The State of Arabia

Arabia - which covers a significant place in terms of politics, geography and trading on the world map - was not any different from other countries. Like everywhere else, everything was in a miserable, disgraceful situation except for its language and literature.

Let us have a short look:

Religious Situation

In terms of belief, Arabia was writhing in a state of absolute anarchy, and strange beliefs were to be found everywhere within her borders.

Some of the people were unbelievers and did not accept anything other than life on the Earth. They would say, “What is there but our life in this world? We shall live and die, and nothing but time can destroy us” (1), and would continue to spend their lives in a state of so-called pleasure.

When the Honorable Messenger (PBUH) began to receive revelations, God would address those people with the following words:

“Say: "It is God Who gives you life, then gives you death; then He will gather you together for the Day of Judgment about which there is no doubt": But most men do not understand.” (2)

Some of the Arabs believed in God and the Day of Judgment, however, they did not acknowledge the prophets.

The Quran describes these people in the following verse:

“What kept men back from belief when Guidance came to them, was nothing but this: they said,

"Has God sent a man (like us) to be (His) Apostle?” (3)

They could not comprehend how a person could be a messenger and they thought that an angel should be appointed to such a role. The Quran, with its following verse, told those people how unreasonable their claim was:

“If there were settled, on earth, angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent them down from the heavens an angel for an apostle.” (4)

And some of them believed in God; however, they would not believe in the afterworld, in resurrection after death and punishment and reckoning in the hereafter.

The Quran addresses this group of people with the following verse:

“And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own (origin and) Creation: He says, "Who can give life to (dry) bones and decomposed ones (at that)?" (5)

And the Quran answers those people with the following verse:

“Say, "He will give them life Who created them for the first time! For He is Well-versed in every kind of creation!” (6)

The majority of them worshipped idols that were made of stones, wood and sometimes of halwa, and would say:

“We only serve them so that they may bring us nearer to God.” (7)

Yes, the majority of Arabs used to worship idols which were made of the aforementioned materials during times of war and they were in a miserable and disgraceful state since they sought help from them. They had filled the Baytullah, the first house of Tawhid on the Earth, with 360 idols.

Hazrat Umar, who is renowned for his justice after having been honored with his conversion to Islam, reminisced about one of his memories in which he used to worship the idols during the Era of Ignorance:

“There were two things that we did during the Age of Ignorance. I cry when I remember one of these accounts and I laugh when I remember the other,

“This is the matter that makes me cry:

“We used to bury our daughters alive. I do not know how we were able to do this to innocent and helpless babies who were in need of compassion. When I think about it, my heart breaks into pieces and I cannot help crying.

“As for the matter that makes me laugh, we used to have idols in our homes during the Age of Ignorance. When we embarked on a journey, we would construct these idols from flour or halwa and would worship and pay tribute to them during our journey. And when the journey lengthened, we would eat the idols that we had just worshipped and honored once we became hungry. Is there anything funnier than this? As I remember this, I laugh at and understand the silliness of our actions.”

However, traces from the religion of Tawhid that Prophet Abraham had conveyed could be seen in Arabia as well. The people who used to follow these traces were called the “Hanif” regardless of the huge amount of time that had passed since Hazrat Abraham’s arrival and the heedlessness that was prevalent in their present time. As a matter of fact, the word “Hanif” is used to refer to Hazrat Abraham in the Quran: “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was hanif (translated as “true” in English translations) in Faith” (8)

Those people who were called the “Hanif” despised the idols and believed in the oneness and existence of God. In fact, Waraqa bin Nawfal, Ubaidullah bin Jahsh, Uthman bin Huwairith and Zaid bin Amr, considered it despicable to prostrate before idols that could not speak, hear, harm or benefit anyone, and openly declared this during a fair that was organized to honor one of those idols. (9)

There were people who were able to understand that it was pointless to worship lifeless idols through using their reasoning and crusaded against this false belief. Umayya bin Abi Salt, the famous Arabian poet and leader of the Taif tribe, was one of them. He read the holy books during the Age of Ignorance and converted from idolatry to Abraham’s religion.

He was the first poet to have found the expression “Bismika Allahumma”. Later, Arabs liked this expression and began to include it as a prelude in their books.

He would mention the need for a prophet in his poems and declared that prophets were indispensable for humanity. Since he had learned from the Holy Books that a prophet would rise among the Arabs, he also desired this role. For this reason, when our Holy Prophet was appointed to prophethood, Umayya became a victim of jealousy and envy and did not accept him. Moreover, he recited his poems in remembrance of the idolaters who were killed in the Battle of Badr. (10)

Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) narrated a few hadiths about Ummaya who died without faith during the second year of the Hijra (migration).

