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Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation

Mohammed: The man and his faith, Tor Andrae, 1936, Translated by Theophil Menzel, 1960, p13-30, Sweedish scholar

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Islam: Truth or Myth? start page



Mohammed: The man and his faith, Tor Andrae, 1936, Translated by Theophil Menzel, 1960, p13-30


He is the first representative of a new and independent religious type. Even to-day, after a period of development of thirteen centuries, one may clearly discern in genuine Islamic piety the uniqueness which is ultimately derived from its founder's personal experience of God.

Hitherto the nature of Mohammedan piety has generally been rather unjustly ignored by Western students of religion. If one were to seek out the cause for this, it would not suffice to refer to ignorance, or to the reaction of old dogmatic prejudices against the 'false prophet,' or to political hatred of 'the dog of a Turk.' The cause lies deeper, and may perhaps be best expressed by the proverb: Relatives understand each other least of all. A Christian sees much in Islam which reminds him of his own religion, but he sees it in an extremely distorted form. He finds ideas and statements of belief clearly related to those of his own religion, but which, nevertheless, turn off into strangely different paths. Islam is so familiar to us that we pass it by with the careless indifference with which we ignore that which we know and know only too well. And yet it is not familiar enough to us to enable us really to understand its uniqueness, and the spirit by which Islam has won its own place in the sphere of religion, a place which it still rightly occupies by virtue of its very existence. We found it much easier to understand religions that are completely new and strange to us-as, for example, the religions of India and China. A greater degree of insight and of spiritual freedom is required of him who would under-stand the Arabian Prophet and his book.

Chapter 1: Arabia at the Time of Mohammed

At the time of Mohammed's appearance Arabian paganism was tending very strongly toward that type of belief which has been called polydaemonism. Divine beings, as a rule, were not such clearly defined and individual entities as in the higher polytheistic religions. They were beings after the fashion of the European fauns, gnomes, and earth-spirits, and were usually differentiated only by their different dwelling places. As in European folk-lore every home has its house-cricket, and every forest its spirit, so, according to Western Semitic belief, every country had its special divinity, a Baal or an El. The local divinity could inhabit external objects of nature, and in Semitic thought, as expressed especially in sacred stories, it could also inhabit trees or springs. In Canaan the sacred tree might be replaced by a wooden pole, an ashera, which was often erected near the altar. Similarly, the sacred stone might be a rocky ledge, or a single stone, which, because of its unique position, became an object of worship. Moreover, a special stone might even be erected for cult purposes. Then it was called a massebg. sometimes offerings were placed upon natural boulders, or upon stones having a bowl-shaped depression, like the Nordic elf-mills. In Judges 6:19f, such a sacrifice is described. Gideon placed meat and unleavened bread upon a rock and poured broth over it, where-upon fire came out of the rock and consumed the offering. A large stone was generally regarded as a fitting place to offer a sacrifice. When the Ark of the Covenant was returned from the land of the, Philistines, and the procession reached Bethshemesh, the Hebrews found in the field there a large stone, upon which the kine who had drawn the ark were sacrificed as a burnt-offering to the Lord.

Among the Arabs this stone cult survived and assumed a definite form. The various local divinities, worshipped by one or more tribes of the vicinity, were ordinarily simply identified with stones-or this, at least, is the opinion of Mohammedan writers. Ibn al Kelbi reports that Manat was a large stone in the territory of the Hudhail tribe, that Allat was a rectangular stone upon which a Jew used to grind wheat, and that Sa'd was a high block of stone in the desert. In some cases the divinity was identified with a particular part of the natural rock. Al-Fals was a reddish projection, resembling a man, on an otherwise black mountain. But specially erected stones might also serve as the dwelling-places of the divinity or the seats of his power.

The most famous of all of the stone fetishes of Arabia was, of course, the black stone in the sanctuary of Mecca. The Ka'ba was, and still is, a rectangular stone structure. Built into its Eastern corner is the black stone which had been an object of worship for many centuries before Mohammed appropriated the Ka'ba for his new religion, and made the pilgrimage to this holy place one of the pillars of Islam.

