Lectures Week 2, January 11-15, 2011
Arabia before Muhammad
a. a desert surrounded by fertile land
b. Tribal pastoral nomads, surrounded to the North and East by the great
c. Those bands always a nuisance to settled lands, never a threat.
d. Occasionally Romans or Persians attempt to take control of Arabia, with very
e. Few permanent settlements, agriculture only in oases such as Yathrib.
f. Polytheistic religion, major shrine the Ka’aba in Mecca.
g. Some familiarity with Judaism and Christianity and some interest.
h. The Koran mentions “hanifs” – saintly men who are “neither Jews nor
Christians” who were associated with monotheism.
a. Mecca is a town in the Hijaz, the coastal region of northeast Arabia.
b. It lies in an extremely arid region, not in an oasis, and had very little
c. In the time of Muhammad it is small, and relatively poor, made up mostly of
d. But it is already
a holy city.
e. Mecca is home to the Ka’aba – a holy stone, the Zamzam spring, and the shrine
f. It is an important site of pilgrimage long before Islam.
g. The main occupation of the inhabitants is trade, in caravans from Yemen and
beyond to Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia
g. The dominant tribe of Mecca are the Quraysh, who are (according to tradition)
the guardians of the Ka’aba.
f. Their founder is Qusayy, 5 generations before Muhammad
Who was Muhammad?
a. born around 570 to the Hashimiyya clan, a mid-ranking clan of the Qurayshi.
b. orphaned as a child, raised by his uncle, Abu Talib.
c. According to legend, participated as a child in the construction of the Ka’aba
d. Became a trader, like his relatives, and traveled extensively, coming into
contact with Jews and Christians.
e. Worked in the service of a wealthy widow, Khadija, and at 25 married her (she
f. Till the age of 40 was a respected, but hardly outstanding, member of the