Allaah told the Messenger of Allaah in (Yaasin:6):
لِتُنذِرَ قَوْمًا مَّا أُنذِرَ آبَاؤُهُمْ فَهُمْ غَافِلُونَ
That you may warn a people whose forefathers were not warned, so (as a direct result) they are unaware (apathetic).
The Messenger of Allaah was described as being nidhaar. It means to warn someone of imminent danger (a realistic, approaching threat) because of sincere and honest compassion and care for that person. Meaning, we are telling people about the akhirah because we are concern about them, not because we want to make them fear only.
These people of Arabs, had been without spiritual awareness for a very long time. To process and understand the history of these people we must understand that monotheism was not new to this region. The prophets Hud, Thamud, and Saleh ‘alayhum as-salaam were from this region as were their people. Isma’il ‘alayhi as-salaam and his people were also along that path. So, what Nabi Muhammad introduce to them is actually not something new.
Eventhough these people has known monotheism in the past, but after some time however, idolatry was introduced into this area. The man who brought idolatry to these people was ‘Amr b. Luhayy. He was a leader of his tribe, he was a cultured man, and a traveler. He would travel widely to different civilizations. He went to Syria and found them worshipping certain idols. He brought back an idol to his people and told them that this is what the people there did and they claimed to be adhering to the previous prophets and he said that they were good, righteous people. Because he is a leader, his people followed and worshiped this idol.
From there, the spirituality of these people “grew” to make more and more idols. This goes to uncovering a historical gem of the Qur’aan. We are told in a narration in Sahih al-Bukhaari that ‘Amr was led by a jinn to the area we know of today as Jeddah. He uncovered there five idols which the people of Nuh ‘alayhi as-salaam used to worship. As Allaah the Most High says in (71:23) on what these idol worshippers say to each other:
وَقَالُوا لَا تَذَرُنَّ آلِهَتَكُمْ وَلَا تَذَرُنَّ وَدًّا وَلَا سُوَاعًا وَلَا يَغُوثَ وَيَعُوقَ وَنَسْرًا
Never leave your gods and never leave Wadd or Suwa’ or Yaghuth and Ya’uq and Nasr.
A question some people posed is, why these five idols are mentioned by name in the Qur’aan? The first receiver of the revelation of Quran is the Arabs. So it is important to mention the names of these idols to them. Because:
1. They are idols which the Arabs would worship actively
2. They were among the first idols the Arabs began worshipping
3. These five idols were uncovered by ‘Amr and he was told about them by a jinn and the very next surah is Surat Jinn. It is intricate that after these five idols are mentioned, Allaah tells us about the jinn. So there’s a connection between the surahs.
Nevertheless, monotheism was the beginning of this region, but paganism became widespread after some time. Perhaps that led to their perverted worshipping of idols whilst believing in Allaah.
Now you may wonder and maybe this is the first time that you heard that the Arabs during pre-Islamic time believed in Allah. This is much different with our understanding of them. We thought that this people is the worst of human being. But how come they believe in Allah at the same time? This is true. They did believe in Allah. But their believe is smeared with shirk.
They believed that Allah was the supreme deity (they acknowledged Him, believed in Him, and worshipped Him), but they had erected idols to connect them with Allah as intermediaries. They believed that Allah need intermediaries. Allah the Most High describes this for us in (39:3):
أَلَا لِلَّهِ الدِّينُ الْخَالِصُ وَالَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ مَا نَعْبُدُهُمْ إِلَّا لِيُقَرِّبُونَا إِلَى اللَّهِ زُلْفَىٰ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَهُمْ فِي مَا هُمْ فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي مَنْ هُوَ كَاذِبٌ كَفَّارٌ
Unquestionably, for Allah is the pure religion. And those who take protectors besides Him [say], “We only worship them that they may bring us nearer to Allah in position.” Indeed, Allah will judge between them concerning that over which they differ. Indeed, Allah does not guide he who is a liar and [confirmed] disbeliever.
