Background of the Birth of Islam

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Background of the Birth of Islam Author:
Category: Ideological Concepts

Background of the Birth of Islam

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Author: Al Khawarizmi
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Background of the Birth of Islam
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Background of the Birth of Islam

Background of the Birth of Islam


This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Alhassanain (p) Network for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Background of the Birth of Islam

Author: Al Khawarizmi

Table of Contents

Preface 4

Method Suitable for Theological Research 5

A Methodology for Research in Theological Topics 6

How to Come to Believe in Religion? 8

A Supplementary to the Method 10

In Answer to Another Question 11

Question: 11

Answer: 11

Where to We Begin? 13

Birthplace of Islam 14

A brief description of Arabia 14

Origin of Arab Tribes 16

Mareb Dam 17

Cultural Situation 19

Economic Situation 19

Form of Government in Pagan Times 20

Role of Judaism and Christianity 21

Judaism in Arabia 22

Christianity in Arabia 23

Situation of the Heading Tribes of the Quraish 25

Position of the Keeper and custodian of the Ka'aba was the top most in first-rate precedence 25

Iran Before Islam 28

A) Ancient Iran 29

Geographical Situation 32

Civilisation 33

Class Structure and Social Divisions 34

Progress in Learning 35

Religion in the Achaemenid Period 37

Iran in the Sassanid Period 38

Supremacy of Religion and Political Power 38

Zoroastrianism as the State Religion 39

Administration of the State 40

Social Class Structure 42

1) Foreign Policy 42

The Appearance of Manichaeus 44

The Rise of Mazdak 44

Conditions Prevailing in Iran at the Time of the Rise of Islam 45

Questions and Answers 46

Question: 46

Answer: 46

Question: 47

a. Civilisation 47

b. Laws, Traditions and 48

C) Government in Ancient Egypt 49

Questions and Answers 50

Question: 50

Answer: 50

Question: 50

Answer: 50

Question: 51

Answer: 51

Abyssinia Before The Birth of Islam 53

a) General Conditions 53

b) Re-discovery of Abyssinia 54

d) The Story of Abraha 56

e) The Event of Aam-ul-Feel 57

f) Migration to Abyssinia 58

g) Questions and Answers 59

Question: 60

Answer: 60

Question: 60

Answer: 60

Question: 60

Answer: 60

Question: 61

Answer: 61

Question: 62

Answer: 62

Factors Of Success 63

Conclusion 63

Principal Factors for the Movement's Success 66

a) Unshakable Faith 66

b) Competence and Efficiency 66

c) Decisiveness 66

d) Peculiarities of Prevailing Political Environment 67

e) Decisive Response 68

f) As a Herald of Freedom 69

g) Filling the Existing Socio-political Vacuum 69

Bibliography 72

Notes 74


The well known writer and analyst of historical developments, the late Martyr of Islam, Ayatullah S. M. H. Beheshti, better known as Shaheed Beheshti to his innumerable admirers, both in Iran and abroad, narrates in an interesting free style the historical conditions attending upon the birth of Islam.

In his book of the same title, "Background of the Birth of Islam" he sets forth the sociological, political and religious conditions in the wide area surrounding Arabia. Probing deeply into the ancient history of the neighbouring peoples and states and the two great imperial powers of the day, namely Persia and Eastern Roman Empire, as well as the Yemen, Egypt, Abyssinia, Jordan and Syria,

Shaheed Bcheshti carries the reader on a wide ranging journey around those ancient lands. Narrating skill fully the captivating tales of the fire-worshipping Zoarastrians and Mani and Mazdak religions of ancient Persia,

the influence of Christian church in Egypt and Abyssinia and the pagan tribes of the interior of the Arabian peninsula, the writer brings out the essentials of the socio-political factors which lead the more pronounced effects of the early days of what was to become the universal faith of Islam.

The book comprises a series of lectures delivered by Shaheed Beheshti during the years 1966-7 in the Hamburg Islamic Centre. Addressing predominantly a group of Iranian students in Germany every Saturday he attracted a general audience of international students and others interested in Islam. The last of those lectures was delivered on 28 October 1967.

In the opening chapters of his book, Shaheed Beheshti has delved at some length on the characteristics of an appropriate research methodology to deal with religious subjects which he then follows in setting out his geographically distributed chapters concluding each chapter with brief question answer discussion and conclusion.

