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Posts Tagged ‘pre-Islamic period

Why this rich culture still untouchable to investigation?

Mind you that Ignorance(Jahiliya) period mentioned in Islamic rhetorics meant period of the people still Not believing in the monotheistic religions

Posted on April 2, 2010

Islam calendar starts in 622 AC, the date the Prophet Muhammad fled to Medina (Yathreb) from Mecca.

The past or before date zero, or the culture and tradition of pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula, has been practically untouched by researchers and Islamic investigators. though countless wonderful poems of that period are published and even much richer than poems written after that period.

The period prior to 622 or year one of “Hegire” is lumped as the period of ignorance (Jahiliyya) by Muslims.

The Arab World still teaches pre-Islamic poetry and poets; it is mostly through these poems that the “Arabs” emulated the vocabulary and were acquainted with the very rich parts of pre-Islamic culture, traditions, and customs.

Fact is, you cannot understand Islam without the contexts that pressured the prophet Muhammad to compromise with the multitude of tribes allied to Byzantium and Persia empires.

We can claim that a curtain (hijab) has descended on pre-Islamic period simultaneously with the veil that descended on women after the Prophet death.

Thus, women were banished from political power and dealing with political affairs in public, two decades after Muhammad’s death. In these first 3 decades, the beloved youngest wife Aisha of Muhammad was the most learned in Islamic laws and the context in which they were voiced.

Aisha taught many generations of women on their Rights and how to dictate themselves the marriage contracts…and the society followed in these “liberal” new customs of free meetings and gathering, free discussions and poetic jousts…and newer fashions among the women.

And Aisha confronted many faked and false Hadiths (stories of the Prophet behavior and activities) until her death at the age of around 60.

This is no coincidence that Islam after Muhammad’s death had made the connection between pulling a curtain on the Jahiliyya period and the veiling of women in society; removing women from the public political landscape.

During Jahiliyya, each Arabic tribe worshiped idols made of wood or stone; there were many Jewish and “heretic” Christian-Jew sects (as labeled by Christian Orthodox Byzantine Empire) in Arabia and in Mecca.

The 3 most potent and powerful idols were female idols such as Al Uzza, Manat, and Al Lat.  Although the tribes made their yearly pilgrimage to Mecca where the Kaaba contained over 360 idols, this pilgrimage was mainly for doing commerce and enjoying the weeklong festivities and debauchery. 

The main pilgrimage (hajj) for the powerful tribes was to their preferred idols in other locations and towns.

The pragmatic nomads in the Arabian Peninsula and the neighboring deserts have created idols commensurate to their individualistic needs to vent their frustrations with periodic sacrifices, including “handicapped” babies of both genders.

During Muhammad’s time, baby girls were mostly the sacrificial human kind by poor families, especially in periods of great food distress.

Since violence, revenge, and frequent wars “razzias” against other clans were the norm for looting of animals, camels, and slave girls…  powerful female goddesses were purchased and erected for pilgrimage as scapegoats to the tribes’ violent activities.

Thus, female goddesses represented violence, symbol that violence and revenge are the mark of female behavior and dark spirit.

For example, goddess Manat (death) was the oldest idol and was worshiped by the tribes of Aws and Khazraj that inhabited the region of Yathreb, later called Medina (the first Islam City-State).  The original meaning of Manat is taken from a Semitic root meaning “counting of the days of life” that connote death (manya).

The temple of Manat was a natural rock (sakhra) on the coast between Mecca and Yathreb; the two tribes considered that the pilgrimage was not complete until they stopped at the temple of Manat where they shaved their head and offered sacrifices. Manat was a powerful goddess dictator (taghia) and swords were deposited in her temple.

The Prophet gave his nephew Ali bin Abi Taleb the two swords in the temple after it was demolished; one of the sword was called Zulfiqar. 

Representatives of the tribes of Aws and Khazradj had extended permission to Muhammad, after three years of negotiation, to settle in Yathreb with his converts after the tribes of Mecca decided to chase them out.

