amongst the Arabs despite the conversion to Judaism and Christianity of neighbouring nations. These two religions are admittedly
monotheistic in nature, and are positively opposed to Heathenism and
polytheism. The protracted adherence of the Arabs to their idolatry practices
may be explained by their attachment to the tribal system which regarded each
tribe as a separate entity with its own traditions and beliefs. The individual
was merged in the tribe representing the ideal for which he would be ready to
live and die. This subjectivistic attitude sprang
from the fact that every tribe worshipped a certain deity peculiar to itself
and unrecognized by others, and hence the plurality of idols.
Each tribe had its own idol to which
sacrifices and offerings were made, and whose worship involved certain rituals
and ceremonials intended to win the idol's blessing and favour.
Hence the idol Manat that was worshipped by the Aus
and Khazrag; Ozza
worshipped by Quraish; Lata
worshipped by Thaqif, and Hubal
worshipped by Khoziman. There were in fact as many
idols as there were tribes, and it is said that the Kabah
contained 360 idols when Mecca
f?ll to the advent of Islam.
The Arabs were not the
only idolatrous people, since idol worship pervaded other communities in their
early history. That is why Judaism condemned the erection of statues, lest they
should again be worshipped by those converted to monotheism. It was for this
reason too, that Islam condemned similar practices particularly during the
early days of its mission.
The popular names
designating different idols formerly worshipped in Arabia,
seem to suggest their foreign origin, and this, in a sense, may have been the
implication of the Quranic text:
"They are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which
Allah has revealed no warrant". (Verse 23 Surah
Idolatry may have come to the
Arabs from Yemen and the Levant or through other channels, and was taken up by
the Arabs because it suited their emotional and mental makeup at a time when
they were a backward primitive community, preferring the concrete to the
abstract, and a tangible idol to the unseen God. The idol was the form which
their primitive mind could conceive as God. Al Kalby
(well known historian) relates that the idol Wud
represented the statue of a majestic man dressed in two uniforms, armed with a
sword, a bow on his shoulder, and in front of him a lance standard and a bag of
arrows Such, at least, was the picture of the idol as seen by the masses. The
more enlightened, however, approached the conceptual level, and supposed the
idols to be angels of God through whom mediation and supplication was possible.
This perhaps explains the hymn sung by those of Quraish
while practising their devotion : (( Al Lat and Al Ozza... and Manat... these are
the three super beings through whom we seek mediation )). They cl?imed that
these were God's daughters through whom mediation was possible. Hence the
scathing ridicule of this monstrous assumption in the Divine verse:
"Are yours the males and His the females? That indeed were an unfair
division" (Verse 22, Surah : Al Najm).
subsequent text God says :
"Lo ! it is those who disbelieve in the Hereafter who name the angels with
the names of females. And they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but a
guess, and lo ! a guess can never take the place of the truth." (verse 28,
"and should they be questioned who created heaven
and earth, their answer is God" (Verse 25, Surah
And further :
"Should they be questioned who created them, their answer would be
God." (verse 87, Surah Al Zukhruf).
In another direct expression
"We worship them only in so far as they serve our approach to God".
(Verse 3, Surah : Al Zumur).
is perhaps the phase through which must pass every community before it comes to
monotheism and the worship of one God. This phrase may be prolonged or
shortened according to the circumstances and influences moulding
every community in its social setting. A community like that of the Arabs,
living in a tractless desert almost in complete
isolation, confined to tribal traditions and practices, and glorifying its
ancestry, must abide by idolatry for generations, to the exclusion of higher
religions. Further, it must resist the call of monotheism for long, whether it
originates in its homeland or somewhere else.
2 - Judaism
Idolatry, as has been stated, was the predominant religion in Arabia.
But another religion, too, co-existed with heathenism in this area. This is Judaism
which was really adaptable to the Semetic race and Semetic mentality. It was the religion of a big number of
Jewish settlers who had been driven to Arabia
in their endeavour to escape from Roman persecution
especially under the emperor Hadrian. The contention of Noldke
that those jews were Arabs converted to Judaism seems
unwarrantable in view of the fact that their attitude to Muslims in Yathreb, their adoption of the institution of usury, in additon to the Jewish tradition inherent in their behaviour, support the former claim.
or those converts to Judaism lived for generations in different parts of Arabia such as Yathreb, Taima, Fadakard, Khaiber, where they managed their conce?ns and devoted
themselves to accumulating fortunes. They mixed with the Arabs and participated
with them in commerce and otherwise; they even intermarried with them but
within narrow limits. The reason is that the jews
prided themselves on their descent, and believed themselves the chosen people
of God. It would therefore be very difficult for them not to insist on keeping
their nationality so exclusively jewish as not to
extend it to other peoples.
