History of the Arabs: The Arabian Peninsula
10 May, 2009
- The Arabs who inhabited it were mostly nomadic tribes (Bedou) who warred amongst themselves for the acquisition of spring water and grazing land, as well as against others to rob them of their agricultural produce, possessions, females and slaves. The desert is a sea of sand and the Bedouins were its roaming pirates. To acquire what they needed, they either bartered or raided (Ghazhou). The freedom of roaming the desert in search of pasture is the noblest pursuit in the eyes of the Bedouin. He disdains trade and agriculture, the products of both of which he can acquire by force or by barter as it suits him. It is one of the greatest ironies that the pagans who are so much reviled in the Quran were in fact infinitely better human beings than those who later became followers of Muhammad.
Contrary to the generally abusive, insulting and negative descriptions of the Pagan Arabs in Muhammadan literature, they actually had excellent traditions of chivalry, decency, hospitality, manliness and mercy that the followers of Muhammad could never attain. While there were fights and blood feuds among the pagan Arabs, some of which lasted for decades, the numbers of men killed in those skirmishes were very few compared to those annihilated wantonly and mercilessly in the ensuing wars of genocide and terror waged by the Muhammadan Muslims at Muhammad’s instigation. The blood ties, clan and tribal loyalties that bound each group together among the pagans were ultimately obliterated and destroyed by Muhammad through his hatemongering theology, based on the totally merciless and compassionless Muhammadan version of the god of the pagans, ALLAH.
Most historians, Arab or otherwise, confirm that the Semitic peoples of Iraq who succeeded the Sumerians, came from the Arabian desert in waves of migration to settle in the fertile lands of the Two Rivers. The history of the Middle East is one of continuous struggle between the sedentary people already domiciled there and the nomadic tribes that came regularly to dispossess them. This process contributed to the infusion of new blood into the indigenous people and the almost total absorption and assimilation of the ‘invaders’. The name Semitic is derived from that of the son of Noah (Shem) from whom, according to the Bible, the Semitic peoples are descended. The Hebrews (Ibri), were only one of hundreds of Semitic tribes that settled in Iraq (Mesopotamia; Land between Two Rivers) after migrating from the Arabian Peninsula. Hence, according to this scheme of things, the Jews who are the descendants of the Hebrews are of Arabian origin.
According to alleged Arab traditions, the Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (the maidservant of his wife Sarah). At this very crucial point, theology and history contradict each other; belief and fact become irreconcilable. If this tradition is correct, then the Arabs become the descendants of the Hebrews and not the other way round as history indicates. If this is the case, then who were the people who migrated from Arabia to start with? This is the conundrum of who came first: the chicken or the egg. According to some Arab historians, even the Phoenicians, Babylonians and Assyrians were originally from the desert of Arabia. These declarations are more wishful thinking than true.
It was the Hebrews after all, before any other people in the world, who revealed to mankind the clear idea of the One and Only God. Their Monotheism became the foundation for Mosaic, Christian and Muhammadan beliefs.
It is extremely important to point out here and now at the earliest possible point of the narrative an item that the followers of Muhammad rarely if ever point out: the fact that in the Arabian peninsula – as Arab historians also confirm- there were numerous tribes that were of pagan Arabian origin who had willingly and without coercion converted to the religion of the Jews (Mosaic faith), to Christianity or became Hanifs (believers in the God of Abraham). All of them were indigenous people who had every right to live in peace in their own land; they were natives – not outsiders or occupiers – of the peninsula. Many of them became very powerful and prosperous. These tribes that had contributed enormously to the commerce, religious input, industry, agricultural wealth and intellectual advancement of the people of Arabia in general, were subsequently dispossessed, forced to convert, massacred and/or deliberately pushed out from their native land Arabia by the new Muhammadan polity. They had existed there for centuries before the advent of Muhammad but their total ‘eradication’ was achieved in the extremely short period of about fifteen years.
The Jews of Arabia…
Neither Jewish nor Arab histories indicate as to when the Jews immigrated into the Arabian Peninsula. Contacts between Hebrews and Arabs were continuous throughout their histories. Israelites, in the reign of Solomon could have been sent on trading missions by land and by sea (from Etzion Geber/ Eilat) to the Arabian Peninsula. Further contacts and migrations into Arabia could also have occurred after the liberation of the Jews of Babylon by Cyrus the Great c. 520 BCE. Most probably, some of the Jews first moved among the Arabs as merchant traders. These migrations were enhanced by more during the Greek and Roman occupations of Judea and especially after the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 70CE and later after the Jewish Revolt of 135 AD. Many may have left to reside permanently in safer havens in the more fertile areas of the peninsula along the western coast and in the oases nearby.
By the time of Muhammad in 620 CE, there were numerous and very prosperous ‘Jewish’ tribes – Judaized Arabs – in the north of the Hijaz who occupied strategic and important oases. There were also thousands of them in towns, villages and oases mostly in agriculture (they cultivated most of the fertile tracts) manufacturing (Banu Qainuqa were smiths and armourers) and trading. Their most important centre of activities was Al Madina, (Yathrib). The name, Madina, is its Hebrew name, which means (Country) used even today by the Arabs and Muhammadans without actually knowing the origin of the name. Its most important Jewish tribes were the bani Nadir, Qurayzah and Qaynouqa.
The Judaized Arabs (addressed as JEWS henceforth for simplicity of narrative) had very important settlements in Mecca, Khaibar, Fadaq, Wadi’lQura, Taima and others. Those ‘Jews’, whether actual or converts, had adopted the Arab tribal organization; many of their customs and even the names of the tribes and of individuals were purely Arabic. They had assimilated comfortably among the pagan Arabs except with regard to their monotheistic religion and traditions. Their assimilation was so complete that even the names of the individuals among them reflected the exact names of their pagan Arab relatives. This was not at all surprising since it was similar to what assimilating Jews all over the Diaspora were doing. The prosperity of the Arabian ‘Jews’ was due to their superior knowledge of agriculture, methods of irrigation and the science of metallurgy as well as their energy, diligence and industry.
Until the advent of the Arabian version of Islam under Muhammad and his followers, there was no mention of any systematic wars, conflicts or hatreds between the pagan Arabs and the Jews of the peninsula; whether those ‘Jews’ were indigenous Arab converts or not. It is important to note that the Jews of the Hijaz made many proselytes among the Arab tribes.
Those ‘Jews’ – of Israelite descent or converted indigenous Arabs- were integrated and accepted by the pagan natives. It is important to repeat yet again, that the pagan Arabs were almost entirely nomadic people who abhorred and looked with contempt at the concept of tilling the land. It was the Jews who introduced the following fruit to the Arabians: Apples; apricots; watermelons; pomegranates; lemons; oranges, sugarcane; bananas and almonds among others.
The greatest and most important contribution by the Jews to Arabian agriculture and subsequently their heritage, was the introduction of the palm tree, which existed mostly in the fertile land of Iraq. It is called ‘Tamr’ in Arabic, whose root resides in the Hebrew ‘Tamar’ meaning ‘dates’.
The first Himyarite kingdom (from the tribe of Himyar), in south- west Arabia – where modern Yemen is situated – was established in about 130 BCE and lasted till 525 CE. This kingdom stretched over the Yemen in the south to Hadthramout in the west and the town of Najran in the north.
Among the nine kings known to historians of this dynasty, Abu Karib As’ad Kamil (c. 385-420), is reported to have conquered Persia and later embraced the faith of the Jews. It is not commonly known that the last Hymiarite king, Dhu Nuwas was a Jew. According to Al Tabari, he died in 525 in his wars with the Abyssinian Christians who had conquered and subjugated south- western Arabia. Arab historians attest to the fact that the Jewish tribes of Arabia always sided with the pagan Arabs against the African Abyssinians.
Al Jumahi (845 CE) devotes a section of his biographies (Tabaqat al-Shu’ara) to the Jewish poets of Al-Madina and its environs. Abu’l Faraj al Isbahani in his Al Aghani cites a number of Jewish poets in Arabia.
The Christians of Arabia…
Christianity of the Monophysite sect (that Jesus was partly divine and partly human), began to spread in the Middle East starting in Syria shortly after the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. It is alleged that the Emperor Constantine sent the first embassy to Arabia c356 under the leadership of Theophilus Indus, who succeeded in building three churches in Aden and the Himyarite country. Both Ibn Hisham in his (Sirah) and Al Tabari in his (Ta’rikh al Rasul), mention the conversion of Najran to Christianity about 500CE.
It should be pointed out here once more, that these converts to Christianity were indigenous Arabs and not ethnic strangers to Arabia. Despite this fact, and contrary to the original spirit of the Quran, according to the Al Baladuri in his (Futuh), Umar Ibn al Khattab, the second Khalifa/Caliph (successor to Muhammad), unilaterally and treacherously broke the solemn peace treaties that Muhammad himself signed with many of them and deported them to Iraq 635/6 CE for failing to embrace Islam. These native Arabs had as much right – if not more – to live in the Peninsula as the rising new converts to Muhammadanism. The Christian Arab tribes, just like the Jewish Arab ones, were later forcibly dispossessed or eradicated from the Arabian Peninsula, their homeland.
In general, the Christian Arab tribes sided with Byzantium against the Sassanid Empire (Persia) and their mostly pagan Arab tribes. One of the most important Christianised Arab tribes was that of Ghassan near Damascus. These tribes, because of their affinity to Byzantium, introduced to the Arabian Peninsula knowledge, agriculture and art that were not available before.
Among the most famous inter-tribal Bedouin wars was that of Harb al Basus between the two Christian Arab tribes of Banu Taghlib and their kinsmen Banu Bakr c. 485 CE. According to Arabic legend, this lasted for forty years. Another, tribal war was The Day of Dhais between the two Christian Arab tribes Dhubian and Abs. It was in this war that the greatest of Arab heroes, Antarah Ibn Shadad al Absi (Abyssinian) (525-615) distinguished himself as a poet and a fighter. His love for his lady Ablah and his deeds are immortalized in his famous Mu’alaqah; one of the seven wonders of pre-Islamic poetical literature.
Most important of all is the Hadith story of Muhammad’s entry in the Ka’ba:
“Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet entered the Ka’ba and found in it the pictures of (Prophet) Abraham and Mary. On that he said’ “What is the matter with them ( i.e. Quraish)? They have already heard that angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures; yet this is the picture of Abraham. And why is he depicted as practicing divination by arrows?” [Sahih al-Bukhari 4.570]
This shows that beyond a shadow of a doubt, there was a substantial influence made by the religion of the Christians upon the theology of the pagan Arabs long before Muhammad and his Quran.
I. Q. Rassooli is the author of “Lifting the Veil: The True Faces of Muhammad & Islam"