Those not conversant with the conditions in Makkah at the time of the Prophet’s (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) birth nor familiar with the social life, history, legends, literature and poetry of Arabia during the pre-Islamic times picture Makkah in their mind’s eye as a hamlet with a few tents of goat’s hair scattered hither and thither, surrounded by sheep, horses and camels and half-clad women and children, within a narrow valley flanked by sharp, jagged hill-tops. They view the people as ignoble and beggarly, passing through a stage of cultural and intellectual infancy, having no aesthetic sense, polish and refinement; a people who took stale bread and half-baked mutton and wore clothes made of camel’s hair.
Such a poor and miserable picturization of Makkah is inconsistent with the unmistaken landscape of the city emerging from historical records, collections of pre-Islamic poetry, habits and customs, norms and traditions of the Arabians. The people of Makkah had already been drawn into the stream of urban culture from the earlier rural, nomadic existence.
To tell the truth, such a vile and mean view of Makkah is not in keeping with the Quranic description of the city which gives it the name of ‘the Mother of towns’.
“And thus we have inspired in thee a Lecture in Arabic, that thou mayest warn the mother-town and those around it, and mayest warn of a day of assembling whereof there is no doubt. A host will be in the Garden and a host of them in the Flame.” [Qur’an 42:7]
At another place Makkah is designated as the ‘land made safe’.
“By the fig and the olive, by Mount Sinai, and by this land made safe.” [Qur’an 95:1-3]
The Qur’an also calls it a city.
“Nay I swear by this city – And thou art an indeweller of this city.” [Qur’an 90:1-2]
Makkah had, as a matter of fact, already passed from nomadic barbarism to the stage of urban civilisation by the middle of the fifth century. The city was ruled by a confederacy based on mutual cooperation, unity of purpose and a general consensus on the division of administrative and civil functions between self governing clans, and this system had already been brought into existence by Qusayy b. Kilab. Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) being fifth in the line of succession(102) to Qusayy b. Kilab, the latter can be placed in the middle of the fifth century.
Makkah, thinly populated in the beginning, was locatecl between the two hills called Jabl Abu Qubays (adjacent to Mount Safa) and Jabl Ahmar, known as ‘Araf during the pre-lslamic days, opposite the valley of Quaqiq’an. The population of the town increased gradually owing partly to the reverence paid to the K’aba and the regardful position of its priests and attendants, and partly because of the peace prevailing in the vicinity of the sanctuary. The tents and shacks had given place to houses made of mud and stones and the habitation had spread over the hillocks and low-lying valleys around the K’aba. At the outset the people living in Makkah abstained from constructing even their housetops in a rectangular shape like the K’aba since they considered it to be a sign of disrespect to the House of God, but gradually the ideas changed; still, they kept the height of their houses lower than that of tht K’aba. As related by certain persons, the houses were initially made in a circular shape as a mark of respect to the K’aba. The first rectangular house, reported to have been built by Humaid Bin Zuhair, was looked upon with disfavour by the Quraysh.
The chiefs and other well-to-do persons among the Quraysh usually built their houses of stones and had many rooms in them, with two doors on the opposite sides, so that the womenfolk did not feel inconvenience in the presence of guests.
Reconstruction of Makkah
Qusayy b. Kilab had played a leading role in the reconstruction and expansion of Makkah. The Quraysh who had been dispersed over a wide area, were brought together by him in the valley of Makkah. He allocated areas for settlement of different families and encouraged them to construct their houses in the specified localities. The successors of Qusayy continued to consolidate the living quarters and to allocate spare lands to new families coming into Makkah. The process continued peacefully for a long time with the result that the habitations of the Quraysh and their confederate clans grew up making Makkah a flourishing city.
The City State
Qusayy b. Kilab and his had assumed a commanding position over the city and its inhabitants. They were the janitors of the K’aba, had the privilege of Saqayah(103) or watering the pilgrims and arranging the annual feast, presided over the meetings of the House of Assembly (Dar-al-Nadwa) and handed out war banners.
