"It is He who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, to make it prevail over all religion,and Allah is sufficient as a witness." [Quran 48:28]
A certain Arab would walk the streets of Makkah at night, lost in thought. He was a member, no longer wealthy, of the noble clan of Bani Hashim. A strikingly handsome man of medium height with broad, powerful shoulders, his hair ended in curls just below his ears. His large, dark eyes, fringed with long lashes, seemed pensive and sad.
There was much in the way of life of the Arabs that caused him pain. Everywhere around him he saw signs of decay-in the injustice done to the poor and helpless, in the unnecessary bloodshed, in the treatment of women who were considered as no better than domestic animals. He would be deeply anguished whenever he heard reports of the live burial of unwanted female children.
Certain clans of the Arabs had made a horrible ritual of the killing of infant daughters. The father would let the child grow up normally until she was five or six years old. He would then tell her that he would take her for a walk and dress her up as if for a party. He would take her out of the town or settlement to the site of a grave already dug for her. He would make the child stand on the edge of this grave and the child, quite unaware of her fate and believing that her father had brought her out for a picnic, would look eagerly at him, wondering when the fun would start. The father would then push her into the grave, and as the child cried to her father to help her out, he would hurl large stones at her, crushing the life out of her tender body. When all movement had ceased in the bruised and broken body of his poor victim, he would fill the grave with earth and return home. Sometimes he would brag about what he had done.
This custom was not, of course, very widespread in Arabia. Among the famous families of Makkah-the Bani Hashim, the Bani Umayyah and the Bani Makhzum-there is not a single instance on record of a female child being killed. This happened only among some desert tribes, and only in some clans. But even the exceptional occurrence of this revolting practice was sufficient to horrify and sicken the more intelligent and virtuous Arabs of the time.
Then there were the idols of Makkah. The Kabah had been built by the Prophet Ibrahim as the House of God, but had been defiled with gods of wood and stone. The Arabs would propitiate these gods with sacrificial offerings, believing that they would harm a man when angered and be bountiful when pleased. In and around the Kabah there were 360 idols, the most worshipped of whom were Hubal, Uzza and Lat. Hubal, the pride of the Arab pantheon, was the largest of these gods and was carved of red agate. When the inhabitants of Makkah had imported this idol from Syria it was without a right hand; so they fashioned a new hand of gold and stuck it on to its arm.
In the religion of the Arabs there was a curious mixture of polytheism and belief in Allah-the true God. They believed that Allah was Lord and Creator, but they also believed in the idols, regarding them as sons and daughters of Allah. The position of the deity in the Arab mind was like that of a divine council, God being the President of the council of which these other gods and goddesses were members, each having supernatural powers, though subservient to the President. The Arabs would swear by Hubal or by another god or goddess. They would also swear by Allah. They would name their sons Abdul Uzza, i.e. the Slave of Uzza. They would also name their sons Abdullah i.e. the Slave of Allah.
It would not be correct to suggest that everything was wrong with the Arab culture of the time. There was much in their way of life which was glorious and chivalrous. There were qualities in the Arab character which would be enviable today-courage, hospitality and a sense of personal and tribal honour. There was also an element of vindictiveness, in the blood feuds which were passed down from father to son, but this was understandable, and even necessary, in a tribal society where no central authority existed to enforce law and order. Violent tribal and personal retaliation was the only way to keep the peace and prevent lawlessness.
What was wrong with Arab culture lay in the fields of ethics and religion, and in these fields Arab life had hit an all-time low. This period became known in history as the Ignorance. During the Ignorance Arab actions were acts of ignorance; Arab beliefs were beliefs of ignorance. The Ignorance was thus not only an era but an entire way of life.
The Arab mentioned at the beginning of this chapter took to retiring to a cave in a hill not far from Makkah, for one month every year. In this cave he would spend his time in meditation and reflection, and he would wait-not knowing just what he was waiting for. Then one day, while he was meditating in the cave; he suddenly became conscious of a presence. He could see no one and there was no sound of movement, but he could feel that someone was there. Then a voice said, "Read!"