The other female goddess was Al Lat and was worshiped in Taif, a region on the eastern shores facing Persia.  The main tribe of Taif, the Banu Thaqif, erected square walls around the rock of Al Lat.  Most desert tribes, all the way to Palmyra in northern Syria, worshiped this goddess.

Al Lat had all the attributes of goddess Athena wearing battle helmet, breastplate, armor, and holding a lance.  Banu Thaqif was one of the latest tribes to submit to Allah because Muhammad failed at several expeditions to enter Taif.

Actually, it was Taif that was the preferred destination to Muhammad when he decided to flee Mecca but he was chased out of Taif after his failed negotiation to settle there.

The third most powerful “taghia” goddess was Al Uzza (dignity, physical force and power); the most powerful tribe of Quraich in Mecca consecrated her. 

Al Uzza was the most violent divine warrior and was represented in the form of a tree or three acacias trees and located way up north in Nakhla as Shamiya on the way to Iraq’s caravans.

The temple of Al Uzza was equipped with a slaughtering alter (manhar) called “ghabghab”.  General Khaled bin Al Walid was ordered to destroy the temple of Al Uzza in 630 after Muhammad entered Mecca peacefully as the victor.

General Al Walid was the Quraish leader who defeated Muhammad’s troops in the battle of Uhud; this failed campaign of the Prophet generated 3 years of civil unrest in the City-State of Medina and most of the verses that abridged female equal rights that were previously gained in the first four years.

Note: About ten years after Muhammad’s death, the Arabic Islamic Empire had extended vastly.

The governor Abu Mussa al Ach3ari wrote to the second caliph Omar bin Al Khattab: “You sent me several letters that were not dated.” Omar assembled a council to set up a calendar.

A few opted to using the Byzantium calendar, others the Persian calendar, but the majority recognized that a calendar means power and wanted an Arabic/Islamic calendar.

The discussions led to adopting the date of the Prophet’s immigration to Medina in 622 AC as Date Zero. Omar had said: “this is the year that divided truth from falsehood.”

Islam lunar calendar is of 354 days and started with the month of “Muharram”; the pre-Islamic particular month that prohibited wars and revenge among clans.

In pre-Islam, the tribes used to add one month on the third year for calibration with their commercial dealings. Muhammad forbid to add this month; thus, the Islamic calendar is one year ahead for every 33 Christian years since the year 622.

What if a sticky myth can’t be disproved? Who is Tah Hussein?

I lean for the notion that a myth has factual features, though the story becomes fundamentally a myth by successive alterations.  So what?  Most novels are claimed to be fictions, though there is no doubt authors are describing their own feelings and positions in many sections of the novel.

For example, there is this story of Abraham and his sons Ismael and Jacob and his many wives, legitimate or not.  Obviously, there is no way to disprove this story (this story should not be a big deal: it must have been a common story among families and societies, related to customs and traditions at the time and in the region…)  

For example, all the monotheist, which I prefer to label mono-idolatery, religions (Jewish, Islam, and Christian) claim Abraham for father figure, and they discriminate their religions based on Abraham’s descendents.  In fact, if these religions didn’t disseminate the Abraham story as true, who would care if it was a factual story or one of the famous mythical fictions?

The process of disproving a myth, or its inherent value and the futile labor in investing time in non-documented research, is not the theme of this article. 

My question is: “If you know that there is no adequate means to tackle disproving a myth connected to religious beliefs then, is it worth antagonizing religious people just by stating that (their convictions are based on myths) and not having the moral courage to specializing in all the aspects of the myth?”

Some people would say: “If this myth is wrecking havoc to the unity of society (meaning  of disturbing conformity) then, is it your moral obligation to say that a myth is a myth until proven otherwise?”

Some people would say: “If the impacts of this myth is redundant on society then, it is a crime to approaching and taking out the skeletal of this myth and making it an issue that harms peaceful coexistence and encourages extremist, racist, and obscurantist elements around the myth.”

For example, in 1926, the late Egyptian author Tah Hussein published “On poetry in Jahilyya” (the pre-Islamic period in the Arabic Peninsula.)  First, who is Tah Hussein?

