As Muhammad developed Islam he borrowed from the other regional religions present in the Mideast. These religions include Judaism, Christianity, Sabeanism, Zoroastrianism, and forms of paganism. Judaism is the largest contributor to Islam, followed by Christianity, then followed by the various pagan religions, and Muhammad’s mind. These pagan borrowings constitute significant facets of Islam and this article details some of these pagan contributions.
1) PAGANISM IN ISLAM
Islamic theology has some of its roots in various pagan beliefs. Primary to Islam is it’s most holiest shrine: the Kaba.
The Kaba is now the most revered sanctuary of Islam. It is located in Mecca. Muslims throughout the world direct their prayers toward the Kaba.
The Kaba’s shape is somewhat cubical. Of note in the Kaba’s structure is a black rock built into the wall in its eastern corner. The black rock’s diameter is about 12 inches. It is reddish black in color, and has red and yellow particles. The black rock is kissed during the perambulation, (the circulation of the Muslims around the Kaba). The Kaba is about 50 feet high, and the walls are about 40 feet long. The facade contains the door, which starts at 7 feet off the ground, and faces N.E.. To enter the Kaba, a ladder must be used. Also built in the eastern corner, is another stone called “lucky”. This stone is only touched, not kissed.
KNOWN PAGAN HISTORY
Apart from Muslim myths, little is really known about the history of the Kaba. About 60 years before Christ, the Roman historian Diodorus Siculus commented that there was in Arabia a temple greatly revered by the Arabs. It is probable that he had the Kaba in mind. It was later mentioned to have existed in the 2nd century; Ptolemy, the geographer mentions it in his work, calling it the ‘macoraba’. The Kaba was a sanctuary dedicated to one or more pagan deities. The accounts of the campaigns of Abraha note that it was a place of pagan worship in the 6th century. Information on the distribution of the offices among the sons of Kusayy show that the worship of the sanctuary had developed into a regulated cult several generations before Muhammad.
One historian (Hurgronjes) said that sacred worship may have developed around the area because the Zamzam spring was found in this waterless place.
Pre-Islamic history tells us that many Arabian tribes were stone worshippers. This is also mentioned in Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol 5, #661. The Old Testament even talks about Mideast pagan groups that worshipped stones. Muhammad incorporated the Kaba’s paganistic roots into Islam to give the Muslims a sense of identity, legitimacy, and uniqueness. He also wanted to ease the Arab’s strain of moving from paganism to Islam, by continuing the practices of their fathers.
PAGAN GODS AND RITUALS
There were 360 idols around the Kaba. The pilgrimages to the Kaba were all pagan pilgrimages, the ritual processions around the Kaba were part of pagan beliefs and custom, the white robes worn by the pilgrims were from pagan faiths, the veneration of the Kaba and black stone are derived from pagan rituals and beliefs. Pagans called out the names of their pagan gods as they circled the Kaba, today, Muslims call out Allah’s name. Pagans ran between the nearby hills, Muhammad authorized Muslims to do that in the Quran, and probably ran between the hills himself.
The chief pagan god worshipped there was Hubal, who could be called the god of Mecca and of the Kaba. Hubal is not mentioned in the Quran. The goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat were also worshipped there and are mentioned in the Quran.
It is thought that the Kaba was originally set up for astral worship. Golden suns and moons are repeatedly mentioned as the votive gifts. Some pagans regarded the Kaba as a temple devoted to the sun, moon, and 5 planets.
THE BLACK STONE
The black stone played a prominent role in pagan worship. The pagans offered animal sacrifices there. But the idol of the black stone replaced the alter; on the black stone they smeared the blood of the sacrificed animals.
Muhammad made up historical references for the Kaba. Muhammad claimed that Abraham and Ishmael laid the foundations of the Kaba (Q. 2:127). Muhammad claimed that God ordained the Kaba as a sacred house (Q. 5:97). Muhammad also claimed that it was the first temple ever built for mankind (Q. 3:97).
Only Muhammad claimed that it was a place built by Abraham. In looking in the O.T., we find no mention of Abraham traveling to Mecca to build a house of worship.
Further, the late Taha Hussein, one of the most famous Egyptian professors of Arabic literature said that the Islamic myth of Abraham building the Kaba came into vogue just before the rise of Islam. He comments:
”The case of 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”. Quoted in ‘Mizar al-Islam’ by Anwar al-Jundi.
Every man living in Mecca before and during Muhammad’s life had some relationship with the Kaba. If the Kaba was the house of God, why did Muhammad order his followers to face Jerusalem? Muhammad’s ‘revelation’ in the Quran says that when Allah had Muhammad change prayer directions, it was a test of the Muslims. This sounds like a lame excuse on Muhammad’s part. What’s the test? Face another direction? That does not appear to be such an incredible challenge!