One day, the Messenger (PBUH) was riding with Sharid bin Suwaid, who sat behind him. He asked the Companion: “Do you know anything about Umayya’s poems?”

The Companion answered: “Yes, I do” and began to recite some of his poems. Having liked the poems so much, the Messenger (PBUH) asked Sharid to recite some more.

The Companion finished reciting the whole poem. And the Messenger said:

“Umayya was very close to being a Muslim.” (11)

In another narration, the Messenger said: “Umayya’s poems had faith yet he stayed in aberration himself.” (12)

A famous Arab orator by the name of Quss bin Said should also be mentioned. We will discuss his khutbah that heralded our Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) arrival as a messenger at a later point.

Idols

There is a story about how these idols were first introduced to Makkah:

Amr bin Luhay was the first person to bring idols into the city and encouraged people to worship them. (13)

When Amr went to Damascus, he passed by someplace called Maab, and saw a tribe having descended from Noah that was worshipping idols. When he asked them why they were worshipping idols, they answered: “We ask for help from them and we receive help; we ask for rain and we get rain.”

Upon this, Amr wanted an idol so that he could take it to Makkah. They accepted his wish and gave him an idol named Hubal. (14)

Amr took Hubal with him to Mecca and put it there. He encouraged people to worship it. Ignorant people became convinced and started to worship idols.

This is how the first idol was brought to Makkah and how people began to worship idols.

Every Tribe had a Different Idol of Their Own

After that, idolatry began to spread in Makkah. Every tribe had its own idol.

Quraysh worshipped and considered Uzzah to be the greatest idol.

The tribes of Aws and Khazraj used to worship an idol named Manat which was located in between Makkah and Madinah in a place called Mushallal. At a later time, these two tribes began to worship the idols Lat and Uzza alongside Manat.

Wad, which was the idol that belonged to the tribe of Kalb, was in someplace called Dumatu’l-Jandal.

The tribe of Huzail used to worship an idol called Suwa which was in Ghatafan.

The Haywan, which was one branch of the tribe of Hamdan, used to worship an idol called Yauk which was somewhere in Hamdan.

The tribes of Tayy and Nasr used to worship an idol called Yaghuth. And the people of Himyari tribe used to worship Nasr.

The Sons of Bakr and the tribe of Kinana used to worship Sa’d. (15)

The aforementioned tribes used to worship those idols and ask for help, rain and victory from them. According to their belief, these lifeless, soulless items made of stones or wood were capable of making their wishes come true.

However, anyone who is sane enough knows and agrees that lifeless, soulless items can neither give benefit nor cause harm to people. They have neither the capability nor the power to help people.

Nevertheless, the Arabs of that time were so unreasonable that they were not able to think of this truth.

The Messenger of God (PBUH) would to come in order to save those people suffering from ignorance and aberration in terms of faith, with the light of knowledge and righteousness. He would undertake the duty of giving them light and peace.

Moral Situation

The moral situation in Arabia during the Age of Ignorance was in a completely miserable state. Wretched desires and deeds prevailed over the community; alcohol, gambling, fornication, lying, theft, cruelty, in short, all kinds of immoral acts were widespread all over Arabia.

The strong used the whip of cruelty against the weak. At the same time, the strong were always right and could have the weak and powerless do whatever they wanted. The amount of importance that was given to the life of a fly was not given to humanity. People who were taken as captives in raids were either killed under torture or were sold as slaves in markets like simple items.

Women were regarded as simple and cheap commodities that could be bought and sold. Young maids were encouraged and even forced to commit fornication so that money could be made through them. The Quran mentioned this behavior, which does not comply with human dignity, and prohibited them from committing this ugly action:

“…But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life. But if anyone compels them, yet, after such compulsion, is God, Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them)” (16)

A woman could live with more than one man at the same time. Such a woman would notify the public of her decision by planting a pole on the roof of her house.

A step-mother could inherit her step-son from her husband just like a household item.

The Tradition of Burying Girl Infants Alive

Some Arabs who lived in the desert considered having daughters to be shameful and a disaster. For that reason, cruel fathers would bury their daughters alive upon their birth or would throw them into wells, sometimes without even giving anyone a chance to see them.

They tried to prove this cruel tradition right by putting forward some imaginary reasons.

They used to say:

“They will grow and taint our honor one day, or they will become wretched. Moreover, they will become a burden on us because of their living expenses and we will not be able to meet their needs.” (17)

Sometimes a mother would have a hole dug up in the ground as the birth drew near. As the baby girl, who just came into the world, opened eyes for the first time, she would immediately be thrown into the hole and be covered with soil.

