The Arabian Peninsula's Intellectual & Social State before Islam
In a previous article, we have stated that prior to Islam, the Arabs were in a bad state and there was imbalance in all aspects of their lives: social, moral and intellectual. In the following lines, we shall discuss the intellectual and social life of the people of the Arabian Peninsula at that time:
1- Intellectual life: The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula spoke Arabic, which is considered the most ancient of the Semitic languages; the oldest discovered inscriptions written in Arabic date back to the fourth Gregorian century. There was an active verbal literary movement in poetry and prose that was accompanied by another movement of criticism for speeches and poems that were recited in the Markets of Jaahiliyyah (‘Ukaath, Al-Mirbad, Mijannah, et al). These meetings assisted in uniting the language of the Arabs as the language of the Quraysh, which was also the language the Quran was revealed in. Therefore, all the Arabs were able to understand the Quran as their languages and dialects were very similar. Their poetry and speeches prior to the advent of Islam demonstrate how eloquent and linguistically talented they were. This proves that their literature was highly developed, something that paved the way for the miracle of the Quran, which challenged them in the very discipline in which they excelled. The Quran succeeded in uniting the Arabs with regard to language, for it was the first book written in Arabic in their history after their literary scripts.
It is important to note that the Arabs were not affected by Greek philosophies or Roman Laws and did not have complex schools of thought. Therefore, they were ready to receive the message of Islam and convey it in its original purity without being influenced by any foreign ideas. This was, in fact, one of the conditions that were prepared by Allah The Almighty to enable the Arabs to be ready to receive the message of Islam.
2- Social and moral life: The tribe was considered the main social unit in the Arab countries. It consisted of the agnates, meaning, men of the tribe who were relatives and who belonged to the same ancestors. Next were the allies, who were men or small tribes that came to join the main tribe seeking protection. Then, there were the slaves, who were either captured or purchased. The tribe was led by a chieftain, who would be wise, courageous, generous and usually elderly. The notables in the tribe would gather around the chief of the tribe in his tent or his home to discuss the affairs and interests of the tribe and to judge between its members in case there was any conflict. In this way, consultation was practiced, albeit in a limited sense.
Sometimes, a number of tribes would enter into an alliance against other tribes, in order to accomplish a certain goal like what took place in Makkah with the Al-Fudhool Alliance. Sometimes, the tribes would conclude treaties in order to ensure the safety of commercial roads,like the treaty that was concluded between Quraysh and the Arab tribes that lived along these roads. Wars continued between these tribes until they accepted Islam. For example, there was the war between Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj in Madeenah, and Bakr and Khuzaa‘ah near Makkah.
Before Islam, the Arabs would marry one or more women and there was no limit to the number. Hijab was not common among women and there was free mixing between men and women. A ‘ladies man’, who is someone who mixes a lot with women, was called a Zeer. Marriage had more than one form. There was the type that was preceded by an engagement and concluded with a dowry, and that was the most common kind that prevailed and was acknowledged by Islam. However, the other types of marriages that existed were prohibited by Islam. Parents would wish to marry their daughters off without waiting for their approval, but Islam prohibited this. The Arabs loved having boys and hated having girls as they believed that males were capable of fighting, protecting their tribes from enemies, and attacking other tribes. Women, on the other hand, did not participate in war and were subject to being captured. Some tribes would bury their newborn girls alive as this was a prevailing custom in other nations at that time.
The two motives behind this were the fear of being disgraced and that of being impoverished. Before Islam, the Arabs were known for their generosity, courage, truthfulness, frankness, forgiveness, love of freedom and defense of their honor. Islam approved of these qualities and praised them. However, the Arabs were also known for their arrogance, pride, aggression, stealing from convoys, seeking revenge, even after a long period of time, and drinking alcohol - and these were prohibited by Islam.
The Arabs would care for their physical cleanliness and would comb their hair, braid it and dye their gray hair with Henna, herbs and Saffron. They also would wear all types of perfumes. However, these niceties would be forgotten during their periods of revenge.
This is a general overview that shows the state of the Arabian Peninsula and the environment that witnessed the emergence of Islam and the light of revelation that shone upon the entire world and the Arab states from which the Prophet, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullaah, , came.