The essay shall explore the concept of the jahiliyyah and demonstrate the importance and impact it has to understand the origins and development of Islam. The Jahiliyyah is a core and critical part of the foundations of Islam, that certain elements of the jahiliyyah were borrowed, adopted and developed; whilst other elements were discarded as Islam evolved. It is important as aspects of the jahiliyyah period continues to have an influence after the advent of Islam. Elements of the jahiliyyah such as the geographical location; the political, social and religious life; pre-islamic literature, rituals of the Ka’ba and the role of Women have shaped the understanding of Islam. The term ‘Jahiliyyah’ means the period of ignorance or barbarism; reflecting the Arabian culture before the birth of Muhammad(Mvumbi, 2010). The concept reflects the period in which Arabia had no dispensation, no knowledge of Allah or one God and no revealed sacred text (Hitti, 1987). The Jahiliyyah represents a cultural milestone, as Muslims believe they transitioned from an period of ignorance to the period of knowledge and enlightenment (Armstrong, 1991). The religious situation of Jahiliyyah is important to examine in order to understand Islamic monotheism. The religious situation of pre-Islamic shapes one’s understanding of the origins and developments of Islam, as Islam is a civilization, culture and religion. The importance of the concept is because Islam developed and built on a previous Arabian religion. Firstly the understanding the geographical location and characteristics of that period would inform and shape one’s understanding of Islam and culture. The Arabian peninsula is covered with desert and divided in two sectors: the north and the south(Mvumbi, 2010). The geographical characteristics influences the cultural and religious situation.The northern part were a pastoral society and the southern part had permanent settlements such as Yemen and the Bedouin lifestyle (Mvumbi, 2010). Areas such as Yemen were important because of its advanced civilizations, fertile land and rich agriculture. Most areas were hospitable, rich in food and water, and trades such as spice trades (Hoyland, 2001). The desert created a harsh environment with extreme conditions, the climate varied from north to south influencing people of the time to be nomadic (Brockelman, 1960). The nomadic lifestyle created sub-cultures which led to the diversity of languages. The trade, agriculture and linguistics are central notions that have had significant importance to Islam religion and culture (Goodman, 1999). .
For example, it is believed that Muhammad was a trader who stimulated the growth of trade in Mecca (Goodman, 1999). It is strongly believed that Islam and arabian’s spiritual consciousness was born the vastness of the desert, this strongly emphasise why it is important to understand Jahiliyyah as the roots of Islam begin in this period (Mvumbi, 2010). The Arabians within that period believed in religion, were more polytheism focus than the monotheism perspective of today. They believed in deities, these deities were the daughters of Allah, the supreme God (Husayn, 1982). They built temples for their idols in particular at Makka it was the most religious place. These notions of Jahiliyyah reflect Islam; as the Islamic faith was first revealed in Makka and the fact that Arabians had the notion of a supreme one and only God prior to the rise of Islam (Mvumbi, 2010). The surrounding religion such as Judaism and Christianity whom had a monotheistic faith influenced the Arabians and Islam of today. This reinforces that Arabia prior to Islam shared unity of God before Muhammad (Mvumbi, 2010). These key principles demonstrate that Islam was a revival and continuation of Jahiliyyah and this stresses the importance of that concept. Another element of the Jahiliyyah period was the political and social life, such as the Bedouin society. The political structure was tribal based, that consisted of individuals who participated in larger groups (Weissleder, 1978). This tribal aspect reflects the adopted leadership of Muhammad; as tribal rulers were seen as an arbitrator than a ruler (Weissleder, 1978). This political structure influenced the Shura system. The legal system of this period was based on tribal or customary law which influenced the Islamic communities of today(Weissleder, 1978). This element reinforces why Jahiliyyah period shaped the origins and understanding of Islam. Similarly the social integration of pre-Islamic shapes our understanding of Islam. The notion of social integration developed within the Byzantine and Sassanic period (Hoyland, 2001). The Sassanic dynasty influenced the Islamic administrative system, it was also the aftermath of the competition dwelling between the two dynasties (Hoyland, 2001). Although these dynasties were competitive they shared a common values such as being imperialists and harmony (Hoyland, 2001).
The imperial commercial network meant that the leaders had to negotiate and political rapports were created with the empires and harmony prevailed. The Bedouins became the foundational symbol of Arab nationhood identity (Hoyland, 2001). They became the nationhood identity through their significant oral transmitted poetry and written Arabic literature, which became the basis and core language and humanity of Islam (Hoyland, 2001). The pre-Islamic poetry was very fine and unique, it became the linguistic standard of the interpretations of the Qu’ran. It is noted that the pre-Islamic poetry was a central aspect of tribal humanism and in a sense contributed to Islamic humanism (Hoyland, 2001). This once again support that the pre-Islamic period intertwines with key principles of Islam and shapes one’s understanding that Islam adopted foundational principles. Along with the highly praise Arabic poetry and language, is the adopted style of language such as Saj of Kuhhan. The rhyming structure a distinguishing feature of Saj became Arabic prose (Hoyland, 2001). The style of Saj is evident within the Qu’ran, by understanding the style one may understand the socio-cultural context that this emerged from; as well as how the pre-Islamic language has been adopted by Islam. Another adopted principle of the pre-Islamic period was the role of the Ka’ba and religious practices. It is important to explore the rituals of the Jahiliyyah concept to notice the similarities, adoptations and continuation of principles that is reflected in Islam. For example, during the Jahiliyyah, there was sacred truce period to the Ka’ba which occurred for three months, the annual pilgramage which is now the ritual of the Hajj for Muslims (Armstrong, 1999). The only other difference of the role of the Ka’ba was during that time within the Ka’ba there was three hundred and sixty idols of worship within the Ka’ba (Armstrong, 1999). The practice of Islam such as fasting could be reflected in the pre-Islamic practices however it was the exclusion of hunting and sexual activity (Armstrong, 1999). So rituals that were practiced throughout the pre-Islamic period were adopted and integrated into Islam. By examining these rituals it reinforces the importance of understanding the pre-Islamic period. By understanding the concept of Jahiliyyah one would understand the continuity, the improvements and changes of principles demonstrated within Islam.
These changes, adaptation can be viewed through the ideals of women and marriage within the pre-islamic period and the ideals of women and marriage in Islam. For example, pre-Islamic period; endogamy, polygamy and polyandry were common. Whereas,
Qu’ranic revelations indicates the focus on polygamy rather than polyandry; however it was revealed at the time where the socio-context had increased numbers of widows. Similarly, the idea of an temporary marriage, this within pre-Islamic period was instigated by a woman; however in the Shiite practice it is only permissible by the man. This notion parallels with divorce, women were allowed to dismiss their husbands; however with the Shari’s women are disadvantaged when in attempt to divorce. The gender inequality is reflect in women’s roles as well. Women in pre-Islamic period were given a status, they were involved in divination and had a religious function; they also had the status of entertaining. However, Orthodox Islam has rejected the principle of giving women status and equality. The role of women within the pre-Islamic period reflects how Islam does not always adopt the principles of pre-Islamic period, but rather rejects some notions. As the essay demonstrated the period of Jahiliyyah has significantly contributed to the success of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission. Significant features of the Jahiliyyah such geographical location; the political, social and religious life; pre-islamic literature, rituals of the Ka’ba and the role of Women have shaped the understanding of Islam. These features have demonstrated the Islamic religion within context of it’s origins and development. By understanding the concept of the Jahiliyyah one can understand which features are adopted, integrated, improved and rejected as Islam evolved.
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