Every nature cult is inclined to regard a sacred object as a personal human being. When possible, this tendency often finds expression in clumsy attempts to interpret the sacred object anthropomorphically. Hence several of the Arabian stone fetishes were in process of becoming idols. Al-Galsad looked like 'the torso of a man of white stone with a black head.' In the Ka'ba there was an actual idol representing the God Hubal.

The sacred stone image was surrounded by consecrated territory, a Hima, which often contained rich vegetation and a natural water-supply. In the sacred grove there was frequently a spring. Thus, on one side of the Ka'ba was the well Zemzem, whose very salty and disagreeable water is still regarded by Mohammedans as particularly holy. Within a Hima an animal could not be killed, nor a tree felled. Tame animals which fled into it could not be recovered, and some animals which had to be withdrawn from secular use because of ancient taboos-for example, female camels which had brought forth male colts for a number of years in succession -were placed in these sacred enclosures. As in other lands, so in Arabia, sacrifice was the method of establishing contact with the divinity. First the sinews of the hind-legs of the sacrificial animal, usually a camel, were severed, so that it fell over; thereupon its throat was cut with an archaic knife, and the blood was made to drop upon the sacred stone. The flesh was usually eaten by the sacrificer, but sometimes it was shared by guests whom he had invited to the feast. However, some sacrifices were consecrated entirely to the divinity. The sacrificial animal had then to be left lying upon the sacred place, to feed the beasts and birds of prey. Some sacrifices were prescribed by traditional customs. When a boy attained the age of seven a sheep was sacrificed, and the 'pagan hair,' aqiqa, of the boy was cut, from which act the whole custom, which Islam also adopted, receives its name. In offering a sacrifice a large number of taboos had to be observed until the sacrifice had been completed: such as no drinking of wine, no washing or combing, no sex contact with women, wearing nothing upon the head, and carrying no weapons.

In connection with the annual sacrifices another cult form was retained, especially at the Ka'ba. During a certain month the Arabs of the vicinity assembled to walk around the sanctuary. This circumambulation, the tawaf, which even to-day constitutes the climax of the Mohammedan pilgrimage, began and ended at the sacred stone, and was supposed to proceed toward the right, that is, counter sun-wise. At the beginning or at the end of the ceremony the black stone was sometimes kissed, or a bow was made with outstretched arms toward the wall between the stone and the Eastern door. This usage is obviously related to the ritual dance or the circling of the sacred object, the sacred tree, the Maypole, or the fire-the purpose apparently being to come into close contact with the power residing in the cult object, or to evoke an especially strong response from it. In addition, this sacred encircling is a very typical example of the shifting of motive which often takes place within the same magico-religious is rite. That is to say, the act is performed not merely in order to obtain power from the cult object, but also in order to bind with the divinity or power, to compel it or to surround it a protective magic circle. The wall of Jericho fell when the priests marched around it; the city of Rome was protected by the sacred furrow which had been ploughed around it; and by means of the circle which was drawn three times (in the same direction as the sun) around the clearing in the wood the Norsemen bound the fire so that it might not spread into the forest. Concerning the sacrificial stone of the Laps it is said: 'The women are not permitted to encircle such sacred mountains, for fear that the God might not be confined by the circle, and might be forced to break out violently and bring some misfortune upon the women and their sex.' Originally the valley between Safa and Marwa, the two small hills north of the Ka'ba, also belonged to the tawaf.

Another ceremony, which was not connected with the rites of the Ka'ba before the rise of Islam, is the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to 'Arafat, about two miles east of Mecca, toward Mina. This took place in a different month from the tawaf. Those making it gathered and waited for the signal of the leader before beginning the journey to Muzdalifa, where the night was spent in watching. just at daybreak they all proceeded to Mina. On the way they passed three stone-heaps, upon which every participant cast a stone. At Mina an animal was sacrificed, and when the rite was completed the participants cut off their hair and put on their everyday clothes as a sign that they were now leaving the lhram. In the main this is still included in the pilgrimage to Mecca prescribed by Mohammed. Thus the rites of 'Arafat and Mina are so combined with it that the pilgrims must, after they have cut off their hair, go back to Mecca and perform a tawaf.

