Historically, the religion of Arab world was animist polytheism before the dawn of Islam. They worshipped numerous gods and every town had a patron god. The Arabs were used to desert life, and being nomads, they would migrate from season to season due to harsh desert climate. The desert contained many fiery spirits known as jinn. Arabian Peninsula was home to many Arab nomads. Around 5 BC, a few of them began to settle around Mecca even though it did not provide enough natural resources and favorable climate. They chose Mecca for religious purposes since it was home for Ka’ba, a large shrine which dedicated to numerous deities. Within a short while, Mecca became a religious center hosting 360 shrines which symbolized each day in the lunar year. Mecca city grew prosperous as due to effect of caravan trade and Ka’ba site. The Ka’ba site hosted pagan deities and many pilgrims would come to pledge their allegiance to these deities. The local merchants heavily relied on these pilgrims for their livelihood. The Arabs focused their religion was not based on morality at all but rather earthly sustenance. Violence, blood feuds, and immorality were the order of the day during Muhammad’s time. All these time the Arabs were animistic polytheist and nothing like monotheism was familiar.
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Between 300 BC and 800 AD, the Arabs had contact with Zoroastrianism, which was a state religion in Persia and greatly influenced its neighborhood. Zoroastrianism religion believed in hell, heaven and final judgment. Furthermore, Christianity and Judaism had penetrated the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula with the Jewish population having a strong influence in Yathrib (later named Medina). Even though the Arabs had numerous deities, there was one deity that was more impressive. The deity was known as Allah which is an Arabic word meaning god. He was known by attributes such as the provider, the determiner of human destiny, creator, and worthy of genuine devotion. In other words, among the many gods in the Arab world, Allah was deemed the greatest god that deserved genuine devotion. Allah was the principal god among the 360 deities. Besides the Ka’ba site in Mecca, there were other holy places where the pagan Arabs offered their devotions. These included waterholes, caves, trees, and wells among others. In fact, there was a particular sect, the hanifs, which worshiped Allah exclusively. It was out of this sect that Islam was born. Allah had three daughters namely; Al Manah (Fate), Al Lat (Crescent), and Al Uzzah (Venus). Other Ka’ba sites were erected in Najran, Sana, and Petra.
Even though the entire population of Peninsula was Arabs, there was no sense of nationalism and unity among them. Every person was identified by the tribe he belonged, and each tribe was a totally independent entity with diverse religious beliefs and dialects. Moreover, no tribe had a feeling of loyalty or affinity to another tribe. Their unity was only based on convenient alliances and mutual benefits. Apart from the deities, the sun and the moon were also worshiped, and the moon was worshiped more. The moon worship was associated with pastoral and nomadic society whereas the sun worship was associated with agricultural society.
Unlike other civilizations surrounding Arabian Peninsula, the Arabs did not have significant structures or special temples for their pagan gods. They had no well structure theology or elaborate mythologies which were common with other religions surrounding them. The only historic place, the Ka’ba site, was a simple cubic building with cosmic particles which were highly adored as fetish. Ka’ba was regarded as holy and its surrounding termed sacred/ prohibited. Long before the inception of Islam, Ka’ba was a site for the annual pilgrimage and sacrifice. Other holy places for the rest of the divinities were trees, caves, wells, and fallen meteors. The Arabs often offered sacrifices, both human and animal. Muhammad also participated in these sacrifices as a young boy. The sacrifices were offered to one of Allah’s daughter, Al Uzzah (Venus), who was also a goddess. Being nomads, the Arabs had no special reverence for the dead, and often buried them on the move. This implies that they had no concept as life after death, judgment, hell, and heaven. All this came only after the inception of Islam.
Muhammad, a Judeo-Christian prophet was born in 570 AD. He lost all his parents at a tender age and was left under the custody of the uncle. At the age of 9, he joined his uncle in the caravan trade. He worked as a camel driver for some later and later developed his career as a manager of caravans on behalf of merchants. Throughout his many travels, he encountered many people from different cultures, nationalities and faiths including Christians, Jews, and pagans. He got employed at the age of 25 by a renowned wealthy Mecca widow, Khadija. Though the lady was 15 years older than Muhammad, they got married and enjoyed a happy marriage for 24 years.
He customarily went for regular visits to Mount Hira to seek contemplation and solitude as well to pledge allegiance to the deities. While on one such visits, in his early forties, he claimed that he had received a revelation to become the people’s prophet. His wife Khadija was startled by this news, but she later became Muhammad’s first convert. After winning the support of his wife, Muhammad was fully convinced that god had chosen him to a prophet for the people, and he started proclaiming his message. The theme of his message demanded that the people of Mecca shun materialism, polytheism, and immorality and to repent of evil and worship Allah, the only true God. He made it clear that he was a prophet of god and not an angel. There was no record of any miracle he did and he also openly confessed that he was not angel. He affirmed that he knew nothing about the mind of god either.
His teachings threatened the earthly life of the Mecca people and, as a result, his followers faced severe persecution. He gained only 40 followers in the first three years of ministry. Some of his followers were beaten with sticks, stoned, imprisoned, and some were refused service by merchants. He was chased to Yathrib (medina). Luckily, he gained many followers. When he landed in Yathrib, he found that they needed a leader; a group of delegates from Yathrib proposed that he takes the lead and in return the Yathribs were to pledge their allegiance to Allah, as the only true God. The people vowed to defend him, obey him and his followers to death. He proved to be an able politician, statesman as well as a prophet. This was the onset of Islamic religion. The calendar of Muslims began in 622 when Muhammad had gained support from Medina.
The people medina began intensive war with the people of Mecca in show of their solidarity support for Muhammad. The medina won the first battle against Mecca in 624. According to Muhammad, this was a sign that God was fighting for them. The Medina and Mecca were constantly engaged in war and in 630, the Medina defeated Mecca. Muhammad took an initiative and rededicated the Ka’ba temple to Allah. This was followed by overhaul conversion of the entire Mecca population to Islam. Upon his death in 632 AD, he had conquered all the Arabia to Islamic religion. This is how Arabian Peninsula became an Islamic territory.
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