Undoubtedly this brief work will be a valuable addition to his other numerous writings and prove an inspiration for all while reflecting his devotion to research study and deep insight. May his soul ever rest in peace.

S. T. H. Khwarazmi

Method Suitable for Theological Research

The topic under discussion is understanding Islam and the world Muslims. But what I wish to discuss first is what research methodology is suitable for theological discussion; or, in other words the approach is research in religious matters.

Discussion of any subject itself dictates when that the method should be appropriate to that subject. For example, today, when a researcher wishes to discuss and carry out research of a particular disease, he selects a particular methodology, makes a survey of the symptoms and effects of the disease and its treatment, and recommends that a number of patients suffering from that particular disease should be placed under observation and subjected to various clinical tests of their tissues, blood, urine etc.

and analysed to prepare a scientific table in order to diagnose the peculiarities of that disease and the manner of its treatment, and identify the bacterial factors and establish the cause of infection.

Today if someone wishing to establish the symptomology of the disease and arrive at a diagnosis, instead of employing the necessary means such as well-equipped laboratories and hospitals, statistical data, and experiments on animals and human beings, declared that for the diagnosis he has decided to proceed by conducting a nightly study of the stars for forty nights past midnight to discover the symptoms and cause of illness and the procedure for treatment of that disease, he will be made fun of in the scientific circles.

He would be told that in choosing this course, even if he went to a well-equipped observatory to study the movement of the stars, their form, and how they rise and set, such activities and thoughts would not bear even the slightest effect on the patient, or the cause of his disease, on an its effects nor its treatment.

Or if he were to declare that for the purpose of studying this matter he had decided to place an astrolabe in front of him and in accordance with special signs and calculations provided by the astrolabe and even computing by the art of arithmetical numbers, he will discover the cause and effects of that disease and its cure,

again science would laugh at him, and say to him: To identify a disease as far as human intellect has been able to establish requires that a study of the patients be made and laboratory tests and experiments be conducted and their results compared in order to diagnose that disease.

If someone declares in a session how nice it would be to secure some information about the way the people lived in Indonesia three thousand years ago, and if the interest of those present in the session was aroused in studying the precise details about the life and beliefs of those people scientifically and thus undertake a scientific project, naturally we would ask them about their approach to this research.

If they answer that they have decided to confine a number of Indonesians in a hospital and give them blood tests in order to analyse these people's life three thousand. years ago, this, too, would provoke laughter.

For such proceedings as the blood and tissue tests, no matter how useful those might be for the diagnosis of a disease or its treatment, yet it would not be of the slightest value for learning about the life of Indonesians who lived three thousand years ago.

Let us take a step further. Among the various political systems which is the best system for organising and administering a society, the communist or socialist or the capitalist one; which is more valuable and beneficial from an economic point of view. Either democratic or dictatorial forms among the existing political systems are more suitable? How should a researcher set about this task?

Someone might suggest that observation would be the best way to clarify this problem. If we were to ask how could observation be applied, they would answer by carrying out calculations about the 'physics' of the society and see what form the society and its organism should take.

But the research methodology used by an atomic scientist for atomic research would hardly be practicable for a study of various social systems, and its conclusions would be irrelevant. Thus it is quite evident that the method chosen for the study and research in any subject must be appropriate for that subject.

A Methodology for Research in Theological Topics

The foremost issue in our discussion is what method without any prejudice, is suitable for gaining an understanding of a religion? In my opinion the proper method for an understanding of a religion is to get hold of the original source material of that religion,

and work on it in the way of research in narratives and traditions - neither experimental nor intellectual approach - but rather as in the study of history which in modern methodology is called 'Historical Research Methodology'. Working on the reliable sources of that faith we can gain an understanding of it whether we believe in that religion or not.

Let us take the example of a religion which we do not believe is. For instance, wish to study Buddhism and know what Buddhism is. Neither intellectual, mathematical or scientific discussions, nor physical or chemical arguments would produce any result. Astrological or celestial discussions would equally be of no value.

The correct way to understand Buddha's laws would be to refer to reliable historical sources, and evaluate them from the viewpoint of authenticity and validity, and then compare them, and gather all that has been for and against the Buddhist faith, and through a comparative study draw scholarly conclusions about what Buddhism really is, whether we believe in it or not. This is the first consideration about understanding any religion.