Qusayy b. Kilab had built the House of Assembly close to the K’aba with one of its doors leading to the sanctuary. It was used both as a living quarter by Qusayy and the rendezvous for discussing all matters of common weal by the Quraysh. No man or woman got married, no discussion on any important matter was held, no declaration of war was made and no sheet of cloth was cast on the head(104) of any girl reaching marriageable age except in this house. Qusayy’s authority during his life and after his death was deemed sacrosanct like religious injunctions which could not be violated by anybody. The meetings of the House of Assembly could be attended only by the Quraysh and their confederate tribesmen, that is, those helonging to Hashim, Umayya, Makhzum, Jomah, Sahm, Taym, ‘Adiy, Asad, Naufal and Zuhra, whatever be their age, while people of other tribes not below the age of forty years were allowed to participate in its meetings.
After the death of Qusayy, the offices held by him were divided between different families. Banu Hashim were given the right of watering the pilgrims; the standard of Quraysh called ‘Aqab (Lit. Eagle) went to Banu Umayya; Bani Naufal were allocated Rifada;(105) Banu ‘Abdul-Dar were assigned priesthood, wardenship of the K’aba and the standard of war; and Banu Asad held the charge of the House of Assembly. These families of the Quraysh used to entrust these responsibilities to the notable persons helonging to their families. Thus, Abu Bakr (radhiallahu ‘anhu), who came from Banu Taym, was responsible for realising bloodmoney, fines and gratuity; Khalid (radhiallahu ‘anhu) of Banu Makhzum held charge of the apparatus of war kept in a tent during the peace-time and on the horseback during battles; ‘Umar b. al-Khattab (radhiallahu ‘anhu) was sent as the envoy of Quraysh to other tribes with whom they intended to measure swords or where a tribe bragging of its superiority wanted the issue to be decided by a duel; Safwan b. Umaayah of Bani Jomah played at the dice(106) which was deemed essential before undertaking any important task; and, Harith b. Qays was liable to perform all administrative business besides being the custodian of offerings to the idols kept in the K’aba. The duties allocated to these persons were hereditary offices held earlier by their forefathers.
The Quraysh of Makkah used to fit out two commercial Caravans, one to Syria during the summer and the other to Yemen during the winter season. The four months of Hajj, that is, Rajab, Dhul Q’ada, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, were deemed sacred when it was not lawful to engage in hostilities. During these months the precincts of the Holy Temple and the open place besides it were utilised as a trade centre to which people from distant places came for transacting business. All the necessaries required by the Arabs were easily available in this market of Makkah. Thc stores for the sale of various commodities, located in different lanes and byways, mentioned by the historians, tend to show the economic and cultural growth of Makkah. The vendors of attars had their stalls in a separate bylane and so were the shops of fruit-sellers, barbers, grocers, fresh dates and other wares and trades localized in different alleys. A number of these markets were spacious enough, as, for example, the market set apart for foodgrains was well-stocked with wheat, ghee (clarified butter), honey and similar other commodities. All these articles were brought by trading caravans. To cite an instance, wheat was brought to Makkah from Yamama(107). Similarly cloth and shoe stores had separate quarters allocated to them in the market.
Makkah had also a few meeting places where carefree youngmen used to come together for diversion and pastime. Those who were prosperous and accustomed to live high, spent the winter in Makkah and the summer in Ta’if. There were even some smart youngmen known for their costly and trim dresses costing several hundred dirhams.
Makkah was the centre of a lucrative trade transacting business on a large scale. Its merchants convoyed caravans to different countries in Asia and Africa and imported almost everything of necessity and costly wares marketable in Arabia. They usually brought resin, ivory, gold and ebony from Africa; hide, incense, frankincense, spices, sandal-wood and saffron from Yemen; different oils and foodgrains, armour, silk and wines fiom Egypt and Syria; cloth from Iraq: and gold, tin, precious stones and ivory from India. The wealthy merchants of Makkah sometimes presented the products of their city, of which the most valued were leather products, to the kings and nobles of other countries. When the Quraysh sent ‘Abdullah b. Abu Rabl’a and ‘Amr b. al-‘As to Abyssinia to bring back the Muslim fugitives, they sent with them leather goods of Makkah as gifts to Negus and his generals.
