Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Southern Arabia: Religion

Assalamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah

Planet Worship

Just like other regions such as ancient Egypt, ancient India and ancient China, and others, the Arabs of South Arabia also had their own "folk" religion. Ancient Southern Arabs worshiped the Sun and the Moon. They characterized those two stars with various characteristics, personifications and they worshiped them as divinities. The most important deity for South Arabs was the Sun. Maybe because it was the main source of the light in the heaven. Other stars were regarded the representatives of the Sun. 

There are some part of Hindus who worship the Sun in various names such as Surya, Savitr, Ushas, and other planets within the nine planet system. I am familiar with all of those system though I am not an Indian but an Arab by ethnicity. This system also exists in ancient Mesopotamian and Babylonian astrolatry traditions where the followers of this tradition were mentioned as Sabians in the Glorious Quran. Many of those in Mesopotamia were converted into Christianity and the traditions such as baptismal in the river is basically the same thing with Christianity's baptismal ritual and other Middle Eastern religions such as Islam and Judaism. The Hindus also practiced baptismal known as Snanam. This ritual is not unique to any religion but a universal and an ancient ritual. Other than that, ancient Egyptian also worshiped solar deity, Ra who became the main deity of ancient Egyptians during the 5th dynasty. 


Jewish people had tried to propagate Judaism in Yemen and South Arabia as a whole. Among the famous native Jewish of Yemen was king Joseph Dhū Nuwas (517-525 CE) where his conversion was verified by two Jewish cohens of Banu Qurayza from Yatrib. The previous Yemenite kings before him were the adherents of the Most Merciful cult which was a non-polytheistic religion of South Arabia. The adherents of the cult invoked the Unknown God with His attribute the Most Merciful.

King Dhu Nuwas was hostile toward the Christians and he attacked the Christians in the Aksumite empire at his northern frontier in Najran (nowadays in Saudi Arabia). There was an incident which provokes the war between the Jews and the Christians in Southern Arabia and they chopped the head of each other. A Jewish man had build up a fort known as al-Ablaq to store the weapons of Imru al-Qays. When the enemies of Imru al-Qays wanted to seize the weapon, the guy whose name is Samuel refused to surrender them. The enemies threatened to kill both of his sons if he refused to surrender the weapons and he was so stubborn. They later killed his sons in front of his eyes. So, there was an Arab idiom which says that, "Hold on to your promises like Samuel". Samuel reported everything to Joseph and Joseph went to Najran and forced the Christians there to convert into Judaism or being thrown into the fire trench.

Many of those were massacred in the fire pit because of their refusal to conversion. It is mentioned in the Quran, Surah al-Burūj (85:4-8) where the God the Highest through the tongue of noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w condemned this crime and some scholars reported that around 20,000 were massacred. This is a lesson for people nowadays that we cannot force others to believe what we believe or practice and sufferings because of war is due to human's egoism.


Christianity reached Southern Arabia through Iraq and through Eastern Roman empire. Eastern Roman empire was so close as it consists of some parts of Syria and Egypt. The fortress of Christianity was in Najran. The Christians there were governed by their Church and the leaders of the Church such as the Sa'id, Aqeb and Usquf (Bishop). Sa'id acts as a head of the tribe, leading the soldiers in the battle, managing foreign affairs and managing inter-tribal communication. Aqib manages the worldly affairs and home affairs. Usquf was a chief for religious rites and the Church.

Yaqub al-Hamawi mentioned that among the ambassadors of Najran who met Muhammad s.a.w for a discussion were an Usquf known as Abu Harita, an Aqeb whose name is Abd al-Maseh and a Sa'id known as Wahhab. They refused to engage in Mobahalah (mutual prayer for cursing) with Muhammad s.a.w but they made a peace treaty with him and return to their state without any problem nor conversion of each others. They remained Christians and Muhammad s.a.w, a Muslim.

De Lacy O'Leary (1872-1957) mentioned that the people of Najran were the member of Jacobite Church. They were close to the Ethiopians since their religion was the same. Many Arabs became Christian monks,establishing churches within their vicinity, meditating in caves and propagating the doctrine of sacrifice to eliminate sins and salvation, and the trinity and hypostases which is the basis of Christianity.       
Sealed with prayers for mercy, peace and love, amin!

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