Pre-Islamic Arabia

Political Conditions in Arabia:
The most remarkable feature of the political life of Arabia before Islam was the total absence of political organization in any form. There was no authority other than the authority of the chiefs of their tribes. The only law of the land was lawlessness. In the event a crime was committed, the injured party took law in its own hands, blood for blood and a life for a life. Since Arabia did not have a government, and since the Arabs were anarchists by instinct, they were locked up in ceaseless warfare. War gave them an opportunity to display their skills at archery, fencing and horsemanship.

The population of Arabia consisted of two main divisions, sedentary and nomadic. In Mecca the dominant tribe was the Quraysh; in Yathrib, the dominant tribes were the Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, and the Jewish tribes of Nadheer, Qaynuqaa and Qurayza. Economically, the Jews were the leaders of Arabia. They were the owners of the best fertile lands in Hijaz. They were also the entrepreneurs and they enjoyed a monopoly of the armaments industry.

Slavery was an economic institution of the Arabs. Male and female slaves were sold and bought like animals, and they formed the most depressed class of the Arabian society. The most powerful class of the Arabs was made up by the capitalists and money-lenders. The rates of interest which they charged on loans were exorbitant.

Arabia was a male-dominated society. Women had no status of any kind other than as sex objects.The number of women a man could marry was not fixed. When a man died, his son "inherited" all his wives except his own mother. Female infanticide was rampant. Drinking & gambling were common vices of the Arabs. The period in the Arabian history which preceded the birth of Islam is known as the Times of Ignorance.

The Arabs were the devotees of a variety of "religions" which can be classified into the following categories.

Idol-worshippers or polytheists:
They had turned the Kaaba in Mecca, which according to tradition, had been built by the Prophet Abraham and his son, Ismael, and was dedicated by them to the service of One God, into a heathen pantheon housing 360 idols of stone and wood.

Atheists:
This group was composed of the materialists and believed that the world was eternal.

Zindiqs:
They believed that there were two gods representing the twin forces of good and evil or light and darkness, and both were locked up in an unending struggle for supremacy.

Sabines: They worshipped the stars.

Jews:
When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and drove the Jews out of Palestine and Syria, many of them found new homes in Hijaz in Arabia. Their main centers: Yathrib, Khayber, Fadak and Umm-ul-Qura.

Christians:
The Romans had converted the north Arabian tribe of Ghassan to Christianity.Their strong center was the town of Najran.

Monotheists:
There was a small group of monotheists present in Arabia on the eve of the rise of Islam. Its members did not worship idols, and they were the followers of the Prophet Abraham. The members of the families of Muhammad, the future prophet, and Ali ibn Abi Talib, the future caliph, and most members of their clan – the Banu Hashim – belonged to this group.

Education Among the Arabs Before Islam:
The Jews and the Christians were the custodians of such knowledge as Arabia had. The greatest intellectual accomplishment of the pagan Arabs was their poetry.The greatest compositions of the pagan Arabs were the so-called "Golden Odes", a collection of seven poems, supposedly of unsurpassed excellence in spontaneity, power and eloquence. They were suspended in Kaaba as a challenge to any aspiring genius to excel or to match them.

The greatest composition of Islam was the Holy Quran, the Scripture of Islam, and it was in prose. Muslims believe that Qur’an was composed in Heaven before it was revealed to Muhammad, the Messenger of God. They believe that human genius can never produce anything that can match its style or contents.

Before Islam, the Arabs had played only a marginal role in the history of the Middle East, and they would have remained forever a nation of animists and shepherds if Muhammad (may God bless him and his Ahlul-Bait) had not provided them the focus and the stimulus that welded their scattered nomadic tribes into a purposeful driving force. He invested the Arabs with a new dynamism, idealism and explosive creativity, and they changed the course of history. He created an entirely new mental and psychological ecology, and his work placed an emphatic period in world history; it was the end of one era and the beginning of another.