Islam and jihad
3) Pre-Islamic Arabia
who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that
to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward
above no other...
you aware that the model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four
rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary
activities, and that the Prophet waged jihad operations 77 times in
the first 10 years as head of the Muslim community in Medina?"
rate, I don't think it was Muslims who [carried out the 9/11 attacks].
That's because Islam advocates peace...and Muslims are taught not to
take human life."
Arabian peninsula or jazeerah, largely what is Saudi Arabia today,
is one of the largest hottest and driest regions in the world. Much of this
harsh environment is utterly barren. In spite of these conditions two thousand
years ago, it nonetheless was inhabited by nomadic
tribes (Bedou). A Bedouin tribe consisted of a group of clans; clans
consisted of a group of families, often times a single, large extended family.
As both a cause and effect of this structure, each individual tribe had
many internal blood-ties. A tribe was essentially a commune that shared
what resources it could find and defend from other tribes.
were led by a democratically elected leader or sheikh. The
title sheikh (or sheik; Arabic-to-English translations vary on many spellings
as you've seen) means "one who bears the marks of old age", and
their term lasted as long as the tribe found favor with them. Their chief
function was the protection of the members of the tribe. Offices such as
war leader, spiritual leader, and judicial leader were usually filled by
others, though the sheikh may have served in one of these roles as well.
Other decisions were made by consensus likely based on what served the overall
warfare was rather common as clans and tribes continually competed with
one another for the very limited resources of the desert lands. Water, agriculture,
women, and slaves were all prized possessions of which acquisition by any
means could mean the difference between survival and death. So harsh were
conditions and at times so necessary for survival was raiding for supplies
(razzias) that such extra-tribal raids (ghazwa)
were viewed as a legitimate practice. Muslim writer/apologist Reza Aslan
In pre-Islamic Arabia,
caravan raiding was a legitimate means for small clans to benefit from
the wealth of larger ones. It was in no way considered stealing, and as
long as no violence occurred and no blood was shed, there was no need
retribution of which he speaks was not just any sort of vengeful reaction,
but one of the few codes by which Bedouin lived. Again, Aslan:
In a society with
no concept of an absolute morality as dictated by a divine code of ethics
- a Ten Commandments, if you will - the Shaykh had only one legal recourse
for maintaining order in his tribe: the Law of Retribution...more popularly
known in the West as the somewhat crude concept of "an eye for an
...It was the Shaykh's
responsibility to maintain peace and stability in his community by ensuring
the proper retribution for all crimes committed within the tribe. Crimes
committed against those outside the tribe were not only unpunished, they
were not really crimes. Stealing, killing, or injuring another person
was not considered a morally reprehensible act per se, and
such acts were punished only if they weakened the stability of the tribe.
Bedouins became known for this rugged lifestyle of migrating, trading, and
the other indigenous residents of the Arabian peninsula were those who had
taken up static residence in the perimeter pasture lands and in other areas
capable of being farmed. These included large numbers of Arab Christians
and Arab Jews. They were seldom joined in residence by Bedouins because
nomadic philosophy largely disdained tilling of the soil and becoming materially
tied to any one place (with exceptions).
as a result of their constant migrating and the resulting social development
cost, the Bedouin were among the least literate of Middle Eastern people
groups. They did not develop a written language until after Muhammad died
when the need arose to make a record of his sayings.
all these years prior to Islam are now known to Muslims as the al jahiliyah
or the "time of ignorance".
and the Ka'ba
the Bedouin were pagan in nature, meaning they held a variety of informal
beliefs about life and the world. This made them inherently pluralistic
and hence had no religious quarrels with neighboring Christians or Jews.
The Bedouin were said to have worshipped as many as 360 gods; chief among
them were the Syrian god Hubal and the creator god Allah.
Aslan says about Allah:
Like his Greek counterpart,
Zeus, Allah was originally an ancient rain/sky deity who had been elevated
into the role of the supreme god of the pre-Islamic Arabs. Though a powerful
deity to swear by, Allah's eminent status in the Arab pantheon rendered
him, like most High Gods, beyond the supplications of ordinary people.
Only in times of great peril would anyone bother consulting him.
had three daughters: al-Lat (the goddess), al-Uzzah (the mighty), and al-Manat
(fate). The daughters served as moderators to whom many Bedouin prayed to
petition Allah on their behalf.
the Bedouin had no formalized theology, nor any sacred writings, they did
revere the Ka'ba. By Muhammad's day, the Ka'ba was a cube-shaped
shrine that housed an icon for each of their 360 gods except for Allah.
The exact origin
of the Ka'ba is unknown, but it was considered most sacred and all Bedouin
were obligated to visit the icon of their particular god once every year.
This visit was made during the first three months of spring. These were
the months of 'Holy Truce' during which warring was to cease and
concentration was to be given to spiritual affairs.
Ka'ba was (and still is) located in the city of Mecca. When Bedouin caravans
from all around the region would approach the city for their annual pilgrimage,
they would be halted outside the city's confines. There an inventory had
to be made of their goods. Meccan officials assessed their value and levied
a tax on them for proceeding. The financial advantage of being in control
of this destination city was enormous, and that fact did not go unnoticed.
Mecca's earlier history, numerous clans had long competed for control of
this revenue generator. It wasn't until the end of the fourth century when
it would come to be dominated by a single clan thanks to a certain individual.
That individual was a man named Qusayy. He conceived the idea of
uniting his clan with other clans sharing various blood-ties into a single,
large, powerful tribe called the Quraysh. The Quraysh succeeded in
seizing Mecca, upon which Qusayy declared himself its king.
set himself up as the sole authority over both Mecca and the Ka'ba. Mecca
was reconfigured so that its settlements ringed the city in radial tiers
with the Ka'ba at its center. The greater one's position, the closer one
was allowed to live to the sacred Ka'ba. As for Qusayy's residence, it essentially
ringed the Ka'ba such that one had to actually pass through the house of
Qusayy in order to worship the idols.
further consolidate his religious and financial empire, Qusayy raided other
city's temples, destroying them, and collected their idols into his Ka'ba.
That way, whichever god you sought, you had to pay an access fee to Mecca's
Ka'ba in order to worship it. Like some incredible religious theme park,
Qusayy additionally held a monopoly over basic services provided to visiting
pilgrims which increased his clan's wealth greatly every year. Aslan summarizes:
By inextricably linking
the religious and economic life of the city, Qusayy and his descendants
had developed an innovative religio-economic system that relied on control
of the Ka'ba and its pilgrimage rites - rites in which nearly the whole
of the Hijaz [western Arabian region] participated - to guarantee the
economic, religious, and political supremacy of a single tribe, the Quraysh.
That is why the Abyssinians
tried to destroy the Ka'ba in the Year of the Elephant...not because the
Ka'ba was a religious threat, but because it was an economic rival.
ignorant of how he came to power nor ignorant of Mecca's history of changing
hands, Qusayy conceived and exercised a brilliant defensive move to safeguard
his clan's rule. Having secured the monopoly on the region's idols, he convincingly
declared Mecca to be a sacred city requiring it to be a weapon-free zone.
He banned weapons from all visitors at the outer checkpoints where inventory
was taken, save from those of his own clan. Never again would the city fall
to a rival clan or tribe.
would Mecca technically fall out of Quraysh hands when a certain man would
come along in the seventh century and conquer the city for himself. For
from the family of Quraysh would come its own conqueror - the Quraysh descendant
Who was Muhammad? - part 1