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Jews in Yemen

Jews in Yemen

Jews in Yemen

Any region in which Jews lived; they propagated the Law of Moses. Yemen, too, was under the influence of the Jews for some time, and Dh£-Nuw¡s, the king of Yemen, who had accepted Judaism, started suppressing Christians and announced Judaism as the official religion.

In view of some researchers and historians, Dh£-Nuw¡s had some national and patriotic motives rather than religious sentiments, in announcing Judaism as an official religion; that is to say, Christians in Najr¡n had friendly relations with Ethiopia and its government. Relying heavily on Najr¡n’s Christians, they tried to interfere with the internal affairs of Yemen to achieve political objectives. For this reason, by suppressing the Christians, Dh£-Nuw¡s and his supporters tried to deprive Ethiopia of this stronghold. After the massacre of Najr¡n's Christians, one of them escaped to Ethiopia and begged the Ethiopian emperor for help. This led to a war between two countries in which Dh£-Nuw¡s was easily defeated in 525 AD and Najr¡n continued to remain an important center for Christianity up to the Holy Prophet prophethood.[1]

The Sabians

Historians believe that this sect came into being at the time of the kingdom of Tahm£rath by B£dh¡sif as its founder. After introducing the history of this sect, Ab£-Ray¦¡n al-Bayr£n¢ (360-440 AH) writes:

We do not know much about them except for the fact that in their opinion, God has no associate and is void of inappropriate epithets (negative attributes). For instance, they declare: God is not limited; He cannot be seen nor does He engage in injustice. They think the universe is managed by the heavens and that celestial bodies have influence upon us. They believe in life, speech, hearing and sight of the heavenly bodies that have control over rays. Believing in the great influences of the stars and their movement on the earthly creatures, Sabians used to keep the statues of these heavenly bodies in their temples. Examples are the statue of the sun in Baalbek, the statue of the moon in °arr¡n and the statue of Venus in a village.[2]

The center of Sabian activities was the city of °arr¡n.[3] This sect used to have followers in Rome, Greece, Babel and other places of the world.[4] The Holy Qur'¡n refers to them on three occasions.[5] This sect is now disintegrating and only a few of them live in Khuzestan[6] and Iraq.[7]


The sects of Zoroastrianism, Mazdak and Manichaeism all originated in Iran. However, there is no consensus of opinion concerning the influences of these sects over °ij¡z prior to Islam. Some contemporary historians believe these sects were present in Arabia in those years. Historical documents attest to the presence of Manichaeism in Arabia in those days. Ya`q£b¢ writes:

Some Arabs adopted Judaism as their religion, others accepted Christianity, and some others became heretic and believed in dualism.[8] Although the word zind¢q (miscreant) originally refers to atheist and denier of God, in the opinion of the scholars, this was used for a group of believers in Manichaeism and gradually included all followers of this sect. Later on, it included infidels and atheists in general. Thus, in the ancient sources, the word zind¢q was used to include the followers of Manichaeism.[9] Now we know that Manichaeism is a combination of Christianity and Zoroastrianism.[10]

A group of historians have confirmed that heresy or Manichean heresy was prevalent among the people of Quraysh who had received it from the people of °¢rah.[11] This clarifies the fact that by heresy, we mean dualism, because °¢rah used to be a protégé and neighbor of Iran and Iranian sects which were based on dualism.

Star Worshipping

During the Ignorance Era, a group of the people of the Arabian Peninsula, like many of other areas, worshipped celestial bodies, such as the moon and some stars. They believed in a special power embedded in these bodies which could exert energy over the population of the world, controlling their destiny in this way. For instance, the tribes of Khuz¡`ah and °imyar worshipped a star called Shi`r¡, which is one of the stationary stars. Ab£-Kabshah, one of the maternal ancestors of the Holy Prophet, was one of the worshippers of this star.[12] A group of ±ayy tribe used to worship a star called Thurayy¡ or the Pleiades.[13] The worship of skies and stars was so prevalent that its repercussions are visible in the Arab literature, romance and superstitions.[14] Besides the Sebians who worshipped the sun and the moon, these two heavenly bodies were sanctified and worshipped by all idolaters in general.[15]

