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The revenge-based wars between the two tribes of Aws and Khazraj in Yathrib (Medina) were so severe and widespread that nobody dared to leave his home. These wars had destroyed the lives of the Arabs. God mentions in the Holy Qur'¡n their catastrophic con

The revenge-based wars between the two tribes of Aws and Khazraj in Yathrib (Medina) were so severe and widespread that nobody dared to leave his home. These wars had destroyed the lives of the Arabs. God mentions in the Holy Qur'¡n their catastrophic con

The revenge-based wars between the two tribes of Aws and Khazraj in Yathrib (Medina) were so severe and widespread that nobody dared to leave his home. These wars had destroyed the lives of the Arabs. God mentions in the Holy Qur'¡n their catastrophic condition and emphasizes the brotherhood among people which was the result of Islam:

Remember the favor of Allah on you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favor you became brethren; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then he saved you from it; thus does Allah make clear to you His communications that you may follow the right way. (3:103)

The Forbidden Months

A ceasefire (called sacred peace) was held among Arabs only during the Sacred Months (i.e. Dhu’l-Qa`dah, Dhu’l-°ijjah, Mu¦arram, and Rajab) out of their respect for a tradition left from the time of Prophet Abraham and Prophet Ishmael.[1] During these tranquil times, Arabs could have peace of mind and engage in trades or pilgrimage.[2]

If any war occurred during these sacred months, they would be called °arb al-Fujj¡r or a sinful fight. (the Holy Qur'¡n 9:37)

Women in the Arab Society

Arabs' outlook towards women was one of the manifestations and outcomes of ignorance during the period of J¡hiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance). Women were denied their human rights and independence. The very existence of women and girls at home was a sign of inferiority and shame for a family.[3] They would deprive girls of inheritance and believed those who defend their tribes (i.e. boys) who use their swords are entitled to inheritance.[4] In accordance with a narration, women were considered as merchandise. Upon her husband's death, the wife, if she did not have a son, would be transferred, along with the husband's other commodities, to the son of her husband from other wives.[5]

In accordance with some pieces of evidence, upon the death of one's husband, a woman would become the wife of her eldest son who would draw a piece of cloth on her step-mother's face and consider her item of inheritance and would marry her without any dowry. If he was reluctant to marry his stepmother, he would then ask another man to marry her and make use of her dowry for himself. If he preferred, he could deprive her stepmother of any future marriages so that after her death he could possess her wealth.

Thus, at the time of Arab Ignorance, marrying one's stepmother was not illegal. For this reason, the Holy Qur'¡n has prohibited it.[6] According to some interpreters, when a man called Ab£-Qays ibn al-Aslat died and his eldest son wanted to marry his mother, the following verse was revealed:

It is not lawful for you that you should take women as heritage against their will. (4:22)[7]

In those dark days, polygamy was very prevalent.[8]

The Tragedy of Women

As it is well-known, one of the Arabs' worst habits at the time of Ignorance was the practice of burying daughters alive. They would bury their daughters alive because they were thought to be unable to defend the tribal interests. Such men also feared that their daughters could be enslaved by their enemies, be married to them and give birth to children. This, they assumed, would be a sign of shame for them.[9] Some others buried their daughters alive due to severe poverty and wretchedness. (6:151)[10] As a whole, daughters were received as nasty beings. They were held as a sign of disgrace. The Holy Qur'¡n describes them in the following manner:

And when a daughter is announced to one of them, his face becomes black and he is full of wrath. He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that which is announced to him. Shall he keep it with disgrace or bury it alive in the dust? Now surely evil is what they judge. (16:58-59)

Women's deprivation and conviction are reflected amply in the Arab literature of those days. It was a custom for the Arab men to sympathize with a man who became a father to a daughter. They would tell him, “May God keep you from her disgrace. May God provide you with the expenses that she would create for you. May Gay turn her bridegroom's house into grave.”

Regarding this, an Arab poet has written the following poem:

“For any father who has a daughter and wishes to keep her, there are three kinds of bridegrooms: A house where she can shelter; a husband who can keep her, and a grave to protect her; but the best the grave.”

A story is told that a man, called Ab£-°amzah, stayed with the neighbors because his wife had given birth to a girl. His wife playfully said the following piece of poetry for her child:

“What has happened to Ab£-°amzah who has left us, living with the neighbors. He is angry because I have not given birth to a son. By God I swear, it is not upon us to decide on the sex of the child. We will receive what we are given.”

This mother's speech is in fact a revolt against the tyrant social conditions prevailing over the Arab community in those days, and depicts the tragedy of women then. The first tribe to establish such a nasty institution was the tribe of Ban£-Tam¢m. It is said that upon their refusal to pay tribunes to al-Nu`m¡n ibn al-Mundhir, there broke out a severe war in which the women and girls of Tam¢m were taken prisoners. When Tam¢m's representatives went to al-Nu`m¡n's court to receive the prisoners, the women were given option to either stay at al-°¢rah or return home among the Tam¢m¢ people. The daughter of Qays ibn `ª¥im, the chief of the tribe, who was among the prisoners and had married a courtier, chose to stay at the court. Qays became utterly upset and decided to kill his daughters from then on.[11] This custom gradually became widespread and it is said that the tribes Qays, Asad, Hudhayl, and Bakr ibn W¡'il committed this crime from then on.[12] Of course, not everybody or tribe performed such nasty crimes. Some tribes and dignified people, such as `Abd al-Mu§§alib, the Holy Prophet’s grandfather, opposed it.[13] Individuals such as Zayd ibn `Amr ibn Nufayl and ¯a`¥a`ah ibn N¡jiyah would take those girls who were supposed to be buried alive due to their parents' poverty and keep them safe.[14] Sometimes, they provided their parents with some camels.[15] However, there is a lot of evidence which indicates that this keeping of such girls was common:

