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[I]-History and Background

 Ancient religions

After the Prophet of Allah, Isa ibn Maryam, there was a long period without a Prophet. Light and knowledge disappeared. Christianity fell into disrepute and became a matter of sport for the corrupt and the hypocrites. From the very beginning, Christianity had been subjected to alterations by extremists and to interpretations by the ignorant. The simple teaching of the Messiah was buried beneath the transgressors' evil behaviour.

The Jews had become a society obsessed with rites and rules lacking all life and spirit. Apart from that, Judaism a tribal religion, did not carry a message to the world nor a summons to other nations nor mercy to humanity at large.

The Magians were devoted to fire-worship. They built altars and shrines to fire. Outside the shrines they followed their own pursuits. Eventually, no difference whatever could be discerned between the Magians and those with no religion or morality.

Buddhism, a religion widespread in India and Central Asia, was transformed into outright paganism. Altars were built and images of the Buddha set up wherever it went.

Hinduism, the basic religion of India, is distinguished by its millions of idols and gods, and by the unjust separation that exists between its castes, discrimination between the castes being a harsh reality of daily life.

The Arabs also suffered from a paganism and idol-worship of the most abhorrent kind that had no parallel, even in pagan Hindu India. They were involved in shirk and adopted gods other than Allah. Every tribe, region or city had a particular idol. Indeed, every house had a private idol. Inside the Ka'bah, the house which Ibrahim (peace be upon him) had built for the worship of Allah alone, and in its courtyard, stood three hundred and sixty idols.


 The Arabian peninsula

The morals of the Arabs were corrupted and they were obsessed with drinking and gambling. Their cruelty and so-called zeal reached the point where they buried baby girls alive. Raiding was widespread as well as highway robbery against trading caravans. The position of women in society was so low that they could be inherited like property or animals. Children were murdered because their parents feared the poverty that would come from raising them. The Arabs were fond of war and did not hesitate to shed blood. A minor incident could stir up a war lasting for many years in which thousands of people would lose their lives.


 Corruption

In short, at this time, mankind was on a suicidal course. Man had forgotten his Creator and was oblivious of himself, his future, and his destiny. He had lost the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and what is beautiful and what is ugly. Throughout vast regions no one was concerned with religion at all and no one worshipped his Lord without associating something with Him. Allah Almighty spoke the truth when He said: 'Corruption has appeared in the land and sea through what the hands of People have earned, that He may let them taste some part of that which they have done, that perhaps they will return.' (30:41)


 The Prophet is sent to the Arabian peninsula

Allah chose the Arabs to receive the call of Islam and to convey it to the furthest corners of the world. These people were simple-hearted with no complicated ideologies which would have been difficult to remove. While the Greeks, Persians and people of India were arrogant about their many sciences, their fine literature and their splendid civilisation, the Arabs followed only simple traditions related to their desert existence. It was not difficult to sweep these away and replace them with a fresh vision.

The Arabs were in a natural state. When it was difficult for them to grasp the truth, they fought it. However, when the covering was removed from their eyes, they welcomed the new beginning and, having embraced it, would risk their lives for it. They were honest and trustworthy, hardy, courageous and fine horsemen. They also possessed a will of iron.

In Makkah, a city in the Arabian peninsula, was the Ka'bah which had been built by Ibrahim and Isma'il (peace be upon them). In it, Allah alone was to be worshipped and it was to be a centre for calling people to tawhid for all time. Tawhid, meaning the Oneness of Allah, is in sharp contrast with the worship of idols.

The first house established for people was that at Bakkah, a blessed place and a guidance for the worlds. (3:97)


 Makkah and the Quraysh

After a long journey, Ibrahim approached Makkah, which lies in a valley between desolate mountains. As there was no water, crops could not grow and human life could not be sustained there. Accompanied by his wife Hajar and his son Isma'il, Ibrahim was fleeing from the cult of idol-worship which had spread throughout the world. He wanted to establish a centre in which Allah alone would be worshipped and to which people could be called. It would be a beacon of guidance and a sanctuary of peace, radiating true faith and righteousness.

Allah accepted Ibrahim's intention and blessed the spot. After Ibrahim had left the inhospitable territory, water flowed from a spring to provide his small family with the means to survive. Hajar and Isma'il dwelt in this arid place far away from other people. Allah blessed the spring of Zamzam and, to this day, people continue to drink its water and to take it with them to all corners of the globe.

While Isma'il was growing up, Ibrahim visited his family. He wanted to sacrifice Isma'il, who was still only a child, in order to show that his love of Allah was greater than his love for his son, just as Allah had commanded him to in a dream. Isma'il also agreed to Allah's command that he should be sacrificed. But Allah saved him and provided a ram from Paradise as a ransom to be sacrificed instead. Isma'ils survival meant that he would be able to help his father in calling people to Allah and to become the ancestor of the last Prophet of Allah, His exalted Messenger.

On a later visit to Makkah, Ibrahim and his son together constructed the Ka'bah, the House of Allah. They prayed to Allah to accept the House and to bless their action. They also beseeched Allah to allow them to live and die in Islam and for Islam to continue after their death. They asked Allah to send a Prophet from among their descendants to renew the call of his ancestor Ibrahim and to complete what he had begun.

