Religious Conditions in Pre-Islamic Arabia


We can say regarding the religious conditions in Pre-Islamic Arabia that polytheism and idol worshipping was the most eminent aspect of the people. ‘Amr bin Luḥayyī played a vital role in changing the religious conditions in Pre-Islamic Arabia. Idol worship was introduced among the Arabs by ‘Amr bin Luḥayyī, chief of the clan Banū Khuza‘ah who was considered an eminent person of his clan and who was counted among the great and revered scholars due to his honesty, charity, loyalty, and dedication towards the religion. Before that, mostly the Arabs followed the Religion of Prophet Abraham (PBUH); worshipped Allah, and believed in His Oneness, but during the course of time they forgot a part of it, nevertheless, there were some fundamental beliefs that still existed among them, for example, monotheism and other practices of Abrahamic religion.

Idol Worship in Pre-Islamic Arabia

‘Amr bin Luḥayyī went on a journey to Syria and brought an idol known as “Ḥubal” from there to Makkah which he installed in the center of Kabah and called the people towards polytheism which was accepted by the people of Makkah; then, it was also followed by the inhabitants of Ḥijāz. Apart from Ḥubal, the most prominent and oldest idols were, Manāt that was situated at Mushallal (مشلّل) near Qudaid on the Red Sea; Lāt placed in Ṭāi’f; al-‘Uzzā established in the valley of Nakhlah. Then, there became a remarkable increment in the number of idols everywhere in Ḥijāz. ‘Amr bin Luḥayyī was the same person who made the people familiar with the idols of Noah’s folk, i.e. Wadd, Suwā‘a, Yaghūth, Ya‘ūq, and Nasr. After that, every clan and then every house had its own idols; even the Sacred Mosque (المسجد الحرام) had also been full of large numbers of idols; as, on the occasion of the Conquest of Makkah (فتح مكة), the K‘abah was surrounded by 360 idols which were destroyed by Prophet Muhammad (SAW). There were various special rituals and traditions followed by the pre-Islamic Arabs regarding idol worshipping which were mostly created by ‘Amr bin Luḥayyī and considered as good innovations by the people in the religion of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) instead of changes in the religion, for example, Self-devotion to the idols, seeking refuge to them, taking oaths in their names, performing pilgrimage and circumambulation of the idols, prostrating in front of them, sacrificing the animals in their name and asking them for their favor; fixing a part of their food, drink, crops and cattle to the idols and likewise a part to Allah, but it could be transferred from the fixing portion of Allah to their idols but never transferred from the idols’ portion to Allah; asking favors with these idols through vows of offerings of crops and cattle, such as Baḥīrah, Sāi’bah, Waṣīlah, and Ḥāmī. Moreover, the Arabs also used to believe in the foretelling of the soothsayers, diviners, and astrologers. They also have conviction in omens and have made some symbols for a good or bad omen. Nevertheless, they still adhered to some basic beliefs and traditions of Prophet Abraham’s religion, like, venerating the house of Allah, i.e. Kabah and circumambulating around it, performing Hajj and ‘Umrah, staying at ‘Arafah (العرفة) and Muzdalifah (المزدلفة) and offering sacrifices [1].

Concerning the religious conditions in Pre-Islamic Arabia, Sīrah of Ibn Hishām concluded that mostly the Arabs were idol worshippers. On the authority of Abū Hurairah (R.A), Ibn Isḥāq stated that Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) said: ‘Amr bin Luḥayyī was the first who change the religion of Prophet Ismā‘iīl (PHUH), thereupon he set the idols and invented such animals as the Baḥīrah (بحيرة), Sāi’bah (سائبة), Waṣīlah (وصيلة) and Ḥāmī (حامي). And he brought the idol Ḥubal to Makkah from Maāb (مآب), a town in Balqā’ (بلقاء) of Shām (Syria) where the people used to worship idols; and he ordered the people to worship and exalt this idol [2]. As the people of Noah (PBUH) worshipped the idols Wadd (ودّ), Suwā‘a (سُواع), Yaghūth (يغُوْث), Ya‘ūq (يَعُوْق), and Nasr (نَسر), as Almighty Allah mentions in the Holy Qurān:

“And they have said (to each other): Abandon not your gods: Abandon neither Wadd nor Suwā‘a, neither Yaghūth nor Ya‘ūq nor Nasr” (Sūrah Nūḥ, 71:23) [3].

