Christianity in Arabia
- :S. T. H. Khwarazmi
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 alongwith 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 neighbour across the sea. To retaliate this clash, Dhunuvas came to Najran to wipe out the Christians of Najran. Thhis episode has been narrated in the holy Qur'an under the title of "the story of Ukhdood" 12 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. 13 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. 14 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, 15 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 organisation and establishing a relative order in the society.
12. Al-Qur'an, Chapter 85 (Boruj), Verses 4 onwards.
13. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2 (Baqarah), verse 62; Chapter 6 (Ma'idah), verse 69. Chapter 22 (Hajj), Verse 17.
14. Abu Ghubshan, History of Ya'qubi, Vol. 1, p. 307.
15. Akhassa min-Safqat-e-Abi Ghabshan, History of Ya'qubi, Vol. 1, p. 307.
Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"
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