Prohibiting and condemning the worshipping of celestial bodies, the Holy Qur'¡n considers this limited group of celestial bodies creations of God that are dominated by His power and worshipping Him. Thus, they could be regarded as guides for man and directors towards God, the All-great. This is because these heavenly bodies are just signs for His power:

And He has made subservient for you the night, the day, the sun, and the moon and the stars are made subservient by His commandment; most surely, there are signs in this for a people who ponder. (16:12)

And among His signs are the night and the day and the sun and the moon; do not make obeisance to the sun nor to the moon; and make obeisance to Allah who created them, if Him it is that you serve. (41:37)

And that He is the Lord of the Sirius. (53:49)

These sacred verses depict the fact that at the time of the Holy Prophet, the worshipping of these celestial bodies was a common practice.

The Worshipping of Jinn and Angels

Besides the abovementioned sects, some people of Arabia used to worship Jinn and angels. `Abdull¡h ibn al-Zuba`r¢, a tribal chief in Mecca, used to say, “We are the worshippers of the angels; the Jews worship Ezra, and the Christians worship the Christ! Now ask Mu¦ammad: Would we go to hell when we worship so many beloved ones?”[16]

Ban£-Mal¢¦, a branch of the Khuz¡`ah tribe, used to worship Jinn.[17] It is said that the first people who started worshipping jinn were a group of Yemenis; then it was the Ban£-°an¢fah tribe; then it was spread among the Arabs.[18] In the words of interpreters, some people believed that God has married the Jinn and the angels are the offspring of such a marriage.[19] In the Holy Qur'¡n, God has condemned the worshipping of Jinn and angels and the wrong assumptions about them:

And they made the jinn associates with Allah, while He created them, and they falsely attributed to Him, and highly exalted is He above what they ascribe to Him. (6:100)

And on the day when He will gather them all together, and then He will say to the angels: Did these worship you? They shall say: Glory be to Thee! Thou art our Guardian, not they; nay! The worshippers become abashed. (34:41)

It also becomes clear through the answers offered by the angels that they are not satisfied with people who worship them. (34:41) It is evident that this question is not asking for any information; neither does it unveil any ambiguity. This is because God is All-knowing. God intends that the angels reveal the truth so that their worshippers become abased. However, the jinn were content in this respect.

Thus, the worshipping of these two sets of invisible creatures on the part of some worshippers was not unlike the dualism-bided sect, because the worshipper considered the jinn as the source of light, benevolence and abundance. When entering a valley at night, some Arabs used to say, “I ask the protection of the chief of the ignorant ones in order to be safe against those ignorant ones who live in this land.”[20] By chanting such slogans, they believed the jinn would protect them for the truth of this claim comes from the Holy Qur'¡n:

And persons from among men used to seek refuge with persons from among jinn, so they increased them in wrongdoing. (72:6)

[1] A¦mad Am¢n, op cot, pp. 23, 24, 37; Ibn Hush¡m, al-S¢rah al-Nabawiyyah 1:37. Y¡q£t al-°amaw¢, Mu`jam al-Buld¡n 5:266.

[2] Al-ªth¡r al-B¡qiyah, pp. 294-295.

[3] °arr¡n was a big city between the Tigris and Euphrates; today, it is a ruined village. At the Advent of Islam, it was a prosperous city in which famous scientists used to live. See Mu`jam al-Buld¡n 3:235-236; Taqw¢m al-Buld¡n, pp. 303, 307, 309; Mu¦ammad Mu`¢n, Farhang Farsi 5:457.

[4] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, Al-M¢z¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur’¡n 10:279.

[5] Qur’¡n 2:62; 5:69; 22:17.

[6] They live at the shores of the Karun River, Ahwaz, Khorramshahr, Abadan, Shadigan, and Dasht Mishan.

[7] They live at the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates in Baghdad, °illah, N¡¥iriyyah, `Im¡rah, K£t, Diy¡l¡, Kirkuk, Mosul, Ram¡d¢, Sulaym¡niyyah and Karbal¡'. For the derivation of the word ¥¡bi'¢, whether it is Arabic or Hebrew, and for its meaning, see al-ªl£s¢, Bul£gh al-Irab 2:223-228; Ya¦y¡ N£r¢, Islam And Human Ideas, pp. 431-432; Shahrist¡ni, al-Milal wa’l-Ni¦al 1:230, 2:5.

[8] T¡r¢kh al-Ya`q£b¢ 1:226.

[9] A¦mad Am¢n, Fajr al-Isl¡m, pp. 108; D¡w£d Ilh¡m¢, Iran and Islam, pp. 392. Having referred to the fact that Manicheans came to be called zan¡diqah due to their following of zand, al-Bayr£n¢ writes: “The Manicheans and the B¡§iniyyah (Esotericists) are figuratively termed zan¡diqah in Islam. This is because these two groups are similar to Mazdakids in ascribing certain traits and features to God.” See al-ªth¡r al-B¡qiyah, pp. 312. About this topic, `Abd al-°usayn Zarrinkub writes, “The word zand¢q is derived from the Pahlavi word zandic. At this era, this word was used for the Manicheans and for those who believed in atheism of some sort.

[10] Shahrist¡ni, op cit, pp. 244. An Orientalist says, “If we consider Manichaeism as Zoroastrianism mixed with Christianity, we are closer to the truth than considering Christianity mixed with Zoroastrianism.” See A¦mad Am¢n, Fajr al-Isl¡m, pp. 104. Concerning Mani and his sect, Manichaeism, see `Abd al-°usayn Zarrinkub, Neither Eastern nor Western but Human, pp. 72-76.

[11] Ibn Qutaybah, al-Ma`¡rif, pp. 621; Al-Abshahi, al-Musta§rah 2:88; Ibn Rustah, al-A`l¡q al-Al-Naf¢sah, pp. 264; A¦mad Am¢n, Fajr al-Isl¡m, pp. 108.

Mu¦ammad ibn °ab¢b al-Baghd¡d¢ states that the following individuals from Quraysh belonged to this group: Ab£-Sufy¡n, `Aqabah ibn Ab¢-Mu`¢§, Ubay ibn Ab¢-Khalaf, Ab£-`Azzah, al-Na¤r ibn °¡rith, Nubayh and Munabbih, sons of al-°ajj¡j ibn Am¢r al-Sahm¢, al-`ª¥ ibn W¡’il, and al-Wal¢d ibn al-Mugh¢rah al-Makhz£m¢. See al-Mu¦abbar, pp. 161.

However, the speeches and sessions held by these individuals carry no single indication of this point. Rather, documents prove that they were idol-worshippers. In his discussions on heresy, `Abd al-°usayn Zarrinkub remarks that the word zandaqah included Materialists as well. This latter group refrained from attributing the events of this world to a Creator. The zan¡diqah of Quraysh, among whom were Ab£-Sufy¡n, Ibn Ab¢-Mu`¢§, al-Na¤r ibn °¡rith, and al-Wal¢d ibn Mugh¢rah, were Materialists. It is understood from the news and poems related to the chiefs of Quraysh that their heresy stood for rejection of the Creator and disbelief in Resurrection”

[12] al-ªl£s¢, Bul£gh al-Irab 2:240.

[13] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, Al-M¢z¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur’¡n 19:49.

[14] Ibid, pp. 215, 220, 230, 237, 239 and 240; Islam And Man's Ideologies, pp. 295-247.

[15] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢ op cit 17:393.

[16] Ibn Hush¡m, al-S¢rah al-Nabawiyyah 1:385.

[17] Hush¡m Ibn Mu¦ammad Kalb¢, Kit¡b al-A¥n¡m, pp. 42.

[18] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, op cit, 2:42.

[19] ±abars¢, Majma` al-Bay¡n 8:46.

[20] al-ªl£s¢, op cit, 2:232.

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