|Where to We Begin?|
Concerning the fundamentals of religion, one can commence at two starting points: one of them is God, and the other the Prophet. Most people begin with the Prophet. In the case of Islam they begin with Muhammad (a.s.) as a man endowed with extraordinary powers and is in communication with a supernatural being. Thus they come to believe in him.
From here they deduce that the force that Muhammad (a.s.) represents is God, and thus most of them acquire faith. In the times of the Prophet himself a number of persons were seized with a belief about God Salman (Farsi) was one of those who reflected about God, and then followed up this research.
They realised that the teachings about God that prevailed around them were nothing but a set of illusions and superstitions When such individuals heard that a prophet had risen in Mecca who talked about God, they went there and saw that indeed he possessed both the merit to be God's representative as judged by his words, and also manifested the signs which proved that he was truly the Prophet of God. In this case their faith in God existed prior to their faith in His prophet, and even prior to their contact with the Prophet.
Then there were others who had no faith in God. They were materialists or naturalists, and did not believe in the existence of God at all. However their contact with the Prophet altogether transformed them, and through the Prophet they acquired faith in God Of course, later they turned directly to God, but the foundation of their faith was initially laid by the Prophet.
Thus the principle of faith in God as well as disbelief in Him both co-exist among the Prophet's contemporaries. Through a comparative study of recognition of God as it appears in various religions we can conclude that a certain religion conforms more appropriately with our intellect and reasoning yet it is not proof enough for believing such and such a person is a prophet. Likewise the prophethood of a prophet cannot be proved only through his sublime teachings pertaining to recognition of God.
Let us suppose that a priest comes along and through theological discourse delivers excellent instruction about God, would he then be a prophet, and would his teachings be adopted as the way of faith? Certain great philosophers who had no belief in religion, made noteworthy statements about God.
Would you then regard them to be prophets? Although they did not claim to be prophets, but what if they did? Therefore this is no ground. To acknowledge someone as a prophet, we should study his life, his antecedents and his education, and when we observe that his mental, and spiritual personality is not an acquired one, only then we conclude that he has gained that exalted personality from an extraordinary source, and that proves him to be a prophet.
That is why the Qur'an reiterates the fact that the prophet was unlettered. Therefore, we acknowledge our faith in God and the Prophet simultaneously without placing one before the other and declare one faith in God and the prophet at the same time. Then the words of that Prophet would have validity for us, and to reach this conclusion a prior study of comparative religions was never needed.
With this brief introduction, we can proceed to the main topic of discussion which is recognizing Islam and Muslims of the world under the title of "Islam and world Muslims".
Birthplace of Islam
In order to acquire a close familiarization with Islam it is necessary to know the environment in which Islam took birth and started to spread since such an understanding greatly aids the recognition of that entity.
It is possible to have a superficial knowledge of certain matters without being familiar with their knowing their background or the conditions of their origin. But a profound understanding of a certain being or phenomenon depends wholly on a thorough familiarization of the background of that being or phenomenon.
This applies equally to individuals or technical , artistic or social phenomena. For this reason, a deep understanding of the environments of Islam at the time of its birth is essential. The environments at the time of the birth of Islam may be misconstrued to mean the region including Mecca, or Mecca and Medina, or Mecca, Medina and Ta'if, or Hejaz or Arabia.
It should be noted though that the noble Prophet of Islam from the very outset as he began his call to Islam while he was still at Mecca and Islam had not yet spread to Medina, began his call in the following manner:
"Come and embrace a faith the light of which will spread over Iran, Rome, Abyssinia and all other places." Thus from beginning the Prophet's call was a universal one addressing the civilised world of that time. Moreover, in the 6th year of (Hijra) migration, namely six years after the prophet's immigration to Medina, he wrote letters all of which are found in historical records namely .
to Khusrow Parviz King of Persia, Heraclius ruler of a part of the Roman Empire, Mequqass ruler of Egypt, Najashi (or Negus) ruler of Abyssinia, Ruler of Ghassan as a deputy of Rome, and to the ruler of Hira of the tribe of AI-e-Mundir and a vice regent of the throne of Iran, inviting all of them to accept Islam.
Thus it becomes apparent that in order to know the background of the rise of Islam, we cannot con fine ourselves to Mecca, Medina and Ta'if, or to the Arab Lands but expand our view to at least include all such regions as the Prophet himself called to accept Islam in his own time.
