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Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation

The Archeology Of World Religions, Jack Finegan, 1952, p482-485, 492

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Islam: Truth or Myth? start page



(The Archeology Of World Religions, Jack Finegan, 1952, p482-485, 492)



FROM the Muslim point of view the entire time prior to the rise of Islam was jahiliyah. This word appears several times in the Qur'an and is variously translated "Time of Ignorance" or "Paganism." Finding such a designation not altogether appropriate to the relatively advanced civilizations hitherto discussed, the modern historian is inclined to limit the word to the century just before the establishment of Islam.

The chief feature of Arabian life at this time was the return to nomadism.` In the south the breaking of the Marib dam symbolized the downfall of the urban civilization there; in the north the Nabatean state had already disintegrated and its powerful cities lost their greatness. Elsewhere, in the north, in Hejaz and Nejd, nomadic life had always been most characteristic of the people.

Only three cities of importance were to be found in Hejaz. These were Taif, Mecca and Medina. Taif enjoyed a picturesque and fertile location in the mountains and Medina (then known as Yathrib ) was in a Well-watered plain, but 'Mecca" stood in a barren, rocky valley. Despite the sterility and extreme heat of the place, Mecca enjoyed the possession of a famous well called Zamzam and an ancient sanctuary known as the Ka'bah, and was also where important commercial routes intersected.

The Bedouins of the desert, who comprised the majority of North Arabia's population, were basically animistic in their religion. Springs and wells, stones and trees were the dwelling-places of spirits, and wild animals and fearsome places of the Wilderness were inhabited by jinn or demons. Higher gods also were worshiped, and among these the most important, for our account, were Allah, Allat, al-`Uzza and Manat."

While Allah is best known as the principal god of Mecca, he was also worshiped in other places throughout Arabia as is shown by the occurrence of the name in Sabean, Minean and particularly Libyanite inscriptions." The Qur'an (xxix, 61) refers to the belief of the pagans in Allah as the creator of the heavens and the earth; and Muhammad's own father bore the name of `Abd Allah or `Abdullah, meaning the slave or worshiper of this god. In Mecca, Allah was worshiped in the Ka'bah and possibly represented by the famous Black Stone in that place.

Allat, according to recent study of the complicated inspirational evidence, is believed to have been introduced into Arabia from Syria, and to have been the moon goddess of North Arabia. If this is the correct interpretation of her character, she corresponded to the moon deity of South Arabia, Almaqah, `Vadd, `Amm or Sin as he was called, the difference being only the oppositeness of gender. Mount Sinai (the name being an Arabic feminine form of Sin) would then have been one of the centers of the worship of this northern moon goddess.

Similarly, al-`Uzza is supposed to have come from Sinai, and to have been the goddess of the planet Venus. As the moon and the evening star are associated in the heavens, so too were Allat and al-`Uzza together in religious belief, and so too are the crescent and star conjoined on the flags of Arab countries today.

As for Manat, her original home seems to have been in Hejaz. The etymology of the name is judged to be connected with the root mana, meaning "to determine" or "to mete out," and it is thus suggested that she was a goddess of fortune or fate. The same root is at the basis of the name of the god Meni or Destiw mentioned in Isaiah 65:11.

Prior to the rise of Islam, these three goddesses were associated with Allah as his daughters and all were worshiped at Mecca and other places in the vicinity. Articles about all three of them were written by the scholar Ibn al-Kalbi (d. A.D. c.820) in his Kitab al-Asnam or Book of Idols, extensive portions of which are preserved in the Geographical Dictionary of Yaqut (d. A.D. 1229)." According to Ibn al-Kalbi the sanctuary of Allat was in Taif where the goddess was represented by a rectangular block of stone, over which a building was erected." Al-`Uzza "stood," says the same authority, in the valley of Nakhla to the right of the road from Mecca to Iraq. This manner of speech leads us to suppose that al-`Uzza also was worshiped in the form of a stone pillar, and Ibn al-Kalbi speaks expressly of the house which was built over her. Manat was the oldest of the three deities, according to the same authority, and was a large stone in the valley of Qudaid between Mecca and Medina. The Aus and Khazraj tribes of Medina were the most prominent worshipers of Manat, while the Quraish of Mecca paid much reverence to Allat and al-`Uzza, most of all to the latter. The Quraish were the tribe to which Muhammad belonged, and Ibn al-Kalbi states that before the prophet began to preach his own message he himself once offered a white sheep to al-`Uzza. Such was the "paganism" in which Muhammad was reared and which he later came to believe it was his mission to dispel.

