Arabia Before Islam: Religion, Society, Culture DOCUMENTARY (2023)


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The Kings and Generals animated historical documentary series on the ancient civilizations continues with a video on Arabia before Islam as we talk about the religion, society, culture, and economic life of the Arabs before the rise of Islam and the creation of the Rashidun caliphate.

Ancient Origins of the Berbers:
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Ancient Greek State in Bactria:
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The Arab World is mostly identified with Islam.

And for a good reason.

Islam was a catalyst of the biggest expansion of the Arabic people in history.

It paved the way for the establishment of arguably the most powerful empire of its time.

The Islamic Caliphate, which, at its zenith, ranged from Spain and North Africa in the West to Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent in the East.

The Caliphate managed to be one of the most dominant political, military, scientific and cultural centers of the world for several centuries.

While the religion of Islam remains one of the most important political and societal forces globally., But what was there before Islam? How did Arab people live rule themselves? What did they believe in Welcome to our video on Arabia before Islam.? History is often complicated, but male hygiene isn’t mostly because of the sponsor of this video Manscaped, the global brand for men’s grooming and hygiene products.

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Pre-Islamic Arabia was mostly a nomadic society inhabited by constantly moving tribal units.

These Bedouin tribes, some of which maintain their traditional nomadic lifestyle to this day, had been the most significant political unit of the Arabian peninsula, with constantly shifting alliances, never-ending warfare and rare occurrences of organized and centralized statehood.

These tribes placed heavy emphasis on kin-related groups, families and would roam through the deserts, with their livestock, mainly comprising of sheep, goats and camels living in tents with their immediate family members.

The tribal leaders enforced unwritten rules of the Bedouin society in the tribe.

Bedouin tribes were patriarchal as the inheritance passed on to the male offsprings and women could not inherit property and were virtually rightless as they could be seized in tribal conflicts as a war spoil and The Bedouin laws allowed the men to marry their captives.

The number of women a man could marry was not fixed.

When a man died.

His son “inherited”, all his wives, except his own mother.

Women in tribal Arabia, had little say in their marriages, as they would often be arranged between a man and his future wife’s family and the family would receive property like camels or horses in exchange for the bride.

There were also cases of killing of female infants as the Muslim holy book.

Quran mentions that the Arabs of the period of ignorance, called Jahiliyyah would bury their daughters, alive.

The Bedouin men often considered women, an economic burden and a potential source of embarrassment.

As the capture of women of the tribe by hostile tribes was considered humiliating in the conservative Bedouin society.

Under the circumstances of lack of centralized states with rare exceptions, there were no written laws, courts or law enforcement of any kind to protect the population.

Thus, the principal purpose of a Bedouin tribe was to protect its members.

Vengeance was sought for the killing of a tribe member by another tribe, which led to virtually constant warfare and conflict.

Protecting your tribe and avenging your kin was a high honour., Harsh living conditions of the Arabian peninsula.

Further enhanced the tribal system and sense of identity within a tribe as often their protection and economic cooperation, was the difference between death and survival.

French historian Maxime Rodinson states that “the free Arabs were bound by no written code of law and no state existed to enforce its statutes with the backing of a police force.

The only protection for a man's life was the certainty established by custom that it would be dearly bought., Blood for blood and a life for a life.

The vendetta tha'r in Arabic is one of the pillars of Bedouin.

Society.” Austrian historian Gustave E.

von Grunebaum reiterated this and described the state of affairs in Arabia in the century before the rise of Islam as “tribal guerrilla.

Fighting all against all.” Tribes would fight against each other attack and plunder caravans and sedentary settlements.

As lawlessness was, the law of the land in most of Arabia., Caravans and sedentary settlements would pay tributes to the raiding Bedouin tribes to avoid their attacks.

While most of the tribes in Arabia went on with their nomadic lifestyle, some managed to gain influence over certain territories and switch to sedentary life.

Mecca was practically ruled by the skilled merchants of the Quraysh tribe that took control of the city sometime in the 5th century.

