Overall, the world status of Arabs prior to Islam was nothing to boast about; at best, they deserved a mention only in the footnotes section of a historical study of the era. The political and legal structure of Arab societies was in chaos; the belief system was absurd. At the best of times, they were no better than underlings of either the Persian or Roman Empire.
Arabs glorified and blindly followed the religion of their fathers and grandfathers, no matter how misguided and superstitious their beliefs were. And so they faithfully worshipped idols. Every tribe had its own idol: Hudhail ibn Mudrikah worshipped Suwaa’; the tribe of Kalb worshipped Wadd; Mudhaj worshipped Yahghooth; Khayawaan worshipped Ya’ooq; and Himyar worshipped Nasr. Both the Khuzaa’ah and Quraish tribes worshipped Isaaf and Naailah. The idol Manaat was situated on the seashore, and was glorified by all Arabs in general, and by the Aus and Khazraj tribes in particular. The idol Al-Laat was in Thaqeef, and Al-‘Uzzaa was situated above Dhaat ‘Ariq; these latter two idols were considered by the Quraish to be the greatest of idols.
Other than these main idols, Arabs worshipped a countless number of lesser idols – idols that individuals could take along on journeys and that were small enough to be carried around or placed in homes. In his Saheeh Bukharee related that Abu Rajaa Al-Utaaridee said, “We used to worship a stone. If we found a better stone, we would shoot the first one away and take the second one (as an idol). And if we could find no stone, we would gather a mound of earth; then we would bring a sheep and milk it over (the mound). And then we would walk around it (as an act of worship).” Such polytheistic practices prevented Arabs from knowing Allah glorifying Him, and having faith in Him They claimed that the idols were only intermediaries between them and Allah but that was of course an unacceptable excuse, if they even meant it is an excuse. Their idols and the practice of idol worship controlled their hearts, deeds, and all aspects of their lives, thus leaving little room in their hearts for the glorification of Allah. Allah said:
“It is only those who listen (to the Message of Prophet Muhammad ), will respond (benefit from it), but as for the dead (disbelievers), Allah will raise them up, then to Him they will be returned (for their recompense) . ” (Qur’an 6: 36)
Only remnants of the religion of Ibraaheem – which had reigned supreme in the early days of Makkah – remained, and even those remnants were subject to distortion. True, Arabs performed pilgrimage to Makkah; but they came to worship idols, and the pilgrimage season was a time not of piety, but of mutual boasting over worldly glories. As for the purely Monotheistic beliefs of Ibraaheem , Arabs added superstition and falsehood to them, thus making it very hard to see in the new beliefs the original teachings of Islamic Monotheism. And as such, Arabs had cut off all religious ties to Ibraaheem in fact, they were closest in their beliefs and practices not to the People of the Book, but to the polytheistic Brahmans and Buddhists of India.
Despite widespread ignorance and polytheism, there were some individuals, albeit very few in number, who refused to worship idols, and instead worshipped Allah alone. They are now known as the Hunafaa, which is the plural of the word Haneef a person who is a pure Islamic Monotheist. They are called Hunafaa because they were following the religion of Ibraaheem whom Allah referred to in the Qur’an as being Haneef Allah said:
“Ibraaheem (Abraham) was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a true Muslim Hanifaa (Islamic Monotheism – to worship none but Allah Alone) and he was not of the Al-Mushrikun (Qur’an 3: 67)
One such Haneef was Zaid ibn ‘Amr ibn Nufail – may Allah have mercy on him – who refused to worship idols and to eat Islamically unlawful food, such as blood, an animal that is slaughtered by other than Allah’s Name, or an animal that is not slaughtered but dies of natural causes.
Another example of a Haneef – a pure Monotheist who followed the religion of Ibraaheem and Ismaa’eel – was Qiss ibn Saa’idah Al-Iyaadee. Qiss worshipped Allah alone, without associating any partner with Him in worship; and he was known for his intelligence, wisdom, insight, and noble character. He believed in resurrection after death, and would, prior to the advent of Islam, give glad tidings about the coming of Prophet Muhammad In Dalaail An-Nubuwwah, Abu Nu’aim related that Ibn ‘Abbaas said, “Verily, Qiss ibn Saa’idah would preach to his people in the marketplace (‘Ukaadh); he said in one of his sermons, ‘The truth shall become known from this direction/ and he pointed with his hands towards Makkah. They (i.e., the people gathered around him) said, ‘And what is this truth (or who is the bearer of this truth)?’ He said, ‘A man from the children of Luai ibn Ghaalib will invite you to the Word of Sincerity (the phrase of Tawheed), to the eternal life, and to bliss and happiness that never ends. So when he invites you, answer him (by accepting his message). Were I to know that I will live until the time he is sent, I (would consequently know that I) will be the first who will hasten to him (in order to become a follower) Qiss did end up being a contemporary of the Prophet , but he died before the Prophet received revelation for the first time.
Some Arabs became Christians; others became Jews; but neither Christianity nor Judaism had a substantial number of followers in the Arabian Peninsula. For that matter, even planet worship and Magianism caught on to a very limited degree among Arabs. Despite the presence of minority religious groups in the Arabian Peninsula, the vast majority of Arabs were – until the advent of Islam – die – hard idol worshippers.