Pre-Islamic Arabia And The Rise of Islam

Arabia, which stood on the periphery of the Middle East, is both the homeland of the Arabs and the cradle of Islam. The term ‘ Pre- Islamic Arabia’ itself reflects the significance of Islam, which as a religion appeared within its boundaries and as a movement launched the Arabs on the path of world conquest.

Arabia’s Geography

Arabia is surrounded by the Red Sea in the west, the Arabian sea in the south and the Persian Gulf in the east. Water is the principle which divides the Peninsula into two distinct parts: the rainfed area of the outer parts, particularly the south-west and the arid area of the centre or the inner regions. There are no permanent rivers but a number of oases present in Arabia.

Social Formations

The inhabitants of Arabia for centuries had led a nomadic existence. The urban, religious and royal institutions though not absent, were less developed. Arabia was primarily pastoral based on camel- rearing. Date and camel’s milk was the staple diet of the region. The camel pastoralists, known as Bedouin migrated seasonally in search of pasturage. Arabia was politically fragmented and the religion was largely pagan.
The Bedouin lived in tight-knit kinship groups, patriarchal families formed of a father, his sons and their families. These families were further grouped into clans and each clan was fundamentally an independent unit. But the loyalty of the clans were absorbed by the family group, which acted collectively to defend its individual members and to meet their responsibilities. The Bedouin combined pastoralism with raids against neighbouring Bedouin tribes and settled communities to augment their resources.

Local Faith And Tradition

W.M.Watt in his book, Muhammad of Mecca; Islam and the Integration of Society, has stated that the rise of Islam was a response to the development of trade and the adoption of sedentary lifestyle by some tribes. By the fifth century BC, Yemen was organized into kingdoms encompassing agricultural, trading and pastoral people with monarchs, landed elites, a religious pantheon with organized temple worship. The opening of sea-routes for international trade in the first century BC eventually gave Mecca a sphere of political as well as commercial influence among the nomads and created a confederation of client tribes. Mecca derived some of its importance from being a place of pilgrimage. The main shrine was the holy Kaba which contained idols ventrated by various tribes and clans.

Beginning of Islamic Traditions

Towards the end of the fifth century, Mecca came under the control of a person named Qusayy who belonged to the Quraysh tribe. The Quraysh became the leading tribe of the settlement and soon class distinctions began to appear among the Quraysh. It was in sixth century Arabia that Prophet Muhammad, a lineal descendent of Qusayy was born in AD 570. With the birth of Muhammad, Arabia became the ‘ Cradle of Islam’.
Muhammad became an orphan at the age of 6 and was brought up by his grandfather and uncle. Soon, Muhammad took up trade and married Khadija, a successful business woman for whom he had worked as an agent. In c. 610, Muhammad had an intense spiritual experience which is supposed to mark the beginning of his prophethood. He declared himself as the messenger of the one and only supreme God- Allah. His followers came to be known as Musalman and the religion itself was denoted by the term Islam, implying submission.

Rise of Islam

Patrician Crone characterizes early Islam as a movement which was opposed to the penetration of foreign influences. Muhammad’s faith differed sharply from the religious practices of the Meccans as his religion was uncomprisingly monotheism. Soon, he and his followers emigrated from Mecca to Medina, which is referred as hijrat. Muhammad laid the foundations of a new political structure in Medina and eventually disrupted Meccan trade. Mecca surrendered itself in c. 630 and soon Muhammad consolidated his authority in Arabia.
The events of pre- Islamic world has undoubtedly led to the establishment of Islam. Within 150 years, the Islam developed into a huge empire guided by religious principles and influenced many other civilizations.

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