Syed Ameer Ali.

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whose name is preserved in the Koran, seems to have extended
his power even beyond the confines of the Arabian peninsula.
He is said to have conquered Irak, and even approached the
borders of India. This tradition probably points to the
invasion of Babylonia or Chaldaea by the Arabs more than
2000 years before Christ, and possibly might be referred to
the same event which, in Persian traditions, is called the
invasion of Zahhak. The same Shaddad, or one of his successors
bearing the same name, carried his arms into Egypt and farther
west. This invasion of Egypt by the Arabs has been identified
with the irruption of the Hyksos into that country. And the
way in which the nomadic invaders were ultimately driven
out of Africa by a combination of the princes of the Thebaid,
with the assistance of their Ethiopian or Kushite neighbours
towards the south, gives some degree of corroboration to the

The bulk of the 'Adites are said to have been destroyed by a
great drought which afflicted their country. A small remnant
escaped and formed the second 'Adite nation, which attained
considerable prosperity in Yemen. These later 'Adites,
however, were engulfed in the Joktanide wave.

The Bani-'Amalika, supposed by Lenormant to be of
Aramaean origin, who are undoubtedly the same as the Amale-
kites of the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures — the Shashu
of the Egyptian monuments — expelled from Babylonia by the
early Assyrian sovereigns, entered Arabia, and gradually
spread themselves in Yemen and Hijaz, as well as Palestine
and Syria. They appear to have penetrated into Egypt, and
gave her several of her Pharaohs. The 'Amalika of Hijaz
were either destroyed or driven out by the Bani-Jurhum, a
branch of the Bani-Kahtan, who had originally settled in the
south, and subsequently moving northwards, overwhelmed the

The Bani-Thamud, who, like the Bani-'Ad, were Kushite


or Hamitic, inhabited the borders of Edom and afterwards
the country named Hijr, situated to the east of Arabia Petraea,
and between Hijaz and Syria. These people were troglodytes,
and lived in houses carved in the side of rocks. Sir Henry
Layard, in his Early Travels, has described the ruins of these
rocky habitations, and one can fix the exact location of the
Thamudites by comparing the Arabian traditions with the
accounts of modern travellers and the results of recent dis-
coveries. As the " indispensable middlemen " of the com-
merce between Syria and Najd or Hijaz, the Thamudites
attained a high degree of prosperity. They were, ultimately,
in great part exterminated by Chedorlaomer (Khuzar al-
Ahmar), the great Elamite conqueror, in the course of his
victorious campaigns in Syria and Arabia. The terrible fate
which overtook these ancient cave-dwellers, who, in their solid
habitations, considered themselves safe from divine wrath,
is often referred to in the Koran as a warning to the Koreishites.

After this disaster, the rest of the Bani-Thamud retreated to
Mount Seir, on the north of the Elamitic Gulf, where they
lived in the times of Isaac and Jacob. But they soon dis-
appeared, doubtless absorbed by the neighbouring tribes, and
their place was taken by the Edomites who held Mount Seir
for a time. 1 These Edomites were apparently succeeded in
their possessions by a body of Arabs driven from Yemen by
the Bani-Kahtan. In the days of Diodorus Siculus, under the
same name as their predecessors they furnished contingents
to the Roman armies.

Leaving the Tasm and Jadis and other smaller tribes, as
too unimportant to require any specific mention, we come to
the Bani-Jurhum, who, also, are classed under the head of
'Arab ul-'Ariba, and who appear to have overwhelmed,
destroyed, and replaced the 'Amalika in Hijaz. There seem
to have been two tribes of that name, one of them, the most
ancient, and contemporaneous with the 'Adites, and probably
Kushite in their origin ; the other, descendants of Kahtan,
who, issuing from the valley of Yemen in a season of great
sterility, drove out the 'Amalekite tribes of Hijaz, and estab-
lished themselves in their possessions. The irruption of the

1 Gen. xiv. 4, 6.


Bani-Jurhum, of Kahtanite origin, is said to have taken
place at a time when the Ishmaelitic Arabs were acquiring
prominence among the 'Amalika, in whose country they had
been long settled. The Ishmaelites entered into amicable
relations with the invading hordes, and lived side by side with
them for a period. Before the advancing tide of the descend-
ants of Ishmael, the Jurhumites began gradually to lose their
hold over the valley, and before a century was well over the
dominion of Hijaz and Tihama passed into the hands of the
Abrahamitic Arabs. The development of the Must'ariba
Arabs suffered a temporary check from the inroad of the
Babylonian monarch, but, as we shall see later, they soon
recovered their vitality, and spread themselves over Hijaz,
Najd, and the deserts of Irak and Mesopotamia, where they
finally absorbed the descendants of Kahtan, their predecessors.