The milieu of the prophet was not one, however, of polytheistic paganism untouched by any other influences. As in South Arabia, so too in North the monotheistic faiths of Judaism and Christianity had long since become known. When the first Jewish communities were established in North Arabia, we do not know, but a plausible hypothesis supposes that the enhanced commercial opportunities consequent upon the residence at Tema (Taima) of the Babylonian king Nabonidus (Nabunaid) attracted colonists as early as the latter half of the sixth century B.c. From there they followed on down the main caravan route to establish other colonies in Khaibar, Medina and Mecca." The influence of Christianity was brought to bear upon Arabia both from Syria in the northwest and from Mesopotamia in the northeast. In the sixth century A.D. the Arabic kingdoms of the Ghassanids in Syria and the Lakhmids in Mesopotamia were allied respectively with the Byzantine and the Persian empires and were strong centers respectively of Monophysite and of Nestorian Christianity. From these regions and in this time if not also earlier, Christian ideas spread on into the farther reaches of Arabia."

A careful study of the relevant data particularly in the Qur'an shows that Muhammad had a very considerable store of knowledge of Judaism and Christianity, and that it was of the sort which he would have been most likely to obtain through oral channels and personal observation over a long period of time. He was specially impressed, it seems, with the fact that both the Jews and the Christians were People of a Book, and it was his desire likewise to provide his own people with a Book which would be to them what the Torah was to the Jews and the Bible to the Christians.'

The Hadith, p 492

Next to the Qur'an in authority for the Muslim world stands the great body of tradition known as Hadith. This word means "news" and can relate to a communication or narrative of any kind. Here it is used for the whole mass of inherited information about the doings and sayings of Muhammad and his companions. At first this information was handed down orally, and then later was committed to writing in various collections.

The first of the written collections was made, according to Muslim belief, about one hundred years after the time of Muhammad, and other compilations were certainly prepared in the next two centuries or so. Any given tradition to be complete should contain two parts: first, the isnad or "support" ,which is a list of the persons who have handed down the information from one to another; second, the math or text itself. In the earlier compilations the materials were arranged according to their transmitters, and such a collection was called a musnad or body of "supported" traditions. In the later arrangements the traditions were put together according to their content, and a collection so ordered was known as musannaf or "arranged."

Of the first type of collection the most important example was doubtless the Musnad of Ahmed ibn-Hanbal who lived in Baghdad in the second century of the Muslim era (A.D. 780-855). As edited by his son `Abd Allah, this voluminous work contained nearly thirty thousand traditions grouped under the names of seven hundred companions of the prophet.

Of the second type, some six collections, all of which arose during the third Muslim century, attained the highest recognition. These were made by the following authorities: (1) al-Bukhari (d. A.D. 870) ; (2) Muslim (d. A.D. 875) ; (3) Abu Dawud (d. A.D. 888) ; (4) al-Tirmidhi (d. A.D. 892) ; (5) al-Nasa'i (d. A.D. 915) ; (6) ibn-Madja (d. A.D. 886). Together these works are known as "the six books" (al-Kutub al-Sitta ), while the first two are singled out for designation as sahih or "sound," meaning that their tradition is utterly faultless. The first, by al-Bukhari, is the most highly regarded. Its remarkable author is said to have been acquainted with six hundred thousand traditions, to have himself memorized more than two hundred thousand, and to have put more than seven thousand in his book. His labors were performed with the utmost piety. His inspiration came, he said, from a dream in which he was driving flies away from Muhammad. An interpreter explained the flies as falsehoods which had gathered around the tradition of the prophet, and it was these which he made it his task to dispel. He never put a tradition in his collection without first making an ablution and offering a prayer.

So vast was the total literature of the Hadith that it became desirable also to make synopses and anthologies. Of these we may mention, for a single example, the Mishkatu-l-Masabih or The Niche of the Lamps by Waliu-l-Din Abu `Abd Allah, who flourished in the fourteenth century A.D.


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