Pagan Origins of Islam

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This article discusses the monotheistic religion of Islam and its pre-Islamic pagan heritage.

Worship at the Ka’aba

According to the hadith, the Ka'aba in Mecca was a center of idol-worship, with the Ka'aba housing 360 idols:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Masud: The Prophet entered Mecca and (at that time) there were three hundred-and-sixty idols around the Ka’aba. He started stabbing the idols with a stick he had in his hand and reciting: "Truth (Islam) has come and Falsehood (disbelief) has vanished."

The Prophet Muhammad discarded the 360 idols but retained for Islam, the Ka’aba with its Black Stone, justifying it with the claim that Abraham and Ishmael originally constructed it. However, there is no historical or archaeological evidence for the existence of the Ka’aba beyond a few hundred years before Muhammad's lifetime. In fact, the Quran contradict this connection between Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka’aba.

The Quran says Abraham built it:

Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).

One hadith claims Muhammad says it was built 40 years prior to the Temple at Jerusalem:

Narrated Abu Dhaar: I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Which mosque was built first?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Haram." I asked, "Which (was built) next?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Aqs-a (i.e. Jerusalem)." I asked, "What was the period in between them? He replied, forty years.

The Temple at Jerusalem was built by Solomon around 958-951 BC. This implies that if Muhammad were to be believed, the Ka’aba must have been built approximately 998-991 BC. But Abraham is alleged to have lived around 2000 BC so both Abraham and Ishmael would have been dead by then.

The traditions of the hadith and the Quran are mutually contradictory and do not align with other traditions about Abraham and Ishmael.

Rather than being the creation of Abraham, Egyptian Professor and authority on Arabic literature, Dr. Taha Husayn, said the following:

The case for this episode is very obvious because it is of recent date and came into vogue just before the rise of Islam. Islam exploited it for religious reasons.[1]

Also, according to a sahih hadith of Bukhari, Muhammad even considered dismantling it:

Narrated Aswad: Ibn Az-Zubair said to me, "Aisha used to tell you secretly a number of things. What did she tell you about the Ka'ba?" I replied, "She told me that once the Prophet said, 'O 'Aisha! Had not your people been still close to the pre-Islamic period of ignorance (infidelity)! I would have dismantled the Ka'ba and would have made two doors in it; one for entrance and the other for exit." Later on Ibn Az-Zubair did the same.

Worship at the Ka’aba and the kissing of the Black Stone are according to the Islamic tradition one of many practices adopted from the 7th century paganism of the Meccans and repackaged within monotheistic Islam.

Veneration of the Black-stone

The pagan gods of pre-Islamic Arabia were worshiped in the form of rectangular stones or rocks. For example, the pagan deity 'Al-Lat', mentioned in Quran 53:19, and believed by pre-Islamic pagans to be one of the daughters of Allah, was once venerated as a cubic rock at Ta'if in Saudi Arabia according to Islamic sources on the subject written after the rise of Islam. An edifice was built over the rock to mark it apart as a house of worship.

Al-lat stood in al-Ta'if, and was more recent than Manah. She was a cubic rock beside which a certain Jew used to prepare his barley porridge (sawiq). Her custody was in the hands of the banu-'Attab ibn-Malik of the Thayif, who had built an edifice over her. [...]She is the idol which God mentioned when He said, "Have you seen Al-lat and al-'Uzza (Surah 53:19)?[2]
Kitab Al-Asnam (The Book of Idols), p 14
"A principal sacred object in Arabian religion was the stone, either a rock outcropping or a large boulder, often a rectangular or irregular black basaltic stone… of numerous baetyls, the best known is the Black-stone of the Ka’aba at Mecca which became the central shrine object in Islam".[3]
Encyclopedia Britannica

The Black Stone seems to have been one among many stones and idols venerated at the Ka’aba by the pre-Islamic pagans of Arabia. The Black Stone was kissed during pre-Islamic pagan worship. Though Muhammad is asserted to have thrown out 360 other objects at the Ka’aba, he retained this Black Stone and continued the practice of kissing it. It is this same stone that the pre-Islamic pagans once kissed, that Muslims kiss today when visiting Mecca.

Praying 5 Times Towards Mecca

Pagans prior to Islam would pray five times per day towards Mecca.[4] Muhammad retained for Islam, this pre-Islamic practice, sanctioning it with a story of a night trip to heaven on a mythical beast called al-Buraq. In heaven, the Hadith tells us that Allah demanded 50 prayers per day per Muslim. Upon advice from Moses, Muhammed bargains with Allah and successfully reduces it to five prayers per day.

Zoroastrians are also expected to recite their (kusti) prayers at least five times a day having first cleansed themselves by washing (ablution). These Islamic practices show Zoroastrian influence.[5] But, contrary to the Muslims, Zoroastrians pray in the direction of the Sun (at each time of the day) and/or of the Holy Fire (if they are in a Fire Temple). [6]

Fasting on the 10th of Muharram

Muhammad's pagan tribe, the Quraish, fasted on the 10th of Muharram. Though optional, Muhammad retained this practice from the pagan past too.