A brief description of Arabia
The name Arabia is applied to a land populated by Arabic-speaking people. At the time of the birth of the Prophet, the Arabic-speaking region was not so vast as it is to-day; on one side it was bounded by the Persian Gulf much as it is to-day,
since at that time, too, the southern borders of the Persian Gulf were inhabited by Arabs In Iraq the boundary was almost along the Tigris and the Euphrates namely that side of the Tigris where Arabic is now the main language In the region between Iran and the Tigris the main language was not Arabic, but Kurdish, Persian and some local dialects with Arabic as the main language that side of River Tigris.
In fact the Arabs now inhabiting Khuzestan are not the original inhabitants but migrated to this region after Islam. In the north were the present countries of Shaam or Syria and Jordan where a number of Arab migrant tribes lived in the time of Islam, the period of that migration will be explained later.
In the north, too, Arabic was not, unlike to-day, the main language, though a considerable Arab migrants had settled in the valley of the Jordan River. It may be observed that at present the Arab land, have extended as far as Turkey, whereas at that time it was limited more to the south towards Jordan. The present Lebanon and Syria were not Arabic speaking. In Jordan, too, Arabic was not the main language, and only the Arab migrants spoke Arabic. In this respect Jordan resembled the present Khuzestan where a group speak Arabic and another speak Persian.
In the west, in a significant part of Africa where Arabic is now spoken, the main language at the time was not Arabic. Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and even Abyssinia and other parts where Arabic is now spoken, Arabic was not the main language at that time.
Thus we see that at the time of the birth of Islam the region of Arabia and the Arab land from the viewpoint of the Arabic language was located in the south of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman extending in the west up to the Red Sea - beyond which Arabic was not prevalent - and in the north till the Jordan River valley beyond which Arabic was not prevalent, and in the east to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This, then was the extent of Arabia at the time of the birth of Islam.
Here it should be pointed out that the language spoken in the regions beyond these frontiers, namely in a part of Africa, Shaam, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and to the east of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, had been branches of Semitic languages, having a common root with Arabic - in the same way that Persian has a common root with German, Indian Sanskrit and Indo-European languages.
The local languages of Somalia, Abyssinia, Egypt and a part of Jordan (which was Hebrew) and those of the present Lebanon and Syria (which had been Phoenician), and those of other parts (which had been Chaldean, Assyrian etc.) were all like the Arabic language Semitic in origin and are recognised as Semitic languages and both from the viewpoint of script as well as vocabulary linked together.
Georgie Zeydan, in his book, 'History of Civilisation, narrates that at that time if someone went from Arabia to Abyssinai, or from Jordan or the Lebanon to Hejaz, he did not feel like an alien, the languages were so much alike that he could understand the local language without the aid of an interpreter, and if he stayed there for a little while, he could learn the local language - the same way that a Persian-speaking person visiting Kurdestan can learn the local language within a short time.
Thus the Arabic speaking region of to-day used to be the region of Semitic languages, which have common roots with Arabic, and is thus easily understood by their neighbours, while the Arabian peninsula was the home to Arabs who spoke pure unmixed Arabic.
Origin of Arab Tribes
The inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula who were generally called Arabs, were in two groups: Qahtani Arabs' and 'Adnani Arabs.' Qahtani Arabs were those whose original abode was Yemen. The Yeminis and Yemen of that time included the present Aden, the Sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf littoral and the Sea of Oman.
The Adnani Arabs were centered around Najd and Hejaz that is to say around Mecca stretching as far as the Hejaz Desert. Both the Qahtani and Adnani Arabs share a common historical root, originating from the same ancestors. You can imagine an Arab family of three thousand years ago steadily multiplying in numbers, then branching into two sections The descendants of Ya'rib Ibn Qahtan went to Yemen. Others who went to Mecca - and founded Mecca - the descendants of Ismail, because they had an ancestor named Adnan, came to be called Adnani.
Arabs who went to Yemen, the Qahtani Arab, had come to the land of good fortune, because Yemen was a better land compared with Mecca, Najd and the Arabian Desert from the viewpoint of natural potential climate and water. Accordingly in the lands of Yemen, civilisation and industry and urban development began much sooner. The history of urban development and civilisation in Yemen, the home of the Qahtani Arabs, dates several centuries before Hejaz and Najd, the home of the 'Adnani Arabs.
It would be pertinent at this stage to consider how the factor of environment influenced the development of two branches of a common stock who shared common language as well as many other characteristics. According to historians, not only from the viewpoint of urbanisation and development, but also from the viewpoint of political organisations and government, Yemen and Qahtani Arabs were centuries ahead of Najd and Hejaz and the Adnani Arabs. Further explanations will follow about this aspect.