While Yathrib, which was later named Medina, was dominated by the Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, and the Jewish tribes Nadheer Qaynuqaa and Qurayza., While the nomadic Bedouins viewed the sedentary life with contempt and thought of the town-dwellers as a “nation of shopkeepers”.

The emergence of cities like Mecca was the primary cause of the dawn of the common Arab identity in the pre-Islamic period.

The most important cities of the Arabian peninsula, Mecca and Yathrib are situated in Hijaz a region with sufficient water supply, which made it a logical choice for a sedentary lifestyle in the otherwise punishing climate and terrain of Arabia.

Mecca was an important trade center in the region.

A place through which the caravans would flow, as well as the location of the Kaaba, the sacred place in Islam, which was also sacred in the polytheistic Arabia, where the statues of idols and gods of different Arabic tribes were placed.

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, who lived between 60 and 30 BC, wrote about the isolated region of Arabia in his work, Bibliotheca Historica describing Kaaba as a “very holy” temple, which was “exceedingly revered by all Arabians”.

For example, the chief deity of the Quraysh tribe and Mecca was Hubal.

The usual trading routes through the Red Sea and the Tigris and Euphrates were disrupted by piracy and the Roman-Persian conflict and caravans and traders switched to the trade route going through.


Goods from beyond the Red Sea and of the local Bedouin tribes would be brought to Mecca from where the camel caravans would transport them to the Levant.

Meccans signed treaties with the Byzantine Empire and Bedouin tribes for safe passage of their trading caravans.

As the home Of the Kaaba Mecca also carried a religious significance for the polytheistic Arabs, as once a year, Arabs from all over Arabia would make a pilgrimage to Kaaba and drink from the sacred Zamzam Well.

At this time of the year.

The conflict would stop.

A truce would be declared disputes and debts would be resolved and trade happened between different tribes.

Thus Mecca became a center of a loose confederation of tribes around this city, as guests were obliged to follow the rules in Mecca.

The trading potential of Mecca and its religious significance for the Arabs turned it into a factor bringing Arabs together and forming their national identity.

Another important city of Arabia was Yathrib Medina.

It was an agricultural center, also situated in a fertile region of Hejaz, which allowed the city to become an important transit point for trade caravans, traveling along the Red Sea.

Initially Yathrib was dominated by Jewish tribes, but gradually several Arabic tribes moved to Yathrib and gained political and economic influence in the city too., While Arabs were mainly engaged in agriculture, Jews would also be active as businessmen.

The rise of cities was inevitably going to lead to the rise of commerce too, and the Rise of commerce was inevitably going to lead to usury a practice which was used both by the Arabs and Jews.

This practice would be later prohibited by Islam.

We already saw that even in pre-Islamic Arabia, religion played an important role in shaping the common Arab identity.

What religion did the Arabs practice before the rise of Islam? Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia was a mix of polytheism Christianity, Judaism and Iranian religions.

Arab polytheism or paganism.

Was the most popular belief, system., Each tribe, city and region could have its own god or idol, which was in a way a patron of that particular community.

Arabs also believed in supernatural.

Beings like djinns.

Statues of gods and goddesses would be placed in Kaaba, and some scholars argue that Allah, the deity of Islam and other Abrahamic religions also had a statue in Kaaba.

There are hadiths, the authenticity of which is disputed, claiming that Kaaba also had an image of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus with Abraham looking over them.

Overall, it is estimated that Kaaba contained up to 360 such statues and images.

Trading and political relations with the Byzantine Empire.

Ethiopia, Persia and other neighbouring forces had a role in shaping the religious landscape of Arabia too.

As early as the first century, AD Arab traders brought Christianity to Arabia.

Others were evangelized by Paul’s ministry in Arabia and by St Thomas, followed by a strong influence from the Byzantine Empire.

For example, the Ghassanids, a vassal kingdom of Rome converted to Christianity.

In the South of the country, a strong Christian community, emerged in Najran as a result of the influence of the Ethiopian Christian kingdom of Aksum.


Christianity was strong in parts of the country, but the most popular denomination was Monophysitism.

Judaism was also a significant part of the religious landscape of Arabia.

As a result of Roman persecution.

The migration of Jewish people to Arabia started as early as the 1st century.