Probably the real answer is that through his early contacts with Christians and Jews, Muhammad knew that their faiths, centered in Jerusalem, where monotheistic. Muhammad abhorred polytheistic worship, consequently he aligned himself with faiths that he believed were from the true God. He selected Jerusalem as the direction of prayer. He hoped that the Jews would receive him as a prophet.
About a year and a half after the migration to Medina, after the Jews had thoroughly rejected him, he turned the direction of prayer to Mecca – the center of pagan worship in the Arabian peninsula (Q. 2:144). Just as he had compromised with the pagan idol worshippers in Mecca, by sanctioning and worshipping the pagan goddesses Lat, Uzza, and Manat, so now he hoped to gain favor with the pagan Arab tribes that worshipped at the Kaba in Mecca. He authenticated the pagan focus of attention.
After Muhammad took Mecca, he cleansed the Kaba. Inside the Kaba were many representations of the prophets. When his men began to cleanse the Kaba, and wash out the representations, Muhammad placed his hands on the pictures of Jesus and Mary, and said “Wash out all except what is below my hands”. Again, Muhammad went against his own principles, and sanctioned his definition of idolatry.
Muhammad then sanctioned the pagan rituals concerning the Kaba, i.e. kissing the black stone, touching the Kaba, circling the structure, running between the two hills, etc. Later, Umar said to the black stone “I know that you are a stone, that neither helps nor hurts, and if the messenger of god had not kissed you, I would not kiss you”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 2, #667). But then he kissed the stone. Like Umar, many other Muslims follow the prophet in their practice of veneration of a pagan idol.
Before Muhammad, there was a group of people in Arabia who also abhorred idolatry. They were known as the Hanifites. Even the Hanifites saw that kissing the black stone was pagan idolatry. During one of the pre-Islamic Eids, the Qurayshi were worshipping their idols, slaying sacrifices, praying, and making circuits around the Kaba. Just as they did each year for this festival. Some Hanifites saw them, and stood apart from them, and said:
”By the Lord!, our people have nothing left of the faith of Abraham. What is this stone that we should encircle it? It can neither hear nor speak, neither hurt nor help. O our people, look out for your souls, for by the Lord are you altogether wanting.”
One of the Hanifites was Obeidallah… later he embraced Islam. He immigrated to Abyssinia with other Muslims. Later he became a Christian. After his conversion, he said to his Muslim friends ‘We (Christians) see, but you are only blinking’ – that is, cannot see plainly.
So, why then does Muhammad kiss the black stone? Why did he incorporate paganism into his faith. There is even the Quranic story of Abraham – how he chided those who worshipped idols sura 6, 21, etc., and said it was sinful in God’s sight. Yet here we have Muhammad walking around the Kaba, just like the pagans, kissing the stone, just like the pagans. Even Umar knew it was empty and false, yet he followed Muhammad in kissing the stone.
It cannot be denied that an entire pagan theology and ritual, was adopted by Islam, after Muhammad had one of his convenient ‘revelations’ and made it ‘religiously’ correct.
Another Muslim myth, concerning the Kaba, is that ‘anyone who prays under the Kaba’s water-pipe becomes as pure as on the day when his mother bore him’. Muslims have a hard time accepting Christ’s atonement, but will allow for total forgiveness of sins by uttering a prayer under a spout!
POST MUHAMMAD HISTORY
In one of the early Muslim civil wars (a.d. 683), al-Zubayr in Mecca was besieged by al-Husayn. Husayn’s men used catapults and damaged the Kaba. It looked like ‘the torn bosoms of mourning women’. Zubayr and his men pitched their tents next to the Kaba, and a conflagration caught the Kaba on fire. The Kaba was severely damaged, and the black stone was split into three pieces.
A short time later, al-Hadjdjadj conquered Mecca and killed Zubayr. He modified the Kaba’s structure.
In 929, the Karmatians invaded Mecca and carried off the black stone! 20 years later it was returned.
Other natural events (bad weather) have also caused the Kaba to need repair.
Muslims erroneously claim that God has protected the Quran from corruption, yet their god was not able to protect his sacred house!
POST MUHAMMAD ISLAMIC MYTHOLOGY
Later Muslim theologians invented a number of myths about Mecca and the Kaba.
One Islamic tradition is – according to Ibn Abbas: Muhammad said, ‘The black stone came from Paradise and at the time of its descent it was whiter than milk, but that the sins of the children of Adam have caused it to be black, by their touching it. That on the Day of Resurrection, when it will have two eyes, by which it will see and know all those who touched it and kissed it, and when it will have a tongue to speak, it will give evidence in favor of those who touched and kissed it’!
