By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
01 August 2018
As Muslims, we have always been told that life in
pre-Islamic Arabia was barbaric, nasty, brutish and short. We are told that
before the advent of Islam in that part of the world, girls were buried alive,
men could have as many wives as possible and that generally the status of women
was very low. Rules were seldom maintained and it was Islam which brought order
within such a chaotic society. This characterization of pre-Islamic Arabian
society has been so much drilled into the consciousness of an average Muslim
psyche that questioning it has become difficult even when there are manifest
clues to the contrary.
The age of Jahiliyyah (ignorance), as it came to be
called was very nearly a period of darkness. And just as Enlightenment
delivered Europe into modernity through the dark ages, Islam delivered
geography and its people through darkness into a new dawn. In its modern
reading according to Syed Qutb and Maududi, large parts of the world are still
in the age of Jahiliyyah and are waiting for Islam to deliver them from their
self-imposed darkness. Just as the Europeans convinced us that colonialism was
good for us, Islamists are out to prove that Islam will be good for the entire
world. The claim rests on the assertion that Islam brought humanity to the
Arabs and one measure of that humanity was its treatment of women.
But how accurate is this narrative? It seems that in
our zeal to associate everything praiseworthy with Islam, we have falsified
history and the Arabs in particular have belittled their own historical past.
There is certainly a sense in which some of the laws and practices of the pre-Islamic
period continued into Islamic times. For example, hajj was made possible every
year because of the tribal mores that forbade killing within that month. Before
the pilgrimage was Islamised as the ‘hajj’, the society therein had evolved
some laws which they put into practice. If the society was so anarchic, as
claimed by Muslims, then certainly the annual pilgrimage which later became the
hajj would not have been possible. After the Prophet proclaimed Islam and made
the hajj, he was protected by the same tribal values of people who were not
only not Muslims but also hostile to the new religion.
It is true that pre-Islamic Arabian society resolved
their conflicts through blood feud. It is also true that Islam tried to control
some of this conflict. But then, throughout the world, blood feud was a common
method of conflict resolution in tribal societies. Moreover, even Islam could
not put a moratorium on such perpetual inter-generational conflicts. The
descent into violence immediately after the death of the Prophet can only be
understood as falling back on the tribal ways of conflict resolution.
Another important contention has been that Islam
improved the status of women in Arabian society. Now it might be the case that
female infanticide was practiced in Arabia at that time. But then it was by no
means unique to the region. Various tribal and non-tribal societies have had
this practice and most of them did not need Islam to overcome this horrible
practice. It just died its own death.
The special privilege that Islam claims as the reason
why this practice stopped is therefore unfounded. Also, the contention that men
in pre Islamic society could take as many wives as they desired seems untrue.
What seems to be the case is that there were many types of union which were
possible earlier. The specific contribution of Islam seems to be the introduction
of a new normativity in marriages which was called Nikah. In making Nikah as the standard form of marriage, Islam
considerably lowered the diversity which was practiced earlier in terms of
recognised sexual unions.
The claim that Islam gave an exalted status to women
is also an exaggeration. Muslim scholars are quick to point out that the
first wife of the Prophet, Khadija, was a highly successful businesswoman and
this is cited as a proof that the adoption of Islam led to women’s empowerment.
What we forget however, is that the marriage between Khadija and the Prophet
took place during pre-Islamic times. So, Khadija was a successful businesswoman
not because of Islam but despite it. The very fact that she inherited wealth
also belies the claim of those Islamists who argue that Islam gave property
rights to women. The case of Khadija demonstrates that property rights for
women existed in pre-Islamic Arabia; Islam merely re-affirmed this practice. It
must also be pointed out that the proposal for marriage was initiated by
Khadija and not from the Prophet’s side. This again tells us that women in
pre-Islamic Arabia were considerably independent and did not depend on men to
take important decisions.
It should also be borne in mind that till the time
Khadija was alive; the Prophet did not take another wife. While this is
regarded as Prophet’s devotion to his wife, it can also be read in another way. Marriage contracts were not the specific contribution of Islam; it
existed even before Islam. Women were free to put conditions in that contract,
a practice which Islam continued when it became the dominant power. It is not
entirely unfeasible to think that the Prophet was bound by a contract which
forbade him from taking another wife till the time Khadija was alive. We know
that the Prophet married many times after the death of his first wife, and not
all of them were for reasons of making political alliances as many Muslim
apologists tell us.