Many Jews found homes in Hijaz and towns like Yathrib, Khayber, Fadak and Umm-ul-Qura.

Many Arabs also converted to Judaism.

As often it was a condition of settling in Jewish-dominated towns of Hijaz., The Yemeni Himyarite Kingdom, converted to Judaism in the 4th century, and some of the Kindah.

A tribe in central Arabia, who were the Himyarites’ vassals, were also converted by the 5th century.


Also inform about a monotheistic religion centered around the worship of a single god of the Abrahamic religions, but apparently it was not affiliated with Christianity or Judaism and was probably centered around the prophethood of Abraham.

Followers of this religion were called Hanifi people and they rejected the idolatry and paganism of the majority of Arabs sharing some of the features of other Abrahamic religions like the prohibition of pork.

The scope of expansion of the Hanifi people is unclear, but according to some Islamic sources, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad and some of his future companions belonged to this religion.

Arabia also had a small minority following Iran-based religions like Zoroastrianism, Mazdakism and others spreading under the Persian Influence.

Earlier we mentioned how, in the pre-Islamic period, the Arab statehood was relatively rare, as Arabia constantly moved from tribal anarchy to loose state organizations and back again.

But there have been a number of notable states in Arabia in the pre-Islamic period mentioned in Greek, Roman Mesopotamian and Persian sources.

Oral Arab traditions later recorded by Islamic scholars.

According to the Arab classical writers, Arabs divided themselves into the Yamanites.

The South Arabs descended from Qahtan and the North Arabs descended from Adnan.

It is interesting that these two groups had certain distinctions and the existence of statehood and political systems were among them., South Arabia.

Yemen had more established states and all of them were ruled as monarchies.

In the North, loose tribal confederations or de facto city-states like Mecca, were a more prevalent form of statehood.

Such states were ruled as oligarchies and aristocracies.

The South was considered more advanced as it was the key route of trade in Arabia prior to the emergence of Mecca.

As an alternative and a higher degree of contacts with outsiders, such as Ethiopians.

From the fourth century onwards, a reverse process started as many Southern tribes migrated to the North and underwent the Northern influence.

The South Arabian script vanished and the North Arabian proliferated in Arabia.

The Thamud, tribe or tribal union was one of the first recorded states in Arabia, which was a prominent force in Northwestern Arabia according to the Assyrian sources related to the 8th century BC and were later used as auxiliary forces by the Roman Empire.

According to the Roman sources.

In the 3rd century BC, the Greek scholar Eratosthenes mentioned Minaeans Sabaeans, Qatabanians and Hadramites as the main peoples inhabiting the Arabian peninsula.

Historians mention the independent Sabaean Kingdom situated in present-day Yemen, which was later conquered by the Himyarite Kingdom, around 280 AD.

The Himyarite Kingdom was one of the most prominent pre-Islamic states of the Arabian peninsula.

It was ruled by a monarch, but in practice the power in the state was shared with the regional governors, which had a high degree of autonomy, a system akin to the medieval era.

European kingdoms., By the early 4th century AD, the Himyarite Kingdom, ruled over Southern Arabia and expanded North to Najran.

Originally polytheistic Himyarites became monotheistic sometime in the 4th century with a belief in the Abrahamic God.

At the end of the fifth century, the Himyarite king Abu Kariba adopted Judaism as his faith., His son and successor Yusuf.

Dhu Nuwas, was even more zealous as he started, persecuting Christians living in the Kingdom.

This proved to be the undoing of the Himyarite dynasty, as Dhu Nuwas was either killed or committed suicide.

After being defeated by the Christian coalition of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum, the Byzantine Empire and South Arabian Christians in 524.

Christian Ethiopians then took control of South Arabia built a church in Sana in an attempt to attract pilgrims and hence trade, to Sana in place of Mecca.

This caused a conflict between Abraha, the Ethiopian viceroy in Yemen and Mecca mentioned in the Quran.

Apparently Abraha used war.

Elephants against Mecca, but was unsuccessful and had to turn back.

The second part of the 6th century was notable for the power struggle between Ethiopians and Sasanid for control over the remainder of the Himyarite Kingdom, in which the Persian empire succeeded.

Another prominent pre-Islamic state organization in Arabia was the Kinda Kingdom.

The first state in central Arabia recorded by history, which came to existence after the Kinda tribe, managed to unite all tribes in Najd around the late 5th century.

The Kinda Kingdom attempted a number of successful raids on the Byzantine territories in North Arabia, but similar endeavors against the Sasanid Empire failed when, in 529, the Lakhmid vassals of the Persians defeated and killed the Kindan king al-Harit bin Amr, which caused the decline of this state.

The aforementioned Lakhmid Kingdom was established in East Arabia by the Banu Lakhm tribe, around the 3rd-4th centuries.

Initially independent Lakhmids were threatening the coastal cities of the Sassanid empire and in 325 the Sassanid emperor Shapur II began a campaign against them.

Soon, the Lakhmid capital Hira was taken under control of the Sasanids.

Since then, the Lakhmid kingdom became vassals of the Sasanid Empire until it was annexed by them in the early 7th century.

The Ghassanid Kingdom had a similar fate.

Some time in the 3rd century.

Ad part of the Al-Azd tribe migrated from Yemen to the Levant and established the Ghassanid Kingdom as a vassal of the Eastern Roman Empire with a capital of Jabiyah in the Golan Heights.

The Ghassanid Kingdom ceased its existence in the period of early Islamic expansion., But none of these kingdoms were powerful and centralized enough to unite Arabs in one state and protect the realm from foreign attacks.

Most of Arabia was governed by unwritten rules of the Bedouin society, causing warfare and despair.

Amidst already harsh living conditions.

The pre-Islamic Arabs might have shared similar language and traditions, but they were divided by tribal identities, blood, revenge and religions., But very soon, Arabia and beyond would be transformed by a momentous process of emergence of Islam and the creation of a unified Arabic state., More videos on The ancient civilizations are on the way so make sure you are subscribed and have pressed the bell button to see the next video in the series.

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What was the culture of Arabia before Islam? ›

Overview. Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia was a mix of polytheism, Christianity, Judaism, and Iranian religions. Arab polytheism, the dominant belief system, was based on the belief in deities and other supernatural beings such as djinn. Gods and goddesses were worshipped at local shrines, such as the Kaaba in Mecca.

What was the social life of Arabia before Islam? ›

Arabia was a male-dominated society. Women had no status of any kind other than as sex objects. The number of women a man could marry was not fixed. When a man died, his son “inherited” all his wives except his own mother.

What documentary is based on Islam? ›

Islam: Empire of Faith is a documentary series, made in 2000, that details the history of Islam, from the birth of the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad to the Ottoman Empire.

What was the Jahiliyyah Arabia before Islam? ›

jāhiliyyah, in Islam, the period preceding the revelation of the Qurʾān to the Prophet Muhammad. In Arabic the word means “ignorance,” or “barbarism,” and indicates a negative Muslim evaluation of pre-Islamic life and culture in Arabia as compared to the teachings and practices of Islam.

What culture is Arabia? ›

The culture of Saudi Arabia is a rich one that has been shaped by its Islamic heritage, its historical role as an ancient trade center, and its Bedouin traditions. Saudi society has experienced tremendous development over the past several decades.

How did the Arab culture start? ›

The Arabs were originally the people of the Arabian desert. Converted to Islam in the 7th century A.D., they conquered the Middle East from the Sassanian and Byzantine empires and established a succession of Arab-Islamic Middle Eastern empires from Spain to Central Asia and from the Caucasus to India.

How did people live in ancient Arabia? ›

One key way of life was nomadic pastoralism, or the shepherding of animals like camels. The Bedouin, the people of the desert, were nomadic pastoralists. In the ancient period, southern Arabia was home to the most powerful local kingdoms.

What is social life of the Arab? ›

Social life in Arabia is paradoxical and presents a gloomy picture of striking contrast. The Arabs, on the one hand, were generous and hospitable even to the point of fault, and took pride in entertaining liberally not only human beings, but also animals and beasts.

What were the early Arabs like? ›

The early Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula were predominantly nomadic pastoralists who herded their sheep, goats, and camels through the harsh desert environment.

What is the documentary about the start of religion? ›

The Story of God series explores the origins of religion.

What religion was Islam based on? ›


Islam is partially based on the Judeo-Christian religions. It has a monotheistic (belief in one God) message, and follows some of the same principles as Christianity and Judaism. The followers of Islam, Muslims, believe in one God, Allah, and believe Muhammad was his prophet.

Can Muhammad be shown on TV? ›

While Sunni Muslims have always explicitly prohibited the depiction of Muhammad on film, contemporary Shi'a scholars have taken a more relaxed attitude, stating that it is permissible to depict Muhammad, even in television or movies, if done with respect.

How did Islam change the life of Arabs? ›

A number of historians stated that changes in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women improved on what was present in existing Arab society.

What was Arabia in ancient times? ›

The ancient Arabia ns, or Arabes as they were called by the Hellenes, were a Semitic people. One must note that the Arabians were not a single people but multiple smaller kingdoms and tribes. Arabia was home to great city builders and nomads alike. They were of great influence on many occasions in the ancient period.

What are the features of Arabs in jahiliyyah period? ›

Their culture was patriarchal, with rudimentary religious beliefs. Although there were some traces of monotheism in the "hanifs" figures, their religious beliefs were based mostly on idol adorations and social congregations once a year around the Kaaba for trading and exchanges.

What are Arab culture values? ›

Some of the most important values for Arabs are honor and loyalty. Margaret Nydell, in her book Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times' says that Arabs can be defined as, humanitarian, loyal and polite.

What are the beliefs of Arabia? ›

Religious Beliefs.

All Saudi Arabian citizens are Muslims. Except for a small minority of Shia, Saudi Arabians are Sunni and mainly follow the Handbali school of Islamic law ( madhab ). Half or more of the immigrants are also Muslims. Non-Muslim faiths are not allowed to practice in Saudi Arabia.

What was the original religion of Arabia? ›

Arabian polytheism, the dominant form of religion in pre-Islamic Arabia, was based on veneration of deities and spirits. Worship was directed to various gods and goddesses, including Hubal and the goddesses al-Lāt, al-'Uzzā, and Manāt, at local shrines and temples such as the Kaaba in Mecca.

When did the Arab culture began? ›

The recorded history of the Arabs begins in the mid-ninth century BC, which is the earliest known attestation of the Old Arabic language. Tradition holds that Arabs descend from Ishmael, the son of Abraham.

What culture influenced Arab? ›

Indeed, Greek and Persian both had significant impacts on Arabic, both conceptually and in the form of many borrowed words. The major powers of the area when Islam came into being, the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire, and the Sasanian Empire, spoke Greek and Persian respectively.

When did the Arab identity start? ›

Arab identity became widely expressed in the early 8th century to connote conqueror elite status and it also laid claim to Islam as the 'Arab faith', since very few of the conquered peoples converted during Islam's first century.

Who were the early people of Arabia? ›

Sabaeans. The people who called themselves Sabaʾ (biblical Sheba) are both the earliest and the most abundantly attested in the surviving written records.

How did the first humans come to Arabia? ›

The obvious route for these exploratory populations, and later on our own roaming ancestors, is to have crossed what is now Saudi Arabia. The question is how they did this, either by migrating directly across the peninsula or hugging the coast and going around it.

What were the people of Arabia called? ›

Arabs are a people whose place of ethnic origin is the Arabian Peninsula. The language which they speak, and which has spread widely to other areas, is Arabic.

What are the social classes of Arabs? ›

Three major socioeconomic groups are found among Arabs: Bedouin (nomadic), rural, and urban.

What is a fact about Arab? ›

The Arab world stretches across 22 countries and consists of over 200 million people. Arab is a term used to describe the people whose native tongue is Arabic. Arab is a cultural term, not a racial term, and Arabic people come from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

What is the most important social entity of Arab society? ›


The family represents the most fundamental institution in Arab societies. It is by far the most significant focus of allegiance for all individuals, and is instrumental to the regulation of all major events in the life-cycle.