Hussein was blind by birth and is dubbed “Dean of Arab literature”. He continued his education in France and received a doctoral on his thesis related to Ibn Khaldoun (Ibn Khaldoun lived in the 15th century Tunisia and is known as the founder of sociology or ethnography). Hussein divorced his Egyptian wife and married a French woman Suzanne.

“On poetry in Jahilyya” Hussein claimed that his critique is Cartesian; which means a rational method requiring the author to “forget” or set aside all that he knew on a subject matter and then, starts with a clean sheet re-studying the topic from a rational and scientific perspective. Obviously, the sentence “forgetting what we knew” cannot be feasible; saying that an author has to do his best to starting with a neutral position might seem more accurate, but it is not:  How can you get interested in a topic if you are essentially neutral about it? (see note 2)

In one of the chapters of this monumental manuscript, Hussein proposed several views.

First, Hussein claimed that Abraham is a fictional character (but he failed to back up this contention) in his drive to discrediting many religions meddling in literature, which obscured and prevented serious investigations for the development of the Arabic language and literature: religions asserted facts that are principally myths in nature.

For example, Islam (submission to Allah), by claiming Abraham as the founder of Jewish and Islam religions, was a gimmick  adopted by the Prophet Muhammad to uniting Jewish and Christian sects into one comprehensive and common denominator system of belief.

Hussein might not have known then that:

1. Muhammad’s father was a convert to one of the “heretic” Christian-Jewish sects in Mecca (“heretic” was a label extended by the orthodox Byzantium Church);

2. One of Muhammad’s uncles was the Patriarch of this sect;

3. Muhammad joined his uncle once a year, and for an entire month of fasting, prayer, and meditation;

4. Muhammad was versed and immersed in the belief system and the stories of his uncle’s sect.

Second, Hussein proposed that the Prophet Muhammad read his verses in seven Arabic dialects corresponding to the main Arabic tribes in the Arabic Peninsula. (The Coran was finally codified during the third Caliph Othman bin Affan (from Quraich tribe of Mecca) into the Quraichi tribe dialect.)

Third, Hussein claimed that it is not true that Islam was the first religion that the Arabic Peninsula experienced.

Fourth, Hussein denounced the zeal of claiming that the genealogy of the Prophet (the successive clans and tribes) must be the best among the tribes.

There are more propositions which incited the ire of the clerics in Al Azhar who took Hussein to court.  Hussein didn’t hesitate to cancelling this “controversial” chapter from his next versions titled “On Jahilkiyya literature”.  Actually, the press coverage of the proceedings had disseminated the views of Hussein extensively among the intelligentsia in Egypt and the Arab World.

What was striking in these court proceedings is that the prosecutor basically defended the book in a 40-page investigation; the investigation was balanced and rational and the book was not condemned.  That was Egypt between the two world wars; a period of enlightenment that the Lebanese immigrants participated mightily in promoting freedom of speech and opinions in dailies and magazines.

Note:  Tah Hussein published another highly controversial book “The future of Egypt’s culture”.  In this book, Hussein claimed that Egypt culture is basically a Mediterranean Sea culture and a close relative to Greece, Italy, and France, but in no way related to the cultures in Persia and India.  Hussein demonstrated that most of Greek and Roman intelligentsia studied in Egypt, before a few returned to their City-States and established their own schools.

Hussein proposed that ancient Greek and Latin be taught at Egyptian schools as was the case in Europe at the turn of the century. (I think that is the case of the culture in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. It was the case of coastal Turkey till the 16th century).  In the 16th and 17th century, the Ottoman Empire experienced total embargo with Europe, economically and culturally, due to its military expansions in Europe. The Ottoman Empire had to turn toward Iran and India to satisfying all its demands in all fields and sectors.  You may read my article “Lions and lionesses in the Fertile Crescent”

Note 2: The famous poet of the 8th century (Baghdad) Abu Nawas was asked by his mentor to memorize 1,000 pieces of poems.  The next season, the mentor demanded from Abu Nawas to doing his best forgetting all the poems he has memorized.  This was an exercise of renewing with your own personality and character…


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