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Thread: About Pre-Islamic Arabs

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    Post About Pre-Islamic Arabs

    Adapted from: Sita Ram Goel, "Hindu Temples, What Happened them: The Islamic Evidence, Volume 2",
    Voice of India, New Delhi, Second Enlarged Edition.


    Muslim 'historians' present a dark picture of pre-Islamic Arabia. They tell us that its people were despicable idolaters that worshipped stones (authan) and statues (asnam). They had no Prophet (Rasul) and possessed no scripture (Kitab) of their own. They revelled in blood feuds and buried their female babies alive. Sons married their step-mothers, and the same man two or more sisters. The pre-Islamic Arabs however, cannot answer these accusations because almost nothing has survived to tell their side of the story. The muslims saw to it that no trace was left of native Arab culture, not even in the consciousness of the converts. Franz Babinger writes: “The new creed had the greatest interest in obliterating all recollection of the pagan period, not only in stone monuments which still survived the natural weathering, these were destroyed to provide material for new buildings, or burned for lime or sometimes out of sheer vandalism, but also in literature and even in consigning the ancient language to oblivion.” Whatever could not be wiped out was converted completely so as to look like an islamic contribution. The Ka’ba and the Hajj provide excellent examples. So does the Arabic language which, although it retains its ancient sounds and syntax, has been made to convey alien meanings and concepts.


    But the greatest blow to pre-Islamic Arabia was the perversion of its history. A majority of the Arabs had never heard of Abraham (Ibrahim) before Muhammad. Those few who had, had no reason to like him. It was not long before the birth of Muhammad that the king of Yemen who had converted to Judaism had massacred thousands of christianised Arabs. Therefore, the Arabs who were otherwise tolerant could not but have felt uneasy at the very name of Abraham. Yet muslims believe that the Arabs were the progeny of Ibrahim through his elder son, Ismael! They believe that the foremost Arab temple, the Ka‘ba at Mecca, had been built by Adam, renovated by his son, Seth, and rebuilt by Ibrahim. Muhammad even accused the Arabs of having usurped, for polytheistic worship, a place which was originally meant to be a mosque!

    This Islamic version of Arab history would have continued to prevail if modern scholarship had not rescued the true version by painstaking research. “Our knowledge of the history,” writes F. Hommel, “we owe partly to inscriptions found in the country, partly in contemporary literature and monuments of other nations (Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans) and partly to early Islamic tradition… As early as the 3rd millennium BC the old Babylonian inscriptions mention a king Manium of East Arabia; there is much to be said for the view that Magan was only a Sumerian rendering of an Arabic Ma’an and that from this centre was founded (at a date unknown to us) the South Arabian kingdom of Ma’an (later vocalisation Ma’in) or the Minaean state, which perhaps in the beginning embraced the whole of South Arabia… In addition, a district named Melukh is mentioned as lying further off, probably covering Central and North West Arabia from which, as well as from Magan, the Sumerians e.g., Gudea of Sirgulla (about 2350 BEV) imported a large quantity of products (wood, stone and metals) for their temples…”

    The same sources tell us about the Sabaeans who flourished in Southern Arabia (Arabia Felix) from 800 BEV onwards, till they were “swept away by the wave of Muhammadan conquest.” They practised an ancient natural religion in which the sun, the moon and the planets figured prominently. They built “massive temples” and “handsome gold and silver statues of their chief Gods.” The Greeks and the Romans knew Saba and three other South Arabian kingdoms "as the areas which produce frankincense, myrrh, cassia and cinnamon” and praised them as “brave soldiers, industrious tillers of the soil and traders and skilful sailors” who “sent out colonies or at least trading settlements into foreign lands, especially India.” Modern archaeology has exposed “sculptures and remains of colonnades, palaces, temples, city walls, towers, public works, especially water-works, which confirm the brilliant picture of Sabaean Arab culture…” The Nabataeans of Northern Arabia (Arabia Petraea), have a similar story. They extended their influence up to the frontiers of Hijaz. The Romans conquered a part of the Nabataean kingdom in 106 EV and named it Provincia Arabia. The Nabataeans too were great traders who “attained… the position of monopolists in Near Asia.” In their pantheon, which we know “mainly from tombs and votive inscriptions… the principal God was Dushara, the principal goddess Allat.”

