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Role of Judaism and Christianity in Arabia

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 neighbours.

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 realised 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.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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