League of History

Time of Idolatry in Arabia

Idolatry was openly practiced all over Arabia. Four hundred years before the advent of Muhammad in an era of King Shapur of Persia, Amr bin Luhai bin Harithah bin Imra’-ul-Qais bin Tha’labah bin Mazin bin Azd bin Kahlan bin Bablion bin Saba, the King of Hijaz was the first to install the idol named Hubal at the top of the Kaaba and placed two idols Isaf and Nailah at the well of Zamzam and persuaded the people to worship them. This Amr bin Luhai had totally rejected the concept of the Day of Judgment. Yaguth, Ya’uq, Nasr, Wadd, and Suwa’ were adopted by different tribes for each of them had its separate idol. Wadd was carved in the shape of a man while Nailah and Suwa’ were in the form of a woman. Yaguth had the shape of a lion, Ya’uq of a horse, and Nasr of a vulture. Some tribes shared idols, Tasm and Jadais had a common idol. The Kalb tribe worshipped Wadd whose center was Dumat-ul-Jandal. Banu Tamim adored Taim. Suwa’ was worshipped by the Hudhail, Mudhij and the Yemenite tribes worshipped Yaguth. Dhil-Kala’ worshipped Nasr at Himyar, the Hamdan worshipped Ya’uq, Banu Mughith of Banu Thaqif tribe served as the guards of Lat at Ta’if, the Quraish and Banu Kinanah worshipped Uzza while Banu Shaibah were the caretakers of Uzza. Manat was adored by the Aus and Khazraj tribes, Jehar by Banu Hawazin, Awai by the Bakr and Taghlib, Muharraq by Banu Bakr bin Wail, Sa’d by Banu Malkan, Sa’eer by Banu Antarah, Amyanas by Banu Khaulan, Raza by Banu Tai, and Dhul-Kaffain by the Daus. Besides the idols mentioned, many idols like Jarish, Shariq, A’im, Madan, Auf, and Manaf were very famous and every one of them was the deity of one tribe or another. Whenever any congregation of idolaters was organized, and if an Arab was not able to attend it during the fixed days, he would fix a stone called Duwwar and go around it like the Kaaba to compensate for missing the congregation.

In Arabia, there were other centers of idolatry besides the Ka’bah. Ghatfan had constructed a house similar to the Kaaba and called it Qalis and they even performed Hajj there. Banu Khath’am had also built a house calling it Dhul-Khalasah to perform Hajj there. Dhul-Ka’bat was the center for worship of the Rabi’ah. There was a tribal temple in Najran also which was built with three hundred skins and was called the Kaaba of Najran. The idolaters of Arabia would visit it as they did with the Kaaba. Moreover, they had also built a Haram (sanctuary) around it were even a murderer or assassin was safe. On the top of the Kaaba, there was another idol called Shams. Pictures of Ibrahim, Ismail, Isa (Jesus), and Maryam (Mary) were also worshipped in the Kaaba.


The idolaters, when coming to perform Hajj, brought camels for sacrificing and offering to their idols. They had a practice ti;, suspend shoes from the necks of the camels and mark them to signify them as sacrificial animals. Nobody would then get in the way of the animals. Moreover, the calves of the camels, sheep, and other animals were sacrificed to the idols. Some of the tribes even sacrificed humans to the idols. According to some historians, the idolaters of Arabia believed in the Oneness of God and acknowledged Him as One. They worshipped idols because they believed that they will intercede with Allah for them. Some of the tribes entertained the belief that the person on whose grave a she-camel was sacrificed, will on the Day of Judgment, rise from his grave mounted on his she-camel. This belief indicates that they believed in the Day of Resurrection and some form of Judgment.