So the ancient paganism of Arabia may in general be regarded as an undeveloped polytheism, in which a development had just barely begun which would have gradually produced a pantheon consisting of a hierarchy of gods, formed by associating together a number of independent individual divinities. Nevertheless, some of these divinities stand out above the multitude of local deities, and reveal a more definite personal nature and a uniquely defined function. This is true, first of all, of the three goddesses of Mecca: Manat, Allat, and Al 'Uzza. Their cult was of the greatest antiquity, judging by her name, Manat ' who was especially revered by the war-like and poetic tribe of the Hudhail, south of Mecca, seems to have been a divinity of the very prevalent type of a goddess of fate and fortune. She resembles the Greek Tyche Soteira, one of the Fates, a daughter of Zeus, the liberator and helper of man on the sea, in war, and in public assemblies. As early as the days of Herodotus Allat was known as Alilat. The original form shows that her name signifies 'the Goddess.' like other ancient historians, Herodotus always sees in the gods of alien peoples the same beings whom his own people worship. The Allat of the Arabs is for him Urania. He therefore recognizes her as a goddess of heaven. Urania-Coelestis is the Graeco-Roman version of the Phoenician Astarte. This 'Carthaginian Astarte' bears also the name of the 'mother of the gods.' When the mother of the Emperor Heliogabalus, Julia Soemias, was elevated to the position of goddess of heaven (and her son to the position of sun-god) she was given the official title 'Mother of the gods, Venus Urania, Queen Juno.' But in Nabataean inscriptions the 'mother of the gods' is also called Allat. Thus we have a right to assume that in Arabic circles Allat corresponded with the great Semitic goddess of motherhood, fertility and heaven, and especially with the form which she assumed in Western Semitic regions. In Taif, where her most important sanctuary was located, she was called simply Al Rabba, 'sovereign,' a title which be-longed also to Ishtar (Belit) and Astarte (Baalat). At the time of Mohammed's appearance Al 'Uzza received the most worship of the three goddesses. The name signifies 'the mighty, the honoured one,' and hence it really has much the same content as Al Rabba. In character too this goddess is very similar to Allat. Only in Northern Arabia does she seem to have retained more definitely her original connection with the planet Venus. Isaac of Antioch relates that the savage Arabs sacrificed boys and girls to the morning star, whom he also calls Al 'Uzza. He also accuses the Syrian ladies of climbing upon the roof at night and praying to the morning star to make their faces radiant Arith beauty. The Arab women do likewise. And yet, Isaac adds ironically, some of them are beautiful and some are ugly, just as are the women of all nations.' The Church Father Nilus relates that the Arabs worshipped the morning star, and on concluding a successful raid gladly sacrificed to it at dawn. Something very precious was used as a sacrifice, preferably a youth in the bloom of adolescence. In Nakhla, a few miles north of Mecca, Al 'Uzza had one of her chief sanctuaries. In the eighth year after the Hegira Mohammed sent the valiant Khalid, who later conquered Syria, with thirty horsemen to destroy this sanctuary. While Khalid was felling the last of the three sacred acacia-trees of the goddess, a naked black woman with flowing hair approached him. Her priest, who was present, cried out: 'Be courageous, Al 'Uzza, and protect thyself!' Khalid shook with terror, but took courage, and with one stroke cleft her head. Then she turned into a black cinder.'

How dear the bright and comely goddess of heaven was to the populace of the Mediterranean countries and the Near East is shown especially by the fact that she survived the decay of the ancient world, and won a place for herself in Catholic Christianity as the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven. And the fact that Mohammed himself, who otherwise broke so completely with the old paganism, originally attempted to make a place for the three goddesses in his religious system, is reflected in a story which has been faithfully preserved by Islamic tradition, although to us it seems to present the Prophet in a very unfavourable light. Mohammed was probably actuated by a pious regard for what had been vitally religious in the piety of his childhood- something which he could not and did not desire to discard. Thanks, however, to an overzealous apologetic, this fact, which in itself is neither foolish nor disparaging to the Prophet, had been so portrayed, in a foolish legend, as to cast a grave reflection upon his religious and moral character.