Suppose we wish to know what Judaism is, and what is the religion of the Jews. Here exist two aspects: either the object is to know what the present day Jews believe in and what are their actions and beliefs, or the purpose may be to know what the original Jewish faith was at the time of its appearance, and what had (Moses) Musa (a.s.) delivered to the Israelites as a religion.

There are two different methods for these two aspects. The research into the religion Moses brought for the Israelites, has no relation with physics, chemistry, mathematics, celestial aspects and the rest. Research in this aspect requires close study of the Old Testament, the interpretation of the Old Testament, and the books written about this faith by the contemporary Greek and Egyptian historians because unfortunately no other sources are available.

To proceed with our study we collect these sources make a comparative study taking into account all pros and cons about this faith to be able to conclude, in a scholarly manner, what had Musa (a.s.) really delivered.

But if the object were to understand the Jewish faith in the contemporary world, we should send a number of investigators to various parts of the world to see how the Jews practise their religion in their every day lives. We should study their publications in various languages, interview their religious leaders, and collate all the information gathered to reach conclusions about the Jewish ideology and their practice in the present day world.

Similarly with regards to Islam, if we wish to study it, irrespective of being Muslims, there are two approaches: firstly, when we wish to know what the Muslims believe in and how they practise it, and, secondly when our purpose is to study the Islamic faith, namely the nature of Islam which was delivered by Muhammad (a.s.) bin-Abdullah. If we wish to study the Muslims of to-day, or those of one, two or five centuries ago the approach is the same.

To study their state to-day, we should travel to various countries. In this respect the Europeans adopt the proper method, and thus most of their writings are accurate, since they travel to various places, and observe things closely, make personal contact, ask questions, take pictures and make films, and so they declare that the Muslims of certain regions live in such and such a manner.

Of course sometimes they make hasty judgment after visiting only a few towns and villages and announce their views, whereas such a conclusion does not conform to a scientific methodology.

what they can conclude after such insufficient visits and observation is that in such and such villages and towns Muslims live in such a manner and not generalise it to include the entire Muslim population of the world, since such a generalisation would be incorrect and contrary to the scientific method.

If we wish to say what kind of Islam was brought by Muhammad (a.s.) for mankind from Allah, we should first gather all the reliable sources including the Qur'an, traditions, contemporary history and writings of the Prophet's time, even those opposed to the Prophet, and after a thorough study, comparative research and evaluation conclude that this is what Muhammad (a.s.) introduced as Islam.

There is no other way, since none of the other scientific or investigative research methods bear any relation this topic which deals with the original form of a religion and its present day practice.

How to Come to Believe in Religion?

The next issue is related to one's desire to accept a religion, or when someone sincerely wishes to follow a certain religion and be convinced of his choice. How should one proceed in such a case? In my opinion, in this case there is but one way and that is that once one out of conviction declares,

"I believe firmly that so and so is a Prophet of God and what he proclaims is based on divine revelation, and he quotes the words of God. I believe in the sayings and teachings of this Prophet, I affirm that all these are true."

The point that merits attention is that when a person accepts a religion, the basis of his conviction in that he regards the Prophet to be a true Prophet and that his source is incontrovertible and certain. He knows that the Prophet speaks the truth. No scientific reason is needed to substantiate the Prophet's proclamation since the fact of his being a prophet is in itself sufficient reason.

The Prophet's being righteous or that someone believes in him may not be scientific reasons but support his being a prophet. If one should accept the words of a prophet on the basis of sufficient scientific reasoning, it is fine and there is no harm in it, but this is not faith and we cannot call it religious conviction. Religious conviction means accepting the words of the prophet because he is a prophet.

If I declare that Islam is a true religion and base this assertion on certain wise and ingenuous laws of Islam, it is fine there being no harm in it, indeed it is highly desirable, but yet it cannot be termed religious conviction.

If, for example, on the basis of this Islamic law that ablution and taking a bath is necessary after sexual intercourse, I should enumerate a number of advantages and benefits for this bathing from the hygienic, medical and spiritual points of view, it would be fine and there is no harm in it.

But should a polluted person resort to bathing because of those benefits, his action would not be approved as a religious obligation, since his washing would resemble washing the hand when it is dirty. Bath after a sexual intercourse is obligatory for every Muslim because Prophet Muhammad (a.s.) ordered it and all Muslims follow it because Muhammad (a.s.) is the Prophet.

