In the whole world there were nearly one hundred twenty-four thousand prophets. The three monotheistic religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam originated from this area. All of these Messengers of God can not be identified but we are aware of hundreds of them and their lives through traditions passed onto us through their followers, their kith and their kin.

God is Omnipresent, but people of all ages who have wanted to converse with God, turned their faces towards this land. The Jews look to ‘Canaan’, the Christians to ‘Bayt-al-Muqqadas’ and the Muslims to the ‘Holy Ka’bah’.

More important than coming to this world is the completion of the mission bestowed upon a Prophet. Quite a small number out of one hundred and twenty-four thousand Prophets could complete their missions. Those who did were brought up in these vast deserts.

Arab dwellers, in earlier days, lived in the South of the peninsula. This area was quite green and fertile. They called it ‘Khozaib’. The Greeks named it ‘Arabia Felix’. Endless wars, drought, damaged water dams and wilderness made the Arabs immigrate northwards. Their migration in search of better pastures earned them the name of ‘Bedouins’ or the desert wanderers. These migrations in extreme weather and heat led to the death of many. Those individuals who were left behind became hardened into pillars of resolve, strength and determination.

Darwin, the proponent of the theory of evolution says that the world is the survival of the fittest where weaklings, cowards and fools fail to survive. To live in the desert, where eatables at times were only acacia thorns, demanded strict physical and spiritual stability. The ability to abide by the discipline and law of a tribal way of life was very important. Individually even today a human being, with cars and planes cannot survive for long in the desert.

The formation of a tribe or troupe had been and still is vital in the desert life. It was and indeed still is as difficult to survive individually in the desert as it is for a bee without its hive.

Life in a desert did not guarantee economic stability. Endurance was the way of life. Thirst and hunger were part of a Bedouin’s nature. All persons of the old Arab world wore a tight girdling under their dresses so that they could ignore the pangs of hunger. If still they felt it, they would place a stone between their bellies and belt to imagine a full stomach. A famous poet, Sanfara of that period puts it in this way, "I can deceive my hunger, I can stifle my thirst, if still my hunger soars, I will twist my stomach a way that none of any cobblers would have twisted his thread".

The spring season in Arabia, or as the Arabs will call it, spring harvest, comes for only three to four weeks. It rains all this time and the areas without sand are covered with greenery which later turns into acacia thorns in summer. It was only during spring when the desert wore green that the desert antelopes came for pasture. The Arabs could hunt them down during this period. There could be no hunting after this season.

Whenever Bedouins settled in cities, they retained their tribal qualities. The only difference was that they lived in city houses instead of tents. In the cities of Makkah, Madinah and Ta’if, each tribe, like the Bedouins, selected its own place and area of dwelling and no two tribes lived together. An Arab would always be on the move. He had to shift, along with his camels, from one place to another. He could not use heavy items and his household consisted of very few items though he could own much more and often did, but that was normally used for trading purposes. In Makkah, the elders of the Quraysh lived the same way and the quality and number of camels they had would signify their splendour. This did not imply that material wealth was lacking amongst the Bedouin. They had a way of life much different from ours.

A tent for protection from the sun, a camel for riding and supplying milk to quench thirst, and a sword for defence was the fundamental asset of an Arab. There was little of aesthetics in those hot and shifting sands. There were no paintings because there were no colour pigments available and no sculpture for want of carvable rocks. The wood for construction and carvings was scarce. The Arabs could not do sculpture and painting as they lacked the proper tools for such endeavours, yet they were culturally aware. Their form of expression was verbal in the form of poetry that encompassed their unique literature. Their culture and history were profusely rich in eloquence.

If anyone wanted to know about Arab history and civilisation, his best source was the works of Arab poets. At other places, poetry is only part of literature but in the Arabian Peninsula, it was a way of life. A poet was considered, not only a poet but a savant, a religious guide, a police official and a scholar. A verse was as vital as the sun and the air for life. The Arab nation had a vast storehouse of verses to suit their purposes from happiness to misery, death to birth, war to peace and good omens to evil signs. An Arab would utter baneful verses of ‘Zaheer’ when sad, of ‘Habigha’ when afraid, of ‘Ashi’ when furious and of ‘Antara’ when ensuing a fight.

