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Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation

The Joy of Sects, Peter Occhigrosso, 1996

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Islam: Truth or Myth? start page



The Joy of Sects, Peter Occhigrosso, 1996, p394-397

Quran, as revelation from God, saw himself in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. And like Jesus (whom he believed to be a great prophet, although not divine), Muhammad spent a period of time fasting and meditating in the desert before he embarked on his ministry. He taught a religion that focused on the Last Day, the resurrection of the dead, final judgment, the rewards of paradise and the punishments of hell. Muhammad proclaimed that the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is "the highest of the women of the people of Paradise," and the Quran states that the angels said to Mary, "God has chosen you. He has made you pure and exalted you above all womankind." The Quran itself affirms the doctrine of the Virgin Birth* of Jesus.

Besides the Quran, Muslims recognize several other books as holy scripture revealed by God, including the Torah* and Psalms of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels* of the New Testament. Muslims believe that God revealed the same message anew to successive prophets with the aim of reforming a stumbling humanity but that each message was gradually distorted by the people who received it. The Quran frequently repeats (with God speaking in the royal plural) the concept of a continuum of revelation: "We have sent our apostles with veritable signs, and through them have brought down scriptures and scales of justice, so that men might conduct themselves with fairness.... We sent forth Noah and Abraham, and bestowed on their offspring prophethood and the Scriptures. Some were rightly guided, but many were evil-doers. After them We sent other apostles, and after those Jesus the Son of Mary. We gave him the Gospel, and put compassion and mercy in the hearts of his followers" (57:25-26).

Like Christians, Muslims have millenarian* movements, based on the expectation of the coming of the Mahdi, or ideal leader, prophesied to emerge at the close of history. The hidden Mahdi ("rightly guided one"), who in some ways also resembles the Jewish Messiah* and the Buddhist figure of Maitreya*, is tied in Muslim belief to the Second Coming* of Christ and the battle with the Antichrist. And like most other religions, Islam has a fundamentalist minority that insists on a narrow-minded interpretation of scripture and a rigid moral code. But as with other religions, Islam also embraces the full range of interpretations, from conservative to liberal, supporting differing levels of application of Muslim law, beliefs, and customs.

There are over a billion Muslims in the world today, including 3 to 5 million in the U.S., making it the second most populous religion on earth after Christianity. According to some estimates, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. It encompasses most of the Middle East and North Africa but also exists in significant numbers throughout Africa and western Asia, especially Pakistan and parts of India, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia (except for the islands of Bali and Lompok, which are largely Hindu). Because it is common for Muslims to name their children after prominent figures in their history, at any given time there are more people on earth with the name Muhammad than any other. But because of political antagonisms between Islamic culture and the West (the U.S. in particular), the considerable accomplishments of Islam's founder and the 14 centuries of rich Islamic civilization, including the profundity of the religion itself, have often been obscured. Islam still bears the stigma in the West of a religion of violent fanatics, bent on conversion at all costs.

Yet the Arabic word Islam means "submission" or "surrender," as in surrender to God; it also derives from salam, the Arabic word for "peace." Both meanings are present in the actual experience of Islam. And a Muslim (the spelling preferred to Moslem) is "one who submits" or surrenders to the will of God, thereby attaining peace of mind and soul. However such a wide discrepancy in understanding came about, one thing is clear: the essence of this venerable religious tradition is very different from the images that have dominated the world's media in re-cent years.

Through a combination of divine revelation and great personal character, Muhammad brought humanity a religion that offered alternatives not only to the idolatry and bigotry of the desert Arabs but also to the Judaism and Christianity that were operating in and around the Arab world. In the Quran, Islam had its equivalent of the Torah and the Gospels; its Sabbath fell on Friday rather than Saturday or Sunday; and in place of the synagogue and church, Islam offered the mosque, combining the teaching and praying functions of both.


According to the Quran, the Israelites and the Arabs both descended from the same father, Abraham (Ar. Ibrahim). Ishmael (Ar. Ismail) was born to Abraham and Hagar, the Egyptian handmaid of his wife, Sarah. When Isaac was born to Abraham by Sarah, she insisted that Hagar and Ishmael be banished. They settled in the Becca Valley, along the "incense road," an ancient trade route. (According to Genesis 25:9, Ishmael later returned to the land of Canaan to help Isaac bury their father at Hebron.) When Hagar and her young child first arrived in this barren valley, Ishmael was taken ill and badly needed water. Hagar ran back and forth seven times between two nearby promontories desperately seeking help. She was searching for water for the stricken Ishmael when a spring named Zamzam miraculously appeared, sent by God when Ishmael's heel struck the ground there.

Abraham later visited his son, and, according to the Quran, God showed Abraham where he and Ishmael should build a sanctuary, called the Kaaba ("cube"), a square edifice whose four corners faced the four compass points. A cubical black structure that still stands in the open, the Kaaba was rebuilt several times (the modern Kaaba in present-day Saudi Arabia is a direct descendent of the original). A celestial Black Stone, brought to Abraham by an angel and now thought to be a meteorite, is built into the southeast corner of the Kaaba; Muslims today kiss the stone as the Prophet used to do. The current structure is roughly 40 by 33 feet by 50 feet high, with a marble floor and marble-lined interior walls. According to Muslim tradition, God told Abraham to begin the rite of pilgrimage to Becca (now Mecca). In a rite called tawaf, Arab pilgrims from time immemorial circled the stone counterclockwise seven times and ran seven times between the two promontories in memory of Hagar's seven passages.

The historicity of this Abrahamic tradition is difficult to confirm; the first verifiable reference to the Arab people occurs in an inscription of Shalmanezer III dated 853 BC. What is generally agreed is that over the centuries, the worship of the God of Abraham at the Kaaba was corrupted by the importation of idols. Abraham's descendants stopped coming, and the location of the well of Zamzam was lost. Before Muhammad appeared, the Kaaba was surrounded by 360 idols, and every Arab house had its god. Arabs also believed in jinn (subtle beings), and some vague divinity with many offspring. Among the major deities of the pre-Islamic era were al-Lat ("the Goddess"), worshiped in the shape of a square stone; al-Uzzah ("the Mighty"), a goddess identified with the morning star and worshiped as a thigh-bone-shaped slab of granite between al-Taif and Mecca; Manat, the goddess of destiny, worshiped as a black stone on the road between Mecca and Medina; and the moon god, Hubal, whose worship was connected with the Black Stone of the Kaaba.

The stones were said to have fallen from the sun, moon, stars, and planets and to represent cosmic forces. The so-called Black Stone (actually the color of burnt umber) that Muslims revere today is the same one that their forebears had worshiped well before Muhammad and that they believed had come from the moon. (No scientific investigation has ever been performed on the stone. In 930, the stone was removed and shattered by an Iraqi sect of Qarmatians, but the pieces were later returned. The pieces, sealed in pitch and held in place by silver wire, measure about 10 inches in diameter altogether and several feet high; they are venerated today in patched-together form.)

(The Joy of Sects, Peter Occhigrosso, 1996, p394-397)




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