RLG204H5 Midterm: Rlg204 Lecture and Reading Notes of Week 1-5 for the Midterm on Week 7

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23 Mar 2017
Week 1
The Arabian Peninsula, Geographical context
Included rock, desert, 700 miles wide, 1000 miles long
Mecca was the center of trade and commerce while Medina was an agricultural
The collapse of the great dam of Ma’rib in Yemen caused people that were living there
and around the area to migrate north
Social Organization and Identity
17th Century, few people lived in urban cities while majority lived in tribes. Sources of
livelihood included herding, agriculture, trade, and raiding inter- tribal wars.
Intertribal warfare had a significant effect on the social, cultural, moral structure of
Arabs. The effect deemed women as a liability in society causing femicide (killing a
person because they are a woman).
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) stopped the act of femicide when he became a prophet
The wars are not the result of barbarism or lack of laws, there were clear guidelines and
economic motivation.
Social organization and identity stemmed from being a part of an extended family,
grouping of several related families created a clan, and several clans constitute a tribe
This shows that family was important to the Arabs
Being loyal to the tribe was expected
Mohammad (s.a.w) belonged to Banu Hashim, the lesser clan of the very powerful tribe
called Quraysh
Religion of Arabia
Worshipped many gods and goddesses, Mecca had a central shrine of gods while the
Kaba had 360 idols
Why is Arabia’s way of life called Jahiliya?
Lack of belief in one god (tawhid)
Characterized by fatalism
Inequality between men and women
Islam: An Introduction (Annemarie Schimmel)
Week 1: Pages 1-9
Islam posed the largest threat in Europe and to Christianity
o Considered archenemies of Western civilization
Politically, the threat began with the conquest of Spain by the Arabs and ended with the
siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks (8th Century)
Islam was considered a “mere heresy” of Christianity
Distortion of Islam’s image and of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
Many translations of the Quran were developed (Latin, Basel, Italian, German and then
For the first time in the 17th Century, Muhammad was portrayed as a man preaching
religion based on and conforming to reason (by a scholar)
Many English words (ex. Algebra, Alcohol) are derived from Arabic heritage
It was not until the 19th Century that a true scholarly approach to Islam took place
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Theofor Noldeke, Ignaz Goldziher and C. Snouk Hurgronje were thought of as building
the foundations of scientific Islamology
They sought out to discover the prophets true goal and Islamic intellectual history
Arabia Before Islam
Within South Arabia, when Muhammad was born (570 A.C.), ancient polytheism was
already being replaced by Jewish and Christian influences
In Central Arabia, a “primitive” religion was still being maintained
Many places were still regarded as sacred (Caves, stones which carried blessing power
The Black Stone was considered the goal of annual pilgrimages
The life of Arabs during that time was called Jahiliyya (time of ignorance) by Muslims
Arabic literature, 6th Century (primarily poetry) shows mainly the virtues of the
Bedouins; bravery, boundless hospitality, revenge and faith in immutable fate
However not much religious consciousness was present
Many speculate that had Muhammad not appeared, Arabia would have become a
Christian country during the late 6th to 7th Centuries
Blackboard article: Terms
Jazirat al-arab: means ‘the island of the Arabs”; it is the Arabic name for the Arabian
Peninsula. The Arabian Peninsula is separated from neighboring world by natural
barriers; water on three of its sides and the Syrian Desert on the fourth
Yathrib: was later renamed Medina, ‘the city of the prophet’
Arabs: from the Hebrew word “steppe” or “desert”; “steppe/desert people’ = Arabs
Yamani: Arabs that reside in the south of the Peninsula. Sabaean (South Semitic) was the
language spoken by this people before Islam.
Mudari: Arabs that reside in the north of the Peninsula
Byzantine: the Greek empire
Sasanian: the Persian empires
Palmyra: present day Jordan; major trade hub in the north
Hijaz: major trade hub in west-central Arabia; centered on the town of Mecca
Quraysh: the tribe prophet Muhammad was a member of. They were mostly city
dwellers, but were traders as well
“Islam originates in a complex religious environment that is shaped by the presence of western
Arabian pagan beliefs, Judaism, Christianity, and possibly also Zoroastrianism.”
According to the Bible, the Arabs descended from Noah’s eldest son Shem/Sem
Arabs claim to have descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son that was sent away with his
mother Hagar (the slave) hence their Latin name “Hagareni”
Arabs are divided into two major groups: Yamani and Mudari
One of the arguments surrounding the collapse of the South Arabian kingdoms, was the
expansion of the nomadic tribes in central Arabia
The Arabian nomads were organized in tribes and tribal confederations; they are called
“Bedouin(s)” which means steppe or desert people
The nomadic tribes had different values than the rest of the Arabs
Because they lived in the deserts, relying on one another was essential for survival
The groups were often organized by kinship. Members in a group claimed descent from
one and the same ancestor.
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The Bedouins are characterized by a very high degree of mobility; they journeyed long
distance with the help of their camels
A typical tribe consisted of a chief/elder, his family members, a number of other free
families, client clans not related by blood, and slaves.
The dynamic in their tribes was different from their neighboring tribes because the
followed a democratic rule and expected the leader/elder to consult all members of the
household before making a decision for them
The lack of social hierarchy stood in sharp contrast to the organization of the neighboring
Greek and Persian empires
Because of the lack of a ruling system, the Bedouins had to resort to raiding and robbery
for their livelihood
Because of the lack of rain in the northern hemisphere of the Peninsula, north and central
Arabia had to rely on trade to secure their livelihood
Around year 400, Mecca was inhabited by the Quraysh tribe; this was the tribe prophet
Muhammad came from
Mecca in the years before Islam was mostly populated with the clans of the Quraysh tribe
It enjoyed a special status due to its being the site of a pagan sanctuary
Pre-Islamic era, Arabs worshiped many gods:
o Fertility goddess al-Lat
o Fortune goddess Manat
o Fertility and motherhood goddess al-‘Uzza
o A human like statue of Hubal installed in Mecca was associated with human fate
and fortune
Religion during this period was belief in the presence of invisible and powerful beings
Arabs during this time did not believe in life after death, to them once a human dies they
cease to exist.
They believed that the best men and women could do under the circumstances was to try
to avoid numerous dangers awaiting them and to make their lives as comfortable and safe
as possible here and now
Pagan Arabs believed that human beings can set their marks on time by punctuating it
with the days of vengeance and military glory
Fighting in battles was a way to outsmart time (dabr)
Although pagan Arabs constituted of the majority, Jews and Christians also existed in
There were also a few Zoroastrian communities present
Same blackboard article
Arabian Peninsula also known as jazirat al-arab (the island of arabs), 1 million square
miles, consists of barren deserts, mountains and plateaus
Mecca, the native town of the founder of Islam, had no major source of water and had to
sustain itself by caravan trade
The Arabs
Main population of Arabia: Arabs
o Divided into two major groups
1. Yamani south of the Arabian peninsula
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