Pre-Islamic Arabia and early Islam

Authored by: Ilkka Lindstedt

Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821187
eBook ISBN: 9781315743462
Adobe ISBN:


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Writing about the history and the religious map of Arabia in the centuries preceding the birth of Islam is not a simple task. This is especially true for the ?ij?z, the region of the western Arabian Peninsula that the career of the Prophet Mu?ammad (c. 570–632 CE) is connected with. The reason for this is the paucity of evidence and the fact that, in many cases, the sources are much later than the events they depict. However, scholarly studies of recent years have furthered the field considerably and the benefit of a holistic approach, which takes into account all source types, has been understood. We are starting to get a picture of Arabia that is full of life, religious ideas, and historical phenomena and that is not isolated from the world of late antiquity but is, instead, an intrinsic part of it (Robinson 2010: 7–11). The main powers in and around Arabia were the Byzantine Empire, Sasanian Persia, the kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia, and the kingdom of ?imyar in Yemen, all of which wielded influence at times on different parts of Arabia. The main religious currents in Arabia were forms of Christianity (Triningham 1979, Shahîd 1989: 148–229), Judaism (Newby 1988), polytheism (Fahd 1968; Peters 1999) and, to a much lesser degree, Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism). This chapter deals with Arabia of the fourth–sixth centuries especially (for the earlier history of Arabia and Arabians, see, e.g., Bulliet 1975; Bowersock 1983; Eph’al 1984; Shahîd 1984b; Ball 2000; Hoyland 2001; Young 2001; Retsö 2003).

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