When Almighty Allah sent His last and greatest Prophet, Muhammad sallallaaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, (may Allah exalt his mention), humankind was immersed in a state of degeneration. The messages of the past prophets had been distorted and ignored, civilization was on the decline and humanity had slumped into an age of darkness, with disbelief, oppression and corruption prevalent everywhere. The condition of the world at that time presented the gloomiest picture ever of human history.
At the time of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, ﷺ, there existed two great powers on earth: one in the East and another in the West. In the East there was the Persian Empire, and in the West, the Roman Empire. As it might be expected, these two powers were actively hostile and almost permanently at war with one another. As a result, they were weak and disunited, though appearing to be otherwise. Despite their disunity and weakness, they made no serious effort to eradicate the causes of their instability.
The Arabs were living under no better conditions. They were families and tribes comprising different attitudes and feelings; but they were all similar in one respect: they were slaves of habits and impulses. They used to take pride in invasion and plunder. Moreover, they were so low in their moral affairs that a number of them used to bury their daughters alive.
Religiously speaking, the Arabs of that era were mostly idol worshippers. Some of them used to make their own gods from sweets, and subsequently, they would eat them when they got hungry. They had replaced the monotheism of Ibraaheem (Abraham), may Allah exalt his mention, with the worship of idols, stars and demons, turning the Ka’bah, which was built for the One and Only Creator, into a pantheon of idols. In addition, tribal rivalries and blood feuds ran among them like the burning desert sands of Arabia.
The people of Makkah used to practice usury on a large scale with very high interest rates — sometimes a hundred percent. When the debtors were not able to repay — and that was most often the case — they were enslaved or obliged to force their wives and daughters to commit certain sins, in order to be able to collect enough money to repay the debt.
Ignorance was not confined to the Arabs alone. On the fringes of Arabia where the desert gives way to hospitable lands, met the ever-changing borders of ‘world arrogance’, the two superpowers of the age: the Persian and the Roman Empires.
The fire-worshipping Persians, with their strange concept of dualism were further plagued by the still weirder Mazdakite doctrine (i.e. a socio-religious movement that flared up in the Sasanian Kavad (488-531 CE) founded by Mazdak son of Bamdad), that advocated communal ownership and even ruled that women were the common property of all men. Like Mani a few centuries earlier, who had claimed a new religion by combining the teachings of Jesus, may Allah exalt his mention, and Zoroaster, Mazdakite’s movement was also a reaction to the corruption of the traditional priestly class. Both creeds died away after the execution of their proponents, who more or less depended on royal patronage. On the other hand, the Sasanian aristocracy aligned with the Zoroastrian clergy was steeped in pleasures, burdening the oppressed masses with heavy taxes and oppression.
At the other end was the Byzantine world, which though claiming to profess a divinely revealed religion, had in fact polluted the monotheist message of Prophet Jesus, may Allah exalt his mention, with the sediments of ancient Greek and Roman pagan thoughts, resulting in the birth of Christianity. In 381 CE, the Greco-Roman Church council rejected the doctrine of Arius of Alexandria, to which most of the eastern provinces of the empire adhered, and in its place the council had coined the belief that God and Jesus, may Allah exalt his mention, are of one substance and therefore co-existent. Arius and his followers had held the belief in the uniqueness and majesty of God, Who Alone, they said has existed since eternity, while Jesus, may Allah exalt his mention, was created in time.
There were colonies of Jews scattered across West Asia and North Africa to whom several Messengers had been sent by Almighty Allah. However, even these divine favors had failed to reform them. The laws sent to Prophet Moses, may Allah exalt his mention, had been distorted and tampered with.
Further to the east lay the once flourishing cultures of China and India which were groping in darkness. Confucianism had confused the Chinese, robbing their minds of any positive thinking. On the other hand, Hinduism had no universal pretensions whatsoever, and was peculiar to the geographical confines of India or more properly Northern India and its Aryan invaders. Conversion of foreigners was difficult because one had to be born in a particular caste and it was the mystery of ‘Karma’ that determined one’s fate.
In short, wars, bloodshed, slavery, oppression of women and the deprived held sway everywhere, might ruled over right. The world was in dire distress but no one seemed capable of delivering it from darkness. No religion, ideology, creed or cult during those times, could offer any hope to the agonies and frustrations of humankind.
None of the religions in currency had any universal outlook or even pretensions and were limited to insurmountable geographical and psychological barriers, preaching discrimination and the narrow-minded superiority of a particular race.
Thus, it was in such a chaotic state of depression that Almighty Allah sent His last great Prophet, ﷺ with the universal Message of Islam to save humankind from disbelief, oppression, corruption, ignorance and moral decadence that was dragging humanity towards self-annihilation.