Women also took part in commercial undertakings and fitted out their own caravans bound for Syria and other countries. Khadlja bint Khuwaylid and Hanzaliya, mother of Abu Jahl, were two merchant women of dignity and wealth. The following verse of the Qur’an attests the freedom of women to ply a trade.
“Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned.” [Qur’an 4:32]
Like other advanced nations of the then world, the commercially minded citizens of Makkah had based their economy on commerce for which they sent out caravans in different directions, organised stock markets and created favourable conditions in the home market for the visiting tourists and traders. This helped to increase fame and dignity of Makkah as a religious centre and contributed in no mean measure to the prosperity of the city. Everything required by the people of Makkah , whether a necessity or a luxury, reached their hands because of the city’s commercial importance. This fact finds a reference in these verses of the Qur’an:
“So let them worship the Lord of this House, Who hath fed them against hunger, And hath made them safe from fear.” [Qur’an 106:3-5]
Economic Conditions, Weights & Measures
Makkah was thus the chief centre of business in Arabia and its citizens were prosperous and wealthy. The caravan of the Quraysh, involved in the battle of Badr while returning from Syria, consisted of a thousand camels and carried merchandise worth 50,000 dinaars.(108)
Both Byzantine and Sasanian currencies, known as dirham and dinar, were in general use in Makkah and other parts of the Peninsula. Dirham was of two kinds: one of it was an Iranian coin known to the Arabs bagliyah and sauda’-I-damiyah, and the other was a Byzantine coin (Greek-drachme) which was called tabriyah and bazantiniyah. These were silver coins and therefore instead of using them as units of coinage, the Arabs reckoned their values according to their weights. The standard weight of dirham, according to the doctors of lslamic shari’ah, is equal to fifty-five grains of barley and ten dirhartls are equivalent in weight to seven mithqals of gold. One mithqal of pure gold is, however, according to Ibn Khaldun, equal to the weight of seventy-two grains of barley. Doctors of law unanimously agree with the weight given by Ibn Khaldun.
The coins in current use during the time of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) were generally silver coins. ‘Ata states that the coins in general use during the period were not gold but silver coins. (Ibn Abi Sha’iba, Vol. 3, p.222)
Dinar was a gold coin familiar to the Arabs as the Roman (Byzantine) coin in circulation in Syria and Hijaz during the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period. It was minted in Byzantium with the image and name of the Emperor impressed on it as stated by Ibn ‘Abd-ul-Bar in the Al-Tamhid. Old Arabic manuscripts mention the Latin denarius aureus as the Byzantine coin (synonymous with the post-Constantine sol dus) which is stated to be the name of a coin still a unit of currency in Yugoslavia. New Testament, too, mentions denarius at several places. Dinar was considered to have the average weight of one mithqal, which, as stated above, was equivalent to seventy-two grains of barley. It is generally believed that the weight standard of the dinar was maintained from the pre-Islamic days down to the 4th century of the Hijrah. Da’iratul Ma’arif Islamiyah says that the Byzantine denarius weighed 425 grams and hence, according to the Orientalist Zambawar, the mithqal of Makkah was also of 425 grams.(109) The ratio of weight between dirham and dinar was 7:10 and the former weighed seven-tenths of a mithqal.
The par value of the dinar, deduced from the hadeeth, fiqah(110) and historical literature, was equivalent to ten dirhams. ‘Amr b. Shuyeb, as quoted in the Sunan Abu Dawud, relates: “The bloodmoney during the time of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) was 800 dinars or 8,000 dirhams, which was followed by the companions of the Prophet, until the entire Muslim community unanimously agreed to retain it.” The authentic ahadeeth fix the nisab or the amount of property upon which zakat is due, in terms of dirham, at 20 dinars. This rule upheld by a consensus of the doctors of law goes to show that during the earlier period of Islamic era and even before it, a dinar was deemed to have a par value of ten dirhams or other coins equivalent to them.
