The Society in Which the Holy Quran Was Revealed

 

To understand the verses of the Holy Quran and begin the process of comprehending the meanings which Allah (SWT) want us to understand, one should start by taking an examining and close look at the society which these miraculous verses from Allah (SWT) descended upon.  Without this look and close study, our understanding of the Quran will not stand on firm ground.  We cannot complete our comprehension of the Quran without understanding the nature of the individuals upon whom the verses were revealed, and the society in which it descended.  From this study, we will be able to recognize many reasons of the revelation and the wisdom behind the verses.  We will be able to show the divine approach which the Holy Quran took to raise and educate those people and train, discipline, then accommodate them.  Consequently, we will be able to enlarge the circle of our understanding of the holy verses to include all of the similar aspects in the different ages and times.  It will enable us to recognize the greatness of the Quran and the One who sent it, in dealing with the society which it descended upon.  It will clarify for us a lot of the facts and after that, we will be able to respond to the enemies of Allah and the religion, those who try and are still trying to criticize our religion.

 

In brief, we can summarize the society in which the Quran descended as follows:

 

POLITICALLY: 

 

A society that is ruled by a tribal system without a political system or organization of any type.  There is no state, but there are different tribes where each of them has independency and self-rule.  There were alliances, agreements, and treaties between these tribes to guard their economic and political interests.  The tribe is ruled by its chiefs with the help of its nobles who are usually the elderly and the wealthy.  The rest of the tribe give their absolute loyalty and complete obedience to their chief and dignitaries.  All of the tribe members know each other by name, and it is ruled centrally through a semi-totalitarian system.  The tribe moves as one unit in everything.  The prevailing common law in the tribe is the traditions and culture.  So whatever the parents used to do is inherited by the children.  Hence, there was similarity in the laws which govern most of the tribes because the traditions were almost the same.  Many tribes may have to live in one city and so they engage in a type of alliance together which secures for each tribe its independence.  However, there is also a type of confederation and combined leadership headed by the biggest and strongest of those tribes, but with complete participation from the chiefs and representatives of most of the other tribes.  The individual in a tribe entertains a great amount of personal freedom within the boundaries of loyalty to the chiefs and leaders of the tribe and in abidance to the common law.  He can talk to whomever he wants in whatever time he wants, and he can express himself and say whatever he wants.  He has some individual rights that are well recognized. Every tribal member has a respected identity and independence.  Abidance of pacts, treaties, and alliances were one of the most sacred things so long as the whole tribe abided by it.  No one from the tribe is allowed to fall behind from what the tribes decides, whether during the time of peace or war, and under any circumstances.

 

ECONOMICALLY:

 

A society that is generally poor and deprived and is built on trade and herding livestock to fulfill their needs of life.  The water resources are very rare and come from few seasonal rains and scattered wells.  The natural resources are very minimal and limited.  Most of the land is bare desert and rocky mountains.  Trade is mainly with Syria in the north and through it to the Roman Empire.  And with Iraq in the northeast and through it to Persia.  And with Yemen in the south and through it to India and Africa.  Trade takes place by caravans that move in certain routes in the middle of the desert and in the midst of surrounding dangers and long roadways.  This takes place once or twice a year and the tribe lives the rest of the year on the earnings of these merchant trips.  Through these trades, wealth grows and a rich class of merchants emerges.  They consequently become dignitaries and have a voice in the decisions made by the tribe.  There were big differences between the classes within a tribe.  In a tribe, the rich is always the one who is listened to and has influence, while the poor are deprived of any effect in the sequence of events or affairs of the tribe.  Those who have wealth from trade own everything including livestock and land.  As for the merchant who trades by himself in a caravan, he is more rich and influential politically than a merchant who hires other merchants to trade for him.  The first one usually makes more money because he takes profits in exchange for trading on behalf of others.  Agriculture is minimal and manufacture is very simple and usually takes place in the form of manual fabrics.  It is represented in making some kinds of swords and weapons and preparing animal skin.  That's why the regular person was poor and deprived and lived a simple life.  Usury dealing was common and was the easy way to develop wealth, gain profits, and suck the blood of the simple and poor people.