    None of the Minaean or Sabaean or Nabataean inscriptions mentions Ibrahim or Ismael or any term indicative of Judeo-Christian religion, which will later be imposed on the Arabs in the form of Islam. It is only towards the end of the pagan period that a South Arabian inscription dated 542-543 EV mentions for the first time “the power and grace and mercy of the Merciful (Rahmanan), his Messiah and the Holy Spirit.” The inscription was set up by Abraha, the Governor of South Arabia, on behalf of the Christian king of Abyssinia. How Abraha became what he became is an interesting story which explains the repugnance felt by the pagan Arabs for both Judaism and Christianity.

    The Monophysite sect of Christianity had found refuge in Najran, a province of South Arabia, after it was expelled from Byzantium by Justinian (Upravda) I (527-565 EV). Around the same time, Dhu Nuwas, king of Yemen which included Najran, had embraced Judaism. He declared war on the Christians of Najran who were unwilling to convert to his new religion. Ibn Ishaq writes, “Dhu Nuwas came against them with his armies and invited them to accept Judaism, giving them the choice between that or death: they chose death. So he dug trenches for them; burnt some in fire, slew some with the sword, and mutilated them until he had killed nearly twenty thousand.”

    The Christians of Najran appealed for help to Negus, the Christian king of Abyssinia. An Abyssinian army under Aryat descended on Yemen, defeated and killed Dhu Nuwas, and occupied the land. Under orders from Negus, a third of Yemeni women and children were captured and sent to Abyssinia to be sold as slaves. The Arabs who had embraced Judaism were massacred. In due course, Abraha succeeded Aryat as the Abyssinian Governor of Yemen. He set up the aforementioned Christian inscription. Later on, he swore that he would destroy the Ka‘ba, the foremost temple of the pagan Arabs. He led an army to Mecca in 570 EV, the same year in which Muhammad was born. The Ka‘ba, however, escaped harm because of a miracle which turned away the Abyssinians, which the Arabs credited to Allah, the presiding deity of their pantheon. Meanwhile, the pagan Arabs had witnessed how Judaism and Christianity had combined to cause large-scale bloodshed and invasion, entailing enslavement of Arab women and children. The name of Ibrahim was associated with both the creeds, as also the word Rahman. Muslims mention Abraha’s march on Mecca, and his retreat in the face of a miracle. But they forget that the Ka‘ba at that time was a place of pagan worship. Instead, they credit the miracle to the god of Ibrahim. That god however, had not yet been converted into the exclusive god of Islam. In fact, it was the pagan character of the Ka‘ba which had invited the attack by the Christians in the first place.


    CHARACTER OF THE NATIVE ARABS

    The king of Persia had insulted a pagan Arab prince by telling him that his people were inferior to every other people. The prince had replied, “What nation could be put before the Arabs for strength or beauty or piety, courage, munificence, wisdom, pride, or fidelity?… So liberal is the Arab that he will slaughter the camel, which is his sole wealth, to give a meal to a stranger who comes to him at night. No other nation has poetry so elaborate or a language so expressive as theirs. Theirs are the noblest horses, the chastest women, the finest raiment… For their camels no distance is too far, no desert too wild to traverse. So faithful are they to the ordinances of their religion, that if a man meets his father’s murderer unarmed in one of the sacred months he will not harm him… If other nations obey a central government and a single ruler, the Arabs require no such institution, each of them being fit to be a king, and well able to protect himself.”

    The very fact that they had many Goddesses in their pantheon, made them give a place of pride to their women. Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah, provides an excellent example of the independence which Arab women enjoyed. She was not only a wealthy merchant who managed her own business; she was also in a position to turn down proposals from powerful suitors and marry the man of her choice. Hind, the wife of Muhammad’s chief adversary, Abu Sufyan, was herself a firebrand who opposed Muhammad. She followed her husband to the battlefield and sustained his morale in peace. When Abu Sufyan surrendered Mecca to Muhammad without a fight, she caught hold of him in the market-place and cried, “Kill this fat greasy bladder of lard! What a rotten protector of the people!”