Imam Malik says in the Muwatta that ‘the accepted rule, without any difference of opinion, is that zakat(111) is due on 20 dinars or 200 dirhams’.(112) The weights and measures in general use in those days were S’a, mudd, ratal, auqiyah and mithqal to which a few more were added latter on. The Arabs also possessed knowledge of arithmatic, for, it is evident, that the Qur’an had relied on their ability to compute the shares of the legatees in promulgating the Islamic law of inheritance.
Prosperous Families of Quraysh
Bani Umayya and Banl Makhzum were the two prominent families of the Quraysh favored by the stroke of luck. Walld b. al-Mughira, ‘Abdul ‘Uzza (Abu Lahab), Abu Uhayha b. Sa’eed b. al-‘As b. Umayya (who had a share of 30,000 di,nars in the caravan of Abu Sufyan) and ‘Abd b. Abl Rabi’a al. Makhzum had made good fortunes. ‘Ahdullah b. Jad’an of Banu Taym was also one of the wealthiest persons of Makkah who used to drink water in a cup of gold and maintained a public kitchen for providing food to every poor and beggar. ‘Abbaas Ibn ‘Abdul-Muttalib was another man abounding in riches who spent lavishly on the indigent and the needy and lent money at interest in Makkah. During his farewell Pilgrimage when the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) abolished usurious transactions, he declared: “The first usury I abolish today is that of ‘Abbaas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib”.
Makkah had also men rolling in riches whose well-furnished drawing rooms were the rendezvous of the elite of the Quraysh who rejoiced in the pleasures of wine, love and romance.
The chiefs of the Quraysh usually had their sittings in front of the K’aba in which prominent poets of pre-Islamic days, such as, Labid, recited their poems. It was here that ‘Abdul Muttalib used to have his gatherings and, as they say, his sons dared not take their seats around him until their father had arrived.
Culture & Arts
Industrial arts and crafts were looked down on by the Quraysh; they considered it beneath their dignity to have their hands in a handiwork. Manual occupations were regarded as occupation meant exclusively for the slaves or non-Arabs. Yet, notwithstanding this proclivity of the Quraysh, certain crafts were a dire necessity and were practiced by some of them. Khabhab b. al-Aratt is reported to have been engaged in manufacturing swords. Constructional activities were also indispensable but Iranian and Byzantine workmen were employed to do the job for the Quraysh.
A few men in Makkah knew the art of reading and writing but the Arabs, as whole, were ignorant of the way by which learning is imparted. The Qur’an also calls them Ummi(113) or an unlettered people:
“He it is Who hath sent among the unlettered ones a messenger of their own.”(114)
The people of Makkah were however, not ignorant of the arts of civilisation. Their refined taste, polish and culture excelled them in the whole of Arabia in the same was as the townsmen of any metropolis occupy a distinctive place in their country.
The language spoken at Makkah was regard as a model of unapproachable excellence: the Makkan dialect set the standard which the desert bedouins as well as the Arabs of outlying areas strived to imitate. By virtue of their elegant expression and eloquence, the inhabitants of MAKKAH were considered to possess the finest tongue, uncorrupted by the grossness of the languages of non-Arabs. In their physical features, shapeliness and good looks, the people of Makkah were considered to be the best representatives of the Arabian race. They were also endowed with the virtues of courage and magnanimity of heart, acclaimed by the Arabs as Al-Futuh and al-Murauwah, which were the two oft-repeated themes of Arabian poetry. These traits of their character admirably describe their recklessness which savoured troth of a devil and a saint.
