20 November 2017

Insight into Islam

Part 1: Understanding the World of Islam. 

As an educated Middle Eastern Muslim, Majed made his pilgrimage to Mecca, the fifth pillar of Islam, at the age of nineteen. But his spiritual journey was to result in a radically different discovery. Through Bible correspondence and meeting with Christians it was finally revealed to him that the ultimate divine truth is not a religious framework, but a divine person, Jesus Christ.

On his becoming a Christian, Majed’s family disowned him and he was forced to leave the country. Now he is living out the consequence of this life-changing revelation.

Majed is currently involved in ministry to Muslims, mainly on Christian literature translation and Bible commentaries. He is also involved in speaking in Churches in N. Ireland and Europe to explain the faith of Islam and the challenges faced by evangelism to Churches. Majed’s full story is written in a book called “The Fifth Pillar”, published by Piquant.

This year, Majed graduated from Belfast Bible College after completing a post graduate theological course. The aim was to deepen his understanding of the theological aspects of the Bible and the Christian faith so that he could better approach the Muslim community with an apologetic approach in both dialogue and respect.

Majed is currently based in N. Ireland for another year.

As we start to look at the world of Islam over several issues in this magazine, we should visualise our task by looking at how the Muslim faith has been taught and practised for more than 1400 years.

Islam may seem strange or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because religion does not dominate everyday life in the West today, whereas Muslims have religion always primary in their minds, and make no division between secular and sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari’a, should be taken very seriously, which is why issues related to religion are still so important.

Like any other religion, Islam has developed through the centuries, and often its popular beliefs and common practises blend together with culture, creating a new form of faith that might not be consistent with the original message.

Part 1:- Pre-Islam Arabia.

In looking at the history of Arabia before Islam, it is important to begin with a review of the political, economic, social and religious conditions of Arabia before Islam.

Political Conditions in Arabia.

The most notable feature of the political life of Arabia before Islam was the lack of any political society, with the exception of Yemen in the south-west.

No part of the Arabian Peninsula had any government at any time, and the Arabs never acknowledged any authority other than the authority of the leader of their tribes. The authority of the tribal chiefs, however, rested, in most cases, on their character and personality, and was moral rather than political.

It is hard to believe that the Arabs lived, generation after generation, century after century, without a government of any kind. Since there was no government, there was no law and no order. The only law of the land was lawlessness.

Since there were no such things as police, courts or judges, the only protection a man could find from his enemies, was in his own tribe. The tribe had an obligation to protect its members even if they had committed crimes. Tribalism took precedence over ethics. A tribe that failed to protect its members from their enemies exposed itself to mockery, shame and disrespect.

Since Arabia did not have a government, and since the Arabs were anarchists by instinct, they were locked up in ceaseless warfare. War was a permanent institution of the Arabian society. The desert could support only a limited number of people, and the state of inter-tribal war maintained a rigid control over the growth of population.

The population of Arabia consisted of two main divisions, inactive and nomadic. Hijaz and South

Arabia were dotted with many small and a few large towns. The rest of the country had a floating population composed of Bedouins. They were backward in the civil and political sense, but they were also a source of anxiety and fear for the inactive population.

The more important tribes exercised a certain amount of authority in their respective areas. In Makkah the dominant tribe was the Quraysh; in Yathrib, the dominant tribes were the Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, and the Jewish tribes of Nadheer, Qaynuqaa and Qurayza. The Quraysh of Makkah considered themselves superior to the Bedouins, but the latter had only contempt for the town-dwellers who for them were only a “nation of shopkeepers.”

Economic Conditions.

Economically, among the Jews, the Arabs were the leaders of Arabia. They were the owners of the best arable lands in the region, and they were the best farmers in the country.

Slavery was an economic institution of the Arabs. Male and female slaves were sold and bought like animals, and they formed the most depressed class of the Arabian society.

The capitalists and moneylenders made up the most powerful class of the Arabs. The rates of interest, which they charged on loans, were exorbitant, and were especially designed to make them richer and richer, and the borrowers poorer and poorer.

The most important urban centres of Arabia were Makkah and Yathrib.

The citizens of Makkah were mostly merchants, traders and moneylenders. Their caravans travelled in summer to Syria and in winter to Yemen. They also travelled to Bahrain in the east and to Iraq in the northeast. The caravan trade was basic to the economy of Makkah, and its organisation called for considerable skill, experience and ability.

Social Conditions.

Arabia was a male-dominated society. A savage custom of the Arabs was to bury their female infants alive. Even if an Arab did not wish to bury his daughter alive, he still had to uphold this “honourable” tradition, being unable to resist social pressures.

Drunkenness was a common vice of the Arabs. With drunkenness went their gambling. They were compulsive drinkers and compulsive gamblers. The relations between the sexes were extremely loose.

The State of Religion in Pre-Islamic Arabia.

The period in the Arabian history, which preceded the birth of Islam, is known as the Times of Ignorance. Judging by the beliefs and the practices of the pagan Arabs, it appears that it was a most appropriate name. The Arabs were the devotees of a variety of “religions” which can be classified into the following categories.

  • 1 Idol-worshippers or polytheists: Most of the Arabs were idolaters. They worshipped numerous idols and each tribe had its own idol or idols and obsession. They had turned the Kaaba in Makkah, which according to tradition, had been built by the Prophet Abraham and his son, Ismael, and was dedicated by them to the service of One God, into a heathen pantheon housing 360 idols of stone and wood.
  • 2 Atheists: This group was composed of the materialists and believed that the world was eternal.
  • 3 Zindiqs: They were influenced by the Persian doctrine of dualism in nature. They believed that there were two gods representing the twin forces of good and evil or light and darkness, and both were locked up in an unending struggle for supremacy.
  • 4 Sabines: They worshipped the stars.
  • 5 Jews: When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and drove the Jews out of Palestine and Syria, many of them found new homes in Hijaz in Arabia. Under their influence, many Arabs also became converts to Judaism. Their strong centres were the towns of Yathrib, Khayber, Fadak and Umm-ul-Qura.
  • 6 Christians: The Romans had converted the north Arabian tribe of Ghassan to Christianity. Some clans of Ghassan had migrated to and had settled in Hijaz. In the south, there were many Christians in Yemen where the creed was originally brought by the Ethiopian invaders. Their strong centre was the town of Najran.
  • 7 Monotheists: There was a small group of monotheists present in Arabia on the eve of the rise of Islam. Its members did not worship idols, and they were the followers of the Prophet Abraham. The members of the families of Muhammad, the future prophet, and Ali ibn Abi Talib, the future caliph, and most members of their clan – the Banu Hashim – belonged to this group.

Education Among the Arabs Before Islam.

Among the Arabs there were extremely few individuals who could read and write. Most were not very eager to learn these arts. Some historians are of the opinion that the culture of the period was almost entirely oral. The Jews and the Christians were the custodians of such knowledge as Arabia had. The greatest intellectual accomplishment of the pagan Arabs was their poetry.

Judging by this portrait, it appears that Arabia before Islam was without social amenity or historical depth, and the Arabs lived in moral bankruptcy and spiritual servitude. Life for them was devoid of meaning, purpose and direction. The human spirit was in chains, and was awaiting, as it were, a signal, to make an enormous struggle, to break loose and to become free.

The Arabian Peninsula was geographically marginal and politically unknown until the early seventh century A.D. It was then that Muhammad put it on the political map of the world by making it the theatre of momentous events of history.

Majed Tinawi