The great prophet of Islam was born in Arabia. So, to understand the history of Islam, one has to be acquainted with the nature of the land of that country and its people. Arabia is a vast peninsula in the southwest of Asia. It has waters on the three sides-the Persian Gulf in the east, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Red Sea in the west. In its north, lies the Syrian Desert. In it physical features, Arabia is a mountainous desert. The Arabs call their country as ‘Jaziratul Arab’ or Desert Island.
Arabia, particularly its northern part, is very dry and hot. There is no navigable river in the country. Rainfall is also very rare in Arabia. It is only in the oasis, which exists here and there in the desert, that some plants and vegetables are found. On the basis of geographical features and climatic conditions, Arabia is divided into five provinces- Hijaz, Najd, Uman, Hadramwt, and Yemen. Hijaz is the northern part of Arabia. The historic cities of Makkah and Medinah are situated in Hijaz. Almost the whole of it is desert. It grows date, palm, grapes and very few crops.
In ancient times, Arab was the homeland of many races. It is believed that the great Semitic people originally lived in Arabia and later on several branches of people migrated to the Nile Valley and the Tiggro-Euphrates valley. The Ismailites were the last of the settlers in Arabia. They were descendants of Ismail, a son of Hazrat Abraham (Ibrahim). The Quraysh family, in which the prophet Muhammad was born, was a branch of the Ismailites. Ismail built the house of Ka’ba, the holy place of the Muslims.
The desert nature of Arabia divided the Arabs into numerous tribes and fostered in them the spirit of tribal patriotism and tribal independence. Because of this, the Arabs could not form one nation in pre- Islamic days.
PRE- ISLAMIC Arabia
The pre- Islamic period was the darkest age in human history. It was a time of ignorance and anarchy in the religious and social life in the world. The political, social and cultural life developed by the peoples of the ancient world was shattered by the Barbarians. The social and religious order organized by Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism had disintegrated. The people had forgotten the ideal of their religion. Morality had fallen at low ebb. Corruption, intolerance, persecution, and wrangling of creeds and sects prevailed everywhere. “Never in the history of the world”, says Ameer Ali, “was the need so great, the time so ripe for the appearance of a Deliverer.”
The pre- Islamic period of Arabia is known as Ayyam-i-Jahiliyah, meaning ‘the days of ignorance’. Jahiliyah was, in truth, an age of disintegration, disorganization, and anarch in the life of the Arabs. Anarchy prevailed in Arab political life also. The political life organized by the Arabs, particularly the Southerners, Had disintegrated. The Arabs were divided into many tribes and Arabia was parcelled into numerous tribal principalities. Because of the absence of any political union and organized government in the country, there had been perpetual conflict and warfare among the Arabs. Tribal feuds, raiding and plundering of one tribe by the other were the common phenomenon of the Arab life at that time. Banu Bakr and Banu Taghlib tribes fought for forty years on small matters, the beating of a she-camel. The Quraysh and Hawazin fought the battle of Harb al Fizr for many years. The Aws and Khezraj tribes of Madinah carried on warfare for some generations. There was also enmity and rivalry between the Northern and Southern Arabs.
Greatest anarchy prevailed in the social life of the Arabs. There was no ideal, morality or discipline in the society. Corruption, vices, superstition, unrestrained freedom and unrestricted enjoyment ruled supreme in the Arab society. Puerility of wives and husbands was the order of the day. Adultery was common among the pre- Islamic Arabs. Stepsons could marry their stepmothers and even the brothers sometimes married their own sisters. The human being was sacrificed to propitiate gods. Fathers sometimes killed their children also fear of poverty.
The position of women was very degrading in the Arab society. They were treated as chattels and with contempt. The birth of a female child was considered as a great curse and she was often buried alive by the heartless father. Women could not have any share of the property of the husband or the fathers. In a word, the women of the pre- Islamic days had no status in the society.
Slavery, in its worst form, prevailed in the Arab society. The master had unlimited authority over the slaves. He could even put them to death. They were generally treated most inhumanly and often left on the heated sands of the desert-bound hand and foot and with eyes towards the sun.
Economically, pre- Islamic Arabian society was very much in a primitive stage. The soil is barren, there was little of agriculture in the country. The people generally lived on sheep and cattle rearing. A few of them, who carried on trade with the neighboring countries, were well to do in the society. Most of the Arabs were poor and as much were in debt to the usurers of the class of the Jews. The Jewish money-lenders treated their debtors very severely. So, the lives of the Arabs, in general, continued to be very miserable.
Prior to the rise of Islam; worst anarchy and confusions prevailed in the religious life of the Arabs. There are some Jews and Christians in Arabia. But they had become corrupt and demoralized. So, Judaism and Christianity could not hold higher religious ideal to the Arabs.
Excepting the Jews and the Christians, the rest of the Arabs followed the most primitive form of religious belief. They were the idol- worshippers, adoring many gods and goddesses. Every family, tribes, and the city had its own gods and goddess. Ka’ba, the House of Allah, was adorned with 360 idols and converted into the most sacred sanctuary and center of idolatry in Arabia. Once every year, the Arabs from the different parts of the country came to pay their homage to the gods in the Ka’ba. Hubal, Lat, Manah, and Uzzah were the principal gods and goddesses of the Arabs. They even worshipped “pieces of stones, trees, and sand- heaps.
In this period of religious and social anarchy and confusions, there was, however, a feeling of a spiritual awakening in Arabia. A few people felt the barrenness of idolatry and sought of a higher spiritual life. The then demoralized Judaism and Christianity could not satisfy their spiritual yearnings. When such was the condition of Arabia, the great prophet of Islam appeared with his universal message of peace, order, and brotherhood to the people.