Pre-Islamic Arabia

Social Conditions in Pre-Islamic Arabia

 In Pre-Islamic Arabia, the society was based on various strata where the conditions of every stratum were very much different from one to another. On the one hand, the people of honorable families had great value and extreme reverence. The women had free will in taking decisions that were mostly enforced; perhaps, they played a chief role in bloody fights and also in friendly peace, but overall, without any disputation, men had superiority over women and were the heads of the family. The relationship between a man and a woman was made through a marriage contract which took place under the supervision of her legal guardian. On the other hand, in other social strata, there were various other facets regarding the relationship between men and women which can’t be considered but prostitution, insanity, incest, and adultery.

Types of Marriages

Ṣafīur Raḥmān Mubārakpurī, a great scholar of the contemporary period, describes the narration on the authority of Āi’shah (R.A) that stated, in pre-Islamic Arabia, there were four types of marriages: [1]

  1. One of them is similar to the present day in which a man and a woman get married by going in a proper way.
  2. The second type of marriage was that in which the husband would send his wife to cohabit with another man to become pregnant.
  3. The third type was that a group of less than ten men would have sexual intercourse with a woman and when she gave birth to a child, she gave the responsibility of that child to any one of them and the man couldn’t refuse to take the responsibility.
  4. In the fourth type of marriage, many men would have sexual intercourse with a woman (a whore). These women used to put a certain flag at their doors to invite the men for cohabitation and after giving birth to a child, she called and collected all those men, and finally, the decision took place by a female soothsayer who told the name of the child’s father among them who took the responsibility of the child as a father.

But, after the emergence of Islam, all these types of marriage were canceled except the first one; i.e. marriage of a man to a woman. Likewise, there was no limitation on the number of wives in pre-Islamic Arabia, rather they could marry two sisters at the same time, or the wives of their fathers if divorced or widowed. Moreover, adultery was very common among all the social classes except some noble and dignified men and women; and freed women lived a better life than female slaves.

Condition of offspring

There was a lot of variance in the society regarding the offspring too; on one side, some Arabs loved children very much and kept them dear to their hearts and paid full concentration on their nurturing. [2] On the other hand, some others buried their female infants alive due to embarrassment and expenditure; besides the female infants, male children were also killed due to the fear of poverty and hardship, but it was not common all over Arabia. Along with that, blood relationships and tribal pride were the backbones of the administration of Arabian society, they have used a proverb in this regard, i.e. “support your brother whether he is an oppressor or oppressed”. As well, inter-tribal connections were very weak and mostly a war-like situation had continued among them. [3]

Source to get Water in Pre-Islamic Arabia

In Mecca, the source to get water for the sustenance of life was through the digging of wells. Ibn Hishām demonstrated that the Quraish had already dug several wells before the digging of Zamzam through ‘Abdul Muṭṭalib in Mecca, like, ‘Abd Shams bin ‘Abd Manāf had dug the well “al-Ṭawiyyī” (الطَّويّ), Hāshim bin ‘Abd Manāf dug the well “Badhdhar” (بَذَّر), Umayyah bin ‘Abd Shams dug the well “al-Ḥafr” (الحَفْر), Banū Asad bin ‘Abdul ‘Uzzā dug the well “Suqiyyah” (سُقيَّة), Banū ‘Abdul Dār dug the well “Umm A’ḥrād” (أُمَّ أحْراد), Banū Jumaḥ dug the well “al-Sumbulah” (السُّنْبلة), etc.

There were some other wells that had been dug outside Mecca which were very old, from the period of Murrah bin K‘ab and Kilāb bin Murrah and the early people of Quraish used to draw water from these wells, theses were: the well “Rumm” (رُمّ) of Murrah bin K‘ab and the well “Khumm” (خُمّ) of Kilāb bin Murrah. But after digging the well of Zamzam, it took superiority above all the earlier wells; the pilgrims used its water to drink and people paid attention to it because it had its connection with I’smā‘iīl bin I’brāhīm (PBUH). [4]

Economic Condition in Pre-Islamic Arabia

The economic condition of the Arabs was very much similar to that of the social condition.


