Who exactly were the Arabs?

In this page, we are going to discuss about the lineage of Arabs among which Prophet Muhammad   appeared. This is the topic that Ibn Ishaq begins his book with. The scholars have divided the Arabs before Islam into two broad categories – the extinct Arab and the remaining Arab.

Extinct Arabs – Al-Arab al-Baida

They are the earliest civilizations that lived in Arabia, thousands of years before Islam. These are the earliest civilizations of humanity in the Arabian peninsula. The Qur’an mentions some of their stories such as the stories of Aad and Thamud. They are two of those earliest civilizations. We now have documented evidence that Thamud existed about 5000 years ago from now.

Remaining Arabs – Al-Arab al-Baqiya

These are the Arabs that we are interested in. They are composed of two tribes – Kahtan and Adnan. Both of these tribes go back to Sam, the son of Noah.

Kahtan – the original Arabs

Kahtan was in fact the name of the leader of a tribe, he had a son named Ya Rab. The term Arab is linked back to this son of Kahtan. They are called the original Arabs – Al-Arab al-Ariba. The used to live in the southern side of Makkah.

Adnan – the Arabs who learnt Arabic

Prophet Ibrahim (A) was from Iraq. He fled Iraq with his cousin Sarah, he made his way through Egypt. In Egypt he was given a slave woman called ‘Hajr’ by the king. Therefore, Ismail (A) is not an Arab. He was left in a barren land in Makkah by his father, Prophet Ibrahim (A). As mentioned above, at that time, the tribe of Kahtan were living further to the south.

One of the tribes of Kahtan – Jurhum, passes by the area where Ismail (A) lived. He later married into this tribe, and began started speaking their language – Arabic. His children therefore also spoke Arabic. Few generations down the line, a luminary appeared by the name of Adnan. There were perhaps seven to ten generations, approximately 400-500 years, between Ismail (A) and Adnan. All of the Arab tribes are traced back to this person Adnan.

The descendants of Adnan are called Al-Arab Al-Musta’riba – the Arabs who learnt Arabic. Because Arabic was not their language, they learnt it from the original Arabs.

Later on, the tribe of Adnan, who learnt Arabic from the originals, became better in their language. This is because they used to live in the central location, all the other tribes used to go through them and by them. Therefore with time, they could get the best of all the Arab cultures and their language became more eloquent, more powerful and more prestigious.

Prophet Muhammad   was the twentieth offspring of Adnan, and this is agreed upon by all the scholars. There are no difference of opinion on this, we have the exact lineage traced back to Adnan.

The content of this page was compiled from video lectures on the Seerah of the Prophet Muhamamd (PBUH) by Yasir Qadhi. The video can be found here.