Principally this is the proper religious attitude and belief; nothing else would be called a religious attitude whether a religion is true or not, and whether Islam be a true faith or otherwise. Therefore a religious attitude with regard to this matter for a Muslim is that wherever he performs a sexual intercourse, he is obliged to take a bath and he does so because the Prophet said so.

But if he resorted to reasoning, saying that pollution held many disadvantages on account of exudations from the root of every single hair and hence bathing was a wise and advisable thing to do and then added a number of other benefits for his action, no harm is done but then what is the real motive behind cleansing the body for a Muslim?

Is it on account of these benefits and qualities, or because the prophet said so? What motivates a Jew to stop work on Saturdays? If you ask him why he doesn't work on Saturdays, he answers that Moses (a.s.) has said so. It would not be right to call the Jew ignorant or stupid from a scientific viewpoint. Or should we then expect him to ponder philosophically about this matter in search of an answer.

With regard to the second point which is related to the belief in religion, the proper course is that as the first step using deep reflection and reasoning one should discover convincing reasons as to the existence of a God and then believe that Abraham (a.s.) or Moses (a.s.), or Jesus (a.s.) or Muhammad (a.s.) is the Prophet of God. These two steps should be taken with the aid of intelligence and reflection.

It is these two stages which warrant the application of our intelligence. If a person's reflection, intelligence, wisdom and knowledge fail him in securing a belief in God and in a prophet of God such as Moses (a.s.) or Jesus (a.s.) or Muhammad (a.s.) or Abraham (a.s.) or Noah (a.s.) or in Buddha as a prophet, or in Zoroaster as a prophet, it would mean failure in his first step.

But if after reflection, reasoning and applying his intelligence he developed a belief in one God and in a prophet of God, then the steps that follow would require no intellectual, or scientific reasoning, since thenceforth every word of the prophet would have validity for him and he would act accordingly. On the other hand whosoever, inspite of convincing reasons, fails to comprehend that these are indeed the Prophet of God has lost in the first step.

Thus the proper methodology suited to theological discussion is that while discussing belief in God, in a prophet and prophethood, we can apply intellectual and the so-called scientific reasoning.[1] But as we descend from the level of God and prophet, and come to discuss such problems as the reason why pork was forbidden, our answer is: Because it is forbidden in accordance with such and such a verse of the Qur'an.

This is sufficient reason and nothing more remains to be said. When they ask what is the reason for such and such a form of government in Islam, we answer: Because such and such a tradition, or such a historical record or such a verse of the holy Qur'an say so. Or we may say that according to such and such a verse of the Qur'an, such form of Government is wrong in Islam.

There is no room for such discussions as are normal for social issues. Of course it would be valid to say that we ought to understand each of these injunctions of Islam, since many of them have been misunderstood, or wrongly interpreted or not understood at all. This would be another approach. For instance, all of us accept the question of slaughter (of animals to food), but it is another matter to ask about its underlying philosophy and what has Islam ordained about it.

Let us choose a better example to make the subject clearer, namely the question of pronouncing the marriage vows or the marriage rites. Why is it that the marriage vows make a man and a woman lawful for each other? The answer is: Because this verse and that tradition say so. This is an sufficient reason. But then: What are the marriage vows?

To comprehend this matter fully, it needs to be explained. In Hamburg a man and woman came to be married, both of them were Iranian Muslims. When I spoke to them about the matrimonial vows and explained the term and recited it to make their marriage legal. When the rites were over, they said: "we wish someone had explained these things to us in Iran".

I asked how was that? They said, "what we have seen in Iran is that a number of men and women get together and a priest comes along and recites a number of Arabic phrases which no one understands, and then they declare that the concerned pair had become lawful to each other. This we do not understand".

Naturally it is necessary to understand the meaning of the marriage vows, apart from the reason for it. Whenever the subject of marriage comes under discussion, does it mean merely the recitation of a number of Arabic phrases for half an hour or does it imply something different, if so what is it? For a proper comprehension of these matters the field for free discussion is wide open to attempt to understand what Islam had said on the basis of the divine Book, traditions and history.

