Spiritual State of Pre-Islamic World
وَبَرَكَاتُهُ اللهِ وَرَحْمَةُ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمُ
To fully realise the mercy and blessing that was the message of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, you must first come to understand what the world was like before it. Without that you cannot contrast the miracle of the message with the times of jahilliah before it, and so cannot truly appreciate the blessing of the Seerah.
First we must look at the paganism inside of Arabia. Allah has said in the Quran many times that to each peoples he has given a messenger, and the messenger for the Arabs before Muhammad ﷺ was the prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his son Ismail (AS). They brought the true religion of Allah at the time, and established many practices such as hajj and the sanctity of the haram that lasted until the time of Muhammad ﷺ. It is actually for this reason that many anti-Islam researchers say these practices of Islam are actually taken from pagan culture, when in actual fact they are still the practices that were decreed by Allah, just revitalised from the time of Ibrahim (AS) by the prophet.
So then where did this paganism come from? Muhammad ﷺ himself told us the answer to that: ‘I saw Amr ibn Luhay Al-Khuza'i wandering around in the fire of Hell with his entrails cut open behind him.’ When asked why, the prophet replied, ‘He was the first to change the religion of Ismail.’
Amr ibn Luhay was the chieftain of the tribe of Khuza'a, which was a tribe that had – for a period of time – kicked out the descendants of Ismail (AS) from Mecca and then taken over the city, until it was re-conquered by its rightful inhabitants later. He was extremely well respected and – although it is impossible to know – an estimate would be that he lived around the first century of the Christian era (the prophet was born in the 6th century, around 570 CE, so about 500 years after ibn Luhay). He travelled to Syria and met the Amaaleeq (The Amalekites) – mentioned in the Old Testament as ‘giants’ – who were a very powerful civilization who awed Amr ibn Luhay with their tall structures and advanced technologies. However they also worshipped idols and told Amr, ‘These are our sources of power. When we're in droughts, when we're in hunger, when the enemy attacks, we pray to these idols and miracles happen.’
And so Amr asked for one of these idols – called Hubal – to take back, and in this way he first introduced idols into Arabia and made many other changes to the religion, such as the alteration of the talbiya for hajj. But how could one man so change the religion of Ismail (AS) for the entirety of Arabia? The first reason is due to the superiority of the civilisation of the Amaaleeq, meaning that everyone was vying to be like them in every aspect so as to imitate their technological progress. The second is that the person making the changes – Amr ibn Luhay – was a powerful and respected man in his tribe, and so people listened to what he brought. And another is that there had been at least 2000 years between Ibrahim (AS) and Amr ibn Luhay – that’s as long a time as between Isa (AS) and the modern day – meaning that people had not had any guidance for a very long time and had begun to forget the true religion of Allah. All these factors culminated together, as well as Shaitaan’s influence, to create the perfect situation for paganism to begin in Arabia.
By the time of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the entire society was idolatrous; however there were exceptions. These people were mentioned in the Quran as the Hunafaa, of which there were four main ones. These were Waraqa ibn Nawfal (RA) – a much older cousin of Khadija (RA) – Ubaydillah ibn Jahsh – a cousin of the prophet himself – Uthman ibn Al-Huwairith and Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl – a much older cousin of Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA). Before the prophet was even born, they secretly rejected idolatry and made a vow with each other to search for the original religion of Ibrahim (AS). And so they split up and left Mecca.
Waraqa ibn Nawfal eventually chose Christianity and later was the first convert to Islam after Khadija. Ubaydillah ibn Jahsh first converted to Christianity, then converted to Islam when the prophet began his preaching, but then later left Arabia and reverted to Christianity. Uthman ibn Al-Huwairith also became and remained Christian till he died.
Now, Zayd ibn Amr rejected both Christianity and Judaism, saying to the Quraish, ’This is not the religion of Ibrahim and you know it… All of you have rejected the religion of Ibrahim.’ He then spent his life rebuking them for their idol worshipping, and he took in any of the baby daughters they wanted to bury and raised them himself. The prophet even said about him, ‘He will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment as his own ummah.’
