5.1 Religion in Mecca before Islam
Nearly three thousand years before Mohamed was born, the religion of the Arabs in Mecca was the religion of their ancestor, Ishmael son of Abraham, who had settled in the Hijaz and married among them. It was the worship of Allah alone without deviation. It was clear and un-compromised, free from superstition and falsehood. It was Abraham and Ishmael who, by Allah's command, rebuilt the Kaaba and made it a sanctuary for the worshipper. But three thousand years is a long time and the human mind and human memory are frail and corruptible. Gradually with the passage of time, they began to revere certain natural phenomena as aspects of Allah's power, then they began to consider them holy, then as entities worth worshipping in their own right. Superstition and falsehood began to accumulate around the core of the truth until little of it remained. The Sabaeans, with whom they had much contact and who worshipped the stars, influenced them in this. They began to worship certain meteoric stones as descended from heaven, then other natural phenomena as well. They reconciled these superstitions with their worship of Allah by saying that these were lesser gods and their intercessors with Allah. By the time Mohamed came they had three hundred and sixty idols around the Kaaba and the first house built for the worship of Allah on earth had become a place for idol worship. They paid Allah lip-service but it was the stones they worshipped and sacrificed offerings to.
Connected with these beliefs were all sorts of honorary offices, such as maintaining the Kaaba and catering to its pilgrims, that only those of noble birth from the tribe of Quraysh could attain and inherit (from father to son). The Kaaba was not only the center of their religious and social life but also a symbol of their rank and prestige among all the tribes of Arabia. These tribes came every year from distant parts of the Arabian Peninsula to pay homage to the gods of the Kaaba during the Sacred Months. They also came to trade in Mecca and the markets around it. They coupled business with religion and so the months they came to town were months of great economic prosperity among the Meccans. Since the Meccans had no natural resources and Mecca and the surrounding lands were desert, trade was vital to them as their main source of Income.
The Meccans profited by their religion economically and socially, and woe unto to any one would dare speak against their most sacred gods! No one had ever tried. The Christians and Jews in Mecca were usually slaves of inferior status and were forbidden to speak of their religion in the Sacred Precincts, while their houses were on the outskirts of the city, far removed from the Sacred House.