Thus what we call Jahiliyyah may not after all be a
period of darkness. Like any other society, women belonging to different
classes had different rights and statuses. What seems to have happened might
just be the opposite. That in trying to make one standard rule for all, Islam
in the process diminished some of the rights which women enjoyed earlier.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in
Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In
Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women
in West, Islam Women and Feminism
Without religion, we would have been without a standard of right and
wrong. Over a period, moral values given to us by religion, permeated society
and became part of our laws. So, it is not surprising that we find many people
who may not be outwardly religious, but are kind, honest, just etc and many
displaying outward piety who are scoundrels.
Belief for many people is simply cheap talk or worse hatred for others
who do not believe as they do, and often irrelevant to what makes one
"righteous". "Religions are, for the most part, bad– but
religion is not." So, please do not confuse religion with the nonsense
that goes with it but try to understand religion in its essence. It is religion
which has given even the atheists the criterion of right and wrong and without
religion, we are without an anchor and will drift into ways that will spell our
destruction. The role that religion has played, is examined in the following
article: Science and Religion
Who is to blame when the Quran endorses several religions and paths, but
our scholars have developed a theology of exclusivism? The Quran endorses even
Buddhism which is agnostic about the existence of God but has a strong moral
code. Who is to blame when the Quran values deeds above beliefs, but our
scholars place mere verbalising of beliefs once in our lifetime as guaranteed to
make us enter Heaven? So, there is a
religion of the Book (which is all that is good) and a religion of the people
and what they have made of it which is for the most part bad. The part that is
good will always guide those who seek guidance, and these will be successful in
this life and the Hereafter. The world is a place of testing to find those who
are best in their deeds and this test is not a simple one except for those who
have a heart that is sound/pure.
إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى اللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ
(26:89) "But only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound
There is an impulse for good and an impulse for evil and those who respond
to the impulse for good and resist the impulse for evil are those who will
believe and strive on the path that is steep. This is true for everyone irrespective
of their religion.
I have argued before, that if we believe that Islam is the best religion,
then all other things being equal, a muqallid Mushrik is superior to a muqallid
Muslim, because inspite of following Islam, the Muslim is only equal to a
Mushrik in his deeds. So, who is better, depends on who is better in his deeds,
and who has made progress on the path of purifying his heart and his beliefs.
The state of jahiliya before Islam, refers to ignorance of the
religion of Allah among the pagan Arabs, but does not refer to the Jews and the
Christians simply because they are the people of the Book. This definition is
beyond debate. It does not refer to the state of the accomplishments of the
people in any field, be it the arts, or the sciences.
The people who became Muslims, came from among the people of
Jahiliya mostly. The sterling character of persons such as Umar bin Khattab and
Abu Bakr Siddiq or the villainous character of people like Abu Jahl and Abu
Lahab is common to all people. People like Umar bin Khattab, Abu Bakr Siddiq and
other Vanguard Muslims, were attracted to Islam because of their inherent good
qualities which Islam polished further to make them what they became. A religion
can only polish the diamonds but cannot turn brass into gold. This limitation
is explicitly stated in the Quran. There are people “who will not believe” no
matter what, and every person in whom God finds any good, will be made to
listen to the message (8:23). The others
are as if their hearts are sealed and they are deaf and blind. (45;23) “Then
seest thou such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? Allah has,
knowing (him as such), left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart
(and understanding), and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him
after Allah (has withdrawn Guidance)? Will ye not then receive admonition?”
Jahiliya means ignorance and the article is based on the
author’s ignorance. Sample the following:
“For example, hajj was made possible
every year because of the tribal mores that forbade killing within that month.
Before the pilgrimage was Islamised as the ‘hajj’, the society therein had
evolved some laws which they put into practice.”
