In pre-Islamic times, most of the pagan Arabian peoples fell into either two categories:
'When a person was murdered, he was supposed to long for vengeance and to thirst for the blood of the murderer. If the vengeance was not taken, the soul of the murdered man was believed to appear above his grave in the shape of an owl crying out, "Give me to drink" (isquni), until the murder was avenged. The restless soul in the form of a screeching owl was supposed to escape from the skull, the skull being the most characteristic part of the dead body. The poets of ancient Arabia (who were held in utmost importance) often said that they wished that the graves of those whom they love may be refreshed with abundant rain.'
Idols in pagan Arabia were of great importance, as they were in other old Semitic countries such as Babylon and Palestine. The idol (wathan, nusub) was seen by the pagan Arabians as the house of the deity (baetyl), where the god or goddess would temporarily instill his or her essence and hear the pleas of the worshippers. As such, the Arabians did not actually worship the material idol, but instead they worshipped the spirit that was believed to temporarily inhabit it. Meteorites (Bayt Ilah) were objects of extreme veneration for the pre-Islamic Arabians as they were seen as a gift from the high god Allah himself, housing immense celestial energy. Also among the variation of idols, outcrops of simple stone were believed to be the houses of Jinn or deities, as were trees and springs. In battle, the Arabs would bring their idol with them on a leather canopy called a qubba that was fixed onto the back of a camel in order to bring victory.
Above is a bas relief of the Meccan mother goddess Allat from the city of Ta'if in the Hijaz province of Saudi Arabia, dating from the 4th century AD. It is remarkable how it managed to survive the destroying and desecrating the shrines of the pagan gods in Arabia, upon the orders of Muhammad and his successors. Here the goddess Allat is represented with a sheath of wheat or a flail - exemplifying her traits as a goddess of agriculture and vegetation, typical of the Earth Mother archetype that once dominated the spiritual lives of the ancient Arabs and other Semitic peoples.
Above are idols in the typical style of wathan (image) and sanam (statue) from ancient Qataban in the Yemen. The simplistic style these idols were crafted in were common throughout pagan Arabia with notably defined eyes and the hands open in a gesture of protection, benevolence and divinity. As in Babylon and Palestine, the idols and baetyls of the pagan Arabs were often swathed in strips of fine cloth and adorned with precious stones and jewellery. The statue below is from south Arabia and is made of limestone. It depicts an unnamed south Arabian goddess, perhaps Shams, in the same style as the ones shown above.