Was Prophet Muhammad ﷺ the Messenger for Arabs only?
If not, then why Islam recognizes the customs of Arabs?
He was a universal Prophet ﷺ. But even though he was a universal Prophet ﷺ the message had to start from some place. He ﷺ had to receive revelation had to be born amongst some people. So the people whom Allah chose to rise amongst them - the last of His Prophets were the Arabs of this region, particularly those in the region of Mecca.
When Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came with the message of Islam there were amongst the people, certain practices, which Islam did not eradicate, did not invalidate and there were some practices which were invalidated. Some people while looking at it, the fact that some of the Arab customs were accepted, tend to say that Islam is an Arab religion or then they say that it favors the practices of the Arabs; it is a product of Arab culture. However, this is not so at all. Those things that we find that Islam has recognized, confirmed of the practices of the Arabs. These things were either practice which was handed down from earlier Prophets as in the case of hajj.
Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca- it was instituted by Prophet Abraham (alayhissalaam) The practices were handed down from the time of Prophet Abraham (alayhissalaam) to the time of the Arabs among whom the prophet Muhammad ﷺ was raised. Also we find that there are some practices which were the result of human intellectual effort which Islam recognized because fundamentally, Islam and its principles do not contradict human intellect. They do not contradict reason.
So those things which people, due to their own experiences have concluded are useful, Islam will recognize them and such we find for e.g. certain trade practices, their methods that they had in barter or in business transactions. Some of these methods were recognized because if these methods did not exist and they were needed by people then Islam would legislate them because, human need is of primary concern in the legislation of laws in Islam.
However, you should note that of the principles which were confirmed, amongst the practices of the Arab’s, were in fact few. The vast majority of their practices were not confirmed, there were only a few, a small portion, but even that small portion was confirmed practice, how they appear in Islam. When you look at them now, only the basic principle is recognized however, its form was modified for e.g. in the case of marriage they had a number of different ways in which they got married. What Islam did was it recognized one particular form which had in it some concern for the rights of women, it cancelled all the other forms which had implied in it.Fornication or adultery, because they had a number of different forms of temporary type marriages, marriages which did not have any kind of responsibility with it, where children are not held to be responsible or to be the inheritors of those who are involved in such relationships etc .These types of marriages were all cancelled. Only one particular form of marriage was recognized, but even that one form, there were modifications which were made. Significant modifications were made to it, to make it truly conform to the standard of legislation, divine legislation which would naturally take into account human needs.
Say: “O mankind! Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allah- to who belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth…” [Surah al-A’raaf , 7:158]
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is reported to have said: “I have been given five things which were not given to any Prophet before me, and I do not say it out of pride. I was sent to all mankind (their) black and white alike….” ( Tafsir Ibn Kathir :Surah Al-A’raaf verse 158 who then said: “ This hadith’s chain of narration is suitable, but the Two Sahihs (Bukhari and Muslim) did not record it”
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Tafseer Surat al-Baqarah 2 (299):
Tradition does not make something that is not prescribed permissible, because Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “It is not Al‑Birr (piety, righteousness) that you enter the houses from the back” [al-Baqarah 2:189], even though that was their custom and they regarded it as righteousness. The one who takes something as a custom and regards it as righteousness has to measure it against the laws of Allah.”(Majmoo’ al-Fatawa (6/510) )
Ibn Kathir said in Tafsir Surat ul Hajj verse 26:
“((And proclaim to mankind)) meaning, announce the pilgrimage to mankind and call them to perform pilgrimage to this House (Al-Ka’abah) which We have commanded you to build” It was said that Ibrahim said “ O Lord, how can I convey this to people when my voice will not reach them” It was said: “ Call them and We will convey it….”
“Since money, merchandise and goods are distributed among people in general and there is a need for humans to have what is in the hands of their associates who will not sacrifice it without something in exchange, there is a strong need for the permissibility of buying, selling and meeting one’s goals. For these reasons, Allah has permitted buying and selling to fulfill those benefits and needs.”( Dr. S Al-Sadlaan, Fiqh made easy, 123)
S Al- Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, 24, See also al-Majmu' sharh al-Muhadhdhab p 202 by Imam An-Nawawi< Back to Questions