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The social customs of the Arabs I

Tuesday 30/06/2009

Arab life depended upon traditions and customs, and they had many traditional laws in terms of ancestry, lineage, and tribe-to-tribe and tribe-to-individual relations. This social status could be summed up as follows:

1- Showing limitless vying and boasting of noble ancestry and lineage
 
They were eager to preserve their lineage, which required them not to marry from other races and tribes. However, when Islam came, it put an end to this and showed them that the superiority of a people compared to others is only achieved by piety and righteous deeds.
 
2- Showing pride of speech and its influence, especially in poetry
 
They would be fascinated by eloquent speech and elegant style. Their poetry was the archive of their glorious deeds, noble ancestry and lineage, and the records of their knowledge and emotions. Therefore, one should not be astonished at the emergence of eloquent orators and superior poets among them. A poetic verse was influential enough to raise or lower the status of a tribe. For this reason, they never rejoiced at anything more than they did whenever a poet emerged and proved a genius in the tribe.
 
3- Woman in Arab society
 
In the sight of many tribes, she was just like trash. She was inherited. Her husband's eldest son from another wife had the right to marry her after the death of his father, or at least obstinately prevent her from marriage. However, Islam came to prohibit this. It was custom that a son would marry his father’s wife after the latter’s death, but Allah The Almighty revealed (what means): {And do not marry those [women] whom your fathers married, except what has already occurred. Indeed, it was an immorality and hateful [to Allah] and was evil as a way.} [Quran 4:22] However, it was prohibited among the Arabs to marry one’s ascendants like mothers, descendants like daughters, the father’s descendants like sisters, and the first degree of the grandfather’s descendants like maternal and paternal aunts.
 
It was their custom to have girls, women and children inherit nothing and to only give inheritance to those who gained war booty and took part in fighting (in defense of their people). Women and children remained deprived of inheritance until Aws bin Thaabit, may Allah be pleased with him, died during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) and left two unattractive daughters and a young son. His two paternal cousins, who represented his Asabah, (which are paternal relatives who do not have a fixed share in inheritance but are entitled to inherit after those with fixed shares in certain situations), came and took the whole of his inheritance. His wife said to them, “Marry the two girls,” But they refused because they were not attractive. She went to the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, ‘Aws has died and left behind a young son and two daughters. His two paternal cousins, Suwayd and ‘Urfutah, came and took his inheritance. I said to them, ‘Marry his [Aws’s] two daughters,’ but they refused.” The Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said (to them): “Change nothing in the inheritance.” This meant that the men were to keep whatever they had taken. However, Allah The Almighty later revealed (what means): {For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much - an obligatory share.} [Quran 4:7] This then meant that women were to have a share of inheritance.
 
On the other hand, the Arabs would humiliate one another on account of females, for a girl was not sent out to fight, nor did she protect the group (of the tribe) from attackers, nor work and earn money like a man, and if she was captured she would be taken for sexual intercourse and moved from one person to another. Moreover, she might be forced under compulsion to be a prostitute in order that her master would take her earnings and add it to his wealth, which was permitted by the Arabs at that time. All of that developed fear, stress, grief, and humiliation on the part of the father whenever a girl was born to him. The Quran tells us about the state of such persons who had girls born to them where He Says (what means): {And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief. He hides himself from the people because of the ill of which he has been informed. Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground? Unquestionably, evil is what they decide.} [Quran 16:58-59]
 
More often than not, they chose to bury her alive in the ground for no sin other than her being a female. For this reason, the Quran condemns this hideous behavior; Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed.} [Quran 81:8-9]
 
Furthermore, some Arabs would kill their children for fear of poverty, and Islam came to prohibit this also. Allah The Almighty Says (what means):
  • {Say:' Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited to you. [He Commands] that you not associate anything with Him, and to parents, good treatment, and do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them.'} [Quran 6:151]
  • {And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.} [Quran 17:31]
 
However, at the same time, some tribes did not bury their girls alive and there were some people who regarded that as hideous, such as Zayd bin ‘Amr bin Nufayl.
 
Some tribes also respected women and took her consent in the matter of her marriage. The free Arab woman disdained to enable anyone to have sexual intercourse with her other than her husband who was lawful for her. She was brave and would march behind the warriors at the time of war in order to encourage them, and perhaps even take part in the fighting if necessary. The Arab Bedouin woman would take part with her husband in pasturing and watering the cattle, spinning the wool (of animals), and weaving garments, mantles and coverings. She, also, preserved her chastity.
 
4- Marriage
 
The Arabs had many types of marriage, and they did not condemn one another for practicing any of them. ‘Aa’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, related this to us, saying
 
Marriage in the pre-Islamic days [Jaahiliyyah] was of four types: One type was that which people know today; that is, a man would engage a woman from [i.e., with the consent of] her guardian, present to her a dowry, then marry her. Another was that a man would say to his wife when her menses was over, ‘Send for so-and-so and let him have sexual intercourse with you [in order to become pregnant].’ During this period, her husband would not have sexual intercourse with her or touch her until her pregnancy would become clear from the other man, then he would touch her if he wished. This type of ‘marriage’ was made in order to seek offspring only. A third type of marriage was that a group of men, less than ten in number, would go to a woman. All of them would have sexual intercourse with her, with the result that she would become pregnant. A few nights after she gave birth to her child, she would invite all of them and none had the right to refuse going. When they gathered, she would say to them, ‘You know what you did. This child is your son, O so-and-so’, addressing whomever she wished from among them to ascribe the child to. Of course, he would have to accept and ascribe the child to himself. In the fourth type, many men would gather and visit a woman and have sexual intercourse with her. Such women were known prostitutes and would not prevent any man who entered upon them from having intercourse. They would put a flag on their doors so that whoever wanted to enter upon them could do so [freely]. When such a woman became pregnant and then gave birth to her child, she would invite all the men [who had had sexual intercourse with her, who would have to come], accompanied by those who could trace the similarity between a child and its father in order to attribute them to their fathers. When such a child was known to have belonged to a certain man, he would ascribe the child to himself with no objection.
When the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) was sent [by Allah], all the types of marriages of the Pre-Islamic days were abolished except that which people know and practice today. [Al-Bukhari]
 
There are other types of marriage mentioned by some scholars besides those reported by ‘Aa’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, like the marriage of (secret) lovers, as referred to in the verse where Allah The Almighty Says what means: {…Nor those who take [secret] lovers.} [Quran 4:25] In this respect, they would say, “There is no harm in what is concealed, but what is known should be condemned.” It was closer to adultery than to marriage. There was also the fixed-term or Mut‘ah marriage, and the marriage of Exchange, according to which a man during the pre-Islamic days of Jaahiliyyah would say to another, “Give me your wife, and I shall give you mine, and more besides.”
Shighaar was another of the false types of marriage, according to which a man would give another his daughter in marriage, who, in return, would give him his daughter in marriage without a dowry.

The Arabs of this era made lawful that two sisters could be married to one man at the same time, and they allowed the man to combine under his guardianship as many wives as he wished, with no limit. There were many men who had more than four wives in wedlock at the same time. When Islam came, some had ten wives, some more and some less. Thereupon, Islam reduced the maximum number of wives to four. If a man knows he has the financial capability to maintain them and be just to them, then he can have up to four. However, if he fears he would not be just, then he should be content with one. However, during the pre-Islamic days of Jaahiliyyah, most men did not at all maintain justice between their wives. To the contrary, they would treat them badly and deal with them unjustly. Islam came to treat women with justice, enjoin kindness upon them in companionship, and stipulate for them rights which they could never before have dreamt of.

The social customs of the Arabs – II

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