine fighting. Thus it would appeal that the creation of designations had a long precedent! Concurrent with the birth of the Prophet of Islam there existed about 15 positions in Mecca, each of which pertained to one of the prominent clans of the Quraish as follows:
1. Position of the Keeper and custodian of the Ka'aba was the top most in first-rate precedence
2. Position of the provider of water to the pilgrims. During the pre-Islamic pilgrimage those who visited Mecca were not familiar with the water wells, and as they all needed water, the task of bringing water from the neighboring wells and offering it to pilgrims was assigned to a branch of the Quraish to act as wardens over water Georgie Zeydan narrates that they devised open tanks of hides and filled them with water for the pilgrims to take.
3. Position of reception and hospitality. To attract more visitors to Mecca and make their market brisk, as well as to preserve the Arab custom of acting as lordly hosts, they laid out feasts for the pilgrims as their guests, and this task was assigned to a particular branch of the Quraish tribe For this purpose they collected contributions to provide free meals to the pilgrims.
4. Position of flag-bearer. Mecca had a flag called the Eagle banner which was used in the time of war. This flag was kept in the family whose chief would bring it out in the event of war. In the time of the Prophet this banner was in the hands of the Bani Umayya.
5. Position of Dar-un-Nadwa or Dar-u-Showra. One of Qussi's initiatives was to build a house near the Ka'aba, called Dar-en-Nadwa. Dar-ul-Nadwa means a meeting place or assembly for consultation. Whenever an issue of importance rose for the Quraish in general, their chiefs and elders who were truly the people's representative assembled in that place, discussed the matter and came to a decision about it and whatever the majority's decision carried it out. What is noteworthy however is that according to the laws of elections of Qussi bin kalab, one of the pre-conditions was that the tribes and clans representatives should not be less than forty years of age. Today young people could well protest against such a law on the plea that it meant favoring the old people as they accepted only over forty years old. In those days, however, they wished to have well tried and experienced peoples' representatives, though at the same time we read in the biography of the holy Prophet of Islam that Abdul-Mutallib took Muhammad (a s.) as a child along with him to Dar-un-Nadwa, even though the admission of a person below the age of forty was forbidden. The first time Muhammad (a.s.) was taken there, they were displeased, but after that they agreed that he could enter - but that is another story.
6. The charge and leadership of trade caravans was held by the Bani-Umayya.
7. The institution for the payment of blood-money and compensation. Sometimes when a member of a tribe was killed by someone from another tribe, in the first place was a demand for compensation and indemnity or a fight would ensue. Thus the fine had to be collected, and one of these families was responsible for this task of determining the share, collecting them, and handing them over to the claimants. This was in fact a kind of office for public funds related of course to blood-money and reparations.
8. Administration of the arsenal. This was a large tent where arms and weapons were collected in the event of war and distributed judicially among the soldiers.
9. Management of army stables: a task given to a branch of Quraish tribe to take care of the remounts such as horses and camels necessary far the war effort.
10. Assigning of envoys or ambassadors: Sometimes it became necessary to dispatch envoys abroad. As we shall see later, envoys were required to travel to Abyssinia to pursue the question of Muslim emigrants to that country.
11. Position of administering justice was given to a special committee of Arabs.
12. Position of the Key Bearer of the Ka'aba, as distinct from the position of the custodian. As you may be aware, pilgrims to the holy shrines often made offerings of gold coins in the holy shrines. The pilgrims who visited the Ka'aba often brought vowed offering for dropping them within the sacred grille. Once a year or every six months the custodian would open the door of the Ka'aba, collect whatever had been offered and then divide that amongst the various clans.
13. Position of the repairs and maintenance of the holy Ka'aba and other buildings of Mecca which were entrusted to one particular clan
14. Position of "Ansab and Azlam", which could be called the office of lottery. There was a custom among the Arabs called "Isar" (from "Yusr" meaning ease and plenty) incidentally the Arabic word is also related to 'gambling and lottery' At present, too, in winter there comes a time when a villager has consumed whatever he has in store, is left with nothing, and is in dire need Such conditions often occurred in Arabia during winters particularly when rainfall was scanty in spring and summer Such a custom also exists in remote parts of Iran near the annual spring festival. So to provide relief the Arabs resorted to a measure by which a part of the wealth of the rich would be contributed to help the needy. Such practices are common among people who have not developed a secure economic system and are faced with straitened circumstances.