This mingling with the Jews
broadened the religious views of the Arabs through familiarising
them with Judaism and its rituals, and so in a way shook the foundation of
their heathenism, and prepared them for the new monotheistic religion.
heard much about the Prophet Moses and his tempestuous rage against his people
when they worshipped the golden idol, or the golden Calf, to the entire
forgetfulness of Monotheism. They learnt from the Jews much about resurrection,
paradise and hell, and about the unseen world of which they had known so little
that many of them were atheists who believed only in time and matter. So they
said ((ultimately there exists no more than this life where we die and live and
are consumed by the Spatiotemporal)).
Their cognitive and imaginative faculties did not
lift them up to the sphere of higher concepts and forms of belief in the other
world such as were held say, by the ancient Egyptians. Their eyes were opened
to such an outlook only after living for generations in close contact with some
such religion as Judaism.
It may be that some Arabs used to discuss
with the Jews their Jewish beliefs, either from curiosity as to their nature
and extent, or with the idea of partaking of them, or explaining the religious
narratives and parables then being circulated by narrators and bards. Despite
the fact that such Jews lacked sufficient knowledge of the books and theology
of their creed, and despite the reserve which they would naturally observe
towards their neighbouring majority, they must have
given the Arabs an idea about the Jewish religion, or the monotheistic religion
which denies and abhors heathenism. This must have done much to shake the
idolatrous beliefs then rife, and pave the way for the new religion to be
preached by Muhammad. (We shall discuss in a later chapter why Judaism failed
to replace idolatry).
Christianity was second to heathenism amongst the religions prevailing in the Arabian Peninsula. Its ascendancy over Judaism may have
been partly due to its being the creed adopted by two great states bordering
Arabia - the Roman and the Abyssinian
States. Military power
was undoubtedly one important factor in the protection and propagation of early
religions. Take for instance the history of the Jewish Zi
Nawass, and how when he had tried to conquer Yemen, a
certain Yemenite appealed for aid to the Roman Emperor who, in turn, referred
the matter to the Christian King of Abyssinia. The latter answered the call for
help, and Yemen
was subsequently conquered and converted to Christianity.
These Northern and Southern tribes which
adopted Christianity had already reached an advanced intellectual standard
which made it almost impossible for them to adopt heathenism, particularly
since the Christian missionaries had been hard at work propagating their faith
and doing much to shake the foundations of Magian and
heathen beliefs. Moreover, the Christian religion is not in any sense based on
the factious spirit or national prejudice traceable in the Jewish religion, but
rather did it come to be propagated on a universal scale and to embrace all
Another group which
contributed to the spread of Christianity was the Mawali
or liberated slaves who were remarkable for their comparative cultural standard
and knowledge of Christian theology. Some of them attained a certain dignity
and prestige through ability and talent which they demonstrated in the Arab
cultural gatherings wherein many a religious topic was often touched upon.
Whatever may be said of their efforts, they undoubtedly stimulated the interest
in theology and prepared the way for the Arabs to accept monotheism and the
worship of one true God.
Nor should we forget in
this connexion the influence of Arab poets converted
to Christianity, chief among whom are Adi son of Zaid ; Qis, son of Saeda, and Omayah son of Abi Sult, who very often recited
their religious poetry in forums and market places, especially Okaz, where they were heard by multitudes rejoicing in this
mystic vein which deepened and refined their religious emotion.
There is however no
stronger evidence of the influence exerted by Christianity on the Arab
mentality than the treatment It received in the Qur'an.
Mention therein was frequently made of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ,
and of Christ himself. In the context there occurs a mention of religious sects
believing in the crucifixion of Christ:
slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them " (Verse 156, Surah : Al Nisa).
Prominent in this connexion, too, is the steadfast denial both of the tenet
that Jesus is the son of God, and of the trinitarian
belief held by the majority of Christians:
"He begotteth not
nor was begotten". (Verse 3, Surah Al Samad).
"They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the
third of three, when there is no God save One God... The Messiah, Son of Mary,
was no other than a Messenger messengers (the
like of whom) had passed away before him.
And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food".
(Verse 73, and 75, Surah Al Ma'ida).
The treatment which these and similar
subjects received in the Qur'an, provided the Prophet
Muhammad with proofs with which he was able to defy the opposition of Christian
It may be that some inhabitants of the
Arabian Peninsula were induced to Christian conversion through the efforts of
the numerous monasteries scattered along the Sinai route to Syria. Those monasteries were like
landmarks to caravans, and afforded rest and shelter to travellers,
weary and exhausted after their long journey across the storm-stricken desert
The monks who lived in those
monasteries - while providing food and hospitality to weary travellers
and to Arabs wandering in search of a living - must have mingled their material
hospitality with a certain amount of persuasive theological discussion, and
stories of the expected Messiah who, on his return into the world, would restore
justice and mercy. They may have told of his miraculous achievements, his
resurrection of the dead, his healing of the deaf the blind and the leper, and
his patience and philosophical resignation in the face of persecution and
torture by the Jews. The Arabs could not have objected to such discourse since,
to them, it was nothing more than classical entertaining narrative with a
certain charm of its own, but in no way derogatory to their heathenism or
Perhaps some of their Arab hearers were
not consciously affected by the Monks' talks and discourses, but they could not
have escaped being subconsciously affected in favour
of the high morale which characterised the
theological debate of these monks.