The Arabs though war-like and ferocious when roused were normally well disciplined. Any fight or brawl was forbidden inside the boundaries of Holy Ka’bah. Even when two blood thirsty rivals entered the ‘Haram’, they had to leave aside their enmity, temporarily. The travellers or the caravans, irrespective of their origins had complete freedom of worshipping their respective gods. Each nation or tribe had its hermitage, where they could look after their gods. They would not indulge in battles during four months, which they considered sacred. Even the desert bandits would not attack the pilgrims of the Holy Ka’bah and trade caravans. The days of Pilgrimage came in those four months.

A large market ‘Ukaz’ was held in a small city near Makkah. This market attracted people from throughout the peninsula to buy and sell their goods. The market place of ‘Ukaz’ would conduct a massive gathering of poets annually which included a sitting for versification. The winner poet was bestowed upon with a prize. His verses were inscribed in golden words on the silk cloth and were hung by the walls of Holy Ka’bah so that other nations on their visit to Holy Ka’bah would enjoy them. They were hung for the whole year and were thus called ‘Mualaqaat’ - the hung ones.

Another peculiarity about the market of ‘Ukaz’ was that whenever any sultan or a king would send something precious, such as swords or brocade, to be sold in the market, only that person had the right, according to the Arab custom, to purchase them who would be superior in status and respect to them. According to this method only the select or the deserving persons would step out one by one and while standing at a particular place would introduce himself and say verses exalting his valour. If anyone could not versify, he would hire a poet. The judges decided the winner who would have the right to purchase.

The Arab tribes allocated such an importance to eloquence that it was compulsory for the chieftain to be a poet. The Arabic language denotes chieftain as ‘Ameer’ or ‘Sayyed’ - or the eloquent. ‘Imra-ul-Qays’ was one of the famous poets who is well known among the Muslims. He was considered the most prominent and eloquent of the seven poets whose verses were hung on the walls of Holy Ka’bah. Even today some Bedouins remember the verses of the ancient poets.

The Arabs though brave, hospitable and eloquent, were deeply entrenched in social injustice and polytheism. Many of their good qualities could even be explained in terms of their sense of tribal pride for which they would try to outdo one another in eloquence, hospitality and bravery.

Women were treated with aversion in Arabia. It was a practised custom to bury alive new-born baby girls so the that ‘shameful’ responsibility of the upbringing of girls could be avoided. In conformity with the patriarchal system, the birth of a boy met with great festivity and was a source of eminence and pride. The name of the sons carried onto the fathers. If the name of the son was Qamar his father was called as Abu Qamar. Sons were thus more desirable. Women had no legal right to inheritance. Wives were assumed properties and had no rights. A man could keep as many women for wives as he wished. On his death they would go to his son’s share, who could even legally marry his step-mothers. Women were thought of as articles of trade and could be bought and sold at will.

There were 360 idols housed in Holy Ka’bah. There were also numerous religious sacraments of other tribes and nations placed in Holy Ka’bah for everyone to practise his own religious rites. The Holy Ka’bah was the first House of Allah. It was built for his worship. Unfortunately, it was in the hands of pagans, who had filled it with idols and pictures of various deities, including a picture of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Every household had its idols. Even stones and trees were worshipped. Each tribe had its own gods, at the altar of which sometimes they also performed human sacrifices. There was no central government and various tribes would remain in constant battles over blood feuds started by their fore-fathers. Slavery was practised in its worst form. People did not believe in the concept of life after death. Drinking, gambling, and adulteries were common. Wars saw barbarity in most horrific forms. All forms of cruelty were inflicted on the losing party by the victors.

In the fifth and sixth centuries the civilised world stood on the verge of chaos. The old cultures that had made civilisation possible had broken down. Civilisation stood tottering, rotten to the core. It was amongst these people that Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was born, who was able to unite the whole known world.

The Quraysh tribe was the most powerful amongst the Arabs of the Ibrahimic descent. Four hundred years after the death of the Christ a Quraysh named ‘Qusay’ married the daughter of the chief of Khuza’ah named Hulayl. It was agreed that Qusay should rule over Makkah. His close relatives settled, beside the Holy Ka’bah and were known as Quraysh of the Hollow. Whereas Qusay’s more remote kinsmen settled in the ravines of the surrounding hills and in the countryside and were known as Quraysh of the outskirts. The keepers of the Holy Ka’bah had lived round it in tents. Qusay told them to build themselves houses. He built himself a spacious house that was known as the House of Assembly. He ruled over Quraysh as King.