The Arabs invented a lottery as a game of chance This game of luck was played as follows: They took ten wooden shafts, on seven of which they wrote a number of shares from one to seven serially and the remaining three were left blank. These shafts were then handed over to a trustworthy man. Then a camel was bought, and the price of it was paid by drawing lots with these wooden beams which determined the share of the money to be paid by the participants.
With this money the camel was bought and slaughtered, and the meat was distributed on the basis of lottery members again. These wooden shafts were called 'Ansab' which in from 'Naseeb' meaning destiny. They also had another form of lottery called 'Azlam' which served for divining whether a step should be taken in a matter or not.
Here they prepared seven small wooden shafts on each of which either a positive load as 'do it', or negative indication such as 'don't do it' or 'to your advantage' or 'to the advantage of the other side' etc. were written and one of them was left blank. Whenever a person was undecided about what he should do in a matter, he would go to a diviner who employed these shafts for fortune-telling, and drew a lot from under a cloth, and that shaft indicated to him what he should do.
The above systems of 'Ansab' and 'Azlam' were entrusted to another clan of the Quraish tribe. Thus the allocation of the said positions was intended to prevent disputes and war, but clashes nonetheless occurred from time to time. However, sometimes disputes would rise and through the application of this organization, albeit defective, they managed to prevent wars.
After Qussi bin-kalab no armed clashes occurred between the branches of the Quraish tribe, except an old one and that too a minor one. The period following Qussi in Mecca was a period of transition between the tribal and control government's establishment. For, as you can see, in this period discussions regarding types of organization, positions, division of responsibilities and political order were taking place in Mecca. That was the situation as it prevailed in Mecca.
Ta'if, on the other hand, was more or less under the influence of a single tribe named Bani Thaqif It was a small but a flourishing city controlled by that tribe. However Medina offered an interesting perspective. As already stated, it has been predicted at the beginning of the second century A.D. that the Mareb Dam would collapse, consequently a large number of the Qahtani Arabs of Yemen migrated to the north and north-east. Two of these clans namely the Aus and Khazraj having reached Yathrib, found it to be a suitable place and decided to settle down there. But before the arrival of the Arabs, the Jews had chosen it to be their home, and thus they were its original residents. The new-comers, namely the Aus and the Khazraj were delighted at the beginning to pay tribute to the Jews because they were weak, alien and emigre guests. Meanwhile the Jews, too, were politically astute and for a long time coexisted with the newcomers.
After a time the Jews found a rather powerful and despotic ruler who encroached upon the Aus and Khazraj, giving rise to continued fighting between the Jews and the Aus and Khazraj tribes. The latter, owing to their relations with the neighboring Arabs who had a common race and spoke the same language, grow in numbers and enhanced their influence, as well as received assistance from their Arab allies in their conflicts with the Jews. Gradually therefore the power of the Arabs went on the increase while that of the Jews diminished in Medina. So long as the Aus and Khazraj remained united, everything was in their favor. But an incident occurred that caused a rift between them resulting in a war. The sly Jews made the utmost use of this difference, and did their best to intensify this dispute.
Close to the time of the Prophet's ordainment, this dispute between the Khazraj who were the larger tribe and the Aus who were the smaller, carried on. The Khmazraj who were sub-divided into several clans, decided to choose a king for themselves. As you are aware, Mecca was then passing through a transition phase between the tribal and centralized governmental systems, and Medina, too, was passing through a similar process trying to pass from the tribal phase to a governmental stage.
Thus for the first time in the history of the Arabs in Medina, this became the common topic and ground was prepared that all should swear allegiance to Abdullah bin Abi, a respected man among the Khazraj tribe, and make him the king and make ready a throne and crown for him This matter had a lasting effect from various aspects on the future history of Islam. This subject which might appear small and trifling, was really quite consequential and will be discussed further. It was under such socio-economic and political conditions and the state of religious beliefs that the Prophet of Islam declared his mission in Mecca inviting people to the new faith.
This was the brief situation in Arabia concurrent with the rise of Islam with reference to its historical background which bears relation with our subsequent discussions.
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