 

SOCIALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY:

 

It was an illiterate and ignorant society that was completely retarded.  Very few knew how to read and write and did not have any intellectual background.  All what an Arab knew about the world around him was through commercial caravans.  His communication with the outside world was very limited and only through trade.  Most of the tribal members live a Bedouin type of life and few live in cities which lack civilization.  So, life in it was not much different from Bedouin life except by the presence of permanent housing for its inhabitants.  The Arab minds were very stony and petrified, and they firmly held on to the traditions and culture which were inherited.  It rejects change in any way and refuses anything that it is not used to.  Bedouin and desert life taught the people how to be tough and harsh.  Women have no rights and they are a second-class citizen who is not compared to man and not welcomed.  Polygamy was the norm and women must not stay without a husband under any circumstances except in rare cases.  Having a lot of children was common in order to have more males.  Pride and vanity were the keys to the personality of an Arab and it was his main ambition and hope.  Blackmailing, sarcasm, cursing, and backbiting were his weapons.  Competition in gaining honor and showing off with anything and everything were his daily engagement.  War and fighting were normal for him which every tribal member must practice, due to frequency of fighting and struggles among the tribes.  Fighting had its rules and protocols that were inherited.  Sacrificing for the sake of the tribe and its dignity and honor was something which the young children were raised on.  There was no specific job that occupied a person's time.  People either herd the sheep, which is a job that gives that person a lot of leisure time.  Or they engaged in trade and business only once or twice a year.  As for the rest of the year, they enjoyed and entertained themselves.   So, the people had lots of long and spare times.  Ambitions were only for the big, noble, and rich people.  The system of adoption was widespread and the adopted one had all the rights that the biological son had.  The slavery system was part of the society and derived its source mainly from the battles. The defeated tribe members together with their women and children were taken as slaves for the service of the winning party.  Secondly, it derived its source from kidnapping and stealing children, whether from the other tribes or cities, or from outside the country through trade journeys.  The slave was a personal property of his master who does with him as he pleases, just like you own your shoes.  Poetry and eloquence in language was the water and air which the Arabs breathe and compete in.  Fulfilling promises and respecting pacts and word, and swearing and giving oath, courage, sacrifice, generous hospitality, good neighboring, answering the call, helping the needy, chivalry, and lack of betrayal were all essential traits for an Arab and were the standards by which his real Arab origin was assessed.  An Arab was most concerned with his reputation and image among the tribes and people when it came to these aspects.  Due to the fact that he was raised on honor and dignity, he looks at the other nations with a look of inferiority even if they are better than him.  So, racism was part of his being.  The desert, camels, mountains, boulders, rain, clouds and horses and cattle, and the nature surrounding an Arab were also part of him and he was part of them, due to his free time and loneliness because of the low population in relation to big space.  This gave him a big opportunity to think and contemplate over these things and to look and examine them until they became part of him in the end.  He felt that he is part of them and so they became like his family to whom he complains and listens to and does not oppose.

The main religion was idol worshipping that was influenced in the roots by the religion of Prophet Abraham.  This religion was based on statues which the Arabs sanctified and symbolized God for them.  Because Allah (SWT) cannot be seen, they worshiped Him through these stony idols.  They offered sacrifices of animals to these idols and gave money to it.  An Arab did that in most cases, not out of faith or belief, but as a routine and in abidance to the habits and traditions that his fathers and ancestors used to do.  Those fathers and ancestors whom he took pride in, so for him they were not less than these idols themselves.  With the passage of time, the Arabs came to see their idols as the real God in front of his eyes, so, they directly worshipped them.  Due to the fact that these idols do not control his life and does not forbid or permit, he felt comfortable with this type of worshipping which does not demand from him except some slaughters which he presented on specific occasions.  But his deep feelings regarding the presence of the One God and Creator were present and firm.  That was reflected in the pilgrimage trip which all the Arabs used to perform to the Kaaba every year, the House of Allah, in worship to Him through worshipping these idols that were present around the Kaaba and which they thought that brought them closer to Allah (SWT) whom they don't see.  So the awareness of God was present in the heart of every Arab and that was natural in a nation that was developed from Ishmael, son of Abraham (AS) and developed around the Sacred House of Allah which Prophet Abraham built so that the Allah (SWT) is worshipped alone.  However, deviation, distortion, and introduction of idol-worshipping completely disfigured this belief, mixed it with polytheism, and at the end pulled man away from his true religion.  It turned religion into a group of rituals which have no meaning or value.  Hence, religion to him became something superficial and secondary.