Muslim writers also said that the Kaba was first constructed in heaven, 2000 years before the creation of the world, where a model of it still remains. Adam erected the first Kaba on earth exactly below the spot its perfect model occupies in heaven! 10,000 angels were appointed to guard Adam’s Kaba, but obviously they didn’t do a good job! God then instructed Abraham to rebuild it.
There are a number of other myths about the Kaba. Among them are that Mecca is the navel of the world, that the Kaba was established at the creation of the world, destroyed during the flood, re-built by Abraham, that Gabriel provided the black stone. There are also legends about the Zamzam water from the nearby well.
Some Muslims say that there are references to the Kaba in the O.T. Here are a few mistaken claims:
1) Muslims hope that Gen 35:4, 14, 15 refer to the Kaba. Since “Beth-El” = House of God, and that the Jewish temple wasn’t built until much later. But as the Bible shows, Bethel is a town, in Palestine – Genesis chapter 12. Also, Jacob built an altar, not a temple to God. Abraham also built an altar to the Lord in Gen 12:7.
2) Muslims claim that David mentions the Kaba in Psalm 84:6. If ‘Baca’ was a location, it was not known where it existed in the Bible. But a more correct interpretation, taken in context of the whole Psalm, is that since ‘baca’ means weeping, it means ‘valley of tears’. David could be saying that he longs for the presence of God, and that even through difficult times (baca) God will be with him, and will turn his tears to joy.
3) Muslims also think that Isaiah 60:7 “All the flocks of Kedar” refers to Arabian people worshipping at the Kaba. Reading thru Isa 60:7, it shows that Kedar’s flocks are going to be sacrificed on the alter. Are Muslims saying that Arabs were going to be human sacrifices?
4) Some Muslims think that since the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation is cubic, it also resembles the Kaba and thus is a prophecy of the Kaba! But the Kaba is not a perfect cube, not even close. The structure is 50 ft high, with a sloping roof, the shorter walls are 35 feet long, and the facade is 40 ft. long.
SUMMARY FOR THE ISLAMIC RITES CENTERED ON THE KABA
Every Muslim that makes the Hajj, every Muslim that runs between the hills, every Muslim that bestows a kiss on the black stone, is performing pagan rituals, founded on pagan superstitions, sanctioned by Muhammad himself.
Muslims have accused Christianity of incorporating paganism, and to an extent, some exterior cultural aspects have been. But paganism is an integral root of Islam; paganism is part of it’s theology, history, ceremony, and veneration.
My references for this section are from the original Hughes Dictionary of Islam (not the recent one that has been sanitized by a Muslim publisher), the Shorter Ency. of Islam, and the Ency. of Islam, pub. by E. J. Brill, and ‘The Sources of Islam’ by Tisdall.
MORE ISLAMIC PAGANISM
THE NIGHT JOURNEY
The Night Journey describes Muhammad’s ascent into heaven. It is briefly mentioned in sura 17:1, and described in Sahih al-Bukhari, in several of his volumes, notably in vol 1, #345.
Muhammad’s story parallels a Zoroastrian story. It is found in an old Pahlavi book known as “The Book of Arta Viraf”. The Zoroastrian story describes the journey of a saintly priest (Arta Viraf), who went into a trance and his spirit went up to the heavens under the guidance of an angel named Sarosh. He passed from one utopia (7 heavens?) to another until he reached the presence of Ormazd, the great deity of the whole universe. When Arta saw everything in heaven and that the inhabitants were very happy, Ormazd commanded him to return to earth as his ‘messenger’ and to tell the people all that he saw and heard.
Also, the Zoroastrians taught, long before Islam, there was a marvelous tree in Paradise called ‘humaya’, which corresponds very closely to the ‘sidrah’, the lote tree of Islam.
Finally, there is another Zoroastrian work the ‘Zerdashtnama’, which has a story of how Zoroaster himself ascended into the heavens and obtained permission to visit hell, where he found Ahriman, the Devil.
All of these stories are paralleled in the Quran. No doubt Muhammad heard these stories and decided to put himself on a level with Zoroaster and others. So, now we have Muhammad copying the Zoroastrian stories and claiming to have these experiences.
Again, while Muslims claim that paganism influenced Christianity, we see that paganism is part of the core of Islamic faith and theology.
AZAZIL – THE DEVIL
In the Muslim Hadith, the Devil has a certain name – Azazil.
The name does not occur in the Quran. The name may come from Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26 – the scapegoat in Hebrew is Azazil. From another source it means ‘the demon of the desert’.
There are Apocrypha Jewish books – Enoch and Apocalypse of Abraham, that mention Azazil. Islamic traditions – Hadiths develop their story. Muslims associate Azazil with the fallen angels Harut and Marut. Ibn Abbas tradition has the strongest Islamic reference developing it as Satan’s name, before the fall of Adam.