Ibn Sa'd, an historian of the ninth century, relates' that at the time when Mohammed permitted some of the faithful to migrate to Abyssinia, to escape the persecution which threatened him and his followers, he strongly desired not to receive any revelations that might estrange his countrymen. He was anxious to win them, and he did succeed in reaching an understanding with them. One day he was sitting together with them at the Ka'ba, reading them Sura 53: 'By the Star when it setteth.' When he came to the passage: 'Do ye behold Allat and Al 'Uzza, and also Manat, the third idol?' -which now concludes: 'What? shall ye have male progeny and Allah female? This were indeed an unfair partition!' -Satan suggested two lines to him: 'These are the exalted females, and truly their intercession may be expected.' Mohammed then re-read the whole Sura, and at its conclusion he prostrated himself and prayed, and the whole tribe of Quraish did the same. His bitter enemy, the old Walid ibn Al-Mugira, who could not bow down, took earth instead, and sprinkled it upon his head. All were greatly pleased with the Prophet, and said to him: 'We know that Allah killeth and giveth life, createth and preserveth, but these our goddesses pray to Him for us, and since you have now permitted them to share divine honours with Him, we therefore desire to unite with you.' The Prophet was disturbed by their words, and all day he meditated alone in his own house. That evening the angel Gabriel came to him, and the Prophet recited the Sura to him. When he came to the words suggested by Satan the angel asked: 'Have I taught you these two lines?' Mohammed then realized his error, and said: 'I have attributed to Allah words which He did not reveal.'

It is very apparent that in this form the whole narrative is historically and psychologically contradictory. However beneath the legendary form which has come down to us there is still discernible an older version, according to which Mohammed's legitimate desire to reach an understanding with his people misled him into trying to compromise between previously proclaimed monotheism and the pagan idolatry. Inasmuch as parallels to such opportunism are by no means lacking in Mohammed's later conduct-think, for example, of his attempt to win over the Jews of Medina to his religion-this story of his chance defection has hitherto been generally accepted as historical. It is thought that in this incident the unscrupulousness of the future autocrat of Medina is clearly revealed, and it is believed that these tactics actually achieved a certain degree of success; for according to one version, although it involved only a temporary concession, which Mohammed revoked on the very same day, nevertheless, the compromise was maintained long enough for the rumour of his reconciliation with his people to reach the refugees in Abyssinia.

However, an Italian scholar, Caetani, has attempted to show that the traditional form of the story cannot be correct. When one considers the contempt and enmity which the Quraish tribe, who inhabited Mecca, showed toward Mohammed on other occasions, it would seem highly improbable that they ever condescended to listen to the Prophet's reading of the Koran, to say nothing of acknowledging him as a prophet on account of an insignificant concession. Furthermore, such a sudden abandonment of a principle which he had previously championed so energetically would have utterly cancelled his previous success, and entirely undermined the prestige which he had gained among his followers. And one might add that a compromise with the Quraish tribe could not possibly have been reached by merely changing a few lines of the Koran at a time when a large portion of it was filled with bitter attacks upon the Meccan pagans and their gods.

However, in my opinion it is unthinkable that the men of the later tradition, who regarded Mohammed in every respect as a perfect example for the faithful, would have deliberately invented a story so seriously compromising their Prophet. We must therefore assume, as the historical kernel of the tradition, that Sura 53.19ff. once embodied a different wording, implying acceptance of the pagan conception of the gods, an implication which Mohammed subsequently felt to be incompatible with belief in the one God. In style and rhythm the two Satanic lines fit admirably into the original Sura, which is amongst the earliest revelations, so that it is impossible that they should have been added as late as the Abyssinian emigration. Mohammed often made additions to the older Suras, and in such cases he always employed the formal style which dominates every revelation, so that the added lines always stand out clearly from the original. Moreover, in the original version the Sura probably contained a polemic against paganism. Mohammed objected to the expression, 'Daughters of Allah,' Which his countrymen applied to the three goddesses, and declared that it was wrong to think of God as having daughters. However, he did not intend to deny that the goddesses were high heavenly beings who could make intercession to God. Such a position is really not unthinkable in the earliest period of the Prophet's career. He merely attributed to the heavenly intercessors the same position which the angels occupied in the popular religion of the Eastern Christian churches. Undoubtedly there existed at that time an actual angel cult. Didymus of Alexandria tells of countless angel chapels in the city and the countryside, to which the people made pilgrimages for the purpose of securing aid from the angels. And a Syrian priest writes concerning the archangel Michael: 'Michael is the great ruler of heavenly and earthly beings. Michael is the strong and just governor. Michael is the highest commander under the Heavenly Father. Michael lies at the feet of the Father and petitions Him: Remember Thy likeness I Michael stands before the throne of the Father and prays for the sins of men until they are forgiven." And in Arabian paganism, as we shall see later, the idea of subordinate divine beings acting as mediators and intercessors is not at all unthinkable.