Other fathers would dress up their daughters in beautiful dresses when they reached the age of six as though they were taking them for a visit to their relatives, but would instead take them to the desert. Those poor children would be left in the graves that had been prepared for them and would be buried alive by having soil thrown over them.

Those who did not want to kill their daughters would have the latter dressed in thick, woolen gowns and isolate them from the society by sending them away to herd sheep or camels.

The Quran tells us of this barbaric tradition that the Arabs living in the desert practiced in the following verse:

“When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on!” (18)

Someone who practiced this barbaric tradition in the Age of Ignorance and later became a Muslim tearfully related the following to the Messenger (PBUH):

“O Messenger of God! We are a people who lived during the Era of Ignorance. We used to worship idols and kill our daughters. I used to have a daughter. She used to come to me in joy when I called her.

“One day I called her again. She came running and followed me to a well which was not so far from our house. I held her hand and threw her into the well.

“Her last words to me were:

“Daddy! Daddy!”

The Master of the Universe (PBUH) could not help crying upon hearing this violent memory. He cried so much that his beard got wet with his tears. Then he said:

“Verily, God leaves what you did in the Era of Ignorance there, unless you do it again. He does not transfer it into the Era of Islam.” (19)

At that time, high virtues called compassion and mercy had been removed from spirits, hearts and consciences. Besides, in a heart where belief in the Sultan of the Universe does not exist, in a conscience where fear from that sultan does not exist, there will be no place for compassion, mercy and virtue.

Political System

Arabia did not have a proper political system and social system in the Era of Ignorance. The majority of the people were leading a nomadic life. They were separated into tribes.

A tribe is a community which determines its own social system.

These nomadic tribes were continuously in conflict with each other. They were ready to attack and dishonor someone else and steal his goods at any given moment. Incursion and plunder were their means of livelihood. They used to attack an enemy tribe of theirs and take away their camels and enslave their women and children.

There had not been a time in which there was peace. If a tribe wronged another tribe, that tribe would try to gain revenge by applying the philosophy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Wars, fighting and incursion were so rooted in their souls and lives that they would fight each other if they could not find any hostile tribe to fight against. The poet Qutami intends to express this situation with these lines, “If we cannot find anyone else, we will attack Bakrs, who are our brothers.” (20)

They had been living as tribes and clans for a long time and never thought about uniting around a central government. For this reason, the Peninsula was deprived of civilized and social laws. Therefore, cruelty, conflicts, battles and fights continuously occurred. Anyone could do anything he wanted if he had enough power. The powerful and reputable would always get away with everything they did. (21)

Literary Situation

In addition to all of this, it is an unobjectionable fact that Arabs were at the zenith of talent in literature, rhetoric and eloquence at the time Islam emerged. There was no nation in the world that could challenge them on this matter.

Poetry and poets meant everything to them because poetry was the only trustworthy mirror that could reflect the social life, traditions, and beliefs of their ancestors.

Poets were esteemed and received much respect in society, so much that Arabs always preferred that a famous poet rise from their community as opposed to a strong hero. A poet was the only one who could spread their fame, which was the Arabs’ sole aim. They feared a poet’s satires as they feared snakes.

Poets were considered to be heroes by them. Tribes would wage war on one another over the single word of a poet. Likewise, wars that had persisted for years could be resolved by the single word of a poet.

In old times, poetry was called, “an Arab’s notebook.” The Arabs’ moral values, traditions, religion, and rules could only be known through poems that were passed from generation to generation.

There were many factors that supported and encouraged poetry during those times. A strong poet would elicit esteem for both his tribe and himself.

Moreover, fairs that had been organized at certain times played an important role in the development of poetry. Those fairs were a kind of literature exhibition. At those fairs, poetry and rhetoric competitions were organized in the presence of juries. Poets and rhetoricians came from various places to recite their poems and speeches and would do their best to beat one another. They took great pride in defeating their opponents.

At last, juries would choose the winner and the winning poem would be written with golden letters on a linen fabric and hung on the Kaaba’s wall.

Suq Uqaz, which was between Taif and Nahla, was the largest of all the festivals. Mostly, poetry competitions were organized there.

At the same time, these fairs used to serve as a sort of exhibition in which all tribes would come together for commercial, social, and political activities. People who wanted to save the slaves they knew by paying ransom, to settle their problems, to find their enemies, to read poems and to make speeches would go to those fairs.“Holding poetry in high esteem resulted in the deep scrutiny of language.”   In this way, literature, eloquence, and eloquence were at their peak in Arabia by the time Islam emerged. An invisible hand was preparing the minds and souls for the preternatural wording of the Miraculous Quran.

