Origins overview Pre-Islamic Arabia as the cultural and historical context for the development of Islam The Prophet Muhammad The development of Islam under the leadership of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs
The harsh climate of the Arabian peninsula, combined with a desert and mountain terrain, limited agriculture and rendered the interior regions difficult to access.
Arabian society and religion Refected the tribal realities of the Peninsula. Bedouin tribes travelled from one area to another in search of water and pasture for their flocks of sheep and camels
Bedouin Is the term for the nomadic Arabs of the desert Principal sources of livelihood were herding, trade and raiding
Intertribal warfare Was a long established activity However it was governed by clear guidelines and rules For example raiding was illegal during the four sacred months of pilgrimage
The population subsisted on a combination of oasis gardening and herding, with some portion of the population being nomadic or seminomadic.
Social organisation and identity for peoples of Arabia were based on membership in an extended family.
Social organisation A tribe, consisting of a cluster of several clans (groupings of several related families) was led by a shaykh (chief) who was selected by consensus of heads of leading clans or families
Social organisation These elders formed an advisory council, within which the shaykh exercised his leadership and authority as the first among equals.
Arabia - location Asia to the north-east Europe to the north-west Africa to the west Indian sub-continent to the East Crossroads of the known world
Location of Arabia Arabian Peninsula
Since they lived in such a harsh environment the people of Arabia needed to trade with their wealth neighbours
Neighbouring regions of Arabia Tigris River Euphrates River Nile River Mediterranean Sea Arabian Peninsula Red Sea Dead Sea
And the fertile crescent linked Arabia with the rest of the world
The people of Arabia were well-positioned to profit from trade with the surrounding regions the exports of frankincense and myrrh brought wealth to the area
The camel was the only animal that could cross large tracts of barren land with any reliability. The increased trans-Arabian trade led to the rise of cities that could service the trains of camels moving across the desert.
The most prosperous cities were relatively close to markets in the Mediterranean region, but small caravan cities developed within the Arabian Peninsula as well.
The most important city within the peninsula was Makkah (Mecca), which also owed its prosperity to certain shrines in the area visited by Arabs from all over the peninsula.
In the long term it was the ideas and people that travelled with the camel caravans that were the most important aspect of trade with the rest of the world.
Arabia pre-Islamic trade routes
Present day Arabia
Pre-Islamic Arabia In the sixth century AD, north of the Arabian Peninsula two great powers were locked in a seesaw power struggle.
The Christian Byzantine kingdom successors of the Roman Empire was to the Northwest and controlled the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa and the lands of Palestine.
In the northeast lay the Zoroastrian Persian kingdom. Both the Byzantine and Persian kingdoms had client Arab tribes allied to their cause of trade and conquest.
The Arabian Peninsula became a land of refuge for those seeking escape from both of these empires. Heretic Christian sects like the Nestorians, and Jewish tribes escaping the oppressive Byzantines found refuge in the protective deserts and cities of the Peninsula.
The religion of Arabia Reflected its tribal nature and social structures. Each city had gods and goddess. Some Arabs held religious beliefs that recognized a number of gods as well as a number of rituals for worshiping them.
Gods and goddesses Served as protectors of individual tribes, And their spirits were associated with sacred objects Trees, stones, springs and wells.
The most important beliefs involved the sense that certain places and times of year were sacred and must be respected. At those times and in those places, warfare, in particular, was forbidden, and various rituals were required. Foremost of these was the pilgrimage, and the best known pilgrimage site was Makkah.
Once a year the tribes and cities of Arabia would meet in the city of Mecca during an event known as the Hajj. In Mecca, the Kaba (Cube), a large cube shaped building housed 360 idols from all the tribes of Arabia. The Kaba was the centre of Arabian religious life.
Here all the warring tribes would put aside their differences as they circled the Kaba. From the Kaba they would proceed to the other shrines outside of Mecca during this five day religious event.
The Hajj was a tradition that Arabs of the peninsula remembered going back hundreds of years.
While these deities were primary objects of worship, beyond this tribal polytheism was a shared belief in Allah. Allah, the supreme high god Was the creator and sustainer of life, But remote from everyday concerns and so was not the object of cult or ritual
The value system Or ethical code of Arabia was based firmly in the tribal experience. The preservation of tribal and family order was most important. With this came fatalism that saw no meaning beyond this life.
Justice was guaranteed and administered by the threat of group vengeance. Arabian religion had little sense of a universal moral purpose or an individual or communal responsibility.