The matters that attracted their attention most were genealogy, legends of Arabia, poetry, astrology and planetary mansions, ominous flight of the birds and a little of medication. As expert horsemen, they possessed an intimate knowledge of the horse and preserved the memory of the purest breed; and as dwellers of the desert they were well-versed in the delicate art of physiognomy. Their therapy based partly on their own experience and partly on the traditional methods handed down to them from their forefathers, consisted of branding, phlebotomy, removal of diseased limbs and use of certain herbs.
The Quraysh were by nature or nurture, a peace-loving people, amiable in disposition; for, unlike all other peoples inside and outside the Peninsula, their prosperity depended on t the development of free trade, continual movement of caravans, improvement of marketing facilities in their own city and maintenance of conditions peaceful enough to encourage merchants and pilgrims to bend their steps to Makkah. They were sufficiently farsighted to recognise that their merchantile business was their life: trade was the source of their livelihood as well as the means to increase their prestige as servants of the sanctuary. The Qur’an has also referred to the fact in the Surah Quraysh:
“So let them worship the Lord of this House, who hath fed them against hunger hath made safe from fear.” [Qur’an 106:3-5]
In other words, they were inclined to avoid a scramble unless their tribal or religious honour was in peril. They were thus committed to the principle of peaceful coexistence; nevertheless, they possessed considerable military prowess. Their courage and intrepidity was as axiomatic throughout Arabia as was their skill in horsemanship. “Al-Ghadbata al-Mudriyah” or anger of the Mudar, which can be described as a tormenting thirst quenched by nothing save blood, was a well known adage of Arabic language frequently used by the poets and orators of pre-Islamic Arabia.
The military prowess of Quraysh was not restricted to their own tribal reserves alone. They utilised the services of ahabeesh or the desert Arabs living around Makkah, some of which traced their descent to Kinana and Khuzayma b. Mudrika the distant relation of Quraysh. The Khuza’a were also confederates of the Quraysh. In addition, Makkah had always had slaves in considerable numbers who were ever willing to fight for their masters. They could thus draft, at any time, several thousand warriors under their banner. The strongest force numbering 10,000 combatants, ever mustered in the pre-lslamic era, was enlisted by the Quraysh in the battle of Ahzab.
Makkah, The Heart of Arabia
By virtue of its being the seat of the national shrine and the most flourishing commercial centre whose inhabitants were culurally and intellectually in Arabia. It was considered a rival of Sana’ in Yernen, but with the Abyssinians and Iranians gaining control over Sana, one after another, and the decline of the earlier glamour of Hira and Ghassan, Makkah had attained a place of undisputed supremacy in Arabia.
The Moral Life
A moral ideal was what the Makkans lacked most of all, or one can say, except for the binding force of some stale customs and traditional sentiments of Arab chivalry, they had no code of ethics to guide their conduct. Gambling was a favourite pastime in which they took pride, unrestrained drunkenness sent them into rapturous delight and immoderate dissipation satisfied their perverted sense of honor. Their gatherings were the scenes of drinking bouts and wanton debauchery. Without any idea of sin or crime, they never took any aversion to wickedness, iniquity, callousness and brigandage.
The moral atmosphere of Arabia in general, and of Makkah in particticular, was faithfully depicted by J’afar b. Abu Talib, a prominent member of the Quraysh, in the court of Negus, when he said to him;
“O King we were an unenlightened people plunged in ignorance: we worshipped idols, we ate dead animals, and we committed abominations; we broke natural ties, we ill-treated our neighbors and our strong devoured the weak.” (Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, p.336)
The religious practices and beliefs of the Arabs were, beyond doubt, even more despicable, particularly, by reason of the influence they exerted on the social and moral life of the people. Having lost all but little touch with the salubrious teachings of the prophets of old, they had been completely submerged in the crude and materialistic form of fetishism like that prevailing in the countries surrounding them. So fond had they become of idol worship that no less than three hundred and sixty deities adorned, or defiled, the holy sanctuary. The greatest amongst these gods was Hubal whom Abu Sufyan had extolled at the battle of Uhud when he had cried out: “Glory be to Hubal”. The idol occupied a central place in the K’aba, by the side of a well in which the offerings were stored. Sculptured in the shape of a man, it was made of a huge cornelian rock. As its right hand was missing when the Quraysh had discovered it, they had replaced it by a hand made of solid gold. Two idols had been placed in front of the K’aba, one was called Isaf and the other as Na’ila; the former had been installed close to the K’aba and the latter by the place of Zamzam. After sometime the Quraysh had shifted the first one near the other, where they offered up sacrifices besides them. On the mounts of Safa and Marwah, there were two more idols called Nahik Mujawid al-Rih and Mut’im at-Tayr.
