You need to study Arabia before Islam. You have to understand the Peninsular Arabia where the Prophet made its advent. It was a scourge of a society totally cut off from the world. Allow me to argue that he actually expedited their entry to the cultures and civilisation of the world.
Arabia before Islam:
The entire population of Yathrib and Mecca was no more than 100,000 people scattered in that huge mass of land; the only protection a man could find from his enemies was in his own tribe.
The most important urban centers of Arabia were Makkah and Yathrib, both in Hijaz. The citizens of Makkah were mostly merchants, traders and money-lenders. Their caravans traveled in summer to Syria and in winter to Yemen.
In Makkah the dominant tribe was the Quraysh; in Yathrib, the dominant tribes were the Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, and the Jewish tribes of Nadheer, Qaynuqaa and Qurayza. The Quraysh of Makkah considered themselves superior to the Bedouins but the latter had only contempt for the town-dwellers who for them were only a “nation of shopkeepers.”
The arrivals and departures of caravans were important events in the lives of the Meccans. Almost everyone in Mecca had some kind of investment in the fortunes of the thousands of camels, the hundreds of men, horses, and donkeys which went out with hides, raisins, and silver bars, and came back with oils, perfumes and manufactured goods from Syria, Egypt and Persia, and with spices and gold from the south. (The Messenger, 1946, p. 31)
Since there were no such things as police, courts or judges, a tribe that failed to protect its members from their enemies, exposed itself to ridicule, obloquy and contempt. Ethics, of course, did not enter the picture anywhere.
Since Arabia did not have a government, and since the Arabs were anarchists by instinct, they were locked up in ceaseless warfare. War was a permanent institution of the Arabian society. The desert could support only a limited number of people, and the state of inter-tribal war maintained a rigid control over the growth of population. But the Arabs themselves did not see war in this light.
- G. E. Grunebaum
“In the century before the rise of Islam (Classical Islam – A History 600-1258 – 1970)"
The tribe had an obligation to protect its members even if they had committed crimes. Tribalism or ‘asabiyya (the clan spirit) took precedence over ethics. the tribes dissipated all their energies in tribal guerrilla fighting, all against all. The nomadic tribes ranged over the peninsula and plundered the caravans and the small settlements.
Blood for blood and a life for a life. The vendetta, tha'rin Arabic, is one of the pillars of Bedouin society. All Arabs were notorious for certain characteristics such as arrogance, conceit, boastfulness, vindictiveness and excessive love of plunder. Their arrogance was partly responsible for their failure to establish a state of their own. They lacked political discipline, and until the rise of Islam, never acknowledged any authority as paramount in Arabia. The most remarkable feature of the political life of Arabia before Islam was the total absence of political organization in any form. With the exception of Yemen in the south-west, no part of the Arabian peninsula had any government at any time, and the Arabs never acknowledged any authority other than the authority of the chiefs of their tribes. The authority of the tribal chiefs, however, rested, in most cases, on their character and personality, and was moral rather than political.
The modern student of history finds it incredible that the Arabs lived, generation after generation, century after century, without a government of any kind. Since there was no government, there was no law and no order.
The only law of the land was lawlessness. In the event a crime was committed, the injured party took law in its own hands, and tried to administer “justice” to the offender. This system led very frequently to acts of horrendous cruelty.
If the Arab ever exercised any modicum of restraint, it was not because of any susceptibility he had to questions of right or wrong but because of the fear of provoking reprisals and vendetta. Vendetta consumed whole generations of Arabs.
- Herbert J. Muller
“In Mohammed's Arabia before Islam there was no state – there were only scattered independent tribes and towns. The Prophet formed his own state, and he gave it a sacred law prescribed by Allah.” (The Loom of History, 1958)
To them, war was a pastime or rather a dangerous sport, or a species of tribal drama, waged by professionals, according to old and gallant codes, while the “audience” cheered. Eternal peace held no appeal for them, and war provided an escape from drudgery and from the monotony of life in the desert.
They, therefore, courted the excitement of the clash of arms. War gave them an opportunity to display their skills at archery, fencing and horsemanship, and also, in war, they could distinguish themselves by their heroism and at the same time win glory and honor for their tribes. In many cases, the Arabs fought for the sake of fighting, whether or not there was a cause belli.
Many caravans and villages bought immunity from these raids by paying a fixed amount of money to the nomadic freebooters.
It is important to grasp the fact that on the eve of the birth of Islam there was no government at any level in Arabia, and this fact may even have affected the rise of Islam itself.The total absence of government, even in its most rudimentary form, was a phenomenon so extraordinary that it has been noted and commented upon by many orientalists, among them:
- D. S. Margoliouth
Arabia would have remained pagan had there been a man in Mecca who could strike a blow; who would act. But many as were Mohammed's ill-wishers, there was not one of them who had this sort of courage; and (as has been seen) there was no magistracy by which he could be tried.” (Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, 1931)
- Maxime Rodinson
“Manslaughter carried severe penalties according to the unwritten law of the desert. In practice, 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'rin Arabic, is one of the pillars of Bedouin society.” (Mohammed, 1971)
The population of Arabia consisted of two main divisions, sedentary and nomadic. Hijaz and South Arabia were dotted with many small and a few large towns. The rest of the country had a floating population composed of Bedouins.
They were backward in the civil and political sense but they were also a source of anxiety and fear for the sedentary population. They lived as pirates of the desert, and they were notorious for their unrestrained individualism and anarchic tribal particularism.
The more important tribes exercised a certain amount of authority in their respective areas. They acknowledged the authority of a man who led them into a foray but he could command their obedience only if they had an assurance of receiving a fair share of the booty, and his authority lapsed as soon as the expedition was over.
Economic Conditions: Economically, the Jews were the leaders of Arabia. They were the owners of the best arable lands in Hijaz, and they were the best farmers in the country. They were also the entrepreneurs of such industries as existed in Arabia in those days, and they enjoyed a monopoly of the armaments industry.
Slavery was an economic institution of the Arabs. Male and female slaves were sold and bought like animals, and they formed the most depressed class of the Arabian society.
The most powerful class of the Arabs was made up by the capitalists and money-lenders. The rates of interest which they charged on loans were exorbitant and were especially designed to make them richer and richer, and the borrowers poorer and poorer. They also travelled to Bahrain in the east and to Iraq in the northeast. The caravan trade was basic to the economy of Makkah, and its organisation called for considerable skill, experience and ability.
- R. V. C. Bodley