The 'Arab ul-Mut' ariba were tribes sprung from Kahtan,
son of Eber, 1 and were chiefly concentrated in Yemen. The
descendants of Kahtan had burst into Arabia from its north-
east corner, and had penetrated down into the south, where
they lived for a time along with the 'Adites of the race of Kush,
subject to their political supremacy, and at last became the
governing power. The population sprung from Kahtan
was not, however, exclusively confined to Southern Arabia.
Their primitive cradle lay in Mesopotamia. In moving south-
ward from that locality to Yemen, the Kahtanite tribes must
have passed through the whole length of the Arabian peninsula,
and no doubt left some settlements behind them along their

According to the Arab historians, the wave which entered
the peninsula at this period was headed by two brothers,
Kahtan and Yaktan, the sons of Eber or Heber. And it was
the son of Kahtan, Yareb, whom they regard as the first prince
of Yemen, who gave his name to all his descendants and to
the whole of the peninsula. Yareb is said to have been
succeeded by his son Yeshhad, founder of Mareb, the ancient
capital oi the realm, and father of the famous Abd ush-Shams,
surnamed Saba. This surname, which means Capturer, was
given to him on account of his victories. The posterity of

1 Ibn ul-Athir calls him Ghabir or 'Abir,


Saba became the progenitors of the various tribes of Kahtanite
descent, famous in Arab traditions. Saba left two sons,
Himyar (which means red) * and Kuhlan. The former suc-
ceeded to his father's throne, and it was after him that the
dynasty of Saba were called Himyary or Himyarite. 2 His
descendants and those of Kuhlan, his brother and successor,
alternately ruled Yemen until the century before Mohammed.
To this dynasty belonged the great Zu'lkarnain, and the
celebrated Bilkis, who went to Jerusalem in the time of
Solomon. 3

1 From the red mantle which he used to wear in imitation of the Pharaohs.

2 The Himyarite sovereigns of Yemen, who were styled Tobbas, seem to
have been from the earliest times in communication both with Persia and

3 There is considerable doubt as to the identity of Zu'lkarnain. Several
Mohammedan historians have thought that the Zu'lkarnain referred to in the
Koran is identical with Alexander of Macedon. This opinion, however, is
open to question. Zu'lkarnain in its primitive sense means " the lord of two
horns." When we remember the head-dress worn by the ancient Sabaean
sovereigns, the crescent-shaped moon with its two horns, borrowed probably
from Egypt about the period of this king, there can be little room for doubt
that the reference in the Koran is to some sovereign of native origin, whose
extensive conquests became magnified in the imagination of posterity into a
world-wide dominion.

Lenormant thinks that Shaddad, Zu'lkarnain, and Balkis were all Kushites.

Judaism was strongly represented among the subjects of the Himyarite
sovereigns, and in the year 343 a.c, at the instance of an ambassador sent to
Yemen by the Emperor Constantine, several Christian churches were erected
in their dominions. But the bulk of the nation adhered to the primitive
Semitic cult.

Towards the end of the fifth century, Zu-Nawas, known to the Byzantines
as Dimion, made himself the master of Yemen and its dependencies, after
slaying the ferocious usurper, Zu-Shinatir. His cruel persecution of the
Christians, under the instigation of the Jews, whose creed he had adopted,
drew upon him the vengeance of the Byzantine emperor. Instigated from
Constantinople, an Abyssinian army, under the command of Harith or Aryat,
landed on the shores of Yemen, defeated and killed Zu-Nawas, and made
themselves masters of Yemen. This occurred about 525 a.c.

Shortly afterwards (537 a.c.) Aryat was killed by Abraha al-Ashram, who
subsequently became the Abyssinian viceroy. It was under Abraha that the
Christian Abyssinians made their abortive attempt to conquer Hijaz. Yemen
remained under the Abyssinian domination for nearly half a century, when
M'adi Karib, the son of the famous Saif zu'l Yezen, whose heroic deeds are
sung up to the present day by the Arabs of the desert, restored the Himyarite
dynasty (573 a.c.) with the help of an army furnished by Kesra. Anushirvan.
On M'adi Karib's assassination by the Christians in 597, Yemen came under
the direct domination of Persia, and was ruled by viceroys appointed by the
court of Ctesiphon. Wahraz was the first Marzban. Under him Yemen,
Hazramaut, Mahra, and Oman were added to the Persian empire. The last
of these viceroys was Bazan, who became Marzban under Khusru Parviz
towards the year 606. It was during the viceroyalty of Bazan that Islam
was introduced into Yemen, and he himself accepted the Faith. The Persian