Narrated 'Aisha: 'Ashura' (i.e. the tenth of Muharram) was a day on which the tribe of Quraish used to fast in the pre-lslamic period of ignorance. The Prophet also used to fast on this day. So when he migrated to Medina, he fasted on it and ordered (the Muslims) to fast on it. When the fasting of Ramadan was enjoined, it became optional for the people to fast or not to fast on the day of Ashura.

Tawaf between Safa and Marwa

Doing Tawaf between Safa and Marwa is an Islamic ritual associated with the pilgrimage to Mecca. Safa and Marwa are two mounts, located at Mecca. This ritual entails Muslims walking frantically between the two mounts, seven times. According to a hadith in Bukhari, this was originally a pagan pre-Islamic practice. Muhammad retained it for Islam, sanctioning it with yet another Qur'anic revelation.[7]

Narrated 'Asim: I asked Anas bin Malik: "Did you use to dislike to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa?" He said, "Yes, as it was of the ceremonies of the days of the Pre-lslamic period of ignorance, till Allah revealed: 'Verily! (The two mountains) As-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the symbols of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, or performs 'Umra, to perform Tawaf between them.' " (2.158)

This Hadith states that Muhammad adopted this pagan ceremony from the pre-Islamic "period of ignorance" and justified it with yet another convenient Qur'anic revelation.

A tradition also exists about Hagar running between these two mounts in search of water until she found the Zamzam Well.

Requirement of Ihram

Ihram is a state a Muslim enters into for his pilgrimage to Mecca. It involves a series of procedures like ritual washing, wearing 'Ihram garments', etc. Ihram was according to Sahih Bukhari originally a pagan requirement for worshiping idols during pre-Islamic times. Muhammad retained this practice for Islam. Muslims assume Ihram to perform the Hajj or Umrah.

Narrated 'Urwa: I asked 'Aisha : ...But in fact, this divine inspiration was revealed concerning the Ansar who used to assume “Ihram” for worshipping an idol called “Manat” which they used to worship at a place called Al-Mushallal before they embraced Islam, and whoever assumed Ihram (for the idol), would consider it not right to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa.

Circumambulation 7 Times

In the Islamic ritual of Tawaf, Muslims go around the Kaaba 7 times. In the Hindu marriage rite of Satphere, the married couple goes around a fire also 7 times. In both of these rituals, religious phrases are repeated during the circumambulation.

Circumambulation is to go in circles around a particular object. In Islam, worshipers and pilgrims do this around the Ka'aba at Mecca. Pre-Islamic pagans are alleged to have done it to please the moon god Hubal, the 360 deities and Allah (who was merely one among the many deities worshiped there). Muhammad himself used to do it, even before the 360 idols inside the Ka'aba were removed.

Judaism and Christianity (the religions of those who are considered People of the Book) do not practice ritual circumambulation to please God. Two other faiths which do are Hinduism and Buddhism, faiths which are accused by traditional Islam of “paganism” and practicing idolatry.

Crescent Moon Symbol

Hubal was the moon god worshiped at the Ka’aba. The crescent moon was Hubal’s symbol. Muhammad's pagan grandfather Abd al-Muttalib almost slaughtered Muhammad's father Abdallah at the Ka’aba, to Hubal. From Ibn Hisham:

An arrow showed that it was 'Abdullah to be sacrificed. 'Abdul-Muttalib then took the boy to Al-Ka'bah with a razor to slaughter the boy. Quraish, his uncles from Makhzum tribe and his brother Abu Talib, however, tried to dissuade him. They suggested that he summon a she-diviner. She ordered that the divination arrows should be drawn with respect to 'Abdullah as well as ten camels. … the number of the camels (finally) amounted to one hundred. … They were all slaughtered to the satisfaction of Hubal.[8]

The Ka’aba, Islam's holiest shrine, has been a place where such pagan human sacrifices and slaughters have taken place for Hubal. When Muhammad founded Islam, according to Islamic sources he discarded Hubal and all the other pagan god. At the Battle of Badr, his enemy Abu Sufyan praised the high position of moon god Hubal, saying "O Hubal, be high". Muhammad asked his followers to yell back, "Allah is higher".[9] This is supposed to be the origin of the commonly uttered phrase "Allahu Akbar" in Arabic.

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References

  1. As quoted in Mizan al-Islam by Anwar al-Jundi, p. 170
  2. The Book of Idols, p 14; (translation of Kitab Al-Asnam ) by Hisham Ibn-Al-Kalbi, 819 CE, translated by Nabih Amin Faris, 1952
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica - Arabian Religions, p1059, 1979
  4. The Encyclopedia of Islam (edited by Eliade) P. 303FF
  5. Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 763-764
  6. Joseph H. Peterson - GAHS (prayers for each period of the day) - Avesta Zoroastrian Archives, accessed May 27, 2011
  7. "Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to good,- be sure that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth." - Quran 2:158
  8. Ibn Hisham 1/151-155; Rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 2/89,90
  9. "...After that he started reciting cheerfully, "O Hubal, be high! (1) On that the Prophet said (to his companions), "Why don't you answer him back?" They said, "O Allah's Apostle What shall we say?" He said, "Say, Allah is Higher and more Sublime."..." - (Sahih Bukhari 4:52:276)