Episode 33: Religious and Social Conditions in Madinah

By and large, the inhabitants of Madinah followed the Quraysh whom they held to be the guardians of the Holy sanctuary and the matrix of their religious creed as well as social ethics. Pagan like other Arabs, the population of Madinah was, by and large, devotees of the same idols as worshipped by the inhabitants of Hijaz and of Makkah in particular in addition to a few regional or tribal deities considered to be the personal or private gods of these clans. Thus, Manat was the oldest and the most popular deity of the populace of Madinah that the Aus and Khazraj honored as the copartner of God. The idol was set up on the seashore, between Makkah and Madinah, at Mushallal near Qudayd. AlLat was the favorite god of the people of Ta’if while the Qurayshites revered alUzza as their national deity. It was so because the people of every place had a particular patrongod to which they used to get emotionally attached. If anybody in Madinah had a wooden replica of an idol, he normally called it Manat, as was the idol kept in his house by ‘Amr b. Jamuh, the chief of Bani Salama in Madinah, a practice that he had cherished before his conversion to Islam. Ahmad b. Hanbal has related a tradition from ‘Urwa, on the authority of ‘Aisha, which says that: “The Ansaar used to cry labbaik (Lit. At Your service) to Manat and worship it near Mushallal before accepting Islam. And anyone who performed pilgrimage in its (Manat) name did not consider it lawful to round the mounts of Safa and Marwa.

When the people once inquired from the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him: O Messenger of Allah, we felt some hesitation during the pagan past in going round Safa and Marwah; God sent down the revelation:

"Lo! AsSafa and alMarwah are amongst the indications of Allah.” [Qur'an 2:158].

However, we are not aware of any other idol in Madinah equally glamorized as alLat, Manat, alUzza and Hubal or venerated like them, nor was there any idol set up in Madinah which was paid a visit by the people from other tribes. Madinah does not appear to be bristling with idols, unlike Makkah where one used to set up an idol in every house and the vendors offered them for the sake of the pilgrims. Makkah was, all in all, the prototype and symbol of idolatry in Arabia whereas Madinah simply trailed behind in such respect.

In Madinah, the people used to have two days devoted to games alone. When the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him came to Madinah, he said to them, “God has substituted something better for you, the day of sacrifice and the day of breaking the fast. (Bulugh al‘Arab).

Certain commentators of the Traditions hold the view that the two festivals celebrated by the people of Madinah were Nawroz and Mehrjan, which they had perhaps inherited from the Persians. (Saheehain).

Aus and Khazraj descended from a lineage whose nobility was acknowledged even by the Quraysh. Ansaars were descendants of Banu Qahtan belonging to the southern stock of ‘Arab ‘Arbah, with whom the Quraysh had marital affinity. Hashim b. ‘Abdu Manaf had married Salama bint ‘Amr b. Zayd of the Banu Adiy b. alNajjaar, which was a clan of Khazraj. Nevertheless, the Quraysh considered their own ancestry to be nobler than those of the Arab clans of Medinah. On the day of the battle of Badr, when ‘Utba, Shayba, and Walid b. Rabi’a came forward and challenged the Muslims for a single combat, some youths of the Ansaar stepped forth to face them. The Qurayshite warriors, however, asked who they were and on coming to know that they belonged to the Ansaar, replied, “We have nothing to do with you.” Then one of them called out, “Muhammad, send forth some of your own rank and blood to face us.” Thereupon the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him ordered, “Advance, O ‘Ubayda b. AlHarith; “O Hamza; Advance, O ‘Ali. When the three were already up at them and had already told their names, the Qurayshite said: “Yes, these are noble and our peers. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. p. 625).

The selfconceited Quraysh used to look down upon farming, the occupation employed by the Ansaar owing to the physical features of their city. We find a commensurate display of similar egotism with what Abu Jahl said when he was slain by two Ansaar lads who were sons of ‘Afra. Abu Jahl said to ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud although he was nearing his end, “Would that somebody else than a cultivator had slain me!”.


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