Kaba was built by Ibrahim (AS) and Ismail (AS) and the hajj
was ordained by Allah and was practiced since the day the Kaba was built. The
rituals and practices were also as prescribed. The four-month period of Hajj
during which all violence and killing was prohibited or also goes back to the
practice since the days of Ismail. Kaba was a place of sanctuary ever since it
The people later paganised the kaba. Religion followed the
familiar path of commercialisation and pandering to the people’s weaknesses. “Shirk”
is the greatest and most unforgivable sin because in its purest form, it is
pandering to one’s own desires and lusts or paying obeisance to anything that promises
to satiate one’s desires and dreams without a thought to what is right. The attractiveness and commercial value of a
place of pilgrimage is maximised following the very familiar model of successful
marketing. To sell successfully, the customer must be provided with a wide
variety of choice and merchandise advertised as guaranteed to fulfil the
desires and dreams of the people in this world itself.
Muhammad (pbuh) restored the original position of Kaba as a
place of worship for the One and only God. There was no need to alter the practices
that did not change since the days of Ibrahim and Ismail. If the author had
read the Quran, or had some knowledge of it, he would have known this.
Take the relationship between Hazrat Khadija and Muhammad
(pbuh). Hazrat Khadija was the first to accept Islam, the foremost among its
supporters and one who gave all she had to Islam. She was a wife in the best of
Islamic traditions, who honoured her husband and had implicit faith in him more
than he had in himself. It was Khadija who reassured him that he was a true
prophet when he was in doubt. The regard for Khadija continued after she died,
and she remained the most loved one amongst all his wives. Now to speculate in
the manner the author has done on the relationship, is to expose himself as an
ignoramus at best, or as just another Islamophobe.
It was George Bernard Shaw who said that marriage is
legalized prostitution. A person of similar bent of mind is likely to say that “Mehar”
is the “vulva price”. Such notions are not derived from the Quran and are a
product of profane minds. What if the profane mind belongs to some Maulana and
what he says, finds itself into the Books of the Muslims? The test of whether Islam
teaches the same is whether such notions are found in the Quran.
Ghulam Mohiyuddin Sb is quite right. There is nothing
original in the author’s article or in the comments of Mr Hamza. They say what
the anti-Islam Christian Missionaries have been saying for the last 200 years
and what the Islamophobes among the atheists have since picked up from the same
I endorse Naseer and Ghulam Mohiyuddin saheban
Naseer Ahmad sb: “The article
is utterly nonsensical. It is based on loose conjecture rather than facts and
God knows to what purpose!”
Ghulam Mohiyuddin sb: “As I said before, denial of Jahiliyyah is very
important to those who are carrying on a vile campaign of hate against Islam.”
In order for the writer to note the important point is that Hazrat Khadeeja (may Allah be
pleased with her) remained a successful business woman even after the advent of
Islam. She was not denied of participation
in business; and thus she became a role model for all Muslim women to come—and this
is how the Muslim scholars deduce the ruling of Islam allowing women
participation in business. If any Muslims feel pride in this right given by
Islam, I think this should not be thought with the specs of supremacism. I
think Muslims do not deny that Hazrat Khadeeja was a successful business woman
even before the announcement of Islam in Arabia. If there is anything as such,
the writer should have produced evidence.
something was done in front of the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) and he
did not forbid it, it was and is still taken as valid and lawful practice. Indeed
Muslim women of this age should follow Hazrat Khadeeja as a whole and not only
for business. The way she spent her life in obedience to Allah and His beloved
Prophet (peace be upon him) should also be followed by today’s women.
second point for the writer is that when any Muslim scholars say “girls were
burnt alive in pre-Islamic era”, they do not mean all girls were burnt alive. Instead
they refer to some tribes which in pre-Islamic era used to burn their daughters
alive, the historians and muhaddetheen unanimously agree with the view that the
tribe of Tameem used to burn girls alive while there is some disagreement over
the names of other tribes. When Islam came and spread it laid a great impact on
stopping such a vile practice of tribe of Tameem.
sb may accept non-Muslim historians, if not Muslims. If it is so, then he
should see “Lammens, Henri (1987) . Islam. Belief and Institutions.
London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. p. 21” which also authenticates the view that
the tribe of Tamim used to burn its daughters alive, while there is
disagreement about the names of other tribes.