Essay on the Pre-Islamic Arabian Society
Nowadays there is some improvement in the Arab countries, yet there is little change in the climate. In those days, when Islam was not promulgated, the Arabs lived in groups. They had to roam about from place to place in search of water and pasturage for their cattle’s. Wherever a stream of water or an asterian well was found they used to settle till the resources exhausted.
Thus, the Arabs of those days (called Beduin or Baddoo) moved as nomads and except in few cities like Mecca or Madina; there was no settled form of society. Main occupations of the people of Arabia were trade and cattle-breeding.
Their cattle’s were camels, sheep and horses. Arabs had no common religion. Majority of them worshipped different idols, but some of them worshipped the nature. Some of them were also Christians and Jews.
But, it is interesting to note that a bulk of the population had forgotten the fundamentals of their specific religion and generally believed in the principles of vengeance, courage, freedom and hospitality. This was obvious, because the life of desert was so hard that the first task before an Arab was to manage the means of his livelihood rather than to give time for any philosophical thinking about his God or religion.
As the Arabs used to move from one place to another in groups, there was no permanent or static society. Therefore, there was no settled form of Government or administrative machinery to control the people. Arabs were divided into tribes and sub tribes headed by the elected Chiefs.
They were known as Caliph or Khalifa. Duty of the Chief was to represent his tribe and to control the tribesmen by enforcing customs and usages. Customs and usages were the only known laws to control the society.
Broadly speaking, such customary laws were divided into two categories. First, there were intertribal customs to regulate the relations of one tribe with another. Secondly, there were customs which regulated the conduct of individuals within the tribe.
Customary laws of Arabian society before the advent of Islam were very peculiar. Most of the customs were unreasonable and inhuman. Nobody can believe today that they were laws of society. For example, there was a custom to bury alive an unwanted female child.
Usuary i.e. charging a very high rate of interest on the debts, was an usual practice, Gambling was prevalent throughout the Arabian Society. Slavery was very common and the slaves were treated as valuable properties of their masters. Customs, which regulated the relationship of a male with females, were all in favour of the males.
The position of women was very bad. Women were not given human values; they were treated as properties. Their status in the society was so degraded that they lived like slaves. A girl could be sold and married to anyone by her guardian without her consent.
There was no restriction as to the number of wives and an Arab could marry with as many women at a time as he liked. Except a few close blood-relations there was no restriction in marrying a girl. Arabs who followed the Magian religion could marry their own daughters and sisters.
An Arab husband had unrestricted rights to divorce his wife whenever he liked. Pre-Islamic customary law of Arabia recognised the practice of adopting a son. Such a child was treated as a natural born son of the adopter. Right to own property and transfer properties was recognised. Common mode of the transfer of properties was exchange.
But, later on money was also in use. A woman could also own properties but it was under the sole supervision of her guardian or husband. Like a slave, a female too had no right of inheritance. After the death of an Arab his wife, mother, sister or daughter etc. had no share in his properties. Crimes were dealt with severely.
The object of punishment in the cases of crimes was deterrent and retaliatory. Sometimes blood-money i.e. compensation for injury was also realised from the offenders. In thefts, the right hand of the thief was cut off. A person who committed adultery was stoned to death.
But later on the punishment for an adulterer was that his face was painted black and there was public whipping. This, in brief, was the social structure of Arabia where Prophet Mohammad was born and preached the religion of Islam.