That Mohammed actually once thought of the three goddesses as interceding angels is shown by his later addition to the aforementioned Sura 53.26-29: 'And many as are the angels in the Heavens, their intercession shall be of no avail until God hath permitted it to whomsoever He shall please, and whom He will accept. Verily it is they who believe not in the life to come, who name the angels with names of females: But herein they have no knowledge: they follow a mere conceit; and mere conceit can never take the place of acceptance of truth.' Here Mohammed implies that the goddesses are in reality angels, to whom the pagans in their ignorance have given feminine names (comp. 37, 149-50: 43.18). Albeit with strict reservations, the right of the angels to make intercession is here recognized. In regard to Mohammed's personal attitude to the goddesses of Mecca it is a peculiar and certainly a significant fact that they occupy quite a different position in his theological system to that of the male idols. In agreement with the usual Jewish and Christian conceptions he regards the male idols as evil spirits, as jinn to whom men have chosen to pray instead of to Allah. Besides, in a still later addition, which was evidently made subsequently in Medina, he still further clarified his monotheistic position. In it he says: 'These are mere names; ye and your fathers named them thus' (53, 23). Here the goddesses have become mere names and have no basis in reality.

It is not difficult to explain how the whole tradition of the Prophet's desire to be conciliatory, and the unfortunate concession which arose from this desire, might have originated. It illustrates admirably the general character and value of most of the narratives which we possess concerning the life and the conduct of the Prophet in Mecca. When Mohammed lived in Mecca he was a comparatively insignificant man, and his activities assuredly did not attract the degree of attention which the later legends presuppose, so that we naturally have only a very few data relating to this period which are of any historical value. The majority of those followers who had the best understanding of the religious significance of Mohammed, and who came to realize that it was of vital interest to the faith to preserve all that was known concerning his personality, were not converted to Islam until the Medina period. Those followers who had been with the Prophet from the beginning were engaged, for the most part, as responsible leaders in the military state which was growing in power like an avalanche, and they had other things to do than relating stories of the shame and debasement of the Meccan period. Consequently those who sought information concerning that period had really only one source upon which they could depend: the Koran. In this sacred scripture, which every pious man knew by heart, they were continually confronted by allusions to particular historical situations. Since there was no one present who could give them definite information concerning the meaning of these vague references, pious imagination came to the rescue, and reconstructed the circumstances and events which were obviously implied. Thus, some interpreter of the Koran who belonged to an older generation tried to explain the tradition concerning the original wording of the 53rd Sura to a later type of piety which found it obnoxious. He found the explanation in two passages of the Koran. The first was Sura 17, 75-6: 'And, verily, they had well-nigh beguiled thee from what we revealed to thee, and caused thee to invent some other thing in our name: but in that case they would surely have taken thee as a friend; And had we not confirmed thee, thou hadst well-nigh leaned to them a little.' The context shows that these words refer to a political intrigue by means of which the Quraish had hoped to drive Mohammed out of his native city (verse 78). The other passage was Sura 22, Si, where we read, amongst other things: 'We have not sent any apostle or prophet before thee, amongst whose desires Satan hath injected not some wrong desire, but Allah shall bring to nought that which Satan hath suggested. Thus shall Allah affirm His revelations.' The wording of the tradition concerning the incorrect reading in Ibn Sa'd and Ibn Ishak, shows that it is an attempt at an exegesis, especially of the last-quoted passage from the Koran. However, this passage originated in Medina, and it is hardly likely that Mohammed still needed, ten years later, to justify himself in respect of a premature act, which he probably committed under quite different circumstances, and in the presence of entirely different witnesses. As we very well know, in Medina he was busy defending certain rather compromising modifications of his views that belong to a much later period.

