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Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Economic Situation of the Arabian Peninsula

Since most of the Arabian Peninsula consists of vast desert land, its inhabitants did not work in agriculture, except in the extreme borders on the peninsula – particularly in Yemen, in the south, and Syria, to the north – and in the odd scattered oases found in central Arabia. Without much vegetation in Arabia, it was sheep and camels that made for the livelihood of both desert and city dwellers. Tribes would go from place to place with their herds, looking for pastureland.
As for industry and manufacturing, Arab were far, far behind other nations; they practically refused to work in those fields, instead allowing foreigners and slaves to do their work for them. Even when they wanted to rebuild the kaba, they sought the help of an Egyptian, who had survived the sinking of his see vessel in Jeddah, and who then settled in Mecca.
It is true that, without farming and manufacturing, Arabs were, compared to other people, at an economic disadvantage; but they did compensate in another regard: They were an advanced trading nation, by dint of their strategically sound location between Africa and eastern Asia.
It was primarily the city dwellers of the Arabian Peninsula who engaged in trade, and most successful among them were the people of the Quraish. The Quraish differed from others tribes in that they were the inhabitants of Mecca, which was considered to be holy by all Arabs; as such, they were able to travel safely all over Arabia, for no tribe dared attacked the dwellers of the inviolable city of Mecca. Other tribes did not fare as well; their trading caravans were constantly being subjected to high way robbery by individuals and other tribes that made a living through attacking and robbing passing caravans. God reminded the Quraish of this particular blessing in the Noble Quran:
"Have they not seen that we have made Mecca a sanctuary secure, and that men are being snatched away from all around them? Then do they believe in falsehood, and deny the graces of God?" {Quran 29:67}
The Quraish dispatched two very larger trading caravans on a yearly basis; one went in the winter to Yemen, and the other when in the summer to Syria. They went in safely, while other tribes while other tribes where constantly being attached and robbed. Throughout every year, the Quraish sent many lesser caravans to the various market places of Arabia (and perhaps even else where). God said:
"It is a great grace and protection from God, for the taming of the Quraish, and with all those God's grace and protection for their taming, we cause the (Quraish's) caravans to set forth safe in winter (to the south) and in summer (to the north), so let them worship God the Lord of this house (the Kaba in Mecca) He who has fed them against hunger and has made them safe from fear." {Quran 106: 1-4}
The caravans carried all kinds of merchandise that was available in the Arabian Peninsula – such as perfume, incense, spices, dates, ivory, beads, skins, silk garments and weapons. Some merchandise was produced in the Peninsula, but some was important from abroad. The trading caravans would carry such items to Syria and elsewhere, and would then return with full loads of wheat, grains, raisins, oils, and clothing.
The Yemenis were also known for trading, for their economic activities were conducted on land and by sea; they traveled to the shores of Africa, India, Indonesia, Sumatra, and the islands of the Arabian Peninsula. Once the inhabitants of Yemen become Muslims, they used their previous travel experience and knowledge to help spread Islam to the above mentioned lands. Prior to the advent of Islam, Usury was practiced on a wide spread scale, perhaps having come to the Arabs from the Jews. In some cases, interest rates reached as high as one-hundred percent.
Ukaadh, Majinnah, and Dhul-Majaaz were the names of the most famous market places of the Arabian Peninsula. Some historians relate that Arabs would congregate at Ukaadh at the beginning of Thul-Qaidah; after 20 days passed, they would go to Majinnah. And when they saw the birth of the new moon for Thul-Hijjah, they would go to Dhul-Majaaz, where they would stay for 8 days. Then they would go to Arafa for the pilgrimage. And neither in Arafa nor during the days of Mina did the conduct any business – not until the advent of Islam, for God permitted them to do business during these days.
"There is no sin on you if you seek the bounty of your lord (during pilgrimage by trading etc.). Then when you leave Arafa, remember God (by glorifying his praises, i.e., prayers and invocations, etc.) at the Mashar-il-haram (Muzdalifah). And remember him as he has guided you, and verily, you were, before, of those who were astray." {Quran 2:198}
These centers of trade remained open during the early days of Islam, but eventually closed down. During their hay day, Ukaadh, Majinnah, and Dhul-Majaaz were not merely marketplaces; they were also centers of poetry and public speaking. Great poets and speakers gathered and competed against one another in their respective arts; thus they were centers that greatly served the advancement of poetry and the Arabic language.

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