Pre-Islamic Bedouins: Introduction

(This is Part 1 in a series where we explore different aspects of the Arab Bedouins before the arrival of Muhammad(PBUH) and Islam)

When we hear the word “Bedouin” we all think of a desert, people living in a desert or something like this. However, Bedouins have a very rich history that many historians have spent years of their lives just to understand it and write books on it. But what is a Bedouin? Bedouins are Arab nomads who are categorized into two types, Qahtanis(Pure Arabs) and Adnanis(Arabized Arabs), they live mainly in the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, but you can find Bedouins in Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and even Libya.

Arabs were nomads because of one main reason, which is WATER, yes water! Water is essential in order for humans to survive. As for Bedouins, because they live in the desert, water tends to be scarce. It was necessary for them to move from one place to another and then return to the place of origin(think of it as a circle). They even killed each other for water and making “Ghazu”(which is raiding other tribes for water and food). Arabia was poor and under-developed, so the Byzantines and Persians had no interest in Arabia because there was no benefit in invading a poor place.

Bedouins had no religion to follow. They didn’t feel the need for it as their main reason for existing was to protect their tribe and make their tribe the most superior tribe in the Arabian Peninsula. They believed in Allah even before they started worshiping idols. They were basically deists that thought Allah was a “Narcissist” who just created this world and left his creatures behind.

Their traditions were weird, as they were cheap to others and generous towards their tribe. The tribe was the number one thing in life. If a tribe member asked for your wealth you had to give it to him(seriously). They started fights with others for no reason, but sometimes it was to gain status and power. Even poetry was weird at that time. Zuhayr Ibn Abi Salma(a pre Islamic poet) once said “Oppress the others before they oppress you”, look at how cruel that statement is and people were following it at that time.

Bedouin Arabs also thought that they were superior to others and that they were the great-descendants of Prophet Ibrahim(PBUH). They didn’t follow Judaism or Christianity, as they believed these religions were not meant for them. Even if they did follow those religions, they used to interpret them in their own way. As an example, you would find a Christian doing pilgrimage with Idol worshipers in Mecca.

In every tribe there was a person who was called a “Karim” who was the most courageous, the most powerful and the most generous. However, he was also the most ignorant and the most oppressive. The Bedouins knew that at some point the next prophet will be an Arab, and they thought a “Karim” will be a prophet(Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) was not regarded as a Karim in his tribe).

At some point the Bedouins felt empty spiritually and in other ways. A story goes that a merchant went to the Levant for trading and he brought Idols back with him. He told people about them and that these idols can mediate for them as “As god cannot hear us”. The most famous Idols were Al Lat, Al Uzza, Hubal and Al Manat.

The Quraysh (a famous Arab tribe) took hold of Mecca and made a deal with the surrounding tribes that Mecca should be a trading place as well as a holy place and that no raids nor wars should occur near Mecca. Every tribe had their own god near the Ka’aba and every other month they would come and worship their god. The people who benefited from this Idea were the merchants. Everyday you would see tribe members worshiping and on their way out they would pass near the shops and would browse items to buy.

Many Arabian tribes were becoming rich at that time, including the Quraysh. The Quraysh eventually became extremely rich (they were so rich that they even started a monopoly in certain products) and they were no longer regarded as Bedouins or nomads (as they had settled in Mecca), as many tribes were urbanized. However, the problem was that the Bedouins already had bad values and morals and it only got worse. Instead of being generous to their families and tribes, as they once were, they were now generous only to other tribe members. As they became lost in money, the bad characteristics of the Bedouins increased and worsened and they lost the few good ones they had. Money blinded them!

To conclude with, we say: Al Hamdulilah a‘La Ni’mat Al Islam (All Praise Belongs to Allah for the Blessing of Islam). Islam changed these characteristics of the Bedouin people, their values and their morals. Now they have a goal in life, which is worshiping Allah.

Al Shareef Mohammed – Mohammed is a Hashemite Arab who is a student of Business Studies and has interests in sociology, Arab history and Arab culture. You can find him on the Muslim.Chat Discord

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