'When Ibrahim and Isma'il raised the foundations of the House, praying, "Our Lord, accept this from us. You are the Hearing, the Knowing. Our Lord, and make us surrender to You, and make of our descendants a nation that surrenders to You. Show us our rites and turn to us, You are the One who turns, the Compassionate. Our Lord, and send among them a Messenger from among them who will recite to them Your signs and teach them the Book and the Wisdom and purify them. You are the Mighty, the Wise. " ' (2: 129-9

Allah blessed their descendants and the family multiplied in that barren valley. Adnan, a descendant of Isma'il (peace be upon him) had many children. Among Adnan's descendants Fihr ibn Malik, in particular, was a distinguished chief of the tribe. From Fihr's descendants Qusayy ibn Kilab emerged. He ruled Makkah and held the keys to the Ka'bah. He inspired obedience, was the guardian of the waters of Zamzam and was responsible for feeding the pilgrims. He also presided at the assemblies where the nobles of Makkah gathered for consultation and he held the banner for war. He alone controlled the affairs of Makkah.

Among his sons Abd Manaf was the most illustrious, while his eldest son, Hashim became a great man of the people. He provided food and water for the pilgrims coming to Makkah. He was the father of Abdul-Muttalib, the Messenger of Allah's grandfather, who was also in charge of feeding and giving water to the pilgrims. He was honoured and held in high esteem by his people and his popularity outstripped that of his ancestors. His people loved him.

The descendants of Fihr ibn Malik were called Quraysh. This name came to predominate over all others and the tribe adopted it. All the Arabs recognised the excellent lineage and nobility of the Quraysh. Their eloquence, civility, gallantry and high mindedness were unanimously accepted.


 Idol-worship in Makkah

The Quraysh continued to hold to the religion of Ibrahim and Isma'il, glorifying the creed of tawhid and the worship of Allah alone, until Amr ibn Luhayy became their chief. He was the first to deviate from the religion of Isma'il and to set up idols which he encouraged people to worship. Once he had travelled from Makkah to Syria on business where he saw people worshipping idols. He was so impressed that he brought some idols back to Makkah and set them up, commanding the people there to venerate them.

Traditionally some people would take a few stones from the Haram, the sanctuary, with them when they travelled from Makkah as a token of respect for the holy spot. This led to the day when they began to worship any stones they liked. Later generations lost track of the reasons why stones were originally venerated and the Quraysh were happy to worship stone idols just like the people were doing in surrounding countries.


 The event of the elephant

During this period a significant event took place which portended another happening of even greater importance. It meant that Allah desired a better future for the Arabs and that the Ka'bah would take on an importance never before attained by any place of worship anywhere in the world.

Abrahah al-Ashram, the viceroy of Negus, the King of Abyssinia, who ruled over the Yemen, built an imposing cathedral in San'a' and named it 'al-Qullays'. He intended to divert the Arab pilgrimage to San'a'. As a Christian, he was jealous that the Ka'bah should be the place where pilgrims gathered and he wanted this position for his church.

The Arabs were stunned by the news. They could not equate any other place with the love and respect they had for the Ka'bah. They could not contemplate exchanging it for any other house of worship. They were preoccupied with the news and discussed it endlessly. An Arab daredevil from the Kinanah tribe went so far as to enter the cathedral and defecate in it. Abrahah was furious when he heard about it and swore that he would not rest until he had destroyed the Ka'bah.

He set out for Makkah with a strong force that included elephants. The Arabs had heard some frightening stories about elephants. They were both distressed and alarmed. Although they wanted to obstruct the progress of Abrahah's army, they realised that they lacked the power to fight him. They could only leave the matter to Allah and trust to the fact that He was the Lord of the Ka'bah and would protect it. This trust is amply demonstrated by a conversation between Abrahah and the leader of the Quraysh, Abdul-Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet. Abrahah had seized two hundred camels of his, so Abdul-Muttalib sought permission to see him. Abrahah treated him with respect, descended from his throne and sat down beside him. When Abrahah asked what he wanted, Abdul-Muttalib replied, 'I want you to return my two hundred camels.'

Abrahah was taken by surprise. He asked, 'Do you wish to speak to me about your two hundred camels that I have taken but say nothing about the House on which your religion and that of your forefathers depends I have come to destroy it, yet you do not speak to me about it!'

Abdul-Muttalib replied, 'I am the owner of the camels. The House also has an Owner. He will defend 'It will not be defended against me,' retorted Abrahah. 'That remains to be seen,' said Abdul-Muttalib.

As Abrahah's force drew near, the Quraysh hid high up in the mountains and down in the ravines. They feared the army's approach and waited to see how Allah would save the sacred sanctuary. Abdul-Muttalib stood with a group of Quraysh and took hold of the door of the Ka'bah, imploring Allah to help them against Abrahah and his army.

Abrahah drew up his soldiers to enter Makkah fully intending to destroy the House. His elephant, whose name was Mahmud, was prepared for the attack. However, the elephant knelt down on the road and refused to get up in spite of severe beatings. When they turned it to face Yemen it got up immediately and moved off.

Allah then sent flocks of birds from the sea; each bird carried stones in its claws. Whenever a stone struck one of Abrahah's soldiers it killed him. The Abyssinians fled in terror, rushing back as the stones hit them. Abrahah was badly hurt. When his soldiers tried to take him with them, his limbs fell off one by one. They took him to San'a' where he died a miserable death. The Qur'an relates:

'Have you not seen What your Lord did with the people of the Elephant? Did He not make their plan come to nothing. He sent birds against them in flocks, stoning them with stones of baked clay. He made them like eaten stubble.'(l 05: 1-5)

When Allah repelled the Abyssinians from Makkah, the Arabs respect for the Quraysh increased. They said, 'These are the people of Allah. Allah fought on their side and helped them to defeat their enemy.'

The Arabs attached great importance to this event and rightly so. They dated their calendar from it, saying, 'This occurred in the Year of the Elephant,' and 'So-and-so was born in the Year of the Elephant' or 'This occurred so many years after the Year of the Elephant.' The Year of the Elephant was 570 in the Christian calendar.