The religious conceptions of the ancient Arabs were primitive. The tribes had their own gods and sacred objects, such as stones, trees, and springs, through which they aspired to divine the future. In some parts of Arabia the worship of stars prevailed. According to one expert in Arabic antiquity, the ancient Arabs in their religious experiences hardly rose above the feelings of a fetishist before the worshiped object. They believed in the existence of friendly, and, more frequently, unfriendly, forces which they called djinn (demons). Among the Arabs the conception of the higher invisible power of Allah was vague. Prayer as a form of worship was apparently unknown to them, and when they turned to the deity, their invocation was usually an appeal for aid in revenging some injury or injustice suffered from an enemy. Goldziher asserted also that the surviving pre-Islamic poems do not contain any allusions to a striving toward the divine even on the part of the more sublime souls, and give only slight indications about their attitude to the religious traditions of their people.
The nomadic life of the Bedouins was naturally unfavorable to the development of distinct permanent places for the performance of religious worship, even of a very primitive form. But there were, besides the Bedouins, the settled inhabitants of cities and hamlets which sprang up and developed along the trade routes, mainly on the caravan road leading from the south to the north, from Yemen to Palestine, Syria, and the Sinaitic peninsula. The richest among the cities along this route was Mecca (Macoraba, in ancient writings), famous long before Muhammed's appearance. Second in importance was the city of Yathrib, the future Medina, situated farther north. These cities were convenient stopping points for the trade caravans traveling from the north and south. There were many Jews among the merchants of Mecca and Yathrib, as well as among the population of other portions of the peninsula, such as northern Hidjaz and Yemen.