What Is the Pre-Islamic Bedouin Religion?
29 SEP 2017
Long before Islam became a dominant religion on the Arabian Peninsula, the land was inhabited by people who lived off the land with their own unique system of beliefs. These people are known as the Bedouins. The word "Bedu" in the Arabic language, means "one who lives out in the desert," is the root of the term Bedouin. Faced with limited supplies of water and the harsh living conditions of the arid regions in which they endured, the pre-Islamic Bedouin people lived minimalistic lifestyles that were easily transported to wherever they could find new resources for their survival.
1 Belief in the Divine
The ancient Bedouins were polytheistic, meaning just like the ancient Greeks or Romans, venerated a multitude of gods. Often times, tribes would worship a specific patron deity, and inhabitants of separate clans would journey great distances to visit and pay homage to that god or goddess. Additionally, the Bedouins believed in animism -- that physical entities such as animals, plants, and inanimate objects all had spiritual significance or some type of life source.
At the time, the Bedouins also worshipped a god names "Al-ilah," or "the god." It is believed that this name is the origin for Allah, proposing that the supreme divinity in Islam finds its roots in pre-Islamic religions.
Just as in many other cultures, the Bedouins used sacrifices to please their gods. These rituals had the potential of being bloody when they bled the bodies of the livestock they raised, such as camels, sheep, and oxen, but they also offered vegetables and grains, which they gathered from the lands that they came upon. Additionally, they did not implement oil and wine like in other cultures, but incorporated milk from their animals.
Although the Bedouins had a duty to be reverent towards the deities which they believed in, they also paid homage to a cult of ancestors. The Bedouins did not necessarily venerate their deceased family members to the degree in which they appreciated fallen heroes, but they felt a responsibility to continue providing for their predecessors who were dependent and relied on them for provisions.
As a result of being nomadic people, the Bedouins did not construct stationary houses of worship. Instead, they built stone monuments and shrines dedicated to deities and their patron gods. Often times, worshippers would create stone idols to represent the divine beings which were most important to them. However, despite the fact that the pre-Islamic Bedouins had shrines and monuments, prayer was not essential to their religion. Instead, they relied heavily on sacrifices with ceremonies which are believed to have incorporated divination, magic and sorcery.
For the Bedouins, traveling to another clan's monuments or shrines was both socially and religiously important. Not only could they pay their respects to other divinities, but it meant interaction with neighbors, something which they were deprived of as a somewhat isolated culture in the desert.
4 Interactions with Judaism
In contrast with the pre-Islamic Bedouins, the ancient Jewish people, who were located around Medina on the Arabian Peninsula were a settled people with an agricultural economy. During the time of harvest, the Semites would employ the Bedouins to pick the dates from the fields and transport them to be traded with other cultures. Despite the fact this was potentially viewed as demeaning towards their culture, let alone grueling in the desert climate, the two religious groups collaborated in order to survive and become productive societies.