Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Religion in the world before Islam

Previously, we discussed Politics in the world before Islam - the dominance of the Roman and Persian Empires, and the lands of Arabia lost between them. This article focuses on the religious influences dominant in the world before the advent of the Last Prophet (saw) and the final revealed religion to mankind.

By far the largest detriment to society in Rome, Iran and Arabia was the effect of the religious and moral ideas present at the time.

In the Roman Empire, religion was originally adopted from ancient Greece and beyond, and developed into a bizarre mythology centred around figures who were as fallible and selfish as any human but had superhuman powers. Later on, the Roman state adopted Christianity, but this didn’t really change the moral structure of society since it had been already defined by the pagan practices before it. In fact, instead of Christianity improving the pagan religious views held by the population, the ideas of Christianity became polluted with concepts like the trinity, which had filtered through from the previous faith. When Rome first adopted Christianity, the Emperor chose the four gospels of the Bible that most appealed to him from around 300 books and burnt the rest, effectively editing the religion to make it more suitable to the tastes of Rome. In other words the church had been drawn away from the original faith, becoming polluted and losing a large part of its ideology, and worse, violently oppressing those that stood against it, leaving the people without religious guidance or even the freedom to seek it.

The Sassanid (Persian) Empire was in a slightly different situation to Rome; a Zoroastrian priest initially founded it. Zoroastrianism, considered by many to have once been a revealed religion, was supposed to have been a beautiful, simple faith with logical beliefs. However, the position of the clergy in founding the empire and their influence upon rulers led them to deviate from the faith, most notably with the introduction of fire-worship. Over time the religion was altered and edited, just as Christianity was in Rome, to suit the purposes of the priests and nobles, who neglected the spiritual and instead looked for material wealth. In this way the Sassanid Empire’s state religion, as with Rome, had ceased to be a source of religious guidance to the people, who had become spiritually stranded as various groups fought over power or money.

Religion in Arabia was defined by the historical and spiritual influence of Hijaz. The most highly populated city in Hijaz was Mecca, founded centuries earlier by the Prophet Abraham (as) who built the Ka’bah and brought a pure and monotheistic faith to the region. Over time, as with faith in the Sassanid Empire, this pure religion was lost with the introduction of idols - first as intercessors then later as deities to be worshipped - until the Ka’bah had become filled by them and there were more than enough for one for each day of the year. The morals and collective intellect of the Arabs was overshadowed by the meaningless superstitious rituals in their religion - in which animals were tortured and mutilated, and people were humiliated to the extent that they would wear dirty rags and bones, or even bray like a donkey before entering a village to repel ‘evil spirits’. These pointless practices only served to stamp out the spirit of logic and reason within the people, depriving them of any mental development, and confining them to the prison of ignorance.

In Hijaz there was no system of law in place, and no government like Rome had, so the deterioration in morality seemed to have a greater effect. The decay was so strong that all kinds of awful rituals worked their way into common practice, such as the killing of baby girls at birth, and the treatment of women like possessions, or cattle to be abused and inherited against their will. Matters worsened until bloodshed, murder and pillage were considered worthy of praise. The good traits possessed by the pre-Islamic Arabs such as generosity, devotion, eloquence, sharp memory and bravery were brought to nothing before the overwhelming ignorance and immorality that ruled in their society.

The state of affairs before Islam was this: two faded superpowers locked in struggle over neighbouring lands, with all civilisation and progress present in them and in Arabia being blocked by political, moral and spiritual corruption. There was widespread disharmony and oppression as groups warred over wealth and power, and almost all faith (although initially pure and revealed) had become corrupted, and only made the situation worse.

The world was like a barren desert, dry, with barely any traces of life, but deep within its heart was the potential to bloom with the first coming of the rain. Allah sent his Last Prophet, the first of His creatures, the Best of His Creation and most beloved of His servants, may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his family, to the world at its darkest hour. When the meaning of religion had been all but lost, Allah, the Most Merciful, illuminated the world with His complete guidance in a perfect faith, revealed through a perfect man. And at the moment of the final prophet’s (saw) birth the whole world felt reverberations, spreading across the heavens and earth like great waves, indicating the great changes that were about to come.

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