Pagan Origins of Islam

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This article discusses the monotheistic religion of Islam and its pre-Islamic pagan heritage.

Worship at the Ka’aba

According to the hadith, the Ka'aba in Mecca was a center of idol-worship, with the Ka'aba housing 360 idols:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Masud: The Prophet entered Mecca and (at that time) there were three hundred-and-sixty idols around the Ka’aba. He started stabbing the idols with a stick he had in his hand and reciting: "Truth (Islam) has come and Falsehood (disbelief) has vanished."

Prophet Muhammad discarded the 360 idols but retained for Islam, the Ka’aba with its Black Stone, justifying it with the claim that Abraham and Ishmael originally constructed it. However, there is no historical or archaeological evidence for the existence of the Ka’aba beyond a few hundred years before Muhammad's lifetime. In fact, Muhammad's own words disprove any connection he was attempting to make between Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka’aba.

The Qur'an says Abraham built it:

Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).

Muhammed says it was built 40 years prior to the Temple at Jerusalem:

Narrated Abu Dhaar: I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Which mosque was built first?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Haram." I asked, "Which (was built) next?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Aqs-a (i.e. Jerusalem)." I asked, "What was the period in between them? He replied, forty years.

The Temple at Jerusalem was built by Solomon around 958-951 BC. This implies that if Muhammad were to be believed, the Ka’aba must have been built approximately 998-991 BC. But Abraham lived around 2000 BC and both Abraham and Ishmael would have been dead by then.

If Muhammad is correct, then the Qur’an [and therefore Allah] is wrong. But if the Qur’an is correct in stating that Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’aba, then Muhammad and the sahih hadith is wrong.

The Ka’aba has nothing to do with Abraham or Ishmael. It has a wholly pagan heritage. Egyptian Professor and foremost authority on Arabic literature, Dr. Taha Husayn, said the following:

The case for 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.[1]

Also, according to sahih hadith, Muhammad even considered dismantling it:

Narrated Aswad: Ibn Az-Zubair said to me, "Aisha used to tell you secretly a number of things. What did she tell you about the Ka'ba?" I replied, "She told me that once the Prophet said, 'O 'Aisha! Had not your people been still close to the pre-Islamic period of ignorance (infidelity)! I would have dismantled the Ka'ba and would have made two doors in it; one for entrance and the other for exit." Later on Ibn Az-Zubair did the same.

Worship at the Ka’aba and the kissing of the Black Stone are just the first of many practices adopted from 7th century paganism and repackaged within monotheistic Islam.

Veneration of the Black-stone

The pagan gods of pre-Islamic Arabia were worshiped in the form of rectangular stones or rocks. For example, the pagan deity 'Al-Lat', mentioned in Qur'an 53:19, and believed by pre-Islamic pagans to be one of the daughters of Allah, was once venerated as a cubic rock at Ta'if in Saudi Arabia. An edifice was built over the rock to mark it apart as a house of worship.

Al-lat stood in al-Ta'if, and was more recent than Manah. She was a cubic rock beside which a certain Jew used to prepare his barley porridge (sawiq). Her custody was in the hands of the banu-'Attab ibn-Malik of the Thayif, who had built an edifice over her. [...]She is the idol which God mentioned when He said, "Have you seen Al-lat and al-'Uzza (Surah 53:19)?[2]
Kitab Al-Asnam (The Book of Idols), p 14
"A principal sacred object in Arabian religion was the stone, either a rock outcropping or a large boulder, often a rectangular or irregular black basaltic stone… of numerous baetyls, the best known is the Black-stone of the Ka’aba at Mecca which became the central shrine object in Islam".[3]
Encyclopedia Britannica

There is no denying that the Black Stone was one among many stones and idols venerated at the Ka’aba by the pre-Islamic pagans. The Black Stone was kissed during pre-Islamic pagan worship. Though Muhammad threw out 360 other objects at the Ka’aba, he retained this Black Stone and continued the practice of kissing it. It is this same stone that the pre-Islamic pagans once kissed, that Muslims kiss today when visiting Mecca.

Praying 5 Times Towards Mecca

Pagans prior to Islam would pray five times per day towards Mecca.[4] Muhammad retained for Islam, this pre-Islamic practice, sanctioning it with a story of a night trip to heaven on a mythical beast called al-Buraq. In heaven, the Hadith tells us that Allah demanded 50 prayers per day per Muslim. Upon advice from Moses, Muhammed bargains with Allah and successfully reduces it to five prayers per day.

Zoroastrians are also expected to recite their (kusti) prayers at least five times a day having first cleansed themselves by washing (ablution). So even today, this is not a practice unique to Islam.[5] But, contrary to the Muslims, they pray in the direction of the Sun (at each time of the day) and/or of the Holy Fire (if they are in a Fire Temple). [6]

Fasting on the 10th of Muharram

Muhammad's pagan tribe, the Quraish, fasted on the 10th of Muharram. Though optional, Muhammad retained this pagan practice too.

Narrated 'Aisha: 'Ashura' (i.e. the tenth of Muharram) was a day on which the tribe of Quraish used to fast in the pre-lslamic period of ignorance. The Prophet also used to fast on this day. So when he migrated to Medina, he fasted on it and ordered (the Muslims) to fast on it. When the fasting of Ramadan was enjoined, it became optional for the people to fast or not to fast on the day of Ashura.