1. ¯a`¥a`ah ibn N¡jiyah once told the Holy Prophet that he had saved 280 girls from being buried alive.[16]

2. Qays ibn `ª¥im killed twelve or thirteen of his daughters after he had taken the decision to do so.[17]

3. In the first treaty at al-`Aqabah (12 years after the Holy Prophet’s Divine Mission) which the Holy Prophet held with some groups of Yathrib, one paragraph concerned the avoidance of burying daughters alive.[18]

4. After the Conquest of Mecca, one of the items of the treaty with the women of this city stipulated that they should refrain from killing their children.

5. The Holy Qur'¡n has condemned the practice of burying daughters alive on several occasions:

And do not kill your children for fear of poverty; We give them sustenance and yourselves too; surely to kill them is a great wrong. (17:31)

And thus their associates have made fair seeming to most of the polytheists the killing of their children, that they may cause them to perish and obscure for them their religion. (6:137)

They are lost indeed who kill their children foolishly without knowledge, and forbid what Allah has given to them, forging a lie against Allah. (6:140)

And do not slay your children for fear of poverty-We provide for you and for them. (6:151)

And when the female infant buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed. (81:8-9)



[1] ±ab¡§ab¡'¢: al-M¢z¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur'¡n 9:272.

[2] By exchanging the names of the months and through postponing and procrastinating the forbidden months, the Arabs were engaged in wars during these months. For this very reason, God said:

“Postponing of the sacred month is only an addition in unbelief, where with those who disbelieve are led astray, violating it one year and keeping it sacred another, that they may agree in numb of months that Allah has made sacred, and thus violate what Allah has made sacred; the evil of their doings is made fair-seeming to them; and Allah does not guide the unbelieving people.”

[3] Sayyid Mu¦ammad °usayn ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, Al-M¢z¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur’¡n, 2:267.

[4] Ab£’l-`Abb¡s al-Mubarrad: al-K¡mil f¢ al-Lughah wa’l-Adab 1:393. Mu¦ammad ibn °ab¢b, al-Mu¦abbar, pp. 324.

[5] Shaykh al-Kulayn¢, al-Fur£` min al-K¡f¢ 6:406.

[6] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, op cit 4:254-258; al-Suy£§¢, al-Durr al-Manth£r 2:131-132; al-Shahrist¡ni, al-Milal wa’l-Ni¦al 2:254; °asan, Women's Rights in Islam and Europe, pp. 34. The one who married his stepmother after his father’s death was named ®ayzan. (Mu¦ammad ibn °ab¢b, al-Mu¦abbar, pp. 325) Ibn Qutaybah al-Daynawar¢ has named some these women who married their stepsons upon their husbands’ death (al-Ma`¡rif, p112.)

[7] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, op cit, 4:258; Tafs¢r al-±abar¢ 4:207.

[8] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, op cit, 2: 267.

[9] Shaykh `Abb¡s al-Qumm¢, Saf¢nat al-Bi¦¡r 1:197; Ibn Ab¢’l-°ad¢d, Shar¦ Nahj al-Bal¡ghah 13:174; Shaykh al-Kulayn¢, al-U¥£l min al-K¡f¢ 18:163; al-Qur§ub¢, Tafs¢r J¡mi` al-A¦k¡m 19:232.

[10] Al-Qur§ub¢, op cit pp. 232.

[11] Al-Mubarrad, op cit, 1:392; Ibn Ab¢’l-°ad¢d op cit, 13:179.

[12] Ibn Ab¢’l-°ad¢d, op cit, 13:174.

[13] Al-ªl£s¢, op cit, 1:324; T¡r¢kh al-Ya`q£b¢, 2:10.

[14] Al-ªl£s¢, op cit, 3:45; Ibn Hush¡m, al-S¢rah al-Nabawiyyah, 1:240.

[15] Mu¦ammad Ab£’l-Fa¤l Ibr¡h¢m, et al, Qi¥a¥ al-`Arab 2:31, Ab£’l-`Abb¡s al-Mubarrad, op cit, pp. 394.

Al-Farazdaq, a Muslim poet, took pride in his grandfather, ¯a`¥a`ah, for he had objected to burying newborn girls alive. See al-Qur§ub¢, Tafs¢r J¡mi` al-A¦k¡m, 19:232.

[16] Ab£’l-`Abb¡s al-Mubarrad, op cit, 1:394.

[17] Ibn al-Ath¢r, Usd al-Gh¡bah, 4:220.

It is narrated that Qays ibn `ª¥im converted to Islam and came to the Prophet, saying, “Before Islam, I buried eight of my daughters alive. How could I make up for it now?” The Prophet replied, “Free eight slaves for what you have done.” He said, “I have many camels.” The Prophet replied, “If you wish, you may slaughter eight camels.” See al-Qur§ub¢, Tafs¢r J¡mi` al-A¦k¡m 19:233.

[18] Ibn Hush¡m, op cit, 2:75.

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