However, according to the early Arabian conception of these divinities, of which only the feminine seemed to have much significance, and really to possess individual characteristics, there stood high over them a supreme God, the creator and ruler of the world. When Mohammed proclaimed his creed: 'There is no God but Allah,' he was not trying to introduce a new God. His pagan countrymen knew and acknowledged this divinity. His name, Allah, occurs already in pre-Mohammedan times, both in inscriptions and in compound personal names like Abd Allah, 'servant of Allah.' The effective note in Mohammed's evangelistic preaching is that he is able to accuse the pagans of acknowledging Allah as the creator of heaven and earth, and yet failing to draw the only possible conclusion from their belief; which is, to worship Allah and none else besides Him. 'If thou ask them who hath created the Heavens and the Earth, and hath imposed laws upon the sun and the moon, they will certainly say, "Allah". . If thou ask them who sendeth rain from Heaven, and by it quickeneth the earth after it hath been dead, they will cer-tainly answer "Allah"' (Sura 29, 6 1 and 63). When in extreme danger, especially on the sea, the pagans call upon Allah (29, 65; 31, 31; 17, 69), but when they are on land again, and feel safe, they share His divine honour with other beings. Allah is supposed to have given certain commandments and taboos to men (Sura 6, 139 ff.), and the most sacred oaths are sworn in His name (Sura 3,r, 40; 16, 40).

Thus, even though Allah was not worshipped as He deserved, the cult of Allah was not entirely neglected. A species of tithing, or offering of the first-fruits of grain and cattle, was offered to Allah as well as to the other gods (6, 137). But, above all, Allah was apparently regarded as ,the Lord of the Ka'ba,' the God to whom the cult of the highest sanctuary of Central Arabia was dedicated. In one of the oldest Suras (io6) Mohammed urges his tribesmen, the Quraish, to worship 'the Lord of this house, who allows the two annual trade caravans to be equipped, and who cares for them, and permits them to dwell in security. Concerning himself he says that he has received the commandment to worship 'the Lord of the house,' i.e. the Ka'ba. Apparently, then, the Prophet and his countrymen fully agree that the God who is worshipped through the ritual of the Ka'ba is Allah. Since the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians also used Allah as the name for the one God of their monotheistic belief, it so happened that the Christian Arabs, at least, regarded the Christian God as the Lord of the Ka'ba, and in consequence they occasionally participated in the cult which was celebrated there. In one oath the Christian poet Adi Ibn Zeid mentions 'Mecca's Lord and the Crucified' together.'

The question has been asked: How could a religion such as the ancient Arabian, which was otherwise so inadequate and under-developed, attain to so lofty a conception of God as is expressed in the belief in Allah? Wellhausen [Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidentums, pp. 218 ff.] in his day tried to explain this as being an effect of the power of language over thought.' Allah is a contraction of al-ilah; and the name denotes simply 'the God.' Every tribe called its local divinity by this name. Being the only god worshipped by the members of the tribe, he did not need to be called by his name, if he possessed one. And since every tribe spoke of 'the god,' and meant thereby its own tribal god, this linguistic form eventually paved the way for the belief in a supreme God common to all the tribes. This explanation of Wellhausen's is based upon a method of reasoning which several decades ago seemed very modern and scientific, especially in the type of religious research which was dominated by the standpoint of philology. Today one would hardly credit language with such tremendous significance as a creative factor in the development of ideas. And a more profound investigation, especially of primitive religion, shows that the problem of the origins of religious conceptions is not so simple as this and other similar linguistic explanations would assume. Then, too, Allah has attributes which are certainly not shared by any local tribal gods; in especial His attribute of creator of the whole world.