Tawaf between Safa and Marwa

Doing Tawaf between Safa and Marwa is an Islamic ritual associated with the pilgrimage to Mecca. Safa and Marwa are two mounts, located at Mecca. This ritual entails Muslims walking frantically between the two mounts, seven times. This was originally a pagan pre-Islamic practice. Muhammad retained it for Islam, sanctioning it with yet another Qur'anic revelation.[7]

Narrated 'Asim: I asked Anas bin Malik: "Did you use to dislike to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa?" He said, "Yes, as it was of the ceremonies of the days of the Pre-lslamic period of ignorance, till Allah revealed: 'Verily! (The two mountains) As-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the symbols of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, or performs 'Umra, to perform Tawaf between them.' " (2.158)

Clearly, the Hadith testifies that Muhammad merely adopted this pagan ceremony from the pre-Islamic "period of ignorance" and justified it with yet another convenient Qur'anic revelation.

A myth was also created about Hagar running between these two mounts in search of water until she found the Zamzam Well. Even if this story were true, why is this reason for people to run up and down between two mounts to please a god? This myth was not created to further justify the ritual, but for another reason; Muhammad was trying to market Zamzam, owned by his family, as a money-making venture.

Requirement of Ihram

Ihram is a state a Muslim enters into for his pilgrimage to Mecca. It involves a series of procedures like ritual washing, wearing 'Ihram garments', etc. Ihram was originally a pagan requirement for worshipping idols during pre-Islamic times. Muhammad retained this practice for Islam. Muslims assume Ihram to perform the Hajj or Umrah.

Narrated 'Urwa: I asked 'Aisha : ...But in fact, this divine inspiration was revealed concerning the Ansar who used to assume “Ihram” for worshipping an idol called “Manat” which they used to worship at a place called Al-Mushallal before they embraced Islam, and whoever assumed Ihram (for the idol), would consider it not right to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa.

Circumambulation 7 Times

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In the Islamic ritual of Tawaf, Muslims go around the Kaaba 7 times. In the Hindu marriage rite of Satphere, the married couple goes around a fire also 7 times. In both of these rituals, religious phrases are repeated during the circumambulation.

Circumambulation is to go in circles around a particular object. In Islam, worshippers and pilgrims do this around the Ka'aba at Mecca. Pre-Islamic pagans used do it to please the moon god Hubal, the 360 deities and Allah (who was merely one among the many deities worshipped there). Muhammad himself used to do it, even before the 360 idols inside the Ka'aba were removed.

Judaism and Christianity (the religions of those who are considered People of the Book) do not practice ritual circumambulation to please God. Two other faiths which do are Hinduism and Buddhism, religions older than Islam and accused by Islam of “paganism” and practicing idolatry.

Crescent Moon Symbol

Hubal was the moon god worshiped at the Ka’aba. The crescent moon was Hubal’s symbol. Muhammad's pagan grandfather Abd al-Muttalib almost slaughtered Muhammad's father Abdallah at the Ka’aba, to Hubal. From Ibn Hisham:

An arrow showed that it was 'Abdullah to be sacrificed. 'Abdul-Muttalib then took the boy to Al-Ka'bah with a razor to slaughter the boy. Quraish, his uncles from Makhzum tribe and his brother Abu Talib, however, tried to dissuade him. They suggested that he summon a she-diviner. She ordered that the divination arrows should be drawn with respect to 'Abdullah as well as ten camels. … the number of the camels (finally) amounted to one hundred. … They were all slaughtered to the satisfaction of Hubal.[8]

The Ka’aba, Islam's holiest shrine, has been a place where such pagan human sacrifices and slaughters have taken place for Hubal. When Muhammad founded Islam, he discarded Hubal. At the Battle of Badr, his enemy Abu Sufyan praised the high position of moon god Hubal, saying "O Hubal, be high". Muhammad asked his followers to yell back, "Allah is higher".[9]

Is moon-god Hubal no longer "higher"? Is Islam completely free of the 'moon' influence? Take a closer look at mosques all over the world, and you are likely to find Hubal’s symbol, the crescent moon, positioned at a high point of the mosque. As with the Cross for Christianity and the Star of David for Judaism, the Crescent moon is today a universal symbol for Islam.

It may not be a deliberate effort to worship Hubal. And yet, interestingly, through Islam, the pagan prayer of Muhammad's enemy Abu Sufyan at Badr has been answered, "O Hubal be high".

See Also


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  1. As quoted in Mizan al-Islam by Anwar al-Jundi, p. 170
  2. The Book of Idols, p 14; (translation of Kitab Al-Asnam ) by Hisham Ibn-Al-Kalbi, 819 CE, translated by Nabih Amin Faris, 1952
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica - Arabian Religions, p1059, 1979
  4. The Encyclopedia of Islam (edited by Eliade) P. 303FF
  5. Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 763-764
  6. Joseph H. Peterson - GAHS (prayers for each period of the day) - Avesta Zoroastrian Archives, accessed May 27, 2011
  7. "Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to good,- be sure that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth." - Qur'an 2:158
  8. Ibn Hisham 1/151-155; Rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 2/89,90
  9. "...After that he started reciting cheerfully, "O Hubal, be high! (1) On that the Prophet said (to his companions), "Why don't you answer him back?" They said, "O Allah's Apostle What shall we say?" He said, "Say, Allah is Higher and more Sublime."..." - (Sahih Bukhari 4:52:276)