Pre-Islamic Arabia: A hot arid desert, sandwiched between two great rivaling empires. This is Pre-Islamic Arabia. Before we understand or try to understand Prophet Muhammad or the Islamic Civilization, We gotta understand the world that Islam was born. At the time, there were two empires dominating Europe and the Middle East;
The Sassanid Empire in Persia And the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor. These two empires had been fighting for centuries and were just exhausted out of their minds. Arabia was a hot desert and in a pre-oil world, there were no valuable resources in Arabia. There was no water, no agriculture, no nothing, basically. That’s why no Empire was ever interested in conquering it. Not because they couldn’t but because they didn’t have a reason to.
Even after the rise of Islam most Islamic empires only conquered the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and left the rest of Arabia untouched. inside Arabia, there was chaos. Well, mostly chaos. More so-called civilized people would have called the Arabs barbarians but that’s not entirely true or fair. There were many tribes around Arabia. One of those tribes The Quraysh lived in Mecca. This was Muhammad’s tribe and it’s the one we got to talk about. Mecca was the site of an ancient called Kaaba.
This was said to have been built by the great Prophet Ibrahim or Abraham. Ibrahim also did something that would change the destiny of Mecca. He declared it a Haram meaning it was forbidden to conduct violence there or the wrath of God would get you and all that. Even though most Arabs were pagans, they still believed in this one great God called Allah, which comes from the word Al-Allah meaning “THE God” with a capital G. Anyways this declaration was used centuries after Abraham to make Mecca a very attractive place to conduct business.
This was the only place where you could buy and sell things without the risk of losing your head in a minor dispute. Meccans, however, went one step further.
They’d get a cut of everything bought and sold in the city. This was their only source of income along with the pilgrimage business that started because Mecca was now a holy site to all the tribes of Arabia. Although, some people bought goods from these merchants and went up to Palestine and the Levant to sell them for profit as well.
In terms of social stuff, it was the usual misogyny mixed with a bit of burying daughters alive. Which wasn’t as common as Muslims like to say it was, though. There was slavery, obviously, you didn’t get any rights if you didn’t own land and all that good stuff that we usually read about in history.
Along with Pagans, there were Christians and Jews living in Arabia. It’s said that you couldn’t tell the difference between the three faiths in Arabia without visiting their places of worship because they had all adopted each other’s traditions. Tribal warfare was, however, very common. As you might expect, water was a rare resource and a vital one. So people fought over it along with many other things obviously.
Hostilities lasted between tribes for centuries but Meccans made sure not to get into too many fights because fighting is bad for business. Anyways, Arabia at the end of the sixth century was the last place you’d expect a world-dominating power to emerge from but that’s exactly what happened.