The traditions respecting the early Ishmaelite settlement
in Arabia relate back to the time of Abraham and his expulsion
or expatriation from Chaldaea. The descendants of Ishmael
prospered and multiplied in Hijaz until they, with their allies
the Jurhumites, were overwhelmed and almost destroyed by
the formidable king of Babylonia, Nebuchadnezzar, who, of
all the monarchs that endeavoured to attack the heart of
Arabia, was alone successful in wounding it seriously. The
foundation of Mecca was apparently co-eval with the establish-
ment of the Abrahamitic Arabs in the peninsula, for according
to the Arab traditions a Jurhumite chief named Meghass
ibn-Amr, whose daughter was married to the progenitor of
the Must'ariba Arabs, Ishmael or Isma'il, was the founder of
the city. About the same time was built the temple which
gave Mecca an overwhelming predominance over the other
cities of Arabia. Built by Abraham, that " Saturnian father
of the tribes," in the remotest antiquity, the Kaaba ever
remained the holiest and most sacred of the temples of the
nation. Here were ranged the three hundred and sixty idols,
one for each day, round the great god Hobal, carved of red
agate, the two ghazdlas, gazelles of gold and silver, and the
image of Abraham and of his son. Here the tribes came,
year after year, " to kiss the black stone which had fallen
from heaven in the primeval days of Adam, and to make the
seven circuits of the temple naked." Mecca was thus from the
earliest times the centre, not only of the religious associations
of the Arabs, but also of their commercial enterprises. Stand-
ing on the highway of the commerce of antiquity, it gathered
to itself the wealth and culture of the neighbouring countries.
Not even the Babylonian monarch could touch her mercantile
prosperity ; for, from the necessity of their situation, the
Arabs of Hijaz became the carriers of the nations of the world.

Mecca was the centre of the commercial activity which has
distinguished the Arabs at all times from the other nations of
the East. From Mecca eradiated the caravans which carried
to the Byzantine dominions and to Persia the rich products of

domination of Yemen was extremely mild. All religions enjoyed equal
toleration, and the chiefs of the different tribes exercised their authority in
their different tracts, subject to the control of the Marzban.


Yemen and the far-famed Ind, and brought from Syria the
silks and stuffs of the Persian cities. But they brought with
them more than articles of trade ; in the train of these caravans
came all the luxurious habits and vices which had corroded
the very heart of the neighbouring empires. Grecian and
Persian slave girls, imported from Syria and Irak, beguiled
the idle hours of the rich with their dancing and singing, or
ministered to their vices. The poet, whose poems formed the
pride of the nation, sung only of the joys of the present life,
and encouraged the immorality of the people. And no one
bethought himself of the morrow.

The Arabs, and especially the Meccans, were passionately
addicted to drinking, gambling, and music. Dancing and
singing, as in other Eastern countries, were practised by a class
of women occupying a servile position, who were called Kiydn,
or, in the singular, Kayna, and whose immorality was pro-
verbial. And yet they were held in the highest estimation,
and the greatest chiefs paid public court to them. 1 As among
the Hindus, polygamy was practised to an unlimited extent,
A widow (other than the mother) was considered an integral
part of her deceased husband's patrimony, and passed into the
use of the son ; and the atrocious and inhuman practice of
burying female infants was universal.

The Jews, chased successively from their native homes by
the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, had found among
the Arabs safety and protection. But they had brought
with their religion that bitter spirit of strife which was perhaps
the cause of the greater portion of their misfortunes. They
had succeeded, however, in gaining in Arabia a considerable
body of proselytes ; and at the time when Mohammed pro-
ceeded to announce his mission, Judaism was professed in
Yemen by a notable fraction of the descendants of Himyar

1 The moral depravity of the people is evidenced by the fact that these
women used to give receptions, which were attended by all the men of light
and leading in the city.