The third question is related to our desire to understand the benefits; virtues and or occasionally even disadvantages in Islamic injunctions. Should someone say that Islam has created a problem in forbidding the use of alcoholic beverages, here too, the matter is open to debate. Even if we were to make up a thousand and one advantages for the ban on alcohol, those still would not constitute a reason for the ban on alcohol in Islam, since the only real reason for it is the verse of the holy Qur'an or a tradition.

Let us recapitulate the main points of the discussion thus far:

For a proper understanding of a religion, the basis is its original sources which should be studied in the manner of historical research and not experimental investigation nor philosophical inquiry.

To believe in a religion one should first acquire a belief in God and prophet through sufficient intellectual reasoning. Then in the next stage, whatever the prophet has said becomes religion for the believer; no other approach is of any consequence.

For a proper understanding of Islam and the spirit of its teachings or any other religion it is necessary to verify those subjects with one's personal and social life and then evaluate them in close interrelation. This is another field open for discussion for understanding the commandments of Islam or of any other religion.

One can freely discuss all the good or bad points of any precept of Islam or any religion which come to the mind. One is free to examine them. Should one count thousand and one defects, it still would not constitute a reason for its invalidity, nor would a thousand and one virtues be a reason for its validity. In this manner, I believe we could proceed to discuss. Any other approach to evaluate Islam, Judaism or Zoroastrianism would mean a deviation from the right path.

For instance if we begin to discuss the importance of fire from a physical and practical viewpoint or problems of life and such matters and thereby conclude that Zoroastianism is a true faith, or vice versa, prove it to be a false religion, either approach would be a deviation from the right course.

A Supplementary to the Method

The question that arises here is, if a person in his choice of a religion wishes to know whether Islam was better or Christianity or Judaism and has not yet reached a decision, what should he do? As a supplementary to complete the method, we can add that at this stage all blasphemy is permissible and nothing is forbidden.

Now if a total nonbeliever says that he has no faith, what should he do in his choice of a faith, should we tell him to go and make a survey of all the religions, and compare them and then decide which one is better and then make his choice? And if this procedure were necessary, would a person's lifetime and his capabilities suffice?

In this regard my answer concerning the choice of a religion is that this approach is not feasible What he should do is to follow the phased method which I have indicated earlier.

First step: Is the person who is to be accepted as a prophet by the seeker as truly a prophet and a prophet of God, and is there really a God who has this man as his prophet? This is common to all religions, namely those which profess belief in one God. Here the word religion is used in a general sense to include those faiths which profess a belief in God and a prophet.

If this seeker found adequate evidence that God exists then a comparison and survey of various religions would be to no avail or not of much use at the least not essential. What is important is the conviction that God exists and He has a prophet and it is essential that the teachings of that prophet be strictly followed.

And should that prophet be followed by another prophet who I may believe has been sent by God, then it would be necessary to study this new faith and if it proved to be true then the new prophet takes precedence.

As for those whose prophet was the last prophet, no verification about subsequent claimants to prophethood is required. If sufficient evidence was provided by the acknowledged Prophet that he would have no successor, further verification is not necessary since our belief in him and in his declaration that he would not be succeeded by another prophet would be sufficient reason to believe in him.

But had he predicted a successor to himself, the task before his followers would be easier and shorter. Therefore a study and comparison of all religions is neither necessary, nor practicable and nor is it likely to produce any effect.

In Answer to Another Question


For a proper recognition of a religious school, as you said, faith in God is a simpler method, but each divine religion explains God in its own peculiar way. So in order to identify which one is the true God, we must have recourse to the original prophet. In the present age it is no easy task to gain access to that prophet and verify his actual sayings.


Every person who wishes to acquire belief in a faith, must follow this process, whether it is a simple task or a hard one. Each person must study and confirm that a prophet called Jesus did actually exist or not and whether he was a prophet or not. If it was confirmed that Jesus (a.s.) was a prophet, it would be enough, since you would be a reliable source.

Having recognised that Jesus (a.s.), Moses (a.s.), or Muhammad (a.s.) is a prophet, you must acknowledge his teachings and act upon them. Of course which of his sayings we should act upon is the next stage, not our primary objective. However, what proof is there that Muhammad was a prophet? Our investigations in this case should proceed as for historical research with an extensive study of historical sources in order to acknowledge the fact that fourteen centuries ago, one Muhammad, had indeed existed who was a prophet of God. Other than this there is no way.