Because the Arabs had an eminent talent in literature, the Quran was sent down during the zenith of literature, rhetoric, and eloquence. It challenged Arabian poets and rhetoricians to compete with its miraculousness and conciseness. However, it was not long before that they understood that they had to quit and that it was impossible to compose a counterpart to this unique book.

The style of the Quran is so concise, so sweet, so clear and so fluent that Arabs who were experts in literature could not hide their surprise. One day, a scholar of literature who was from among the Bedouin Arabs, read the verse “Therefore expound openly what thou art commanded, and turn away from those who join false gods with God.”fell down in prostration.

This action infuriated the idolaters. They looked at him hatefully and shouted: “You became a Muslim too?”

“No”, said the litterateur. “I just prostrated before the eloquence and fluency of this verse.” (22)

Imru’l Qais was one of the poets of Muallaqa. One day, his sister heard the verse “Then the word went forth: "O earth! Swallow up thy water, and O sky! Withhold (thy rain)!" and the water abated, and the matter was ended. The Ark rested on Mount Judi, and the word went forth: "Away with those who do wrong!” she went straight to the Kaaba and took down her brother’s poem, which was hung on the wall at the top of all the other poems and said: “Nobody has anything to say any more. Even my brother’s poem cannot stand before this eloquence.” When others saw that the most famous poem had been taken down, they took down the other poems down one by one as well. (23)

The oldest and most famous examples of poetry in the Age of Ignorance were without a doubt the “Muallaqat as-Sab’a” (Seven hangers). Those poems were recited by people and transferred from generation to generation, reaching many centuries ahead.According to a strong view, these poems were collected by Hammad ar-Rawiya.

The poets whose poems were hung on the walls of the Kaaba are as follows:

Imru’l Qais, Tarafa, Labid, Zukhair, Amr bin Kulthum, Antara (a.k.a. Nabigha), Haris bin Hiliza (a.k.a. A’sha).(24)

The religious, moral, political, social, and literary state of Arabia was like this during the time in which our Holy Prophet (PBUH) was going to be given the duty of prophethood.

Of course, there was need for someone who could change this scene that disseminated violence and barbarism.  And that person was already decided by the command of pre-eternal Fate: Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh).

He was going to change the world’s physical and spiritual condition with the Divine Light he brought with him… He was going to turn the faces of people from this world to the hereafter, from that which is fleeting to the Eternal Beloved One; by doing this, he was going to provide people with worldly and unworldly happiness.

This person, who was to be appointed as a prophet by God, was the person who would declare that man was not unattended, that everything in the universe, from atoms to the solar system, from stars to galaxies, rotated and traveled for a holy aim and that the universe served a lofty aim with all of its constituents.  

This person was going to save humanity from the swamp of immorality, in which they were about to be drowned, by teaching them the most beautiful lessons of morality.

This person was the person who would give the best answers to questions like, “Why was the universe created?”, “Where do people come from?”, “Where will they go?”

This person was going to inform people about God, who is the Owner of humanity, of what He wants from humans, what He likes and what He dislikes clearly.

This person was going to guide not only a specific tribe or a specific nation but also the whole of humanity with orders that he would take from God.

Like the whole world, the Arabian Peninsula, was also looking forward for that person to come in order to complete such significant duties.

[1]Surah al-Jathiya 24
[2] Surah al-Jathiya, 26
[3] Surah al-Isra, 94
[4] Surah al-Isra, 95
[5] Surah Ya Seen, 78
[6] Surah Ya Seen, 79
[7] Surah az-Zumar, 3
[8] Surah Aal-i Imran, 67
[9] Ibn-i Hisham, Sira, 1/237-238
[10] Baghdadi Muhammad Fahmi, The History of Arabic Literature: 1/19
[11] Zabidi, Tajrid Translation: 10/38-39.   
[12] Baghdadi Muhammad Fahmi, The History of Arabic Literature: 1/43
[13] Ibn Hisham, Sirah, V. 1, p. 79.
[14] Ibn Hisham, ibid, V. 1, p. 79.
[15] Ibn Hisham, ibid, V. 1, p. 80-84.
[16] An-Nur, 33
[17] Al-An'am, 151
[18] An-Nahl, 58-59
[19] Ad- Darimi, Sunan, V. 1, p. 3-4.
[20] Ahmad Amin, Fajru’l-Islam, Trns by: Ahmed Serdaroğlu, p. 37.
[21] Ahmad Amin, Fajru’l-Islam, p. 37-38.
[22] Ahmed Cevdet Paşa, Kısas-ı Enbiya, V. 1, p. 78; Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Sözler, p. 350.
[23] Ahmed Cevdet Paşa, ibid, V. 1, p. 79; Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, ibid, p. 416.
[24] Ahmad Amin, ibid, p. 102.

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