In Yemen the Hemyari Kings ruled as the crowned monarchs at the time when in Hejaz social organisations had not developed beyond tribal ways. Ya'qubi, the great Islamic historian narrates that the crown worn by Hemyar, founder of the Hemyari dynasty was made of silver with a large ruby set in the middle and such was the situation prevailing in Yemen several centuries before the establishment of a government in Hejaz, Najd and Arabia.
From the viewpoint of technology and civilisation, long before the appearance of such developments over the ordinary tribal life in Najd and Hejaz, the historical 'Mareb Dam' had been constructed. In this regard a historian narrates that this dam was six kilometers in length situated between two mountains so that the winter rains and torrents would collect in the form of a lake.
It had a number of sluice gates through which passed seventy irrigation channels passed for irrigating seventy agricultural sectors. Mareb Dam had been built eight centuries before Islam and as it happened two centuries before Christ, the object is to show the background of the birth place of Islam, as also to compare Yemen with Hejaz which was the location of the advent of Islam.
Mareb Dam played an effective role in the development of Yemen which flourished alongside of it. Strabon, the famous Greek geographer and traveller (about 63 B.C. to 26 A.D ) whose name is mentioned frequently in the annals of history, has written many strange accounts about the city of Mareb and its wonders and fine palaces which have been quoted in various books of history. This city had attracted travellers from many parts of the world and flourished until the second century A.D. From the beginning of the second century A.D.
it started to deteriorate. The interesting point which historians have recorded is that since individuals were unable to maintain the Dam, this task had to be performed by their governments, but as public authorities had become inefficient and were too busy feasting and drinking, they neglected their responsibility of preserving the Dam. Consequently it fell into disrepair. This shows that in those times the people of Yemen expected their government to undertake such tasks.
Mareb Dam began to deteriorate in the beginning of second country A.D. so that all realised that it would collapse within the next ten or twenty years So the Qahtani Arabs of Yemen began to abandon their homes fearing that with the collapse of the Dam no water would be available for irrigation or farming.
They were also alarmed that when the Dam collapsed it would release a torrent which would destroy their homes and fields and everything else that came in its way Consequently such fears caused the Qahtani tribes to begin emigrating One group emigrated towards Hira and the land of Iraq and settled along the banks of the Tigris, and founded the government of Munadherah or Al-e-Mundher.
The people & Munadherah on account of their proximity to Iran, became tributaries of the Iranian governments possibly maintaining political relations with them. Another group migrated to the territory near the present day Jordan, and settled in the flourishing Jordan Valley. They were the earliest Arabs to settle there and set up the Ghassani dynasty which normally had relations with Rome.
A third group of them in their migration came to Yathrib (the present Medina) which was at that time home to the Jews, however this subject will be discussed later in the chapter related to Judaism. These last Arabs formed the twin tribes of 'Aus' and 'Khazraj' whose names appear frequently in the course of the history of Islam. These two tribes settled in Yathrib where some farming land and water were available.
Another group, namely Bani Khuza'a moved to Mecca and fought the Adnani Arabs of Mecca, drove them out and took control of Mecca themselves. Yet another group called Bani 'Addi went to Najd and became the rulers of the greater part of the desert.
What is note worthy here is that a civilised people accustomed to urbanisation and well developed social existence should as a result of an anticipated catastrophe, migrate from their home land, and then organise their communities wherever they set foot.
Those who went to Shaam, established the Ghassani rule; those who went to Hira, founded the dynasty of Al-e-Mundher, No'manian and Munadherah; whose who settled in Medina, namely the tribes of Aus and Khazraj, will be discussed in subsequent chapters; and the group that went to Mecca, pushed away the Adnanis who were the least developed.
These were the ones who went to the desert, dominated the waste lands of the Arabian Desert. The remaining Arabs who stayed back in Yemen, either on account of laziness or hoping that no calamity such as the collapse of the Dam would occur, were annihilated by the well-known flood of 'Arem in the end of the second century A.D. which has been mentioned in the Chapter of Saba of the holy Qur'an, where a brief history of Yemen is narrated.
Thus the structure of Arabia in the second century A.D. consisted of the government of one group of Arabs in the present day Jordan neighbouring ancient Rome; another group building a city state in the present Iraq and Hira set up a state neighbouring Iran; another group settled in Yathrib as neighbours of the Jews, and lastly another group of Qahtani Arabs settled in Mecca and its suburbs. This then was the situation four centuries before the birth of Islam.