The town Arab was so passionately addicted to dice that he would
frequently, like the Germans of Tacitus, stake away his own liberty. It was
on account of these evils, and the immoralities associated with their practice,
that Mohammed wisely prohibited to his followers gambling, dancing, and
drinking of wine. The Ommeyyades revived all the three evils ; they repre-
sented, in fact, the uprise of the old paganism, which had been stamped out
with such labour by the great Prophet.


and Kinda, issue of Kuhlan ; at Khaibar and at Yathrib,
by the Kuraizha and the Nazir, tribes of Ishmaelite origin,
but naturalised as Arabs from very ancient times. The
Nestorians and the Jacobite Christians had also founded
colonies in Arabia. The deadly rivalry between these two
creeds to dominate over Arabia occasioned sanguinary wars
in the most fertile provinces. 1 Christianity had commenced
to introduce itself among some families of the race of Rabi'a
son of Nizar, such as the Taglibites established in Mesopotamia,
and the Bani Abd ul-Kais who were settled in al-Bahrain.
It flourished at Najran among the Bani-1-Harith ibn Ka'b ;
in Irak, among the Ibad ; in Syria, among the Ghassanides
and some Khuzaite families ; at Dumat ul-Jandal, among the
Saconi and Bani-Kalb. And some of the tribes who roamed
over the desert that lay between Palestine and Egypt were also
Christians. Magism and Sabaeism had also their representatives
among the Arabs, and specially among the Himyarites : the
Bani-Asad worshipped Mercury ; the Jodham, Jupiter ;
the Bani-Tay, Canopus ; the descendants of Kais-Aylan,
Sirius ; 2 a portion of the Koreish, the three moon-goddesses —
al-Lat, the bright moon, al-Manat the dark, and al-'Uzza, the
union of the two, — who were regarded as the daughters of the
high god {Bandt-ullah). Mecca was, at this time, the centre
of a far-reaching idolatry, ramifications of which extended
throughout the tribes of the peninsula. The Kinana, closely
allied to the Koreish politically and by blood, besides the star
Aldobaran, served the goddess 'Uzza, represented by a tree
at a place called Nakhla, a day and a half's journey from
Mecca. The Hawazin, who roamed towards the south-east
of Mecca, had for their favourite idol the goddess Lat, located
at Tayef. Manat was represented by a rock on the caravan
road between Mecca and Syria. The worship of these idols
was chiefly phallic, similar in character to that which prevailed
among the ancient Semites, the Phoenicians and the Baby-
lonians. But the majority of the nation, especially the tribes

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. i. p. 308 et seq. ; Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire, vol. vi. pp. 114, 115 ; Caussin de Perceval, Hist, des Arabes, vol. i.
pp. 128-131.

2 Koran, sura xli. 37.


belonging to the race of Mozar, were addicted to fetishism
of a very low type. Animals and plants, the gazelle, the
horse, the camel, the palm-tree, inorganic matter like pieces
of rock, stones, etc., formed the principal objects of adoration.
The idea of a Supreme Divinity, however, was not unrecognised ;
but its influence was confined to an inappreciable few, who,
escaping from the bondage of idolatry, betook themselves to a
philosophical scepticism, more or less tinged with the legendary
notions, religious and secular, of their neighbours, the Sabseans,
the Jews, or the Christians. Among these some distinctly
recognised the conception of the supreme Godhead, and, revolt-
ing at the obscenities and gross materialism of their day,
waited patiently for the appearance of a Deliverer who, they
felt in their hearts, would soon appear.

Among some tribes, in the case of a death, a camel was
sacrificed on the tomb, or allowed to die from starvation, in
the belief that it would serve as a conveyance for the deceased
in a future existence. Some believed that when the soul
separated itself from the body, it took the shape of a bird called
Hama or Sada. If the deceased was the victim of a violent
death, the bird hovered over the grave, crying askuni, " Give
me drink," until the murder was avenged. Belief in J ins,
ghoals, and oracles rendered by their idols, whom they con-
sulted by means of pointless arrows, called Azldm or Kiddh,
was universal. Each tribe had its particular idols and particular
temples. The priests and hierophants attached to these
temples received rich offerings from the devotees. And often,
there arose sanguinary conflicts between the followers or the
worshippers of rival temples. 1

But the prestige of the Kaaba, the chapel of Abraham and
Ishmael, stood unimpeached among all. Even the Jews and
the Sabaeans sent offerings there. The custody of this temple
was an object of great jealousy among the tribes, as it conferred
on the custodians the most honourable functions and privileges
in the sight of the Arabs. At the time of Mohammed's birth

1 Among others, the temple of Zu'1-Khulasa in Yemen, belonging to the
tribe of Bani-Khatham ; the temple of Rodha in Najd, belonging to the Bani-
Rabi'a; the temple of Zu Sabat in Irak; and that of Manat at Kodayd, not
far from the sea, belonging to the tribe of Aus and Khazraj, domiciled at
Yathrib — were the most famous.