Here is Tisdall’s view on it (taken from “The Sources of Islam”):
Muslims take the name Azazil from the Jews, but put the Zoroastrian story behind the name. Muslims believe that God created Azazil, who worshipped God for a 1000 years while he was in the 7th hell. Then he ascended a stage at a time, all the while worshipping God. Finally, he reached the earth. Elsewhere, Muslim tradition says he stayed 3000 years by the gate of paradise, with hostile intentions against Adam and Eve. He was very jealous of them.
Compare the above with the Zoroastrian account:
Ahriman (Azazil) remained in the abyss, there to commit hurt and injury, and mischief and darkness. Ormazd (God) knew of his existence and plans. It went on like this for 3000 years. The evil spirit was ignorant of Ormazd’s existence, but eventually rising out of the pit, saw Ormazd’s light. Then Ahriman was filled with hostility and envy, he set out to destroy.
Who were the Sabeans? Why did Muhammad regard them as believers in the true God? The Sabeans are mentioned at least 3 times in the Quran:
1) 2:62 – “Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabeans; whoever believes in God and the last day and does what is right, shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or regret.”
2) 5:69 – “Believers, Jews, Sabeans and Christians; whoever believes in God and the last day and does what is right, shall have nothing to fear or to regret.”
3) 22:17 – “As for the true believers, the Jews, the Sabeans, the Christians, the Magians, and the pagans, God will judge them on the day of Resurrection. God bears witness to all things.”
Although what is known about the Sabeans is not comprehensive, enough has been written about them to determine a basic understanding of their practices and beliefs. Most of the writings are from Islamic sources. Some of the writers are Ibn Hazm in ‘Fisal wa-Milal’, Ibn al-Nadim in the ‘Fihrist’, Shahrastani in ‘The Treaty on Sects’, and Masudi in ‘Muruj al-Dhahab.
Ibn Hazm, writing in ‘Fisal wa-Milal’, identifies the people then known as ‘Harranians’ as the ‘Sabeans’ mentioned in the Quran. Hazm writes that they honored the seven planets and the twelve constellations, they have 5 times of prayer, (the same times as the Muslims pray), they fast in Ramadan, they venerate and turn to the Kaba in prayer. Hazm also says they also worshipped the stars and idols. Hazm further claims that Allah sent Abraham to turn them away from pagan worship, but Abraham didn’t succeed.
Comparing all the early writings on the Sabeans, we find that they inhabited Syria, and spread from there, they were definitely pagans, having a mixture of Babylonian and Helenic religion. The ‘prophets’ they professed to follow were Hermes and Agathodaemon, who they identified in Shahrastani’s time with Seth and Idris (O.T. Enoch). Gods who were worshipped were the gods of the 7 week-days, the god of the Jinn, the lord of the Hour, the god who makes arrows fly, the god Tammuz (a variation of the one previously mentioned), Hamam the prince, the father of the gods, the god ‘North’, the lord ‘Fortune’, etc. They also kept the Eid of their own. Further, the Sabeans made star worship a chief characteristic of their system.
So, did Islam get the 5 times a day prayer? –From the star worshipping Sabeans. What about fasting during Ramadan? – from the Sabeans. The Eid? – from the Sabeans.
It seems very odd to me that Muhammad, the man who’s central doctrine was the oneness of God, would include pagan worshippers as those who were believers in the true God. If Muhammad were truly a prophet, how could he have made such a big mistake? How did astral worshippers get included into the Quran as those that worship the true God? How could Muhammad’s ‘revelation’ be in such error?
It is noteworthy that just as Muhammad incorporated the pagan veneration of the Kaba and black stone into Islam, so he incorporated the Sabean times of prayer, Eid, and fasting into Islam.
Once again, Muhammad didn’t fully know the subject he was synthesizing into Islam. I have read nothing about their doctrine that would have led Muhammad to include them as followers of the one true God he preached about. Perhaps he learned a small portion about their religion, and believed it to be right. Little did he know that under that veneer of words, lay many theological differences.
The Quran mentions ‘houris’ several times 44:50, 52:20, 55:60, 56:20, 78:33. Who or what are they? They are ‘bashful virgins’, ‘fair as coral and ruby’, ‘dark eyed youths’, ‘high bosomed maidens (big breasted)’. In sum, they are creatures put in Paradise, primarily for men’s sexual pleasures. Each man will have at least two of them.
This concept is derived from the Zoroastrian sources. In Zoroastrian writings they are referred to as ‘Faries’ – spirits in bright array and beautiful to captivate the heart of man. The name ‘Houris’ comes from a Pehlavi source, as does the Islamic ‘Jinn’ for Genie.
It’s not difficult to see how Muhammad heard various sacred religious stories, and incorporated them into Islam. Perhaps he thought that parts of those religions contained truth, so he adopted what he thought to be correct. But nevertheless, part of the foundation of Islam is paganism.