Furthermore, specific idols were worshipped by specific tribes and they thought each idol had its own influence.
Wadd by Banu Kalb in Mura’
Suwa’ by Banu Hudhayl in Rihath
Yaghuth by Banu Ana’ bi’l-Thay
Ya’uq by Hamdaani people
Nasr by Qabeelat Dhi’l-Kalaa’
Certain idols were also more important than these little idols. These greater idols would be setup across the Arabian society and their would be mausoleums established around them – as if they were satellite locations of the main Ka’bah. For example, Allaah tells us in (53: 19-20)
أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَالْعُزَّىٰ
وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَىٰ
So have you considered al-Laat and al-‘Uzza?
And Manaat, the third – the other one?
Al-Laat was worshipped by the people of Thaqif near Ta’if
Uzza was worshipped at Nakhla (very near Makkah)
Manaat was worshipped at Yathrib by Aws and Khazraj
Dhu’l-Khasla was worshipped by Ad-Daws (the sanctuary was called al-Ka’bah al-Yamaniyah; conversely, the Ka’bah in Makkah was called al-Ka’bah ash-Shaamiyah)
Falas was worshipped by people of Tayr
Ri’aam was worshipped at Himyar by people of Yemen
Rada was worshipped by Banu Rabi’ah
Dhu’l-Ka’baat was worshipped by people of Banu Bikr and Banu Thaghlib
The key point is that these people were indulging in idolatry. They were not randomly spreading, but were trying to replicate the same sacredness of the Ka’bah. There were hundreds of idols in the Ka’bah itself (>360 according to a narration by Imaam Ahmad rahimahu Allaah). They would even perform circumambulation around these satellite sanctuaries where they had their larger idols.
They would say that the Ka’bah was for Allaah, but these other gods needed second-tier sanctuaries. Therefore they build structures around the idols so that people could also make pilgrimages there and perform religious rites.
This was a total and complete spiritual deterioration among these people. This affected their daily practices. Evil omens and superstitions ran amuck. They attached spiritual value to things illegitimately. When the Messenger of Allaah s came Allah condemned this practice in (5:103):
مَا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ مِن بَحِيرَةٍ وَلَا سَائِبَةٍ وَلَا وَصِيلَةٍ وَلَا حَامٍ وَلَٰكِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ
Allaah has not appointed [such innovations as] bahirah or sa’ibah or wasilah or ham. But those who disbelieve invent falsehood about Allaah, and most of them do not reason.
Bahirah – taking a she-camel and considering her milk off-limits. It was solely designated for the idols. Sa’ibah – she-camel which was let loose and nobody was allowed to touch it, sacrifice it, eat it, ride it, etc. It was marked to roam freely and be dedicated to the idols. Wasilah – any offspring of the she-camel set free for the idols (sa’ibah) would also be dedicated to the idols Ham – male-camel used for any work the idols needed e.g. carrying something for the idols, breeding with the sa’ibah to produce the wasilah
The Messenger of Allaah has told us that the very first one to institute the practices among the Arabs was also ‘Amr b. Luhayy. The very first person to alter the religion of Isma’il ‘alayhi as-salaam was ‘Amr b. Luhayy. He is the one who came and erected the idols for worshipping. He is the first one to designate the Bahirah, he was the first one to designate the Sa’ibah, he was the first one to designate the Wasilah, and he was the first one to designate the ham. [Ahmad]
Another unfortunate practice of the Pagan Arabs was that they would make gambles in order to reach decisions. They would launch marked arrows. Whichever struck the target would be the decision the gods had made for them.
They would also take a bird and release it for flight. Based upon its direction of flight, their decision would be determined.
Al-Maghrib comes from gharb meaning for something to vanish or disappear. The West is where the sun vanishes to. A crow is called ghuraab because they wished for it to vanish (it symbolized the coming of death).
