Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Mohammed the Hi-Jacker I - Paganism and Islamic Rites

To continue our studies, here is a quick lesson from our friend's at

The rites and ceremonies practiced by the pagan Arabs before the advent of Islam consisted of, among others, the following:

-The pagans observed three principal fasts within the year; one of seven, one of nine, and one of thirty days. During their fasts, they ate and drank, but refrained from conversations.
-They prayed three times each day; about sunrise, at noon, and about sunset, turning their faces in the direction of Ka'aba (Washington Irving, Mahomet and his successors, p. 31).

Got it? The three major holidays of Islam and the basic prayer practices are based on the original pagan practices of their Bedu (Bedouin) tribes that came to Mecca to worship at the Ka'ba. If you remember in our last discussion, the Ka'bah is the house of worship that Mohammed's grandfather and subsequently his uncle, were guardian's of during Mohammed's childhood. Obviously, Mohammed remembered this later when he was creating Islam and incorporated it, judiciously, into it's rituals.

Another interesting aspect of the holidays is that the 7 day fast is right around the time of Passover, a Jewish holiday. It's possible that the pagans actually incorporated rituals they learned from the Israelites during their travels. Remember, they were nomads.

-They performed a yearly pilgrimage or hajj, which required them to circumambulate the Ka'aba seven times, to run between the two hills called Safa and Marwa on each of which was installed a male and a female idol, to sacrifice animals in the name of the deities, and then to shave the heads of all male pilgrims. Female pilgrims satisfied the later commandment simply by having a few locks of their haircut off.

This is exactly the ritual performed by Muslim's today during hajj.

Speaking of the Ka'ba, according to legend, this place once housed 359 gods, including one called "Allah" who was the "creator" or great spirit:

One of the three hundred and sixty idols the pagans worshipped was called Allah, having all the essential characteristics of a man. He was one of their principal deities. They believed that this Allah gave them life and sustained them with his mercy and kindness. This deity was known as Al-Rahman-an (the merciful) and Al-Rahim (the compassionate) to the people of Northern and Southern Arabia.

The inscription (542-3) of Abrahah dealing with the break of the Ma'rib Dam bears testimony to this historical fact. The inscription begins with the following words: "In the power and grace and mercy of the Merciful ((Rahman-an) and His messiah and of the Holy Spirit." The name Al-Rahman-an is especially significant because al-Rahman became later a prominent attribute of Allah, and one of His ninety-nine names in the Quran. Sura or chapter nineteen of the Quran is dominated by the word al-Rahman. Though used in the inscription for the Christian God, yet the word is evidently borrowed from the name of one of the older South Arabian deities.

In truth, Mohammad, at the beginning of his career as a prophet, had required his followers to worship this same statuary Allah. He changed this commandment later to suite his concept of a God who, he believed, had no form or shape, thus separating his concept from that of the pagans and other polytheists of his time.

So, Mohammed was looking for a separate identity for his religion and decided, not only were they only going to worship one god, but that they would no longer worship the statue that represented Allah. As they state, this was simply a move to separate his followers totally from their original religion.

Later, Mohammed returns to Mecca and destroys 358 idols and leaves only the black stone, which we will review later, but, on a brief note, I think the move of leaving the black stone at the Ka'ba in Mecca was for two reasons:

1) He obviously did not have the practical means to destroy a 2 ton stone.
2) Therefore, since he can't make it go away, he incorporates it and it's ritual into Islam (if you can't beat'em, join'em).

The reason I say these things with confidence is because, during his time in Medina, when he was originally starting up his religion, he did not require his followers to perform hajj. It was not until later when he returned to conquer Mecca (which we will discuss later) that he begins this practice.

Stay tuned for Mohammed's tenure in Medina and the creation of Islam.

No comments: