In Part 1, we take a cursory look at the world in the sixth century CE. In Part2, we look briefly at the event leading to the birth of Prophet Muhammad, ushering the new era. In this part and the next, we shall try to answer the following questions: why Arabia, and why in 6th century.
The answer to the first question, why Arabia was chosen to be the birthplace of Islam, may not be apparent at the first look.
The place was hot. The air was arid. The land was barren. The people were as harsh and as hard as the place. The region was not a seat of civilization. There was no organized central government there. People lived with their tribes. They were independent minded, subservient and obedient only to their tribal leaders.
Furthermore, the people were mostly illiterate. Writing was not their habit. Whatever was deemed important to them were coined through poetry, recited and remembered that way. Even these poems were not really something to be admired. These were not great philosophical discourses. The subjects of these poems were mostly about their tribes’ superiority or their ancestors’ exploit in war, which they were fond of bragging.
Their behavior was uncultured. They were hot tempered people, quick to take revenge on the slightest of provocation. Most of them worshipped idols made of stones or woods. Sometimes these idols were made of dates, which they will eat when hungry.
Their food was simple. Goat or camel’s milk and dates were their staples. These were about the only things that can be reared or grown in their land. Grains such as wheat and barley had to be imported.
They were not sophisticated people, unlike the highly philosophical Greeks, or the well organized Romans, or the highly cultured Persians and Chinese. They knew not any great technology, as were the Chinese and the Indians.
To the outsiders, they led barbaric lives. Women were objects of desire that they possessed and disposed at will, marrying as many as they wanted, and divorcing them as soon as they had no more use of them. So low was their treatment to women that this fairer sex became the object of shame, leading to infanticide by burying their baby girls alive.
Yet, this place and these people were chosen to lead the new era at the world stage, when other places and other people appeared to be more suitable.
We may say that China would have made a better candidate, with their highly cultured and well organized society, great technology and highly obedience citizens. Or perhaps India, with their great brains and highly spiritual society. Or perhaps Persia, with their long history, well organized and cultured society with great arts. Or perhaps Greece or Rome, with their cultured and philosophical mind as well as great organizing skills. Or perhaps Egypt, with their illustrious history.
Or, if it were to be among the Arabs, it should probably have been in Syria and Yemen, for these were the centers of civilization among the Arabs. Both dated back prior to the Greek civilization, which surfaced only in 700 BCE.
Yet, the Arabian Peninsula was chosen, with Makkah giving the impetus.
Upon closer examination, however, we find that the Peninsula of Arabia was not only the obvious choice, but the only choice. This is because of two main reasons.
One, because of the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham. In the Unlikely Beginning, we have seen that Abraham was longing for a son to continue his work, but his wife was barren. Knowing how much her husband wanted a son, and out of goodness of her heart, Sarah had asked Abraham to take her bond maid, Hagar, to be his second wife. Through that communion, Ishmael was born.
But the fulfillment of God’s covenant came in two stages. The first was not through Ishmael, but through his second born son, Isaac. Isaac was miraculously conceived by Sarah although she was already in her advanced age and was barren to begin with.
From Isaac, the covenant was to be fulfilled through his younger son, Jacob, known as Israel. Jacob’s older twin, Esau, was bypassed through trickery, if the story in the Bible is to be believed.
We have briefly narrated Jacob’s story in Is Jesus A Jew and Surah Yusuf Part 3 and Part 4. Suffice to say here that it was through the Israelites, or the children of Israel, that the major work of tawheed (Oneness of God) was carried out. To put it differently, they were the Hunafa of their time.
For some reason, the Israelites seemed to display some weaknesses in their character. This was apparent even from the beginning. Instead of accepting the fact that Joseph was more beloved to their father, their envy had led them to do evil to their little brother, as we have seen in Surah Yusuf.
When they were enslaved by the Egyptians, they prayed for the deliverer. When Moses was sent as their deliverer and he delivered them from the bondage in Egypt, they gave him hard time. God punished them by making them wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
Their time finally came with the advent of David and Solomon, but soon they fell out of line and were made to be people without homeland, as we have seen in Is Jesus A Jew Part 2. They even made the universal religion of their forefather, Abraham, to be racial based, exclusively for them. Those who wanted to believe in One God must also become Jews.
When he came, however, they rejected him. His teaching was then hijacked by the Gentiles who made it to be universal, but it was no longer pure because it has been mixed with Gentile’s religion and philosophy. Obsessed with the notion of man-god, demigod, godlike, etc., the Gentiles focused on the person rather than his teaching. Eventually Jesus himself was made be a god, the co-equal to the real God, the second god in the Holy Trinity.
After two thousand and five hundred years, their time was up. By then, it was the time for the line of Ishmael. The Kaabah, built by Abraham and Ishmael, was finally to serve it over encompassing purpose: to be the center of the worshipers of One God. Since Ishmael’s descendants lived in Arabia, including in Makkah, it therefore became the obvious and only choice.
It is for the reasons enumerated above that Arabia in general and Makkah in particular were chosen.
The fulfillment of the Covenant between God and Abraham forms the first part of the equation.The second part is the nature of Arabia and the character of Arab people themselves. All the qualities which at one look appeared to be undesirable were in fact the qualities that were needed.
This we shall cover in the concluding part, insyaAllah.