    The respect the pre-Islamic Arabs showed towards other religions was in keeping with their polytheistic tradition. Ibn Ishaq testifies, “When the apostle openly revealed Islam as God ordered him, his people did not withdraw or turn against him, so far as I have heard, until he spoke disparagingly of their Gods.” The Meccans made a very reasonable offer when Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle and protector, was on his death-bed. “You know,” they said, “the trouble that exists between us and your nephew. So call him and let us make an agreement, so that he will leave us alone and we will leave him alone. Let him have his religion and we will have ours.” It was Muhammad who remained adamant. “You must say,” he demanded, “There is no God but Allah and you must repudiate what you worship beside him.” Abu Talib himself stands out as an embodiment of the pagan virtue in this respect. He protected Muhammad to the end, without himself agreeing to renounce his ancestral religion. It slanderous to say that the pre-Islamic Arabs were savages devoid of religion and culture.


    INDIGENOUS RELIGION OF PAGAN ARABIA

    The muslim Shaikh Inayatullah writes: “The heavenly bodies and other powers of nature, venerated as deities, occupied an important place in the Arabian pantheon. The sun (shams, regarded as feminine) was worshipped by several Arab tribes and was honoured with a sanctuary and an idol. The name Abd Shams, ‘Servant of the Sun,’ was found in many parts of the country. The sun was referred to by descriptive tides also, such as shariq, ‘the brilliant one.’ The constellation of the Pleiades (al-Thurayya), which was believed to bestow rain, also appears as a deity in the name Abd al-Thurayya. The planet Venus, which shines with remarkable brilliance in the clear skies of Arabia, was revered as a great goddess under the name of al-Uzza, which may be translated as ‘the Most Mighty.’ It had a sanctuary at Nakhlah near Mecca. The name Abd al-Uzza was very common among the pre-Islamic Arabs. The Arabian cult of the planet Venus has been mentioned by several classical and Syriac authors.”

    Pre-Islamic Arab religion was however, far more profound. The Arabs perceived divinity in everything in their environment, terrestrial and celestial. The Minaeans, Sabaeans and the Nabataeans worshipped more or less the same divinities, mostly under the same, though sometimes differing names. The Arab homeland was honeycombed with temples and sanctuaries housing hundreds of divinities. Every household had its ancestral deities which were joined by those brought in by the brides. Every tribal territory had its own presiding deity. Finally, the national temple, the Ka‘ba at Mecca, had as many as three hundred and sixty deities, the names of which remain mostly unknown. The pagan Arabs were fully satisfied with their ancestral religion and felt no need for a replacement. In the pagan spiritual tradition people are expected to strive to improve their own morals by purifying their own consciousness. The prophetic tradition, on the other hand, harangues people to be busy with the others by saving them from sin, infidelity, and eternal hell. That is why the prophetic tradition abounds in missions, crusades and jihads.


    MONOTHEISTIC POISON SPREADS TO ARABIA

    Monotheism had infected the Jews some two millenia before Islam, after Moses had sold them into slavery to Yahweh. The disease later spread to West Asia, Europe and North Africa in the form of Christianity. It almost destroyed the Hellenic and Roman civilisations, spreading darkness wherever it went. The pagan Arabs, however, had remained unaware of the menace advancing on them from all sides. Abyssinia, their neighbour to the west was now a Christian stronghold. The Byzantines to the north were busy butchering pagans within their empire. The Sassanian Empire of Persia eastwards, was patronising a Zoroastrianism which had lost its ancient character. Under Judeo-Christian influence it had become a monotheistic creed, complete with its own prophet and holy book.