When the Arabs were still in ignorance, worshiping stars was very common. Historians have no substantial proof if Arabia, Egypt, Greece, or Persia were the first to institute the worship of stars or if they came to it separately. However, it is hard to imagine that worshiping stars came to Arabia from outside. The sun was worshipped by Himyar tribe, the moon by the Kinanah, Dahran by Tamim, Jupiter by the Lakhm and Judharn, Suhail by the Tai, Shera by the Qais, and Mercury by the Asad. Most of the tribal idols were named with the names of stars. Stone idols and noted stars were worshipped commonly by different tribes. They often based their important affairs on the rising and setting of certain stars.

It is not surprising that the people passing their days and nights in open fields and deserts had their attention focused on the stars and planets and acknowledged some of them as their deities. From Surat Nuh of the Qur’an it comes to light that even during the era of Nuh, Iraqi Arabs worshipped Yaguth, Ya’uq, Wadd, Nasr, and Suwa’, which are all named after stars. It makes it very clear that star worship in Arabia was a very old affair. The moon was worshipped more than any other object.


Soothsayers were found in large numbers in Arabia. A Kdhin was one who claimed to have information about the unseen events of the past while those giving information of the future were called Arra. Both men and women claimed knowledge of the unseen. Among the soothsayers of Arabia Af’a, Jadhimah, Abrash, Shaq, and Satih were well-known. Another kind of soothsayer was known as Nazir, they could tell about the unseen by focusing their eyes on a mirror or on a tray of water. They included casters of pebbles and the pits of fruit. They all belonged to the same category but they were ranked below the soothsayers, while those making amulets were considered the lowest.


The Arabs also believed in good and bad omens. They held crows to be very inauspicious and something that causes separation. Since the crow is called Ghurab in Arabic, they called traveling as Ghurbat, and the traveler as Gharib, as according to them, the influence of a crow causes separation and causes man to suffer the hardships of traveling. And owl was also very unlucky to them for its hooting cries, they believed caused death and destruction. Sneezing also carried an ill omen to them. Some of them were sorcerers and they dealt in sorcery and performed heavy exercises to befriend Satan.


Fighting would break out over petty matters and insignificant incidents. Once hostilities began they could linger on for several generations and even centuries. Most of their fighting started without any substantial reason. There were more than one hundred feuds during the Days of Ignorance in Arabia that were famous, for instance, Bu’ath, Kilab, Fatrat, Nakhklah, Qarn, Suban, and Hatib were the names of well-known feuds.

No tribe ever benefited from these feuds; they only suffered destruction and the loss of life and property. They had an old practice of putting to death the women and children of the defeated enemy after taking them, prisoner. However, if a person had eaten from their food or had received hospitality from them previously, they were safe from being killed. They would shave the heads of those whom they released.

Most disputes would be settled by a challenge to single combat. They took special care of their horses and weapons. The battle array of armies was not in practice. Anyone achieving perfection in swordsmanship, archery, cavalry, or fighting with lances was held in high esteem and his name and reputation would quickly spread far and wide. Some particular tribes gained distinction in the use of some particular weapon. They had special names for weapons, swords, bows, and horses, which were famous throughout the land. For instance, the name of the sword of Harth bin Abu Shimr Ghassani was Khudhum, while the sword of Abdul-Muttalib bin Hashim was called Atshan and that of Malik bin Zubair was Dhun-Nun. These pieces of evidence let us know that the people of Arabia had a great zest for fighting and killing. This is the reason behind thousands of names given to horses and swords in Arabic.


Arabs in the Age of Ignorance had no custom of observing Hijab (covering of women) and their women would come freely before strange men. The lack of the necessities of life and other time-consuming affairs, an irresponsible sense of freedom, overindulgence in poetic composition, their assertion of pride and superiority, and the hot climate of the country were enough to instigate this tendency. Anyone who never fell in love with a strange woman was disrespected. Some tribes were renowned for their lovemaking. Banu Adhrah’ s love gained so much celebrity and renown that it became proverbial: That is, so-and-so is a love greater than Banu Adhrah. Someone asked a bedouin which tribe did he belong to? He replied that he was from a tribe that when they fall in love they pass away. A girl heard it and remarked: “By the Lord of Kaaba, you are from Banu Adhrah.”


The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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