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The Arab's Inferiority vis-à-vis Iran and Rome

The Arab's Inferiority vis-à-vis Iran and Rome

The Arab's Inferiority vis-à-vis Iran and Rome

As we have already noted, people of °ij¡z used to have a tribal life in the desert, lacking central government to unite them. They were mostly involved in tribal conflicts. For this reason, they were wretched and backward and were not noticed by the people of the world.

The Arabs were so entangled in the narrow sphere of their tribal atmosphere and were so involved in the prejudices and dogmas. They were also so deprived and disorganized that they could never think about affairs occurring outside their immediate surroundings. They could never think of defeating their neighboring powerful states of Iran and Rome; rather, they felt extremely powerless, wretched and inferior towards these two civilizations. An Arab person, namely Qat¡dah, introduced the Arabs of those days as the most miserable, wretched, backward, misguided, begging and hungry people in the world. He says,

“The Arabs were caught between two lions, from both of whom they feared.”[1]

A piece of evidence for this feeling of inferiority comes from the Holy Prophet's dialogue with the Arabs in Mecca. When he was trying to spread his ideologies among the Arabs, he encountered a group of distinguished Arab individuals. He recited to them some of the verses of the Holy Qur'¡n which were concerned with native and ethical instructions. All of them were highly moved; they began to admire the verses. However, their chief, al-Muthann¡ ibn °¡rithah, remarked:

“We are caught between two stretches of water. On one side lie the Arab shores; on the other lie Iran and Khosrow rivers. We have pledged to Khosrow not to create any problem and not to protect or shelter any wrongdoer. Perhaps your ideologies are not palatable to the kings. If we do anything wrong here, it would be pardoned, but such mistakes and errors in the Iranian borders are not pardonable by Khosrow, the king of Iran.[2]

Imaginary Pride

Regarding the Arab inferiority complex, historians have written:

The Tam¢m tribe faced a drought, but Khosrow did not allow them to make use of the fertile lands of Iraq. Then, one of their noblemen, named °¡jib ibn Zur¡rah, came to Khosrow's court as a representative of his tribe. Khosrow said, “You, Arabs, are traitors. If I let you use these fertile lands, you will agitate and excite people against me and make me worried.” °¡jib replied, “I assure you such a thing would never happen.” Khosrow then asked, “How would you guarantee this?” °¡jib answered, “I pledge my bow with you.” Khosrow accepted. Thus, °¡jib's bow was kept by Khosrow as a pledge (°¡jib's bow was a symbol of his bravery, chivalry and manhood). After °¡jib's death, his son `U§¡rad received his father's bow from Khosrow.[3] After this event and for a long time, people of the Tam¢m tribe considered this pledge high point of honor.[4]

On the other hand, since the Ban£-Shayb¡n, with the assistance of Ban£-`Ujal and Ban£-Yashkur, had overcome Khosrow Parviz in the Battle of Dh¢-Q¡r,[5] this victory was a point of honor for them; they looked at it unbelievingly. Whenever they remembered it, they would take pride in it. They did not dare to call it the victory of Arabs over the Persians; they considered it an accident, but not as point of honor. They would recognize it as the pride of three Arab tribes and not just one. Their self-admiration reached such a point that Ab£-Tamm¡m, a poet, composed a poem in the honor of Ab£-Dulaf al-`Ajal¢ in spite of the fact that the Tam¢m tribe had one day taken pride in having asked Khosrow to accept °¡jib's bow as a sign of his pledge for loyalty:

Once Tam¢m took honor in having pledged his bow and considered this as a point of honor;

However, your swords at the war of Dh¢-Q¡r overthrew the thrones of those who had taken °¡jib's bow as a pledge.[6]

The Ignorance Era

In our discussions so far, we have referred to the people of the Arabian Peninsula prior to the advent of Islam as an ignorant people, living in an era of ignorance. There are documents showing that this idiomatic expression was taken from the Holy Qur'¡n and was used by Muslims to describe this specific era and had taken on a special meaning and flavor.[7] Some contemporary historians estimate the time interval of 150-200 years prior to Prophet Mu¦ammad's prophethood for the existence of the Ignorance Era.[8]

Although the word J¡hiliyyah is taken from Jahl (meaning ignorance), the word Jahl here is not taken to be the opposite of science or knowledge; rather, it the opposite of wisdom and logic.