Yet Christianity, like
Judaism, did not triumph in Arabia because Arabia
was waiting for a guide of a different type, a guide near its heart, springing
from its own environment.
4. - The Call of Monotheists.
Monotheists, according to
books of tradition, air those Arabs who in pre-Islamic days persisted in the
religion of Abraham (Ibrahim) and of his son Ismail without drifting into heathenism in imitation of
other Arabs. They were calledHanifites orthodox creed, but sometimes are wrongly named Sabeans.
The Call raised by Abraham
had largely influenced the Arab world and was undoubtedly monotheistic.
strongly condemning idolatry. Indeed the Call raised by Muhammad was
essentially only an extension or continuation of Abraham's call of which we
know no more than what is recorded in the Quran. It
is there clearly mentioned that the religion of Muhammad, is the same as that
of Abraham .
" Lo ! Abraham was a nation obedient to Allah, by
nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters. Thankful for his bounties; He
chose him and guided him unto a straight path, and he gave him good in the world,
and in the Hereafter he is among the righteous. And afterwards we inspired to
thee (Muhammad, saying) : Follow the religion of Abraham, as one by nature
upright. He was not of the idolaters" . (Surah,
Al Nahl, Verses 120-123).
"And they say Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided. Say (unto them, O Mohammed)
Nay but (we follow) the religion of Abraham,
the upright, and he was not of the idolaters" (Surah,
Al Baqara, Verse : 134).
In further corroboration
of this, it is declared that he who deviates from the religion of Abraham will
be self-stultifying and mean:
"And who forsaketh the religion of Abraham save
him who befoolteth himself ? Verily We chose him in
the world, and Lo ! in the Hereafter he is among the righteous. When His Lord
said unto him: Surrender he said : I have surrendered to the Lord of the
Worlds" . (Surah, Al Baqara
Historical literature frequently mentions four
of those monotheists who lived in Mekka : Waraka Son of Noufal, Zeid son of Nofile, Khalid son of Senan, and Omeyya son of Abil Sult. Only the first two of these will here be considered.
The first Waraka, was relative of Khadiga,
wife of the Prophet, Peace be upon him. He was the first to speak to him of the
new mission, confirmed his belief therein, and gave him valuable encouragement
and support. Of the second, Zaid, much has been
written by historians especially those of the West who maintained that he
denounced the gods of Quraish, the idols they
worshipped and exhorted the people of Mekka to be
monotheists and to worship God only. In one of his statements he says : ((what
can be said of a stone round which we go - a stone which neither hears nor
sees, neither is useful, and can do harm? O ! people, seek some religion for,
by God, you have none)). It may be that the Prophet before the mission, when in
conflict with himself according to certain writers, had an opportunity to talk
to Zaid, listen to his preaching, approve and accept
But Zeid was not given
much rope. Quraish saw in him a real danger to
themselves and to their idols enshrined in the Kabah,
their holy place, which gave them enormous prestige over other Arab tribes.
Unable to withstand the
atmosphere, and not being in possession of the political skill and spiritual
force of Muhammad the Prophet, Zeid was forced to
leave Mekka. He left to the cave of Hera,
which was later to acquire such great importance.
This cave was possibly the place of worship
for the pious, the orthodox Hanifites who found
heathenism contradictory to Reason, degrading to humanity and leading far away
from true religion, from g?nuine spiritual devotion.
There is even some tradition
that Quraish in the days of Ignorance in pre-Islamic
days, used to spend one month yearly at the site of the cave as an act of
devotion to God and in the interest of Divine communion. If so, such sejourn would not be peculiar to Hanifites
as some writers maintain
But finally who of Quraish
was most active in driving Zaid out ?
Tradition mentions that it was Omar Ibn Al Khattab the very man
destined to become the staunchest supporter of the Muhammadan
call and the defender of the Islamic faith; he who gave his sister in marriage
to Zeid son of the very Zeid
son of Nofile whom he drove out; and lastly, he who
through Saied, was converted to Islam to become the
Prophet Muhammad's biggest support. Just consider the sweeping tide of events.
Zeid continued his
devotion in that Cave for a time, Did the Prophet, upon whom be peace, ever see
him in the cave before his death and burial in that sanctified spot ? This
tradition neither confirms nor denies.
Whatever may be said, of that possibility, Zaid's
call was not in vain. Its echo extended far and was no ill introduction to
Muhammad's denunciation of atheism. That is why the Prophet, upon whom be
peace, was careful to point out that on the Resurrection Day Zeid would be resurrected as an entire nation.