Generally, the people engaged themselves in the occupation of trade in Pre-Islamic Arabia for their basic needs and to survive life. But, trade could not be easy if there were no security of caravan routes and inter-tribal peaceful co-existence. Then again, the Arabians were always in a state of war except during the sacred months during which they held their assemblies of ‘Ukāẓ, Dhul Majāz, Majannah, etc. At that time, Arabians were not familiar with industry except the people of Yemen, Ḥīrah, and the borders of Syria where the most common industries were knitting and tanning. However, within the peninsula, to some extent, there was a culture of farming and livestock industry. All the Arabian women were engaged in spinning, but the goods and assets were always vulnerable to war. The plight of poverty, hunger, and nudity was common in society. [5]

Trade played a central role in their `economic condition. In Mecca, the people who had high status in the society were mostly merchants, traders, and money-lenders, as Ibn Hishām stated that the people of Quraish were merchants. [6] In fact, before the emergence of Islam, Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) himself went on a commercial journey to Shām with his uncle Abū Ṭālib[7], and he was also the trading partner of Khadījah (R.A).[8] Besides that, the reason for the War of Fijār (حرب الفجار) as being the protection of a caravan carrying musk and brocade belonging to N‘umān bin al-Mundhir.[9] Moreover, Abū Bakr Ṣiddīque (R.A) who was a noble and reputable person among the Quraish was also a merchant.[10]


Slavery was also an important part of the Arabian economy. Both male and female slaves were sold and bought in the markets. They did not have any right or value in society, rather, they spent their lives for the sake of their owners and did whatever their masters wanted. Ibn Isḥāq discussed the incident of embracing Islam by Salmān Fārisī (R.A), that, he was the son of a Persian who was the mayor of his village. However, he ran away from his house for the sake of true religion. Meanwhile, in his quest for true religion, he met various Christian bishops. Then, unfortunately, he became the slave of a Jew who purchased him from a group of Arab merchants. After that, he made himself free from his owner on the compensation of three hundred date palm trees and forty ounces.[11]

Similarly, Zaid ibn Ḥārithah was also a slave who was bought by Ḥakīm ibn Ḥizām ibn Khuwailid[12] from Shām (Syria) and gifted him to his aunt Khadījah (R.A). Then she presented him to Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) after her marriage with him. Finally, Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) freed and adopted him.[13] Moreover, Bilāl (R.A) was the slave of Umayyah bin Khalaf who was later freed by Abū Bakr Ṣiddīque (R.A). Along with him, Abū Bakr (R.A) emancipated six other slaves before the migration to Medina.[14] But, after the advent of Islam, all these tyrannies and oppressions had been finished on the slaves, rather, they had been emancipated by the believers for the sake of Allah.            


Along with the numerous evils and vices, Arabians were also the possessors of some highly praiseworthy and noble virtues, such as hospitality; fulfillment of a promise; self-respect; rejection of humiliation and injustice; strong willpower and determination; forbearance, perseverance, and mildness; pure and simple Bedouin life, etc. [15]


[1] Mubārakpurī, Ṣafīur Raḥmān.  Al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm. 6th ed, Darussalam, 2004.

[2] Mubārakpurī, Ṣafīur Raḥmān.  Al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm. 6th ed, Darussalam, 2004.

[3]Al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm. 2004.

[4]Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. pp. 121-123.

[5]Al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm. 2004.

[6] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. 2009, p. 149.

[7] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. 2009, pp. 143-144.

[8]Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. 2009, p. 149.

[9]Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. 2009, pp. 146-148.

[10] Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. p. 189.

[11]Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. pp. 166-171.

[12] Nephew of Khadījah (R.A).

[13] Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. p. 188.

[14]Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah., p. 235.

[15] Al-Raḥīq al-Makhtūm. 2004.

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