“Al-Ḥuraḍa”: a forgotten figure of Pre-Islamic Arab priesthood
In a previous study, we concluded that the Jahili “Māysir” was not merely a game of wasting time or a way of making easy profit (Qimār), as conventionally conceived. Instead, the Māysir was a sacrificial religious ritual held in winter, as tribes began gathering around water sources, after the period of midsummer characterized by the lack of rainfall. Through the ritual of Māysir, Jahili tribes were seeking to appease the Gods by slaughtering camels in a game of bet between gamblers (Āysār). As such, camels were slaughtered on the Statues of Gods (namely, the “Ānṣāb”) placed on the territorial surroundings of Jahili tribes, in order to protect them from any external aggression by human or super-natural powers (especially, the creatures of “Ǧinn”).
Moreover, we concluded that one of the ultimate purposes of Māysir was to provide the personnel of the Jahili priesthood institution with resources, as they were allotted with the profits of one tossing arrow used in Māysir named “Āl-Māniḥ”. In addition, the Māysir guaranteed food assistance to the needy among Jahili tribes, who were allocated profits of the tossing arrow known as “Āl-Wāġd”.
Along with poor people, widows and the needy, Islamic sources cited four other parties involved in the ritual of Māysir: the butcher (Āl-ǧāzzār) who slaughtered camels dedicated to bets in respect of specific rituals, gamblers who were among chiefs of the tribes and men of high status, the “Ḥurāḍā” who directed and supervised the game of bets, and the "Rāquib" who was in charge of monitoring the game and announcing its results. Among these parties, we are interested specifically in the figure of Āl-Ḥurāḍā, the director and supervisor of the game of Māysir.
This essay aims to reconstruct the figure of Āl-Ḥurāḍā in Islamic sources, and to reinterpret both its religious and social roles, arguing for the existence of an institutionalized body of priesthood among the Arabs of Jahiliyyah. Islam targeted this institutional body by prohibiting several rituals, the most important of which is sacrificing camels and entire live stocks to the Gods in the game of māysir, in order to establish an alternative Islamic society free of priesthood.