Skip to main content

Social and Economic Conditions In Per-Islamic Mecca

  • Mahmood Ibrahim (a1)

Mecca's existence depended primarily on its location near the most important trade route in western Arabia which linked the surplus-producing region of Yemen with Syria. The route branched near Ayla in the north to proceed to Gaza on the Mediterranean and also to Egypt. Another route branched near Mecca to proceed in a northeasterly direction toward al-Ubulla, Ḥīra, and eventually Sasanid Persia. The commercially advantageous location of Mecca was enhanced further by the Zamzam waterwell which made Mecca a convenient stop in the trade of antiquity. Also the concept of the ḥaram, the sacred area, and its center, the Ka⊂ba, made Mecca the object of pilgrimage during the sacred months, pilgrims/merchants traveled with security of life and property and went to Mecca to trade their commodities.

Hide All


1 The most detailed history of pre-Islamic Arabia may be found in Jawād, ⊂Alī, Al-Mufaṣṣal fīt Tārīkh al-⊂Arab qabla al-Islām (10 vols.; Beirut, 1971); see also Levi, G. della Vida, “Pre-Islamic Arabia,” in Faris, N., ed., The Arab Heritage (Princeton, 1934), pp. 2557; O'Leary, D., Arabia Before Muhammad (London, 1927); Smith, S., “Events in Sixth Century Arabia,” Bulletin of the School of African and Oriental Studies, 16 (1954), 425468.

2 Quṣayy's transition to power might have been a gradual and peaceful one since he was married to the daughter of the leader of the Khuzā⊂ah, Hulail ibn Ḥubshiyya. This transition took place at the time of Bahrām Gūr in Persia and al-Nu⊂mān ibn al-Mundhir in Ḥīra, around A.D. 450. For more details see Abū, al-Walīd ibn, M. Aḥmad al-Azraqī, Akhbār Makka, Wüstenfeld, F., ed. (Leipzig, 1857), reprinted as Vol. 1 of Akhbār Makka al-Musharrafa (Beirut, 1964), pp. 5065; Ibn, Ḥabīb al-Baghdādī, Kitāb al-Munammaq fī Akhbār Quraish, Khorshid, Ahmad Fariq, ed. (Heyderabad, 1965), pp. 31, 8384; Muḥammad, ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Ta⊃rīkh al-Rusul wa al-Mulūk (Cairo, 19621967), II, 256ff; Abū, Mansūr ⊂Abd al-Malik al-Tha⊂ālibī, Thimār al-Qulūb fī al-Muḍāf wa al-Mansūb, Abū, M. al-Faḍl Ibrāhīm, ed. (Cairo, 1965), p. 116.

3 Muṭahhar, ibn Ṭāhir al-Maqdisī, al-Bad⊃ wa al-Ta⊃rīkh, Huart, C., ed. (Leiden, 1899), IV, 126127; Ṭabarī, , Ta⊃rīkh, II, 260; Azraqī, , Akhbār, p. 107.

4 Muḥammad, ibn Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmi⊂ li Aḥkām al-Qur⊃ān, (Cairo, 1967), II, 204ff.

6 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, p. 33; for a modern discussion of the īlāf and further references see Kister, M. J., “Mecca and Tamim,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 8 (1965), 113163.

7 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, p. 32.

8 Ibid., pp. 331–332.

9 Wolf, E., “Social Organization of Mecca and the Origins of Islam,” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 7 (1951), 329536; Shihāb, al-Dīn Aḥmad al-Qasṭalānī, Irshād al-Sāri fī Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Cairo, A.H. 1304 [1886/1887]), IV, 315ff; ⊂Alī, J., al-Mufaṣṣal, VII, 46ff; Lammens, H., La Mecque à la veille de l'hÈgire (Beyrouth, 1924), pp. 237ff; Rodinson, M., Muhammad (New York, N.Y., 1974), p. 36.

10 ⊂Alī, ibn Aḥmad al-Nisāburī, Asbāb Nuzūl al-Qur⊃ān, Ṣaqr, A., ed. (Cairo, 1969), pp. 326328; also (Cairo, 1968), pp. 211212, 220.

11 Al-Qasṭalānī, , Irshād, IV, 316.

12 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, p. 37. This relationship was brought out by Sahlins, M. in Tribesmen (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1968), pp. 36ff.

13 For a breakdown of some of the occupations in Mecca and those who were engaged in them see Aḥmad, ibn ⊂Umar ibn Rusṭa, al-A ⊂lāq al-Nafīsa, De Goeje, M. J., ed. (Leiden, 1892), pp. 215216; ⊂Abdallah, ibn Muslim ibn Qutaiba, Kitāb al-Ma⊂ārif, ⊂Ukāsha, T., ed. (Cairo, 1969), p. 575; Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 52, 424; ⊂Alī, J. al-Mufaṣṣal, IV, 83.

14 Azraqī, , Akhbār, p. 363; Mālik, ibn Anas, Muwaṭṭa⊃, ⊂Allūsh, A. ed. (Beirut, 1971), p. 451.

15 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 28, 281.

16 Aḥmad, ibn Yaḥya al-Balādhurī, Futūḥ al-Buldān. Salaḥ, al-Dīn al-Munajjid, ed. (Cairo, 1956), p. 66; Balādhurī, , Ansāb al-Ashrāf, Ḥamīdullah, M., ed. (Cairo, 1959), I, 139, 142.

17 Balādhurī, , Ansāb, I, 75; Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 124ff.

18 Kister, M. J., “Al-Ḥira: Some Notes on Its Relations with Arabia,” Arabica, 15 (1968), 145169.

19 Azraqī, , Akhbār, p. 97; for details on the Year of the Elephant see Kister, M. J., “Some Reports Concerning Mecca from Jāhiliyya to Islam,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 15 (1972), 6193.

20 Zubair, ibn Bakkār, Jamharat Nasab Quraish, Shākir, M., ed. (Cairo, A.H. 1381 [1961/1962]), pp. 428430; Watt, W. M., Muhammad at Mecca (Oxford, 1951), pp. 1516; ibn, M. Aḥmad al-Fāsī, Shifā⊃ al-Gharām (Mecca, 1956), II, 108ff.

21 Ibn, Ḥabīb al-Baghdādī, Kitāb al-Muḥabbar, Lichtenstader, I., ed. (Beirut, 1943), p. 178; ⊂Izz, al-Dīn ibn al-Athīr, al-Kāmil fī al-Ta⊃rīkh, Torenberg, C. J., ed. (Beirut, 1965), I, 452; al-Fāsī, , Shifā⊃, II, 4142.

22 Kister, , “Concerning Mecca,” p. 76.

23 Abū, ⊂Alī Aḥmad al-Marzūqī, Kitāb al-Azmina wa al-Amkina (Heyderabad, A.H. 1332 [1913/1914]), II, 165ff.

24 Watt, , Mecca, pp. 11, 14; Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 185211.

23 Watt, , Mecca, p. 15; Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 4549.

26 Ibn, M. ⊂Abd al-Malik ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-Nabawiyya, Sa⊂d, T. A., ed. (Cairo, 1974), 1, 120; Ibn, HḤabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 42, 222, 331, 332; Ibn, al-Athīr, al-Kāmil, II, 22; Watt, , Mecca, p. 11.

27 Ibn, Hishām, Sīra, 1, 120121, 125.

28 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 80ff.

29 Ibid., pp. 40ff; Azraqī, , Akhbār, p. 453.

30 Balādhurī, , Ansāb, 1, 73; Ibn, al-Athīr, al-Kāmil, 11, 15; Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 94ff.

31 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, p. 85.

32 Ibid., p. 88; Balādhurī, , Ansāb, 1, 69, 71; Ibn, al-Athīr, al-Kāmil, II, 11; for the doubt cast on the Banū al-Najjār connection see Ṭabarī, , Ta⊃rīkh, II, 248.

33 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 130ff.

34 Ibid., pp. 54, 64.

35 See n. 24 above; Balādhurī, , Ansāb, 1, 101.

36 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 45ff, 217ff, 340ff; Watt, , Mecca, p. 13.

37 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, p. 341; see also a similar statement “ḥilf al-Fuḍūl seceded from the ḥilf of al-Muṭayyabūn and the Aḥlāf,” p. 47; see also Aḥmad, ibn Abī Ya⊂qūb al-Ya⊂qūbī, Ta⊃rīkh (Beirut, 1960), 11, 18; Watt, , Mecca, p. 6.

38 Ibn, Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, pp. 244ff; Balādhurī, , Ansāb, I, 135.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed