What kinds of faiths were present in Makkah before the prophethood of Hz. Muhammad (pbuh)?

Details of the Question

What kinds of faiths were present in Makkah before the prophethood of Hz. Muhammad (pbuh)?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

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, Allah would address those people with the following words:

“Say: "It is Allah 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 Allah 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 Allah 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.

Footnotes:

[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.

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