Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of
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Condition of the Arabs Before the Advent of the Holy Prophet
(pbuh) and the Transformation He Wrought in
[Note: A visitor of ours, studying Islam in an American university, sent us an e-mail, saying that she would be grateful if we could help her in a research paper she was doing on the 'Jahiliyyah' culture [i.e., the 'Dark Age' before the advent of Islam]. It has been a pleasure to help her out with her research.]
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Going out on a journey, they would carry four stones along with them, three to make a hearth, and the fourth to serve as an object of worship. Sometimes no separate one for purposes of worship would be carried. The cooking done, any of the three would be pulled out and worshipped. Besides the three hundred and sixty idols set up in the Ka'bah, every tribe had an idol of its own. In fact, one was kept in each and every household. Idol-worship had, in short, become second nature with them and it influenced their everyday life in all its detail. The central idea of their faith was that God had made over the control and administration of the universe to others in whom He had vested all powers, such as healing the sick, granting children and removing famine and epidemic. Divine favour could not be obtained, but through the intercession of these idols. They would prostrate before them, circumambulate them, offer sacrifices to them, and set apart some of the produce of their fields and their animals as offerings to them.
From such debasing idolatry, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) uplifted the whole of Arabia in the brief span of twenty years. Not only was idolatry extirpated root and branch from the soil of Arabia, but such enthusiasm for the Unity of God was kindled in the hearts of the self-same Arabs that it carried them far and wide over the length and breadth of the then known world to uphold the name of 'The One God'. The weaning of a whole country extending over a vast area of twelve hundred thousand square miles from the curse of idol-worship, to which it was hopelessly wedded by long-established traditions and heredity, in no more time than a fifth of a century, so far as to win for it the title of iconoclast is not this the mightiest miracle that the world has ever witnessed?
The Qur'an sums up succinctly this utter deterioration that embraced every phase of life in a single sentence: "You were on the brink of a pit of fire " [The Qur'an, 3:103.] Hostilities once breaking out continued for generations. Trifles, such as a word of contempt, or a slight mischief in a horse race, led to the slaughter of thousands and the eternal bondage of the vanquished. It was this fallen humanity whom the Holy Prophet (pbuh) raised to the highest level of moral rectitude. He welded these discordant elements into a brotherhood, unique in the history of the world. A mighty transformation! A miracle, as a modern writer calls it in his Ins and Outs of Mesopotamia: "A more disunited people it would be hard to find, till, suddenly, the miracle took place. A man arose who, by his personality and by his claim to direct Divine guidance, actually brought about the impossible, namely the union of all these warring factions."
Moreover, woman was looked upon as a mere chattel. She was entitled to no share of the legacy of her deceased husband, father or other relations. On the contrary, she was herself inherited as part of the property of the deceased. The heir was at liberty to dispose off her as he would. He could even marry her himself, or give her in marriage to anybody he chose. On the death of his father, a son would even marry his step-mother, she being a part of the inheritance. The practice of divorce in vogue among them was no less barbarous. A thousand times could a man divorce his wife and take her back within a prescribed period (know as 'iddah). Sometimes he would swear he would not go near her, sometimes he would announce that he would look upon her as his mother, thus leaving her in a state of suspension, being neither wife nor yet divorced. These methods were adopted simply to harass her. She had no way out of her sad plight.
The most obscene language was used in expressing sex-relations. Stories of love and illicit relationships were narrated proudly and with utter absence of shame in verses of the most indecent kind. Women of high families were openly addressed in love-songs. Considering the state of things obtaining among the Arabs with regard to the status of woman, it is not difficult to judge what a heavy debt of gratitude woman owes to Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who lifted her up from the depths of lowliness to a position of respect and dignity. [Note: Even modern European civilisation, which has a superficial respect for the gentle sex, fails to grant those rights to women which Islam has given them. Genuine respect for the female sex lies in having proper regard for its chastity and the equality of its rights with man, neither of which is, unfortunately, met with anywhere in Western society.]
Let us turn to the amelioration wrought in the condition of woman by Islam. The Quranic injunction, "Women shall have the same rights over men as men have over them," [The Qur'an, 2:228.] was the Magna Carta, so to speak, of women's franchise. In the same strain observed the Holy Prophet (pbuh): "The best of you is he who treats his wife best." To implant veneration for woman in a soil where it was regarded as a mark of nobility to bury female offspring alive is surely no mean service to humanity. On hearing of the birth of a daughter, the father's face would turn black with grief and rage. He had either to bury her alive or put up with social disgrace. [The Qur'an, 16 : 58 and 59.] He would take his daughter to the desert, throw her into a pit dug there beforehand and bury alive the screaming child with his own hands underneath a heap of earth! The Prophet (pbuh) when informed of one such incident burst into tears of pity. Sometimes an explicit agreement was made at the nuptial ceremony that female offspring was to be killed, in which case it was the duty of the mother herself to commit the barbarous deed. She had to do it in the presence of all the female members of the family, especially invited to attend the grim function. All these cold-blooded brutalities were ended, at a single stroke, by the Quranic words: "And when the one buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed " [The Qur'an, 81 : 8 and 9.] Never thereafter, even in a single instance, was the horrible cruelty repeated. In this respect, Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, stands unrivalled in the history of the world for his service to mankind.
Gambling was another curse which had a firm hold on the Arab society. It was indulged in as a common daily pastime. Those who abstained were looked down upon as miserly. The Holy Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) spiritual force made short the work of this as well, and relieved Arabia of another longstanding evil.
There was no education worthy of mention among the Arabs. Those able to decipher a script could be counted. Ignorance bred superstition, and they were given to all sorts of queer beliefs. They had faith in the existence of genii and evil spirits, whom they would conjure up in solitary places. To these they attributed certain diseases, to escape which they would make use of charms and incantations. In times of drought, they would fasten dry blades of grass and undergrowth to a cow's tail, set fire thereto and drive the animal to the mountains. They thought the flame of fire resembled a flash of lightning and would, by reason of similarity, attract rainfall. In case a calamity befell them, they would enter the house by the back door. From the flight of birds they took good or evil omens. If a bird crossed their way from left to right, it was regarded as a good omen; from right to left it was a bad omen. Those who believed in a life after death would tie a camel to a tomb and starve it to death, thinking the deceased would mount it on the day of resurrection. They held the human soul to be a tiny creature which entered a man's body at the time of his birth and went on growing. At his death it assumed the form of an owl and kept hovering over his tomb. In the event of violent death, the owl would keep droning "Give me water, Give me water," until the murder had been avenged. They believed in soothsayers and fortune tellers, and had implicit faith in whatever they told them. In short, these and a hundred and one other superstitions were believed in by the Arabs of the pre-Islamic days. In the course of a few years, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) emancipated them from all these shackles of hereditary bondage and elevated them to the pinnacle of morality, learning and culture. History will vainly turn its pages to point to a parallel of the wholesale reformation and elevation of a fallen people such as the Arabs were. A mighty achievement indeed!