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Context of pre-Islamic Arabia

Muhammad spreads revelations rejecting the idol worship of Mecca and urged his followers to submit to God, forming a religious community that became the Islamic faith.
Let's read two historical excerpts and think about how they provide global and religious context for the development of Islam.

The global context in the early 7th century

First, let's look at what the world looked like before the emergence of Islam.
H.G. Wells is a well known science fiction author from the early 20th century, but he also wrote a two-volume, non-fiction history of the world. Below is the beginning of his chapter on Islam. As you read this, think about why he felt it important to start with a global perspective.

From A Short History of the World, H.G. Wells, Chapter 43: "Mohammed and Islam"

A PROPHETIC amateur of history surveying the world in the opening of the seventh century might have concluded very reasonably that it was only a question of a few centuries before the whole of Europe and Asia fell under Mongolian domination. There were no signs of order or union in Western Europe, and the Byzantine and Persian Empires were manifestly bent upon a mutual destruction. India also was divided and wasted. On the other hand China was a steadily expanding empire which probably at that time exceeded all Europe in population, and the Turkish people who were growing to power in Central Asia were disposed to work in accord with China. And such a prophecy would not have been an altogether vain one. A time was to come in the thirteenth century when a Mongolian overlord would rule from the Danube to the Pacific, and Turkish dynasties were destined to reign over the entire Byzantine and Persian Empires, over Egypt and most of India.
Where our prophet would have been most likely to have erred would have been in under-estimating the recuperative power of the Latin end of Europe and in ignoring the latent forces of the Arabian desert. Arabia would have seemed what it had been for times immemorial, the refuge of small and bickering nomadic tribes. No Semitic people had founded an empire now for more than a thousand years.

Beginning of reading passage footnotes.

Wells, H. G., A Short History of the World. New York: The Macmillan company, 1922; Bartleby.com, 2000.
End of reading passage.
What do you think was H.G. Wells' intent in these opening two paragraphs in the chapter on Islam?
Choose 1 answer:

How might the author's mention that "the Byzantine and Persian Empires were manifestly bent upon mutual destruction" be directly relevant to the eventual rapid spread of Islam in the 7th century?
Choose 1 answer:

Religious context of the Middle East and Arabia during the life of Muhammad

In the passage above, H.G. Wells paints a picture of the global context. In the following passage, Reuven Firestone gives the religious context of the pre-Islamic Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula.
As you read this, remember that Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last in a line of prophets which include Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Also, much of the Qu'ran relates to the narrative in the Hebrew Bible and Gospels.
Think about how these connections might have influenced the adoption of Islam.

From An Introduction to Islam for Jews, by Reuven Firestone

By the generation of Muhammad's birth in about 570 CE, most of the Middle East had abandoned its local polytheistic religious systems and had taken on Judaism, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism, the state religion of the Persian Empire. Despite the penetration of these religions into Arabia, the peninsula was never controlled by the foreign power. Arabia lay in a strategic location between Mesopotamia and Egypt, and between India and Africa. It produced valuable incense and was known for its gold; yet the harsh climate, the lack of a significant water supply, and the fierce independence of its inhabitants made it impossible to conquer...
In addition to indigenous Arabian polytheism and some forms of Judaism and Christianity practiced in the [Arabian] peninsula, there is evidence that other forms of monotheism were practiced there. These seem to have been expressions of indigenous Arabian monotheism, no doubt influenced by the success of Judaism and Christianity in the Middle East in general. The Qur'an refers to a believer who is neither polytheist, Jew, nor Christian as hanif.

Beginning of reading passage footnotes.

Firestone, Reuven, An Introduction to Islam for Jews. The Jewish Publication Society; First American Edition edition (May 19, 2008)
End of reading passage.
Why would the author consider it important to mention the influence of Christianity, Judaism, and Zorastrianism (and monotheism in general) in pre-Islamic Arabia?
Choose 1 answer:

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