Arabia before Islam

Traditionally referred to as the "Jahiliyyah" (Ignorance, barbarism):

Nomadic desert culture (bedouin) based on ranching, encouraged values of clan solidarity, primitive fatalistic paganism, isolation from rest of world.

In fact: Arabia was not that isolated.

Contacts with ancient and contemporary civilizations, including Greece, Rome, Byzantium and Persia.


The Religious Character of Pre-Islamic Arabia.

Features of Arabian paganism that continue to function in Islam:

Possible Links to Judaism and Biblical religion (pre-Pagan Monotheism):

It is not always clear which go back to ancient times, and which were derived more recently from Jewish and Christian teachings.

  • Jewish and Christian tribes were active in pre-Islamic Arabia.

  • Influence of Ethiopian Christianity.
  • Arab preference for Monophysite Christianity (=Jesus had only one nature, divine and not human) Perhaps this presages Islamic monotheism.

  • Knowledge about Abraham, circumcision, ideas about Afterlife, are similar to Jewish or Christian beliefs.
  • Religious figures known as "Kahins" [related to Hebrew "kohen," priest]: Soothsayers.
  • The name of God: Allah = El, Elohim of the Hebrew Bible.


    Social and economic changes before rise of Islam: