chapter  2
11 Pages

The Middle East Before Muhammad

WithArthur Goldschmidt, Aomar Boum

The experience of the Arabs before Islam formed the matrix for the rise of Muhammad and his mission as a prophet. Historians of Southwest Asia divide themselves according to their specialization into those of the ancient world, those of medieval Islam, and those of the modern Middle East. Roman rule benefited some Middle Eastern peoples. The Bedouin Arabs, having adapted to desert life, may have lacked the refinement of the Romans or the Persians, but they were not barbarians. Many foreign scholars were attracted to Persia, a tolerant kingdom in which Nestorian Christians, Jews, and Buddhists could worship and proselytize freely. Byzantine Empire in the fifth century, Nestorian savants found refuge at the legendary Persian academy of Jundishapur, a center for the preservation of Hellenistic culture—indeed, the humanistic heritage of the whole ancient world. The Byzantine-Sassanid wars tended to divert trade toward western Arabia. Mecca's rulers belonged to a sedentarized Arab tribe called the Quraysh.