The Arabian Peninsula has a truly ancient history of peoples and civilisations. Due to its natural barriers of sea and desert the Arabs traditionally called the Peninsula the ‘Island of the Arabs’, but Arabia was not always the dry, sandy place we know today.
In the truly ancient times (of the most recent ice age) the Arabian Peninsula had been covered with rich vegetation and was well populated by humans, but ever since that time it has become drier and drier, with more and more land turning into desert. The changing climate lead to many waves of migrations of the peoples of Arabia to more gentle climates.
The populations of ancient Egypt, Akkadia and Babylon were all greatly boosted by Arabian refugees between four and five thousand BCE. Later refugees from the climate changes in Arabia included the ancestors of the Phoenicians who founded an early Mediterranean civilization in around 2000 BC, which was to greatly influence the classical world.
They were the civilization that introduced the use of phonetic writing to Europe. The peoples of the Arabia are mostly the descendants of Shem, the son of Prophet Noah (peace and blessings be upon them both), thus they are called Semites. There have been many Semitic races, but today all Semites are either considered Arabs or Jews.
Makkah and the Ismaelites, the descendants of Ismael (may Allah bless him and give him peace) lived happily in the settlement of Makkah for a long period of time, but eventually they were displaced by a branch of the Amaliq tribe (who are called the Amelikites in the Bible). This occurred because the Amaliq took advantage of the sacredness of the Holy Sanctuary of Makkah in which the Ismaelites would not fight.
The Amaliq stormed the settlement by surprise and the Ismaelites could not defend themselves within the confines of the settlement without disrespecting the rules of the Haram.
The Ismaelites fled the city and took refuge in the surrounding valleys. Some remained in that vicinity, whilst others traveled Arabia following the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin.
The Holy Town of Makkah gradually evolved and became the Holy City of Makkah and the Arab tribes would perform Hajj in large numbers. As time passed the pure monotheism of the Makkans was gradually corrupted and after a great time idols were added to the sanctuary of the Holy Ka’bah.
The Israelites, who were still guided by new Prophets (may Allah bless him and give him peace) stopped visiting the Ka’bah when the idols were installed because of their abhorrence of idol worship and their focus of spiritual travel became purely focused upon the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem.
Over the years rain caused sedimentation of the Becca valley led to a rise in the depth of the soil and the Adamic mound that Prophet Abraham (may Allah bless him and give him peace) had rebuilt the Holy Ka’bah upon was gradually covered up. The Ka’bah itself was rebuilt several times over the centuries, but each time it was remade as it had been before.
One day the Juhrum tribe, of the Yemen, came and conquered the Holy City. The fleeing Amaliq filled in the spring of Zam Zam as an act of punishment to their conquerors. They may have thought that one day they would regain control of the city and release the spring again.
Even the Juhrum were later driven out by the tribe of the Khuzah who succeeded the Juhrum tribe as custodians of the Ka’abah. The Khuzah brought with them their tribal idol Hubal, which they erected in a prominent position inside the Ka’bah. In truth the flood of idolatry had started with a trickle of wrongly associating things with God (Shirk), but due to economic factors and ignorance idolatry was used as a business to make money from the gullible amongst the performers of Hajj, who thought that they were getting something extra.
In the around the fourth century CE the Ismaelite tribe of the Quraish became powerful in the Holy City. The Quraishi leader Qusay married the daughter of the chief of the Khuzah clan and thus he inherited the rule of the Holy City of Makkah as well as controlling the Quraish clan throughout the land.
Qusay was a capable and intelligent leader and he rebuilt the City of Makkah on the plan of concentric circles with the homes of the Makkan leaders being on the circle nearest the Ka’bah and the homes on each concentric circle outwards being less impressive. The traces of this city layout were still observable into the twentieth century CE, but the Saudi reconstruction based upon God’s gift of oil money to the Saudis has since made the remains of the ancient concentric form of the city invisible.
The grandson of Qusay was Hashim who was a skilled and competent ruler. He encouraged the trade routes to pass through the city and under his rule the city became very prosperous. Hashim married Salma of the city of Yathrib, the city that would one day become the city of Madinah.
Their son Shaybah was brought up in Yathrib by his mother, but later Hashim’s brother Muttalib was sent to bring the boy back to Makkah. When Muttalib arrived back in Makkah with his nephew people assumed that he had bought a slave boy on his travels to bring up and to work for him. Thus Shayba gained the name of Abdul Muttalib, which means the slave of Muttalib.
Abdul Muttalib grew up to be a wise leader of the Hashemite clan and his importance was underlined one night when he had a very special dream. In an inspired dream he was informed by Heavenly Guidance as to where the spring of Zam Zam was. When he went there soon after and began digging the people of the city were skeptical of his belief that he would find Zam Zam, but true enough the spring gushed forth.
The Hashemites became the guardians of Zam Zam and thus they gained great prestige. Abdul Muttalib was the grandfather of the blessed Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace).
In the years before the Prophecy of Allah ’s last Messenger to to Earth Arabia had become dominated by the traditions of wrongly associating things with God and idolatry. A minority of the Arabian peoples were Monotheistic Jews, Christians or Hanifs. The Arabian society was based upon the realities of its sometimes harsh and extreme climate and there was little universal authority.
For protection and safety all people had to be attached to a tribe, because there was no centralized system of justice. There were some elements of cruelty and oppression and those Arabians without tribal patronage could be robbed or killed with little comeback and often cruelty and oppression were only prevented by fear of blood feuds.
To the West of Arabia lay the Christian Byzantine Empire that coveted the control of Arabia and to the East lay the Persian Magian Empire that also had designs of control upon the Arabian lands, although neither of these powers had had much success in this goal. At the same time these two degenerated societies were in conflict with each other, both seeking to monopolize power and luxury.
The Byzantines and the Persians were in conflict over various territories and their feud was an ancient one with a pedigree of a thousand years. The constant struggle over who controlled the northern part of Arabia was finally only ended during the Prophecy of the Last Prophet of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace).
Both the great empires that lay near the Arabian Peninsula had once been influenced by Monotheism. This was Christianity in the case of Byzantium and Zoroastrianism in the case of Persia. Now Byzantium held a corrupted version of the religion Revealed by the Jesus (may Allah bless him and give him peace) whilst Persia followed a corrupted version of the religion of Zoroaster, who had originally promoted a belief in the One God, the Day of Judgement and Heaven and Hell, but later his heirs began to worship fire in association with God, whilst the Byzantine Christians had taken to worshiping the Jesus (may Allah bless him and give him peace) alongside or instead of God.
Both empires were now following degenerated forms of religion that only had some of the vestiges of faith and morality. Although both were religions originally noted for their righteousness and charity both Persia and Byzantium had become tyrannies, where cruelty and greed were the theme of social interaction.
Arabian civilization itself was based upon simple trade and agriculture. The society also was divided into two populations. These were the rural people and Bedouin and the town dwellers and urbanites. These two populations were very different in lifestyles yet they were reliant upon each other and the town dwellers looked down upon the desert people, even though they admired the purity of their lives.
Despite their differences the two sections of society were reliant upon each other economically and the town dwellers would send their children to be brought up in the purity of the desert.
The culture of the Arabians was not a literate one and few Arabians apart from Rabbis and Christian Monks could actually read or write, but like all non-literate societies the pre-Islamic Arabians had a rich orally based culture of poetry, genealogy and stories. They held poets and genealogists in particularly high esteem.
The Arabs had many good qualities and they were great travelers. Even the Pagans amongst the Arabs had many good qualities that would later be greatly useful when they were to enter into the fold of Islam. They were brave and honest, they stood by their pledges and they had some qualities of generosity. Crucially they were free from imperial domination and they were strong free spirits.
The Arab’s lived a clean simple life. They were a dynamic people and their culture was based around stories, poetry and genealogy. They lived without unnecessary things and their language Arabic was one of finest subtleties and a language with great capacity to transmit the ideas of spirituality.
Makkah itself was a free city state. It was the home of the oldest temple to Allah and it had its own civilizational structure based upon the Arab clans. The government of Makkah was held by ten tribal chiefs and there were several ministries, such as that of worship, that of foreign affairs, that of the compensation system and that of the military. Despite the good qualities of the Arabs, Makkan society had degraded from the Islam of the Ishmaelites and although the Arabs worshiped Allah , they had also fallen into the trap of worshiping idols because they believed that the spirits of the idols would intercede with Allah for them.
The pre-Islamic Arabs had also developed social problems such as drinking, free-sex, fighting and cattle raiding. They unjustly valued boy children over girls, because in the desert environment they could help their parents more and among the worst activities of the pre-Islamic Arabs was the practice of burying unwanted daughters alive.
By sending Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) God the Merciful and Compassionate was to have Mercy upon the world that began with the people of Arabia and their good qualities were to be preserved whilst the harmful ignorance of their cruel and idolatrous inclinations were to be effectively eradicated.