They would also have soothsayers (Kaahin) who would claim to have some skill to read your past and bless your future on behalf of the gods. This practice was very prevalent. That is why they first said that the Messenger of Allaah was a soothsayer, but Allaah clearly said in (69:42)
وَلَا بِقَوْلِ كَاهِنٍ قَلِيلًا مَّا تَذَكَّرُونَ
[And it is] neither the word of a soothsayer; little do you remember.
In other parts of the world, there was a small minority that was attached to astrology. This did not grow or gain influence in Arabia. This is not the same with astronomy. Astronomy is a legitimate subject which study the skies.
The story of Abu Kabsha
He was a man among the Arabs. He had traveled to other regions of the world and found them to engage in astrology. He brought back this information to the Arabs and tried to present it to them. Particularly, he was advocating the worship of the star ash-Shi’raa. The Arabs, however, never accepted this belief system he was spreading. He was dismissed by the vast majority as a crazy person. So astrology didn’t take off with these people.
When the Messenger of Allaah came, one of the early accusations against him was that he was Ibn Abi Kabsha (son of Abi Kabsha). Meaning, they are saying that what Muhammad was teaching is the same as Abi Kabsha. They had both asked the Pagan Arabs to stop worshipping everything except Allaah versus the Star. Allah refutes them when He the Most High says in (53:49). Allah says that ash Shi’ra is not a God, buat Allah is actually the God of it.
وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَىٰ
And that it is He who is the Lord of Ash-Shi’raa (Sirius).
Other faiths had a presence in Arabian society, but it was very marginalized in Hejaz. For example, Christianity was very scattered. It was found in the Ghasaanid Empire (of Shaam) as an extension of the Roman Empire. They were not a missionary people; so they remained isolated. Tribes of Jews had migrated to the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. They were well-established themselves due to certain political and cultural reasons, but they were very introverted among themselves. They were pockets among the majority. They did not play a major part nor did they find acceptance of their faith among the people.
Keep in mind that the Christianity and Judaism of that time had also been perverted. As Allaah the Most High says in (5: 13-14)
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِم مِّيثَاقَهُمْ لَعَنَّاهُمْ وَجَعَلْنَا قُلُوبَهُمْ قَاسِيَةً يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَن مَّوَاضِعِهِ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِّمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ وَلَا تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىٰ خَائِنَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنْهُمْ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
So for their [the Children of Isra’il’s] breaking of the covenant, We cursed them and made their hearts hard. They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.
وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّا نَصَارَىٰ أَخَذْنَا مِيثَاقَهُمْ فَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِّمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ فَأَغْرَيْنَا بَيْنَهُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ وَسَوْفَ يُنَبِّئُهُمُ اللَّهُ بِمَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ
And for those who say, “We are Christians”, We took their covenant, but they forgot a portion of that of which they were reminded. So We caused among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. And Allah is going to inform them about what they used to do.
There were certain people, however, who held on to worshipping monotheistically.
Remnants of Past Prophets
There were some things that the Arabs were still doing right.
• they believed that the idols answered back to Allaah. That Allah is still the ultimate God.
• Sanctity of the Ka’bah in Makkah
They would still visit the sites of pilgrimage. They would still observe a type of hajj. They still thought Safaa and Marwa were special. They respected the station of Ibrahim ‘alayhi as-salaam.
But they twisted their reverence. They thought that if one was not from the Quraysh, there was something filthy about the person. Therefore, this outsider must adorn himself in the clothing of the Quraysh. This became a business opportunity. They would charge exorbitant amounts of money and if people could not afford the attire, they would circumambulate naked. They would whistle and clap during their rounds (as opposed to the dhikr of today). They still served and cleaned the Ka’bah, and they still served the hujjaj. Yet, there were civil wars to see who would take this responsibility.
The Quraysh were seen as the most superior people because of their local advantages to this sacredness.