Having lacked knowledge, the people of the Arabian Peninsula were illiterate at that time. They were given the name ignorant not due to their lack of knowledge, but because of their wrong and negative attitudes and illogical thinking and because of their prejudice, selfishness, false pride and vengeful attitude. Islam, however, strongly opposed these negative and destructive inclinations.[9] Perhaps, under such conditions, jahl connotes the meaning of being stupid, which is not based on illiteracy.[10]

In the Holy Qur'¡n, the word ignorance or J¡hiliyyah has been used with the meanings we have already referred to. Some of those cases are referred to below:

(1) The unfounded expectations of some superficial believers who wanted the Holy Prophet to do things in accordance with their whimsical wishes were termed Ignorant. (Qur’¡n 5: 50)

(2) God has referred to the blind tribal prejudices of the idol-worshipping Arab as ignorance. (Qur’¡n 48: 26)

(3) The Holy Prophet's wives were warned not to appear among community with the ornaments of the women of the earlier times. (Qur’¡n 33:33)

(4) God refers to the feeble-minded who, after the defeat of Muslims in the Battle of U¦ud, had lost their faith and their morale as ignorant. (Qur’¡n 3:154)

(5) God tells the story of the nation of Prophet Moses who had refused his orders to sacrifice a cow by replying, “Do you make fun of us?” Then, Prophet Moses remarked, “I take shelter in God not to be one of the ignorant ones.” (Qur’¡n 2: 67)

Depicting the miserable life of the idol-worshipping Arabs, Imam `Al¢ (a.s) refers to their stupidity.[11]



[1] Tafs¢r al-±abar¢ 4:25; Z¡hiyah Qadd£rah, Al-Shu`£biyyah, pp. 24; A¦mad Am¢n, ²uhr al-Isl¡m 1:18.

[2] Qi¥a¥ al-`Arab 2:358; Ibn Kath¢r, al-Bid¡yah wa’l-Nih¡yah 3:144.

[3] al-ªl£s¢, Bul£gh al-Irab 1:311-313; Mu¦ammad Ibn `Abd-Rabbih, al-`Iqd al-Far¢d 2:20; Ibn Qutaybah, al-Ma`¡rif, 608.

[4] A¦mad Am¢n, ²uhr al-Isl¡m 1:19.

[5] The direct reason for this war was the following: Khosrow willed to marry the daughter of al-Nu`m¡n ibn al-Mundhir, the king of al-°¢rah. Upon his refusal, he was called to the Iranian court and was put in prison where he died. Khosrow ordered H¡n¢ ibn Mas`£d al-Shayb¡n¢ to submit al-Nu`m¡n’s wealth to him. He, however, refused to do so. Later, Khosrow dispatched an army to fight Ban£-Shayb¡n. Khosrow lost that war. See Ibn al-Ath¢r, al-K¡mil f¢’l-T¡r¢kh 1:485-484; al-Maqdisi: al-Bad’ wa’l-T¡r¢kh 3:26.

[6] A¦mad Am¢n, ²uhr al-Isl¡m 1:19; Mas`£d¢, al-Tanb¢h wa’l-Ishr¡f, pp. 209; Jal¡l al-D¢n Hom¡y¢, Shu`£biyyah, pp. 11-12.

[7] Jaw¡d `Al¢, al-Mufa¥¥al 1:41-42.

[8] `Umar Farr£kh, ¯adr al-Isl¡m wa’l-Dawlah al-Umawiyyah, pp. 39.

[9] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, Al-M¢z¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur’¡n 4:151-155; A¦mad Am¢n, Fajr al-Isl¡m, pp. 74-78; al-ªl£s¢, Bul£gh al-Irab 1:15-18; Shawq¢ ®ayf, T¡r¢kh al-Adab al-`Arab¢ 1:39.

Confirming this piece of information, jahl is the opposite of ¦ikmah (wisdom) according to some narrations reported in reliable reference books like al-K¡f¢.

[10] Jaw¡d `Al¢ says: “In my view, j¡hiliyyah is stemmed from stupidity, pride, anger, arrogance and stubbornness towards God's commands. These features are strongly condemned by Islam. In our days, we rebuke a stupid person who utters taboo or nasty words by the following expression: Go away, you ignorant and silly one. This does not mean that he is illiterate.” See al-Mufa¥¥al, 1:40.

[11] Nahj al-Bal¡ghah, Sermon 95.

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