What is the ethnicity of an Arab? ›

An Arab can be defined as a member of a Semitic people, inhabiting much of the Middle East and North Africa. The ties that bind Arabs are ethnic, linguistic, cultural, historical, nationalist, geographical, political, often also relating to religion and to cultural identity.

What are Arab characteristics? ›

Two of the most distinctive characteristics of the Arab people are their language (Arabic) and the prevalence of Islam among Arab people. Though Arab people live all over the world today, many have ties to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding territories.

What did the Arabs invent? ›

The Arabs invented and developed algebra and made great strides in trigonometry. Al-Khwarizmi, credited with the founding of algebra, was inspired by the need to find a more accurate and comprehensive method of ensuring precise land divisions so that the Koran could be carefully obeyed in the laws of inheritance.

What is the first recorded religion in the world? ›

Sometimes called the official religion of ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest surviving religions, with teachings older than Buddhism, older than Judaism, and far older than Christianity or Islam. Zoroastrianism is thought to have arisen “in the late second millennium B.C.E.

What year was Losing My Religion? ›

"Losing My Religion" was released on February 19, 1991, in the United States as the lead single from R.E.M.'s forthcoming album Out of Time.

When was bad religion released? ›

February 1981

Do Muslims believe in the same God as Christians? ›

Most mainstream Muslims would generally agree they worship the same God that Christians — or Jews — worship. Zeki Saritoprak, a professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, points out that in the Quran there's the Biblical story of Jacob asking his sons whom they'll worship after his death.

Which is older Islam or Christianity? ›

Christianity developed out of Second Temple Judaism in the 1st century CE. It is founded on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and those who follow it are called Christians. Islam developed in the 7th century CE.

Does the Bible include Muhammad? ›

Muslim theologians have argued that a number of specific passages within the biblical text can be specifically identified as references to Muhammad, both in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in the Christian New Testament.

What did Muhammad look like? ›

He had little hairs that stood up, extending from his chest down to his navel, but the rest of his body was almost hairless. “He had thick palms and thick fingers and toes. When walking, he lifted his feet off the ground as if he were walking in muddy water. “When he turned, he turned completely.

Did Muhammad have a wife? ›

What is the big black box in Islam? ›

The Kaaba, meaning cube in Arabic, is a square building, elegantly draped in a silk and cotton veil. Located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it is the holiest shrine in Islam.

How did Islam affect Christianity? ›

Contact with Islamic culture brought the influence of the Arabic and Persian languages and literatures into Christian lands. Many place names and the names of common objects in Spain and Portugal are derived from Arabic terms brought into use during the period of Islamic control of these countries.

What is God in Arabic language? ›

Allah is the standard Arabic word for God and is used by Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews as well as by Muslims.

What is Arabia in the Bible? ›

Trainedin Palestine, Paul naturally used "the East" and "Arabia" as interchangeable terms. "Arabia" is equivalent to saying, "the field of the Eastern Dispersion." This loose use of geographical and ethnic terms, and even their misapplication, is exceedingly common in Hebrew and Aramaic literature (cf.

Are Egyptians Arabs? ›

The Egyptians are not Arabs, and both they and the Arabs are aware of this fact. They are Arabic-speaking, and they are Muslim—indeed religion plays a greater part in their lives than it does in those either of the Syrians.

What is the early history of Arabs? ›

Arabs are first mentioned in Biblical and Assyrian texts of the ninth to fifth centuries BC where they appear inhabiting parts of present-day Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Several Arab tribes and towns are identified during the Neo-Assyrian period through their onomastics and toponyms.

What were the early Arabs? ›

The early Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula were predominantly nomadic pastoralists who herded their sheep, goats, and camels through the harsh desert environment.

What is world's oldest religion? ›

Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world. The word Hindu is an exonym although many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

How did Islam change the Arabian Peninsula? ›

After the advent of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century, Islam started its expansion towards eastern regions through trade encouraged by the development of the maritime Silk Roads. Muslims were known to have a commercial talent notably encouraged by Islam, as well as excellent sailing skills.

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