Similarly, the people of Quraish worshipped the idol Hubal (هبل), Isāf (إساف), and Nāi’lah (نائلة) [4]. Every Arabian family took an idol in their house to worship. When a person intended to go on the journey, he would pass his hand over it. And it would had be his last act before going out. When he returned from the journey, the first activity he used to do was to pass his hand over the idol before meeting with his family [5]. Likewise, the idol of Al-‘Uzzā (العزّى) situated at Nakhlah (نخلة) belonged to the Quraish and Banī Kinānah (كنانة بني); Al-Lāt (اللات) of Thaqīf (ثقيف) placed in Ṭāi’f (طائف); Manāt (مناة) that belonged to both Aws (أوس) and Khazraj (خزرج) tribes and those who followed them from among the people of Yathrib (يثرب) located at Mushallal (مشلّل) in Qudaid (قُدَيد) on the coast of the sea.[6] Apart from these, the Arabs had many Ṭāghūts [7] along with the Kabah, which had its custodians and guards. They exalted these houses as they exalted Kabah itself, such as, they made circumambulation around these Ṭāghūts like kabah and sacrificed the animals [8]. There were also believers of various other religions in the Arabian Peninsula like Judaism, Christianity, Magianism, and Sabianism [9].

Casting of Arrows

Another custom of Pre-Islamic Arabia was the casting of arrows (Azlām) [10]. These arrows were of three types: one type showed only “Yes” or “No” and was used in matters regarding travel, marriage, etc.; the second type related to water, blood money, etc.; and on the third type of the arrows, there has been written, “From you”, “Not from you” or “Associated” (Mulsiq) [11].  The Arabs had the custom of casting divinatory arrows before doing some particular works and solving various problems of the people. As well, they had seven arrows placed near the idol Hubal, with writing on them. Such as, on one arrow there had been written “blood wet”, another had “yes” (نَعَم) to do anything, the next one had “no” (لا) to not do any work, the fourth one had “belonging to you” (منكم), fifth had “consociated” (مُلْصَق), the sixth arrow had “belonging to others than you” (من غَيْرِكم) to know the status or lineage of a person and the seventh arrow had the “water” (المياه) to dig a well for water [12].

The Heresy of Al-Ḥums in Pre-Islamic Arabia

The people of Quraish had introduced the heresy of adopting the title of Ḥums (حُمس) keeping themselves superior to other Arabs. According to them, they were the offspring of Prophet I’smā‘iīl (PBUH), the residents of the Sacred Sanctuary, the guardians of the House of Allah (K‘abah), the inhabitants of Makkah, and no one has the position as they have among the entire Arabs. Therefore, they invented some heresies, like, they kept off themselves from standing at “‘Arafah ground” (عَرَفات) and departing from it with the people; although they knew very well that this was among the ceremonies of Hajj and a part of the Abrahamic religion which was compulsory to do upon all the people. Nevertheless, they claimed that, as they were the residents of the Sanctuary, they had not to come out from the Sanctuary and exalt anything other than it. Besides that, they also laid themselves off in the state of I’ḥrām (إحرام), from the use of yogurt or butter, to enter the house of hair, to take shade except the tent made of leather. They prevented the pilgrims of Hajj and ‘Umrah who came from outside the Sanctuary, to eat the food that they brought with them and to perform the circumambulation (طواف) around the Kabah, for the first time except the clothes of Ḥums; and if any person did not get these clothes, he would perform it in a state of undress [13]. But, after the emergence of Islām, Allah put off all these heresies, as Ibn Hishām quoted some Āyāt (verses) of the Holy Qurān [14], one of them is given below:

ثُمَّ أَفِيضُوْا مِنْ حَيْثُ أَفَاضَ النَّاسُ واسْتَغْفِرُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيْمٌ” [15]

(Then pass on at a quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the multitude so to do and ask for Almighty Allah’s forgiveness. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful).”


However, the religious conditions in Pre-Islamic Arabia were not good. Polytheism and idol worshipping was the most eminent aspect of the Pre-Islamic Arabian. They were believing in superstition and invented some heresies. But, there were some fundamental beliefs as well that still existed among them.


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

[2] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. 2009, p.73

[3] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. 2009, p. 74.

[4] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. p. 76.

[5] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. p.77.

[6] Ibn Hishām. Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. pp.  77-79.

[7] Houses to exalt and offer sacrifices to, and circumambulate around like the Holy K‘abah itself.

[8] Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, p. 77.

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

[10] These were the featherless arrows.

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

[12] Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. p. 124.

[13] Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. pp. 156-158.

[14] Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah. p. 159.

[15] Sūrah al-Baqarah, 2:199.


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