What role did religion play in the lives of the Pre-Islamic Arabs?
We live in a widely agnostic society today. Religion still seems to some people as sacred and important and part of their identity, but it is overall marginalized in how people lead their lives. We as Muslims know that religion dictates our lifestyles and our conduct. Islam is central to everything.
In Pre-Islamic Arabian society, religion was completely marginalized. It’s like a play thing for thing. That they can change if it suits them. Yes, it had a symbolic, sacred value, but there were certain things in their lives that would cause them to change their religious values. As Allah mentions in (9:37)
إِنَّمَا النَّسِيءُ زِيَادَةٌ فِي الْكُفْرِ يُضَلُّ بِهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يُحِلُّونَهُ عَامًا وَيُحَرِّمُونَهُ عَامًا لِّيُوَاطِئُوا عِدَّةَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ فَيُحِلُّوا مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ زُيِّنَ لَهُمْ سُوءُ أَعْمَالِهِمْ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ
And for those Indeed, the postponing [of restriction within sacred months] is an increase in disbelief by which those who have disbelieved are led [further] astray. They make it lawful one year and unlawful another year to correspond to the number made unlawful by Allaah and [thus] make lawful what Allaah has made unlawful. Made pleasing to them is the evil of their deeds, and Allaah does not guide the disbelieving people.
There were certain things in their religion to dictate major parts of their lives. If there were two tribes at war with each other, they could not technically fight in the sacred months. In order to continue the battle, they would delay the month to permit the fight in the sacred time. They would postpone the sacred months so that they have more time to win battles. They thought that they can change it back, but after a while, things got so messed up that they even forgot what they had changed before. They were able to very conveniently alter religion to get what they wanted. The religion, in this way, was very marginalized and ceremonial.
It was a mockery of a mockery of religion (their religion was already a mockery to start with). This can be expressed in some of the following narrations:
- In Musnad Ahmad, there is a narration about a man by the name of As-Saaid b. Abdu Allah. He had constructed and carved an idol which his family and his tribe worshipped. He was responsible for its care-taking. To honour the idol, he would go to the dedicated camels and bring the milk of the bahirah and pour it on the idol as an offering. Later at night, dogs would come and lick the idol and drink all the milk. Then, they would urinate on the idol. This was observed by people and they narrated what has happened.
- Banu Hanifah was a tribe at that time. They made an idol out of hays (type of sweet people would eat akin to halwa). They would worship it until it would go bad, then they would make another. A drought hit their region. The people became so hungry and were suffering from such starvation that they went and ate their idol. A poet at that time saw the people eating their idol and said:
The people fo Hanifah ate their Lord in a time of severe starvation and drought.
They were not afraid of their Lord. How pathetic was their following of their Lord
And how pathetic was their Lord that He could not protect Himself from them.
This was their spiritual decaying and deterioration. Yet, with the legacy of the Messenger of Allah they became the great people. Look at their transformation! The Messenger of Allaah was able to bring about this change because he would inspire the people. As Hassan b. Thaabit said about the Messenger of Allah:
In more excellent than you, my eyes have never seen such a man.
No man has ever given birth to anyone more amazing than you.
You were created free from any shortcomings and faults.
It is as if you were created as you would have desired.
Allaah the Most High says in (4:174)
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَكُم بُرْهَانٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكُمْ نُورًا مُّبِينًا
O humankind, there has come to you a conclusive proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light.
This was a time of complete darkness. There was no enlightenment and illumination of the heart. Allah sent this Divine Message and His Messenger as a light that would be clarifying and spreading such that it would illuminate everyone it touched (Siraajan Munira). He was not at all a man that wished to prove himself superior to anyone. He wanted light for people. He presented the Qur’aan to people so that they could be transformed from the inside out.
May Allaah the Most High give us a proper understanding and realization of who the Messenger of Allah was and may Allah grant us love of His Messenger and a desire to follow in his path so that we may attain His ultimate pleasure.