this honour was possessed by his family ; and his grandfather
was the venerable chief of the theocratic commonwealth which
was constituted round the Kaaba. Human sacrifices were
frequent. Besides special idols located in the temples each
family had household penates which exacted rigorous observ-

Such was the moral and religious condition of the Arabs.
Neither Christianity nor Judaism had succeeded in raising them
in the scale of humanity. " After five centuries of Christian
evangelization," says Muir, " we can point to but a sprinkling
here and there of Christians ; — the Bani Harith of Najran ;
the Bani Hanifa of Yemama ; some of the Bani Tay at Tayma,
and hardly any more. Judaism, vastly more powerful, had
exhibited a spasmodic effort of proselytism under Zu Nawas ;
but, as an active and converting agent the Jewish faith was no
longer operative. In fine, viewed thus in a religious aspect, the
surface of Arabia had been now and then gently rippled by the
feeble efforts of Christianity ; the sterner influences of Judaism
had been occasionally visible in a deeper and more troubled
current ; but the tide of indigenous idolatry and of Ishmaelite
superstition, setting from every quarter with an unbroken and
unebbing surge towards the Kaaba, gave ample evidence that
the faith and worship of Mecca held the Arab mind in a thral-
dom, rigorous and undisputed." *

The divisions and jealousies of the tribes, 2 combined with
the antagonistic feelings which actuated one against the other
from religious and racial differences, had enabled the Assyrians,
the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Persians, and Abyssinians,
to become masters of various provinces in the north, in the
east, and in the south-west. The Abyssinians had even gone
so far as to invade Hijaz, with the intention of destroying the
national temple. But their power was broken before Mecca
by the sturdy patriotism of Abd ul-Muttalib. After twenty
years' oppression, they were driven out of Yemen with the
assistance of Persia, by a native prince, the son of the celebrated
Saif zu'1-Yezen. On his assassination by the Christians, the

1 Muir, vol i.Tntrod. p. ccxxxix.

2 These tribal jealousies and family feuds, which I shall have to describe
later, were the causes which led to the ruin of the Arab empire.


sovereignty he had enjoyed under the auspices of the great
Anushirvan passed entirely into Persian hands, and Yemen
became tributary to Persia. 1

Besides the direct domination which the rival empires of
Constantinople and Ctesiphon exercised over the various
provinces of Arabia, two of the greatest chieftains, the kings
of Ghassan and of Hira, divided their allegiance between the
Caesars and the Chosroes ; and in the deadly wars, profitless
and aimless, which Persian and Byzantine waged against
each other, sucking out the lifeblood oi their people from
mere lust of destruction, though oftener the right was on the
side of the Zoroastrian than the Christian, the Ghassanide and
Hirite stood face to face in hostile array, or locked in mortal
combat. 2

The heterogeneous elements of which the Arabian peninsula
was thus composed gave an extremely varied character to the
folklore of the country. Among uncultured nations, the
tendency is always to dress facts in the garb of legends. Im-
agination among them not only colours with a roseate hue,
but magnifies distant objects. And the variety of culture
multiplies legends, more or less based on facts. The Hamitic
colonies of Yemen and of the south-west generally ; the true
Semites who followed in their footsteps, like the Aryans in
the East; the Jews, the Christians, — all brought their traditions,
their myths, their legends with them. In the course of ages,
these relics of the past acquired a consistency and character,
but however unsubstantial in appearance, on analysis there is
always to be found underlying them a stratum of fact. In
the legend of Shaddad and his garden of Irem, we see in the
hazy past the reflection of a mighty empire, which even con-
quered Egypt — " of a wealthy nation, constructors of great
buildings, with an advanced civilisation analogous to that of

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. i. pp. 324, 327 ; Caussin de Perceval, vol. i. p. 138
et seq. ; Tabari (Zotenberg's transl.), vol. ii. pp. 217, 218.

2 The sedentary portion of the Arab population of Yemen, of Bahrain and
Irak, obeyed the Persians. The Bedouins of these countries were in reality
free from all yoke. The Arabs of Syria were subject to the Romans ; those
of Mesopotamia recognised alternately the Roman and Persian rule. The
Bedouins of Central Arabia and of Hijaz, over whom the Himyarite kings had
exercised a more or less effective sovereignty, had nominally passed under
Persian rule, but they enjoyed virtual independence.


Chaldaea, professing a religion similar to the Babylonian ;
a nation, in short, with whom material progress was allied to
great moral depravity and obscene rites." * In the traditional,

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 6 of 55)