An Arab feels a sense of belonging to his family so he sanctifies his parents and grandparents no matter who they are.  He knows that his presence is derived from their existence and that his dignity and honor is derived from theirs.  So, consequently, he had big attachment to his brothers and sisters, as well as his uncles and cousins.  Keeping relations with his kin was very sacred to him and because of that he has strong attachment to his family.  He supports them, protects them, and does not go against them, whether they are unjust or just.   Without his family, he has no presence as his family stands by his side at all times, whether good and bad.  So the presence of a strong family around him was a type of protection and security which he actively participates in and shares with all his capabilities.  That comes above everything and before anything.  An Arab is talkative and has a strong personality.  If he believed in something or gave his word or promise, he should fulfill it and not care about anything for the sake of his belief and word of honor.  But before he believes or gives his word of honor, he carefully calculates everything because he does not want to force upon himself a word or promise that he can't fulfill.  So his word of honor was like a sword on his neck.  He did not give it unless he was absolutely confident that he can carry it out.  And if he gave it, he can not go back on his word or else the other tribes will use that against him.  He didn't give it up except for something that is much stronger than him which he can't resist.  Respect and veneration to the elderly of the tribe and within the family were very important to him.  He can not make any decision without consulting them first and without their approval.  As for the youth, they were used mainly for fighting, courage, dual combat, and to show off and have pride between other families and tribes.  They were the ones who protected and supported the elderly in the family and the tribes.  Friendship and companionship had very great importance and respect inside the Arab community and it is one of his foundations. 

Mecca which is the biggest cities of the Arabian peninsula, holds a unique and sacred position among the Arabs due to the presence of the sacred House of Allah in it and because it is the place from which the nation developed.  All of the tribes performed pilgrimage to Mecca once a year.  So, it was an important religious and commercial center.  Consequently, it entertained economical prosperity and political stability.  Quraish was the biggest tribe living in Mecca.  It was formed of different clans that were united together in something similar to a confederation and they shared self ruling with each other.  Quraish had a chief who was agreed upon between the clans of the tribe.  Usually this chief was considered to be the boss of Mecca and its Sheikh (chief).  The major clans of  Quraish were Banu Hashim, Banu Abd Shams, Banu Makhzoom, Banu Abdul Daar, Banu Taym and Banu Adey', etc.  Quraish held a special position among the Arabs because they are the neighbors of the sacred house of Allah (SWT) and they have control of Mecca and the surrounding area.  After Mecca, comes Taef which was inhabited by the tribe of Bani Thaqeef.  Then there was Yathrib which was inhabited by two tribes, Al Aws and Al Khazraj.  Then there was Khaybar and most of its inhabitants were Jews.  In the south, there was Najran and most of its inhabitants were Christians.  So, the presence of Jews and Christians among the Arabs was common and well-known.  An Arab usually looked at them that they were more knowledgeable about religious matters.  He submitted to the fact that they were more close to religion than him.  But because of his arrogance and dignity, he insisted that his idol worshipping religion was better and more important than their religions and prophets.  So, he felt strange from them because they were not Arabs like him.  An Arab by nature, felt lonely and isolated in the desert.  Therefore, he considered anything that did not belong to him as strange.  His camels, sheep, and idols which he worships were more important and closer to him than Jesus or Moses or even Abraham (May Allah be pleased with them).  But he felt loyalty and sense of belonging to Ishmael because he considered him to be one of his ancestors.  An Arab looked at the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) with a look of racism, but he had to deals with them and exchange benefits and respect with them.  But he didn't intermingle or mix with them.  An Arab did not believe in resurrection or life after death.  He denies that because it was beyond his limited ability of thinking.  He was narrow-minded and his horizons were very limited.  All of that made him more lenient to denying than believing, except what he sees with his own eyes and touches with his hands. So, he didn't believe in miracles or extraordinary things or spirituals.  His feelings and senses were firm due to toughness and hardship of desert life and because of the frequency of fighting and wars.  Hence, we find him burying his baby daughters alive with cold bold.  He married the widow of his father and he didn't care.  He married the wife of his son and he didn't care.  He practiced marriage of Shegaar and he didn't care.  He killed a hundred in one day and cut their heads and he didn't care.  So, he is far from being sensitive or having gentle feelings.  He loved wisdom and respected it and respected he who speaks it.  Due to his poverty and toughness of life around him and because of the importance of money in such circumstances, he loved money very much and he cares too much about it.