It is perhaps more probable that the pagan Arabs were influenced by the many Jewish immigrants who had lived among them for centuries, especially in Yemen, but also in the central and north-western portions of the peninsula, and that their world of religious ideas owed much to the impressions which they had received from these Jews, and from the monotheistic belief of the neighbouring Christian peoples. However, among many peoples, and even among such as live at a much lower level of culture than the Bedouin of Mohammed's day, one may find a belief in a supreme god Who is the creator of the world and of men; a god Who instituted sacred customs and ceremonies, and watches over them, and especially over those removed from the control of human authority, to ensure they are maintained. It is characteristic of such gods that they recede into the background of the cult, and are but rarely called upon; for example, in times of threatening danger, or when grave natural calamities menace the existence of the social organism. Formerly scholars were generally inclined to regard this belief in a supreme God, which has been designated by the very inappropriate name of 'primitive monotheism,' as being due to the influence exerted in the course of the centuries by Christian missionaries upon primitive peoples. To-day, however, as a result of the investigations of W. Schmidt, Preuss, Pettazoni, and others, the opinion is gaining ground among scholars that this explanation no longer suffices to explain all cases, and that we must rather assume that we are here dealing with an original conception of a very ancient type. For we find it, in a pronounced form, even among those peoples who are at the most primitive level of culture. Thus it is actually possible that the belief in Allah, the creator of the world, the giver of rain, the founder of sacred customs, and the Mighty One who watches over the sacredness of oaths, is part of the autochthonous religion of Arabia. When the other deities are at times regarded as only a kind of mediator between men and Allah (39, 4), or are placed in subjection to Him as His children (39, 6), such conceptions find striking correspondences among primitive peoples today. The Safwa, in what was formerly German East Africa, explain that, just as the unimportant man who wants to bring a matter to the attention of the chief needs an important person to act as his mediator and advocator, so such a person is necessary when approaching Nguruve (God). 'The ancestors are our advocates; they can bring our affairs before God, the great Lord." And among the Ewe-speaking peoples of South Togoland the Trowo are called the 'earth gods,' but also 'Mawu's (God's) children.' 'They can bring the affairs of men before God."

At any rate, it is clear that this belief was of very great importance for Mohammed, and that in many respects his conduct cannot be understood until we remember that belief in the God whose will and plans he desired to proclaim may be regarded as being, in a certain sense, known and recognized even among the pagans. As we shall see later, this explains why Mohammed was able to begin his preaching, in an extremely abrupt and unsystematic fashion, with the proclamation of the Resurrection and the judgment, without first clearly establishing the fundamental tenets upon which he desired to build, and without laying down a definite programme of worship and religious custom. In fact, he did not at first intend to establish a new religion, but rather to reform the belief in Allah which already existed, and to show what this belief truly signified and rightfully demanded. Only gradually did the consequences of his own faith become clear to him. But it became increasingly evident that the God of judgment and of just retribution could not tolerate that other beings should receive the slightest portion of the divine honours which were His due. The strictness of Mohammed's monotheistic attitude became increasingly severe. He went much farther than Eastern Christianity, whose Christolatry and Mariolatry he regarded as idolatry. Not even Judaism withstood the test of his monotheistic zeal. He regarded the Jewish reverence for Ezra as on the same level as the Christian adoration of Jesus (9, 30).

So we can understand how it happened that Mohammed, in his early career, found himself fundamentally at one with his people, and how their national sanctuary, to which he clung with his whole heart, always remained a holy place to him. From this point of view we can also understand why at first he should even have tried to find a way of reconciling a sort of veneration of the Meccan goddesses with the new belief in eternal life which he proclaimed. His own inner development, the deepening of his own spiritual life, led him gradually to a radical break with the religion of his people.

The fact that Jews and Christians also acknowledged Allah as the only true God is likewise significant in interpreting Mohammed's conception of the relationship of the religions to one another. That all nations, even though with greater or less purity, or with varying degrees of whole-heartedness, worship the same God, and therefore must at various times have had a knowledge of His will, became the natural pre-supposition of the doctrine of revelation which Mohammed developed, prompted by influences whose origin we shall seek to establish later.

A special priesthood guarded and directed the Arabian sanctuaries. The priest or temple guard (the Arabic sadin) was like the Nordic Gode, a venerable man who was regarded as the owner of the sacred precinct. As a rule this privilege of ownership and direction belonged to a clan whose chief was the actual priest, but any members of the tribe could carry out the priestly functions, which, in addition to the guarding of the sacred grove and the building (when such existed), or the image of the God, and the treasury where the votive gifts were stored, consisted merely of the practice of casting lots to determine the will of God, or to obtain His advice concerning important undertakings. However, for the sacrifice itself no priest was necessary. Every head of a family could sacrifice for himself and his family.