Amongst Qusay’s four sons, Abdu Manaf was pre-eminent. Qusay preferred his first-born Abd-ad-Dar as his successor and not Abdu Manaf. His first born was not very bright. Shortly before his death he said to him, "My son, I will set thee level with the others in despite of men’s honouring them more than thee. None shall enter the Holy Ka’bah except thou open it for him, and no hand but thine shall knot for Quraysh their ensign of war, nor shall any pilgrim draw water for drink in Makkah except thou give him the right thereto, nor shall he eat food except it be of thy providing, nor shall Quraysh resolve upon any matter except it be in thy house," Having thus invested him with all his rights and powers, he transferred to him the ownership of the House of Assembly. Out of filial piety Abdu Manaf accepted without question his father’s wishes. In the next generation, half of the Quraysh tribe gathered round Abdu Manaf’s son Hashim, and demanded that the rights be transferred from the clan of Abd ad-Dar to his clan.

Feeling rose so high that the women of the clan of Abdu Manaf brought a bowl of rich perfume and placed it beside the Holy Ka’bah. Hashim and his brothers and all their allies dipped their hands in perfume and swore a solemn oath that they would never abandon one another. They made this pact while rubbing their scented hands over the stones of the Holy Ka’bah. Violence was strictly forbidden not only in the Sanctuary itself but also within a wide circle round Makkah, several miles in diameter. The two sides were about to leave this sacred precinct in order to fight a battle to the death when a compromise was reached. It was agreed that the sons of Abdu Manaf should have the rights of levying the tax and providing the pilgrims with food and drink, whereas the sons of Abd ad-Dar should retain the keys of the Holy Ka’bah and their other rights, and that their house should continue to be the House of Assembly.

Hashim’s brothers agreed that he should have the responsibility of providing for the pilgrims. When the time of Pilgrimage drew near he would rise in the Assembly and say, "O men of Quraysh, you are Allah’s neighbours, the people of His House and at this feast there come unto you Allah’s visitors, the pilgrims to His House. They are Allah’s guests, and no guests have such claim on your generosity as His guests. If my own wealth could compass it, I would not lay this burden upon you."

Hashim was held in much honour, both at home and abroad. It was he who established the great caravan journeys from Makkah to north-west Arabia, and beyond it to Palestine and Syria. This area was under Byzantine rule as part of the Roman Empire. These journeys lay along the ancient incense route. One of the first main halts of the summer caravans was the oasis of Madinah which was located eleven camel days north of Makkah.

This oasis had at one time been chiefly inhabited by Jews but an Arab tribe from South Arabia was now in control of it. The Jews nonetheless continued to live there in considerable prosperity, taking part in the general life of the community while maintaining their religion.

The Arabs of Madinah had certain matriarchal traditions and were collectively known as the children of Qaylah after one of their ancestors. They had now branched into two tribes that were named Aws and Khazraj after Qaylah’s two sons.

One of the most influential women of Khazraj was Salma; the daughter of Amr, of the clan of Najjar. Hashim asked her to marry him. Despite the oasis fever, which was more of a danger to newcomers than to the inhabitants, the climate of Madinah was healthier than that of Makkah. Hashim often went to Syria for trade and stayed with Salma and his son on the way and on his return. Hashim’s life was not destined to be a long one, and during one of his journeys he fell ill at Gaza in Palestine and died there.

He had two full brothers, named Abdu Shams and Muttalib. Hashim’s younger brother Muttalib took over the rights of providing water to the pilgrims and of levying the tax to feed them. Hashim had three sons by wives other than Salma. None of Muttalib’s own sons - could be compared with Salma’s son Shaybah. He showed great qualities for leadership. Excellent reports of his leadership qualities were brought to Makkah by travellers who passed through the oasis. Muttalib went to see him and asked Salma to entrust his nephew to his care.

As guardians of the Holy House, Quraysh ranked higher in dignity than any other Arab tribe. There was a strong likelihood that Shaybah would one day hold the office that his father had held and so become one of the chief of Quraysh. Muttalib took his nephew with him on the back of his camel; and as they rode into Makkah he heard some of the bystanders say as they looked at the young stranger: "Abdul Muttalib" meaning "al-Muttalib’s slave". From that day Shaybah was affectionWately known as ‘Abd al-Muttalib’. When Muttalib died, no one disputed his nephew’s qualifications to succeed him to the heavy responsibility of feeding and providing water to the pilgrims.