When Muhammad ﷺ was born in the city of Makkah in about 570, neither of the great powers of the region gave Arabia a second thought. Persia and Byzantium were both locked in a debilitating struggle with one another, which ended shortly before Muhammad ﷺ passed away. Though the southern lands of Arabia benefitted from monsoon rains and a sophisticated culture, the intractable steppes of Arabia were a terrifying wilderness, inhabited by a wild race of men to whom the Greeks had given the name ‘Sarakenoi’, the people who dwell in tents. Neither Persia nor Byzantium considered invading this desolate region and nobody would have dreamed that it was about to give birth to a new world religion, which would soon become a major global power.
The Christian Empire of Byzantium had made Abyssinia, the modern Ethiopia, a client state when it had converted to an heretical form of Christianity know as Monophysitism, and rejected the Chalcedonian resolution. Byzantium encouraged the ruler, the Negus, to infiltrate Yemen and bring it under the sovereignty of Constantinople. But instead of standing up to the enemy, the Southern Arabians sought help from the Persians against the Abyssinian threat; and they were only too happy to oblige. The Zoroastrian Persians Empire favoured Judaism to Christianity and in 510 Yusuf As’ai, the King of South Arabia, converted to Judaism and became known as Dhu Nuwas, He of the Hanging Locks. But this bid for Persian patronage failed when the Jewish kingdom fell to the Abyssinia in 525. It’s people would constantly appeal to Persia when eventually in 570 King Khusrua did invade the region and so it became their colony.
The settled Arabs, who lived in the towns and agricultural communities of the Hijaz, had developed a different kind of religious vision. They were more interested in the gods that the Bedouins believed in. Very few mythical stories were told about the various deities. Their pagan beliefs acknowledged God as the most important God, and He was revered as the Lord of the Kabah, but He was a remote figure and had very little influence on the people’s daily lives. Everybody knew that Allah had created the world; that he quickened each human embryo in the womb; and that he was the giver of rain. But these remained abstract beliefs. Arabs would sometimes pray to Allah in an emergency, but once the danger had passed they forgot all about Him.
Quraysh also worshipped other gods such as Hubal, al-Lat, al-Uzza and al-Manat- who were referred to as the daughters of God. Although they were lesser in rank than God, they were often called his “companions” or “partners”. They loved these goddesses and begged them to intercede on their behalf to God.
This idol worship was a relatively new religious enthusiasm, which had been imported from Syria by one of the Makkan elders called ‘Amr ibn Luhai who believed that they could bring rain, but had no idea why- the Syrians had named it Hubal. The gods of Arabia gave their worshippers no moral guidance; even though many found the rituals spiritually satisfying, some of Quraysh held idol worship as abominable and sought a purer form of monotheism known as hanafiyyah- uncorrupted pure religion which Ibrahim (AS) was upon. This was no organised sect but merely a group of individuals who despised the worship of anyone other than God- Abd al Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet, was one such person.
Amongst the Arabs lived Christians and Jews; those who came in contact with them felt an acute sense of inferiority: it seemed that God had left the Arabs out of His divine plan. But this was all to be changed.
End of 550 CE
Lessons and Wisdom
The reformed rites made Mecca the center of Arabia. Where other pilgrims had to leave their homelands and journey to remote sites, the Arabs had no need to leave the peninsula, which remained a law unto itself. All this reinforced the centrality of Mecca as the focus of the Arab world. The city was also isolated and this gave the Arabs a rare freedom. Neither Persia nor Byzantium, the great powers of the region, had any interest in the difficult terrain of Arabia, so the Quraysh could create a modern economy without imperial control.
By 570, the year of Muhammad ﷺ’s birth, Persia and Byzantium were locked in a debilitating series of wars with one another that would fatally weaken both empires. As such the Quraysh, though entirely dwarfed by the surrounding powers, grew stronger and more established; unnoticed and seen as insignificant in the grand scheme of political status.
Polemical rebuttals particular to this year
This part of the timeline seeks to address some of the most commonly held criticisms and attacks levelled at the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
A series of short articles critically analysing these polemics begins from 595 CE and continues later in the following two eras: Makkan and Madinan Eras
Edicts and Rulings
The majority of the Arabs had taken up the paganism as their religion but some of the Quraysh held idol worship as abominable and sought a purer form of monotheism known as hanafiyyah- uncorrupted pure religion. Reference to this perception of Allah is made in the Quranic chapter al-Hajj:
Be people of pure natural belief in Allah, not associating anything else with Him. As for anyone who associates others with Allah it is as though he had fallen from the sky and the birds had seized him and carried him away or the wind had dropped him in a distant place.
Though the Quraishites were heavily stooped in idol worship at the time of the prophet, they never denied the existence of the one true God; the Creator and Sustainer. It was simply that they offered their worship and rituals to others alongside Him. Hence, the Prophet’s message was a call to return to pure monotheism by worshipping God alone without any equals or partners. The Quranic chapter Luqman makes reference to this fact:
If you asked them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ they would say, ‘Allah!’ Say: ‘Praise be to Allah!’ But most of them do not know.
And in the chapter al-Ankaboot:
If you ask them, ‘Who sends down water from the sky, bringing the earth back to life again after it was dead?’ they will say, ‘Allah.’ Say: ‘Praise be to Allah.’ But most of them do not use their intellect.