Encyclopedia of Islam Myths: The social dynamics behind the rise of Islam!
Muhammad was not a prophet of God, but was in the right place in the right time, who said the right things in the right way, to transform a rapidly changing Arab society into the religion of Islam.
The social transformations under Islam that Muhammad was able to make because he was in the right place at the right time:
Before Muhammad conquered Mecca: Security based on tribal associations (tribal based)
After Muhammad conquered Mecca: Security based on being a Muslim. (religion based)
Forces that were in place in Muhammad's life that made all the pieces fall into place for the major transformation in the Arab world take place:
- When Muhammad was young, he was an orphan that felt first hand what it was like to be outside the inner circle.
- Muhammad was older, he had been cast out of his tribe and felt first hand what it was like to exist without tribal security. Exploiting the Haram (protection area) to his own personal advantage, Muhammad's reforms under the banner of Islam, were quite self serving.
During the years just before he received the call to prophethood Muhammad must have been increasingly aware of the unsatisfactory social conditions in Mecca. This was something he could observe for himself and did not require to be shown by revelation. The fundamental source of the trouble was that the traditional values of nomadic society (which was that of the recent ancestors of the Meccans ) were proving inadequate in the prosperous mercantile economy of Mecca, and were fading away. The wealthy merchants, who were also the leading men of the clans, were neglecting the traditional duty of caring for the needy and unfortunate among their kinsmen. Their great wealth made them proud, arrogant and presumptuous, ready to oppress and take advantage of any who were in any sense weak. Some of the Qur'anic evidence for these attitudes was presented in the last chapter. Muhammad may well have come to see the root of the troubles as the secular, materialistic outlook of the very wealthy, and may even have decided that this could only be got rid of by some form of religious belief. (Muhammad's Mecca, W. Montgomery Watt, Chapter 3: Religion In Pre-Islamic Arabia, p26-53)
Through a combination of divine revelation and great personal character, Muhammad brought humanity a religion that offered alternatives not only to the idolatry and bigotry of the desert Arabs but also to the Judaism and Christianity that were operating in and around the Arab world. In the Quran, Islam had its equivalent of the Torah and the Gospels; its Sabbath fell on Friday rather than Saturday or Sunday; and in place of the synagogue and church, Islam offered the mosque, combining the teaching and praying functions of both. (The Joy of Sects, Peter Occhigrosso, 1996, p394-397)
The rise of "Allah" to prominence in the pantheon at Mecca was commensurate with the rising status of the Quraysh. The pagans in and around Mecca at an earlier date had already considered him the supreme deity. The attributes associated with "Allah" before Islam, namely his being regarded as creator of the world and lord guardian of contractual obligations of the wayfarer and fate, were preserved in the Islamic conception of him. That he enjoyed a high status during this period is evident in the deference accorded him by certain Christians and non-Christians, like the Sabians and the Magians, who regarded Allah as a deity and even implored their indigenous gods to intercede with him on their behalf. The Sabians not only made ritualistic sacrifices to Allah and sent offerings to the Ka`bah, but even regarded their astral gods as "companions of Allah." Perhaps it is owing to this recognition of Allah that the Muslims later extended their protection to both Sabians and Magians even though they did not strictly qualify as possessors of scriptures in the same context as Christians and Jews. What is of significance to the mission of Islam is the trend toward socio-religious centralization in Meccan society on the eve of the advent of Muhammad. While laboring to establish and safeguard their economic ascendancy, the merchant oligarchy of Qurayshites, ruling Mecca brought about a transformation of values, most important being the establishment of security under law in lieu of kinship. Thus when Muhammad preached social unity and solidarity on the basis of Islam, he was exploiting a trend already in evidence. In the area of the haram a stranger was afforded protection because of the sanctity it enjoyed. The support of a native patron would be called upon only when an injustice was perpetrated against the stranger. To be born or to sojourn in the sanctified environment of the Ka'bah gave non-Qurayshite Arabs precedence over others. (Islam, Beliefs And Observances, Caesar E. Farah, p2-7, 26-35)
Of paramount importance to the development of the central socio-religious function of Allah in Islam as an equalizer and a force of solidarity was this pre-Islamic institution in Mecca. When rights and obligations, hitherto unrecognized outside membership in the tribe, became extra-familial or extra-tribal in the jiwar of the haram, it was the prerogative, if not indeed the responsibility, of Allah to serve as imposer and guarantor. When Muhammad called upon all Qurayshites to forsake the idols and place all their faith in Allah, it was not the novelty of the preaching as much as the fear of economic loss from having to abandon guardianship over the Ka`bah, home of the idols of pagan Arabia and the target of the profitable pilgrimage as well as an all round stimulant of trade, that impelled them to resist him, even by force. (Islam, Beliefs And Observances, Caesar E. Farah, p2-7, 26-35)
But in this crucial period of Mecca, when traditional socio-religious values were giving way to new ones, the evolving system was not free from injustices; otherwise Muhammad would have lacked the wherewithal for his preaching of a new socio-religious system based on submission to one God. The discriminatory and exploitative policies of the "inner Quraysh" toward the "Quraysh of the outskirts" (clients and slaves), gained for Muhammad an audience, the earliest target of his preachings, and provided him with a core of early followers. (Islam, Beliefs And Observances, Caesar E. Farah, p2-7, 26-35)
The need for a remedial treatment such as that offered by Muhammad in his message of Islam was timely because demands for reform could not have been avoided much longer. The role of Muhammad was indeed preordained. (Islam, Beliefs And Observances, Caesar E. Farah, p2-7, 26-35)
Written by Brother Andrew
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