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The economic condition of the Arabs

Sunday 28/06/2009

Large extensive areas of desert constitute the greater part of the Arabian Peninsula, and this is why there was no cultivation except in its outskirts, especially towards (the borders of) Yemen and Ash-Shaam (Greater Syria), and some oases in the different parts of the Peninsula. Pasturing camels and sheep was the main profession in the desert. The tribes would move from one place to another in search of grass, and they only felt stability in the places where they pitched their tents.

They refrained from industry the most from among all the nations and even disdained it, leaving working in it for the non-Arabs and their freed slaves. Even when they wanted to rebuild the Ka‘bah, they sought the help of a Copt, who had been saved from a ship that sank near the coast of Jeddah and afterwards stayed in Makkah.
If the Arabian Peninsula was deprived of the blessing of agriculture and industry, its strategic location between Africa and Western Asia qualified it to occupy an advanced position in the world trade of the time.
It was the town dwellers from among the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula in general, and those of Makkah in particular, who were known for practicing trade. The inhabitants of Makkah had an outstanding position in the sight of the Arabs in trade and a high rank, as they were the inhabitants of the Sanctuary. The Arabs did not inflict them or their merchandise with any harm. Allah The Almighty reminded them of this favor in the Quran when He Says (what means): {Have they not seen that We made [Makkah] a safe sanctuary, while people are being taken away all around them? Then in falsehood do they believe, and in the favor of Allah they disbelieve?} [Quran 29:67]
The Quraysh had two great and famous journeys: the winter journey to Yemen, and the summer journey to Ash-Shaam, during which they would go and return safely, whereas other people were being taken away all around them. There were also other journeys besides these two that they would make throughout the year. Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {For the accustomed security of the Quraysh - Their accustomed security [in] the caravan of winter and summer - Let them then worship the Lord of this House, who has fed them [saving them] from hunger and made them safe [saving them] from fear.} [Quran 106:1-4]
The caravans carried perfume, incense, glue, chewing gum, spices, dates, precious wood, ivory, ebony, beads, leather, Yemenite garments, silk textiles, weapons and other goods that were available in the Arabian Peninsula or imported from other places. These caravans would carry such goods to Ash-Shaam and other territories, and return laden with wheat, grains, raisins, olives, Shaami fabrics and other goods.
Yemenites were famous for trade, and they practiced their commercial activities on both land and sea. They traveled to the African coasts, India, Indonesia, Sumatra, and the other Asian countries, the islands of the Indian ocean and the Arabian sea. After embracing Islam, they were credited with spreading it in these countries.
Dealing on the basis of usury was widespread in the Arabian Peninsula. This destructive dealing was thought to have been taken from the Jews. This was common to the nobles and others. The usury rate in some cases exceeded one hundred percent.
The Arabs had some well-known markets such as ‘Ukaath, Majaanah, and Thu’l-Majaaz. According to some narrators of Makkan chronicles, the Arabs would stay at ‘Ukaath on the emergence of the new moon of Thu’l-Qa‘dah, and when twenty days passed of the month, they would move to Majaanah. When they saw the new moon of Thu’l-Hijjah, they would go to Thu’l-Majaaz, where they would spend eight nights, and then go from there to ‘Arafah. They did not partake in any transactions in ‘Arafah and during the days of Mina, until Islam came and made it permissible for them as shown in the verse where Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {There is no blame upon you for seeking bounty from your Lord [during Hajj]. But when you depart from ‘Arafat, remember Allah at Al- Mash‘ar Al-Haraam. And remember Him, as He has guided you, for indeed, you were before that among those astray.} [Quran 2:198]
These markets remained for a long time after the emergence of Islam. They were not only markets for trade, but also markets for literature, poetry and rhetoric, in which the great poets and the preeminent orators gathered and competed in mentioning their noble ancestries, glories and deeds. In this way, they represented great linguistic, literary, as well as commercial wealth.

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