By Syed Abul A’lā Maudūdī,
Translated by Prof Syed Asim Ali
Close your eyes for a moment and fly back in time on the wing of imagination to have a glimpse of the world as it was fourteen centuries ago.
The World before 1400 Years Ago
How scarce were the means of communication and exchange of ideas among humans then! How limited were the means of interaction among nations and countries! How meagre was human knowledge! How deficient were their ideas! How badly overcast were their thoughts with superstition and savagery! How dim was the light of knowledge against all-pervasive darkness of ignorance! And what a massive resistance it faced while pushing through this darkness! The world then knew no wire, no telephone, no radio, no trains, no airplanes, no printing press and no publishing houses. There was no abundance of schools and colleges. No newspapers and magazines were published. Nor were the books written in large numbers or published freely. A scholar of that time knew much less, in certain respects, than a layman today. Even a high-class person of those days was much less refined than a bumpkin now. Even a highly enlightened person then was in fact more bigoted than the bigots of our day. What even a layman knows today as a commonplace was not easy to know then despite one’s years-long struggle in research and investigation. The information spread like light in the atmosphere in our day and available to every teenager freely could be accessed then only after undertaking long assiduous journeys of hundreds of miles that consumed sometimes one’s entire lifetime. What is considered superstitious and preposterous today was the ‘absolute truth’ of that period. Actions considered crude and barbaric today formed the normal human behaviour then. The ways held in contempt by human conscience today were not only admitted by the ethics of the time but none could even think of an alternative mode of behaviour. Man’s susceptibility to ‘the wonderful’ was so endemic that he was not willing to concede any truth or holiness in an object unless it was extraordinary, spectacular, bizarre, supernatural, bewildering or uncanny. So much so that man considered himself so despicable and mean that it was far beyond his conception that an ordinary human could be saintly or the saintly an ordinary human.
Conditions in Arabia
In those gloomy days there was a certain godforsaken place on earth where the pall of this darkness was even thicker. The land of Arabia lay forgotten and lost amid the countries reckoned civilized by the cultural standards of the day. The surrounding lands of Persia, Rome and Egypt did enjoy some light of sciences, arts, culture and sophistication, but Arabia lay estranged from them sunken as it was in the vast sandy expanses. Arab traders journeyed for months together to visit those neighbouring countries for their trade, but returned only with an exchange of merchandise. No ray of knowledge or civilization accompanied them back home. They had no schools in their land, nor bookstores; nor did they have any yearning for education nor any interest in sciences or arts. Those who knew reading and writing were very few in number, but they too were not skilful enough to the extent of keeping a track of the arts and sciences of the time. They were certainly in possession, though, of a high-standard language extraordinarily capable of expressing sublime ideas. They also possessed a first-rate poetic taste. But the remnants of their literature, still extant, tell us how pathetically limited was the extent of their knowledge; how inferior they were in culture and civilization; how overburdened with superstitions; how vicious and barbaric in their habits and attitudes; and how coarse and crude in their moral concepts!
There was no proper government in Arabia and no regulations. Each tribe was autonomous in its own right and only the law of the jungle prevailed. On the first available opportunity one would slay the other and grab his belongings. It was beyond the understanding of an Arab bedouin why he should not kill a person not of his tribe or grab his wealth.
Whatever concepts of morality, culture and refinement were found among them were extremely lowly, vulgar and crude. They were almost unaware of the distinction between holy and unholy, permissible and impermissible, sophisticated and unsophisticated. Their life was extremely filthy and their manners were savage: adultery, gambling, drinking, waylaying, murder and bloodshed marked the routine of their life. Without hesitation they became naked in public. Even their females circled the Ka’aba naked. They buried alive their daughters with their own hands simply to avoid the humiliation of having a son-in-law in the family. They married their step-mothers after the deaths of their fathers. They had no notion of even the ordinary etiquette of eating, dressing and purification.
In religious matters they shared all the ignorance and depravities as were common in the contemporary world. All shades of worship practised in the world then, such as idolatry, spirit-worship or star-worship prevailed among them too. In this regard, if anything was conspicuous by its absence, it was the worship of One God. They possessed no correct knowledge about the ancient Prophets and their teachings. They just knew that Abraham and Ishmael were their forefathers. But, they did not remember any longer what the religion of those two was and who they worshipped. The stories of Ād and Thamūd were also popular among them. But, in their chronicles, as handed down to us by the Arab historians, one never comes across even a single trace of the teachings of the prophets Sāleh or Hūd. They also received the stories of Israelites through the Jews and Christians. But, how downright silly those accounts were can be seen in the Judaic stories as reported by the Muslim exegetes. From them you may learn what sort of characters the prophets were as known to the dwellers of Arabia and even to the Jews. You may also learn how extremely vulgar was their concept of the institution of the prophethood.