But what about outside of Arabia? The Sassanid (Persian) Empire was upon Zoroastrianism – essentially idolatry and paganism – while the Roman Empire had come upon Christianity with the conversion of Emperor Constantine. But what was their version of Christianity? Around 40 years after Isa (AS) there were three main forms of Christianity: Gnosticism, Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity. Jewish Christianity was essentially the same as the Jewish shariah, in that they believed that they had to follow Musa (AS) and obey all of his teachings (eating kosher etc…), and that Isa (AS) was a prophet sent to them by Allah as a saviour. This was essentially exactly what we believe. Pauline Christianity, on the other hand, was made by a man called Paul who actually came after the time of Isa (AS). He claimed to have been visited by him in a vision, and he was the first to begin institutionalising some elements of the Holy Trinity, as well as the abolishment of the Jewish shariah. He also claimed elements of divinity in Isa (AS), and so created the forerunner to modern Christianity.
Now for around the next 300 years after Pauline Christianity formed, the Romans remained pagans and continued to persecute and kill all Christians that they found. But then, miraculously, the emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. Now because he was the emperor he didn’t want the different ideas of Christianity to be clashing at all times, and so he set up a council – The Council of Nicaea (Turkey) – to try to figure out what Christianity was. Now, because he was originally a pagan he wanted some pagan elements to remain in his new religion (so that’s where we get the whole 25th of December and son of god etc… stuff from) and eventually he determined Pauline Christianity to be the only ‘real’ Christianity and banished all Jewish Christians, threatening to persecute and kill them just as before. All this took place in 325CE, and by that time that the prophet came 245 years later there were almost no more Jewish Christians left, meaning that almost no one was left on the true religion of Allah and the entire world had fallen to jahilliah.
However there were some exceptions, such as the story of Salman Al-Farsi (RA) proving that some few rare members of the original Christianity remained. A very quick summary of his story: He was the son of a Zoroastrian fire-keeping priest in Iran, and so his job was to keep the fire lit constantly. Every day on the way there he would hear a monk worshipping in his monastery, and one day he asked him about his religion. The monk preached to Salman, who eventually realised what he was doing was idolatry and so secretly converted. When his father found out, he executed the monk and locked and tortured Salman in his own house. However just before he died, the monk told Salman to look for a specific monastery in Syria – the land of Christianity at the time – in order to find people of his inclination. And he warned him away from the mainstream monasteries and their form of Christianity, showing us that the monk was one of the few Christians left not on Pauline Christianity and instead on the real religion of Allah.
Salman eventually managed to escape and he fled to Syria to find the monastery. And when he found it, he became the disciple of the monk there and remained in the monastery for some time. However the monk was old, and just before he was about to die he told Salman to go to another monastery to find another monk on his version of Christianity. But that monk was old too, and so this happened four times with four different monks. Before the fourth monk died, he said to Salman, ‘My companions who all sent you eventually over to me, I don't know anybody remaining upon that understanding of Christianity… But you're just about to come to the time when the man that Jesus Christ predicted is about to come,’ so this is definitely not Pauline Christianity, ‘We know it; the signs have been met… Go seek this prophet out.’
‘How?’ Salman asked.
‘I will tell you three signs. He shall appear in a land that is full of dates. He will have a physical mark on his back (the Khatim). This man will accept gifts, but he's never going to accept charity (To this day we can’t give charity to the descendants of the prophet).’
The land most known for producing dates in that time was Khaibar, which was near Medina (called Yathrib at the time) and so Salman tried to join an Arab caravan to travel there. However the caravan kidnapped him and sold him as a slave to some Jews who just happened to live in Medina. Eventually the prophet made the journey over to Medina and Salman overheard his masters saying, ‘The King of the Arabs has arrived.’ Salman thought that this might have been the man he was looking for, so he went to see him. He brought some dates to the prophet and said, ‘Here is some charity for you,’ however the prophet invited his sahabi to eat but didn’t eat himself. The next day Salman once again brought some dates and said, ‘Here is a gift for you,’ and this time the prophet ate as well. And so one of the signs was met. But how could he confirm the last sign? Salman needed to see the back of the prophet in order to see if the Khatim – a small growth of hair – was there, and so he went behind him and the prophet – understanding what he was trying to do – lowered his shirt to allow Salman to see. At this, Salman realised that this was the man he’d been waiting the last 20 years for, and so he finally reached the end of his long journey and became a Muslim as a very old man at the foot of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself.
From this we can see what an ignorant and dark place the world was just before the coming of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Narrated from a hadith: ‘Allah looked at the whole world and he despised everyone, except for some remnants of the people of the book.’ And this is how the world was, absolute jahilliah except for a few. After the prophet, there was never and will never be jahilliah in such a way every again, and this is why he was called noor by Allah as he illuminated the world with the truth. Without the help of Allah, without the mercy of the message and example of the prophet, no-one would ever reach guidance, and this is why the Seerah of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ is such a beautiful blessing unto us.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 004