    Each of these neighbours aspired to invade Arabia. The peace which Arabia had enjoyed was a byproduct of this balance of power. Even so, several Arab tribes in North and South Arabia had embraced Judaism or Christianity and both Jews and Christians had settlements in the central heart of Arabia. The role which these communities played in the rise of Islam has been highlighted by Muslims scholars themselves. Most of the Jews and Christians that settled in Arabia were descendants of refugees who had fled persecution in the Byzantine and Persian empires. Arab paganism had provided them with protection and freedom. But the fact that the pagan Arabs were their protectors, was soon forgotten and it was not long before the Jews and the Christians started attacking Arab religion. Medina in particular had become a Jewish stronghold. Gibbon tells us that this city with its wealthy and vociferous Jewish tribes had become famous all over Arabia as the 'City of the Book'. Small wonder that it became Muhammad’s base of operations for imposing Islam on the rest of Arabia, after he left Mecca in despair. Monotheism is a cult of prophets and therefore its appearance in pagan Arabia was bound to produce some of its own. Muhammad was not the first of these.

    Prophets had arisen in Arabia before Muhammed. In Yemen, Samaifa had imitated the exploits of old Zamolaxis. He had hidden himself for a long time and then 'miraculously' reappeared, when a hundred thousand men prostrated themselves before their risen lord! Shortly before Muhammed, Khalid, the son of Sinan, had been sent to preach to the tribe of Abs, and Hanzalah, son of Safwan, to some other Arab tribes. In Yemamah, Maslamah had given a 'sign' that he was sent from god, when he introduced an egg through the neck of a bottle! Since Yemamah supplied Mecca with corn, the tradition that makes Muhammad a pupil of Maslamah has certainly some foundation. According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad’s enemies reproached him with having obtained his wisdom from a man of Yamama named Rahman. Musailima, who preached in the name of Rahman was himself called Rahman. It is also worthy of note that the prophetic utterances attributed to Musailima recall the earliest Meccan suras with their short rhyming sentences and curious oaths. According to Saif, he must have been considerably influenced by Christianity "... for he speaks of the kingdom of heaven…” Musailima had introduced Salat and maintained a muezzin. So there was nothing new about Muhammad proclaiming that he was a prophet sent by Allah. However, the other prophets had not aroused the fierce opposition which Muhammad faced at Mecca. This was because they did not disparage the Arab Gods, whilst preaching their monotheism. The pagan Arabs were not perturbed by prophets, so long as the latter left their Gods alone. It was Muhammad who made them sit up, when he spelled out the destruction of Arab religion.

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    Post Re: About Pre-Islamic Arabs

    Quote Originally Posted by Alkman
    This Islamic version of Arab history would have continued to prevail if modern scholarship had not rescued the true version by painstaking research. “Our knowledge of the history,” writes F. Hommel, “we owe partly to inscriptions found in the country, partly in contemporary literature and monuments of other nations (Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans) and partly to early Islamic tradition… As early as the 3rd millennium BC the old Babylonian inscriptions mention a king Manium of East Arabia; there is much to be said for the view that Magan was only a Sumerian rendering of an Arabic Ma’an and that from this centre was founded (at a date unknown to us) the South Arabian kingdom of Ma’an (later vocalisation Ma’in) or the Minaean state, which perhaps in the beginning embraced the whole of South Arabia… In addition, a district named Melukh is mentioned as lying further off, probably covering Central and North West Arabia from which, as well as from Magan, the Sumerians e.g., Gudea of Sirgulla (about 2350 BEV) imported a large quantity of products (wood, stone and metals) for their temples…”
    Although Magan is possibly Oman, Assurbanipal attacked Magan, and he seems to have done so, by travelling by land towards the Nile valley. The Akkadians also recorded that they attacked Magan, so its unlikely that its location had moved from Arabia before Assyrian times. Because Magan could be reached by sea, it was probably located in today's Palestine, north-west Arabia, Sinai or even Egypt itself.

    "In my first campaign I marched against Magan and Meluhha. Tarku, king of Musur (Egypt) and Kusu (Kush), whom Essarhadon, king of Assyria, my own father, had defeated and in whose country he had ruled, this Tarku forgot the might of Ashur, Ishtar and the other great gods, my lords, and put his trust upon his own power."

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