Every household in Makkah had an idol which was worshipped by the inmates of the house. Al-‘Uzza had been installed near ‘Arafat within a temple constructed for it. Quraysh venerated al-‘Uzza as the chief or the noblest of all deities. The Arabs used to cast lots with the help of divining arrows placed before these idols for taking a decision to commence any affair. There were also other idols, one of which named as al-Khalsa, had been set up in the depression of Makkah’s valley. The idol was garlanded, presented an offering of barley and wheat and bathed with milk. The Arabs used to make sacrifices and hang the eggs of ostrich over it. Being a popular deity its replicas were sold by vendors to the villagers and pilgrims visiting Makkah.
The Arabs possessed the virtues of courage, loyalty and generosity, but during the long night of superstition and ignorance, worship of images and idols had stolen into their hearts, perhaps, more firmly than any other nation; and they had wandered far away from the simple faith of their ancestors Ibrahim (‘alayhis salaam) and Isma’il (‘alayhis salaam) which had once taught them the true meaning of religious piety, purity of morals and seemliness of conduct.
So, this was the city of Makkah, The by the middle of the sixth century of Christian era, before the birth of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), whence we see Islam rising on a horizon shrouded in obscure darkness.
In very truth the Lord has said: “That thou mayst warn a folk whose fathers were not warned, so they are heedless.” [Qur’an 36:6]
 Akhbar Makkah by ‘Abi al-Walid al-Azraqi (d. 223. A.H.) has given all the necessary details about the matter.
 Water supplied to the pilgrim was stored in tanks especially constructed for the purpose and the water was sweetened by mixing dates and raisins.
 A large piece of cloth with an opening cut through it, in which the girl could put through her head, was placed over her head to signify her betrothal.
 A tax paid by the Quraysh from their property at the tie of Hajj for providing food to pilgris Al-Hadrai, p. 36.
 Dices marked ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ on either side were thrown to decided whether any important task was to be undertaken or not. It was known as Aysar-o-Azlam.
 When Thumama b. Athal (the Chief of Banu Hanifa) embraced Islam, he put a ban on the export of wheat to Mecca. This was found so irk-some by the Quraysh that they had to make a request to the Prophet, on whose intervention, Thumama lifted the ban.
 Strabo once saw an Arabia caravan arriving at Petra and compared it with an army. (Arabia before Muhammad, p. 185).
 Vol. IX, p. 270, art. Dinar
 Dogmatic theology or the science of law covering devotional rituals, private conduct and dealing as well as civil and criminal law of Islam.
 Lit. “Purification”, hence a specified portion of property one is obliged to give more either privately or to the state as Alms, for sanctification of the remainder.
 Bulugh-ul-Adab fi a’rafata Ahwal-ul-‘Arab by Alusi, Altarbi ud-Dariyah by Abdul Ha’I Al-Katani, Fiqah-uz-Zakat by Yusuf al-Qurzawi and Tafsir Majidi by Abdul Amjid Daryabadi.
 Lit. “The Unlettered”, also a title of the Prophet. For a detailed discussion of the subject see article ‘Was Muhammad Literate?’ by Mohaiddun Ahmad in the Islam and the Modern Age, Vol. VIII, No. 2 (May 1977).
 Baladuri gives the name of 17 individuals who alone knew how to read and wrote in Mecca. (Futuh al-Buldan, Leydan, pp. 471-2).