In addition to the priesthood, there was a certain guild of seers whose members received their esoteric knowledge from a spirit, a jinni, or, as Mohammed described it in less friendly terms, from Satan. It was said that the seer, kahin, was majnun, that is, possessed by a jinni. But in Mohammed's day we find that the relation of the seer to the spirit is no longer thought of as possession. It is a personal fellowship, in which the jinni tells his friend what he knows. According to Mohammed's conception a jinni attempts to get hold of what has been transacted among the heavenly beings, and what has been written upon the heavenly tablets, and then 'cackles it into the ear of his friend as a hen cackles.' But when the Koran was revealed to Mohammed angels were stationed to guard heaven, and whenever they discovered one of these jinn listening they hurled a flaming meteor at him and killed him. And like the seer, the poet also was inspired by a spirit, a jinni. At the beginning of his career a poet occasionally met his Muse, who used physical force to make him the poet of his tribe. One day Hassan Ibn Thabit was walking through a street in Medina. A female spirit pressed him down, kneeling upon his chest, and said: 'Are you the man whom your people expect to become their poet?' Then she forced him to utter three verses, and Hassan, who had never been able to compose -before, became a poet. He was in the real sense 'Musoleptos,' possessed by the Muse.

A kahin was asked for advice about important under-takings, lost articles, and stray camels. The reply of the oracle was given in a sort of rhymed prose, saj', often intentionally obscure and twisted. Mohammed's inspiration must have reminded his countrymen of the seers. An accusation which he was frequently forced to hear from the pagans of Mecca was that he was mainun, that he had a jinni who gave him his revelations. Mohammed was deeply hurt by this accusation. But he does not dispute the formal justification of the comparison. However, he seeks to emphasize the fact that the being who came to him was no ordinary mean divining spirit, but a lofty and heavenly being, one near the throne of the Lord (Sura 53). Consequently his message is of a higher value than the half-true sayings of jinn concerning future events. Apart from the external similarity of the conception of inspiration-just as Gabriel reads the Koran to the prophet, so the jinni whispers the desired oracle to his friend Mohammed, at least unconsciously, absorbed impressions from the pagan soothsayers. For example, many kahins were wont to cover their heads when they wished to evoke a revelation. Mohammed did likewise (Sura 73, 1; 74, 1). The velatio was a proven method of producing inspiration. Thus the Druid wrapped himself in the hide of the sacrificed ox, and the Icelandic seer in a grey sheepskin. Among the poets, Milton and Bousset knew how to stimulate an artistic inspiration.' The oldest Suras of the Koran begin with a formal incantation, in which natural objects or mystical beings and powers are invoked. 'By heaven and the Zodiac and the prophesied day and the witness and the accused.' 'By the dawn and the ten nights, by the plain and the mountains and the night when it vanishes. That is the mysterious oracular style of the kahins, and in this style they introduced their saj' poems.

Chapter 2: From Mohammed's Childhood to His Prophetic Call

0UR earliest Gospel (Mark) begins with the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan, and his consecration to the office of the Messiah, The authentic history of Mohammed begins in like fashion with his appearance as a prophet in Mecca. What is related of his earlier experiences is mainly legendary. If I do not here completely ignore these pious legends, which otherwise belong more properly to the history of the beliefs of his followers than to the biography of the Prophet, my reason is that it is important, merely from the historical point of view, to become acquainted with the great personalities of the world religions dressed in those garments in which the pious faith of their followers have clothed them. The manger of Bethlehem and the song of the angels belong to the portrait of Jesus, and the fourfold contact with suffering and the renunciation of the pleasures of the palace to the portrait of Buddha. Something of the magic of their personalities, which we might not understand in any other way, speaks to us through the poetry of faith.

We do not know definitely when Mohammed was born. One tradition asserts that his birth occurred in the 'elephant year.' This refers to the oft-mentioned campaign which the Ethiopian viceroy in Yemen, Abraha, undertook about A.D. 56o in the interior of Arabia. But according to Procopius this war was really directed against Persia, and formed a part of the great war which the Emperor Justinian fought between 54o and 562 with Khosroes I Anushirwan. So it must have taken place before 562. Abraha's expedition, which was actually undertaken upon the instigation of the Byzantine Emperor, and which aimed at attacking the Persian power by land, received a religious motive in Arabian tradition. When Abraha saw that the Arabs were making their way to Allah's 31


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