Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation
The Life and Times of Muhammad, John Bagot Glubb, 1970
Islam: Truth or Myth?start page
(The Life and Times of Muhammad, John Bagot Glubb, 1970)
In any case, in any religion, worshippers differ widely from one another in their mental conceptions. Doubtless the more simple believed the block of stone to contain magic powers, while the more sophisticated worshippers prayed to the invisible spirit, which perhaps dwelt in the tree or stone. Certainly many Arabs believed that a blessing could be obtained by kissing, touching, or rubbing a sacred object.
It is, incidentally, worthy of note that religions of this kind have often been compatible with very high standards of culture. The philosophy of Plato, studied for centuries by pious Christians, was produced under polytheism. Suetonius tells us that Augustus, having lost some ships in a storm, revenged himself on Neptune by refusing to allow his statue to be carried in procession with those of the other gods at the public games. Yet, for centuries, a polite education in Christian Europe involved profound and reverent study of the age of Augustus.
In 330, some three centuries before Muhammad, Christianity had, for the first time, been officially tolerated in the Roman Empire. The conversion of the Arabs of the Syrian desert began at about the same time. In 375, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Although most of the Arab tribes of the Syrian desert became nominal Christians, however, their new religion seems to have been little more than skin deep. It was doubtless difficult for a people who held such strong views on the honourable duty of revenge to absorb the spirit of a religion which commanded them to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek to aggressors.
Unfortunately, in 420, a monk called Nestorius preached a new interpretation of the Incarnation, which was condemned as heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431. As a result, the Nestorian Christians migrated in considerable numbers to Persia, where they established themselves chiefly in the Euphrates valley as far south as the head of the Persian Gulf.
A few years later, another monk, called Eutyches, preached another interpretation, which was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The followers of Eutyches were known as Monophysites, The majority of the people of Egypt and eastern Syria became Monophysitcs, the official faith of the Byzantine Empire being the Orthodox.
Judaism was also widely scattered. Iraq had retained a considerable Israelite population since the Babylonian captivity, some six centuries before Christ. Many of the oases of the western side of Arabia held communities who practised Judaism, though these appear to have been converted Arabs rather than descendants of the Children of Israel.
In brief, in the sixth century after Christ, the majority of the people of Arabia were still pagans, but monotheism was spreading steadily. The time was ripe for the Arabs to abandon their superstitions in favour of a more spiritual and monotheistic conception of God.
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