Arabia before Islam
Traditionally referred to as the "Jahiliyyah" (Ignorance,
Nomadic desert culture (bedouin) based on ranching, encouraged values
of clan solidarity, primitive fatalistic paganism, isolation from rest of
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:
- Importance of the goddess Manat (=Fate). [Perhaps this gets translated into Islamic "fatalism"--the perception that everything is under God's control].
- Importance (including: economic) of pilgrimage to Mecca.
- Traditions about the Ka`bah shrine and its black rock, associated in Islam with Abraham.
- Meccan Holy places
included the zamzam spring.
- Hanifs, monotheistic hermits, spoke of God as al-Rahman [="the
- Reverence for poetry. (--> literary quality of the
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:
- Because of wars, sea-trade routes became inaccessible. Arabian land
route becomes important. Development of "caravan industry." Led to contacts with
foreign cultures and beliefs.
- Creation of a settled,urban culture.
- Concentration of wealth into the hands of a few, where previously everyone had
been at a similar economic level.
-->Social divisions, dissatisfaction with inequalities in tribal structure.
Causes people to question the social structure and the traditional religion
that justified it.
-->Weakening of tribal loyalties.
- Reaction against "colonialism" may have encouraged "pan-Arab" feelings.>
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