Religion and Culture in Pre-Islamic Arabia
Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia was a mix of polytheism and monotheism with polytheism as the dominant belief system. The polytheism practiced before the rise of Islam was called animism, the belief in which non-human entities possess a spiritual attribute or quality.
Most Bedouin tribes in Arabia practiced polytheism before the rise of the monotheistic religions. However, three of the ruling tribes in Madina were Jewish. Christianity spread to and was accepted by some Bedouin tribes throughout Arabia following Constantinople’s conquest of Byzantium in 324 CE.
The culture of the Arabs was definitely attached to the realities in which they were living. Bedouin tribes placed great value in poetry and music. It was a large part of their culture and a strong form of communication. Poetry was seen as an art, a form of entertainment and often spoke of the beauty surrounding their lives. Some might say the biggest jewel of the Arab culture was their language. Living in the desert, it was not practical to build a culture of sculpture and painting as the Romans and Greeks did and so was only used for the creation of idols. This is why poetry became so powerful. The Arabic language grew to be a very rhythmic and fluid language, making it perfect for poetry.
Signs of Awaited Prophets
All prophets and messengers sent from God-Almighty were also given clear truths to make evident that their message is from God-Almighty and not made by man. Among these clear proofs are miracles and glad-tidings of the messengers and prophets to come after them. Prophet Abraham was thrown into a fire that was quickly turned to water, Prophet Moses’ stick turned into a serpent, and Prophet Jesus was able to heal the leper and blind (peace be upon them all) are all examples of the gift of miracles given by God-Almighty. Aside from these miracles, there were also signs of prophecy found in each of the Prophets, starting from the very first, to the last, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). All of the prophet’s also had signs around them during their physical lives that pointed to their respective prophethoods. Let’s take a moment to learn the signs that made those around him, that Muhammad was the awaited messenger.
The world was expecting the last Messenger of God-Almighty. All of the prophets before him spoke of him. In fact, Husayn Jisri, the late author of the Risala al-Hamdiya found 114 references in the Torah and Gospel of glad-tidings of different prophets. The prophethood of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad respectively was mentioned in Deuteronomy (33:2), Genesis 21:19-21 mentions the mountain range of Paran, where Hagar, the wife of Prophet Abraham and Ishmael were left to live.
Deuteronomy also mentions the coming of a prophet from the line of Ishmael (18:17-19) and the only prophet that came after Ishmael that matches the requirements described in Deuteronomy, is Muhammad.
When asked to speak about himself, the Messenger replied by saying that he was the one for whose coming Abraham prayed and of whom Jesus gave glad tidings. Abraham’s prayer can be found in the Qur’an (2:129) “Our Lord! Raise up among that community a Messenger of their own, reciting to them Your Revelations, and instructing them in the Book (that You will reveal to him) and the Wisdom, and purifying them (of false beliefs and doctrines, of sins and all kinds of uncleanness). Surely You are the All-Glorious with irresistible might, the All-Wise.” And Jesus’ glad tidings can be found in 61:6 “And Jesus son of Mary said: “O Children of Israel! Surely I am the Messenger of God sent to you, confirming (whatever of the truth is contained in) the Torah which was revealed before me, and bringing the glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.
Signs of Muhammad are also found in the Psalms of David. Particularly 72: 8-17.
“He will rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the Earth. The desert tribes will bow before him, and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Sheba will present gifts to him. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him, for he will deliver the needy that cry out, the afflicted that have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy, and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given to him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. Let corn abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway. May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” (Psalms 72:8–17)
Bahira the Monk
Although this occurred after his birth, the following story shows an important example of the awaited prophet using noted signs from previous scriptures. At the age of 12, Muhammad accompanied his uncle, Abu Talib on a trade journey to Syria. While on their journey, they met a Christian monk by the name of Bahira. Bahira lived in a monastery located on the main caravan route, so he saw travelers coming in and out on a daily basis. However, this day, he noticed something different about the caravan Abu Talib and Muhammad we carrying. In an effort to find out more about the people and the caravan, Bahira invited Muhammad and Abu Talib to his home for a meal. Upon arrival, Bahira appeared to be looking around for something and then asked if anyone had been left behind since his offer of hospitality was extended to everyone. They said that they left a young boy named Muhammad to look after the camels. Bahira insisted they send someone to bring Muhammad to join the meal. When Bahira saw the face of Muhammad, he asked him a series of questions including how he slept, what he sees when he sleeps, and what he thinks about and does all day. You see, Bahira was aware from the scriptures of the coming of a prophet that he saw on this young boy.
After the meal, Bahira asked Abu Talib about his relationship with the boy. Abu Talib initially responded that Muhammad was his son, but when Bahira replied that, that was impossible, he responded that in fact Muhammad was his nephew. Bahira told Abu Talib that Muhammad would some day be a great prophet. He went on to say that while they were traveling, he had seen the caravan in the distance and saw a cloud hanging over them, following them wherever they went. After this, he looked on Muhammad’s back and noticed the seal of the prophets, an oval shape protruding just below the shoulder blade. This, he said, was the sign taught to him in their books.