Fourteen hundred years ago the world lay in utter moral darkness. Christians ruled in Europe and they ruled indifferently. They believed in Jesus, called him the son of God and worshipped him as they do now. Their kings and cardinals fought one another. They were often very cruel. The priests were held in great honour. They were often very ignorant and dirty. The entire continent was in the depth of darkness. The muses of Greece reposed in sleep and the splendour of mighty Rome shone only through a life of lustrous depravity. Africans were in a pitiable plight. The Northern regions of Africa groaned under a harsh Roman rule. The Church was a house divided because of the ill-treatment of native Africans by the ruling Christian minority. The southern regions of the continent were in the grip of naked barbarism.
The Jews had become neglectful of religious duties and callous to one another. They were bitter enemies of the Christians who paid them back in the same coin.
The Indians were no better. They had millions of gods. They were cut up into four castes. The Brahmans, the highest cast, were the priests, the Rajputs, the second highest, were the rulers. The Shudars who came last were sweepers and scavengers and could not share food or drink with the other castes.
The Chinese worshipped their dead, adored the Budha and many many minor deities.
The Romans were in power in Europe. Persia was a great Empire. Both Romans and Persians were rich nations. They were ruled by great kings and generals. Between these two big states lay the vast sandy deserts of Arabia. The Arabs were a wild people. They had no king and no central authority. They were divided into many tribes, who knew no law but the law of vendetta. They worshipped stars and stones.
The climate of Arabia was dry and hot in summer, and dry and cold in winter. There were no rains. They people were poor and ever in search of water. They would, therefore, travel from one place to another. They had no brick houses and lived in tents. They could thus move easily about with their families. Wild life had made them brave and warlike. They had short tempers but long memories. They were, therefore, quick to quarrel but slow in making peace. They loved women and were ever at war with one another over one thing or the other. They also fought for water-rights.
The quarrels of the Arabs were over petty causes but were yet bloody and long. It is said that once a man saw a bird lay eggs in its nest. Passing by, he promised to look after it. Next day he saw two shattered eggs lying near about. A camel was grazing not far away. The man guessed that the camel must have disturbed the nest. He went to the keeper of the camel and told him to stay away from the tree. But the owner of the camel only laughed at him. The man was so angry that he killed the camel there and then. This small matter led to a bloody fight. First the families of the two and later their tribes went to war. The war lasted for forty years.
Arabs had no schools and no books. Except for a few, no one knew how to read and write. Sons, horses and poets were greatly prized among them. The birth of a daughter brought on great grief. Some of them buried their female children alive. The Arabs were very loyal to their tribes. They kept slaves and were proud of their families. They were cruel in war and had no mercy for the enemy, not even for women and children. But they were very brave. They had no fear of death and were kind to strangers.
Four thousand years ago, the Prophet Abraham came from Egypt to Arabia. He brought his wife Hajira and child Ismail with him to a desolate place where Mecca now stands. God had commanded him to leave the two in the deserts. Abraham gave his wife and child some dates and some water and left them in the care of God. The scanty rations were soon finished. The child Ismail was thirsty but there was no sign of water anywhere around. Seven times Hajira ran between the two hills, Safa and Marva. She found no water. Then lifting her eyes to the sky, she prayed to God. Soon a voice spoke, “God has heard thee.” She hurried back to the child. There she saw a spring of water close by his feet. The two were saved. Hajira thanked God for His great mercy. Soon Banu Jurham, an Arab tribe settled on the spot. When Ismail grew up, he took a girl of this tribe for his wife.
Abraham used to visit Hajira and Ismail often. Together, the son and the father raised the walls and laid the roof of the Holy House, the Kaaba. When the house of God was ready, Abraham prayed to the Lord to look after his child and his children’s children and great-grand children. He begged of Him to make them all His loyal servants. He also begged of Him to raise among them the Great Prophet and feed them with fruits. Then God ordered Abraham to call men to Hajj (pilgrimage) every year to the Kaaba. As time passed, Ismail’s children and their children grew in numbers. Their city, Mecca, became a big centre. People would come from every part of Arabia for Hajj. Ismail’s children were later known as Quresh. They were the keepers of the Holy Kaaba. They became rich and powerful. But in course of time, Arabs gave up the worship of one true God. They began instead to worship images. They kept their 360 tribal idols in the Holy House. The Quresh prayed to Hubal, a deity made of stone. The Quresh were much feared by their neighbours. It did not make them any better than the other Arabs. In fact they were most forward in evil ways. They drank like fish and danced and had many many wives. They even kept their widowed step-mothers as concubines.
Abraha, the Governor of Yemen, wanted to break the power of Mecca. He wished to set up another Kaaba. He came with a large army to Mecca to pull down the Holy House. His men seized some camels of Abdul Muttalib, a Chief of the Quresh. Abdul Muttalib sought an interview with Abraha. He asked him to return his camels. Abraha gave back the camels but said,
“Abdul Muttalib, you seem to care more for your camels than for the Holy House!”.
Abdul Muttalib replied:
“I am the master of the camels only. There is a Master of the Holy House. He would take care of it.”
Abraha became incensed at this retort and said,
“I will see how this master of the House stops me.”
He at once prepared to demolish the Holy House. But his elephant would not move. Abraha’s men died of plague or epidemic of smallpox and then the birds struck the pieces of the dead bodies with stones as birds do with large pieces of meat. The year is known as “the Year of the Elephant”.