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Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation

First Encyclopaedia Of Islam, E. J. Brill, 1913-1936; Reprinted, 1987

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Islam: Truth or Myth? start page



First Encyclopaedia Of Islam, E. J. Brill, 1913-1936; Reprinted, 1987

HUBAL, the name of an idol, which was worshipped at Mecca in the Ka`ba but otherwise is only known from a Nabataean inscription (Carp. Inscr. Semit., ii. n". 189 = Jaussen et Savignac, Afission Archiol. en Arabie, i. 169, 170) where it is mentioned along with Dushara and Manutu. It is thus probable that the tradition according to which `Amr b. Luhaiy [q. v.] brought the idol with him from Moab or Mesopotamia, is correct in retaining a memory of the foreign, to be more accurate Aramaic, origin of Hubal, although the substance of the tradition is otherwise quite legendary. The name cannot be explained from the Arabic for the etymologies in Yakut etc. condemn themselves, but Pocock's supposition that Hubal is equivalent to [Hebrew] although defended by Dozy, is hardly better founded. Another tradition indeed relates that Hubal was an idol of the Banu Ki-nana, worshipped also by the Kuraish, and had been placed in the Ka'ba by Khuzaima b. Mudrika wherefore it used to be called Hubal Khuzaima. It is further related that the idol was of red carnelian in the form of a man; the Kuraish replaced the right hand which was broken, by a golden one; it was the custom to consult the idol by divination with arrows; this was done for example by `Abd al-Muttalib with reference to his son `Abd Allah, etc. We learn nothing further about the cult of this idol and the legends are quite worthless for the comprehension of the real nature of the deity. After the conquest of Mecca Hubal shared the lot of all other idols and the image was removed from the Ka'ba and destroyed.(First Encyclopedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, 1987, Hubal)

"Allah, the Supreme Being of the Mussulmans: Before Islam. That the Arabs, before the time of Muhammed, accepted and worshipped, after a fashion, a supreme god called Allah,--"the Ilah, or the god, if the form is of genuine Arabic source; if of Aramaic, from Alaha, "the god"seems absolutely certain. Whether he was an abstraction or a development from some individual god, such as Hubal, need not here be considered...But they also recognized and tended to worship more fervently and directly other strictly subordinate gods...It is certain that they regarded particular deities (mentioned in 1iii. 19-20 are al-'Uzza, Manat or Manah, al-Lat'; some have interpreted vii, 179 as a reference to a perversion of Allah to Allat as daughters of Allah (vi. 100; xvi, 59; xxxvii, 149; 1iii, 21); they also asserted that he had sons (vi. 100)..."There was no god save Allah". This meant, for Muhammed and the Meccans, that of all the gods whom they worshipped, Allah was the only real deity. It took no account of the nature of God in the abstract, only of the personal position of Allah. ...ilah, the common noun from which Allah is probably derived..." (First Encyclopedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, 1987, Islam, p. 302)


(First Encyclopedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, 1987, Islam, p. 587-591)

III. The Ka'ba and Islam.

We do not know the personal feelings of the youthful Muhammad towards the Ka'ba and the Meccan cult, but they were presumably of a conventional nature. What the biography of the Prophet tells us about his Meccan period in this respect can lay no claim to historical value. The Meccan revelations tell us nothing about these relations during this important period in the life of the Prophet. In any case he felt no enthusiasm for the Meccan sanctuary.

During the first period after the Hidjra Muhammad was busy with very different problems. But when the expected good relations with Judaism and the Jews did not come about, a change set in. Henceforth - about a year and a half after the Hidjra - the Ka'ba and the Hadjdj are mentioned in the revelations.

The change of attitude was first shown in the kibla edict: the faithful were no longer to turn towards Jerusalem in the salat but to the Ka'ba. "We see thee turning thy face towards every part of heaven, but we will have thee turn towards a kibla that will please thee. Turn then thy face towards the sacred mosque and wherever ye be turn your faces towards that part. They verily to whom the Book hath been given know this to be the truth of their Lord: and God is not regardless of what ye do" (Sara ii. 139). From the dogmatic point of view this volte-face was justified by an appeal to the "religion of Abraham", which was specially invented for the occasion (Sura ii. 129, iii.. 89 etc.), as Snouck Hurgronje has shown in his Mekkaansche Feest. This religion of Abraham, the prototype of Judaism and Islam, is said to have been obscured by the Jews and to have been brought to light again by Muhammad. The Meccan cult was now drawn into it. Ibrahim and Isma'il laid the foundations of the Ka`ba (Sura ii. 121). The Makam Ibrahim is described as a place suitable for the salat (ii. 119). Ibrahim prescribed the pilgrimage to mankind at Allah's behest (xxii. 28); and the Ka'ba is said to be the first sanctuary that was founded on earth (iii. 90); it is now called the Holy House (v. 98), or the Ancient House (xxii. 30, 34).

In this way there was created for the reception of the old heathen cult into Islam a basis in religious history, which was at the same time a political programme; henceforth the eyes of the faithful were turned towards Mecca.

In the year 6 A. H. a prospect of taking part in the Mecca cult was held out to the Muslims by the pact of al-Hudaibiya [q. v.]; in connection with it, the `Untrat al-Kadd' took place in the year 7. Muhammad's political endeavours culminated in the conquest of Mecca in the year 8.

All the accumulation of heathendom, which had gathered round the Ka'ba, was now thrust aside. 36o idols are said to have stood around the building. When touched with the Prophet's rod they all fell to the ground. The statue of Hubal which `Amr b. Luhaiy is said to have erected over the pit inside the Ka'ba was removed as well as the representations of the prophets. When they began to wash the latter with Zamzam water, Muhammad is said to have placed his hands on the pictures of Jesus and Mary and said: "Wash out all except what is below my hands". He then withdrew his hands. A wooden dove also which was in the Ka`ba is said to have been shattered by Muhammad's orders. The two horns of Abraham's ram did not crumble to dust until the rebuilding of the Ka'ba by `Abd Allah b. al-Zubair.

At the capture of Mecca, Muhammad made arrangements regarding the religious and secular offices which had been filled in Mecca from ancient times. The historians say that in the old heathen period Khuzaiy after a fierce struggle with the tribe of Khuza'a became master of the Ka'ba and held all the important offices, religious and secular: the administration of the Dar al-Nadwa and the tying of the standard, the provision of the pilgrims with food (rifada) and with drink (sikdya) as well as the supervision of the Ka'ba (sidana and hidjaba). His descendants

    Abd Manaf
 `Abd al-Muttalib
   |           |
'Abbas    Abu Talib
`Abd al-Dar
`Abd al-`Uzza 
Abu Talha `Abd Allah

administered the offices after his death, `Abd Manaf and his descendants getting the rifada and sikaya etc., while `Abd al-Dar and his descendants saw to the sidana and hijaba etc.

When Muhammad conquered Mecca his uncle 'Abbas [q. v., i. gb sq.] or, according to another tradition, `All asked for the administration of these offices. But Muhammad said that they must all be crushed beneath his feet except the sikaya and the guardianship of the Ka'ba. The former remained in the hands of `Abbas; the latter he gave to `ULhman b. Talha who allowed his cousin Shaiba b. Abi Talha to act as his deputy. The Banta SRl aiba are the doorkeepers at the Ka'ba to this day. The rifada, which was in the hands of Abh Talib, was taken over by Abn Bakr in the year 9; after his death the Caliphs looked after the feeding of the pilgrims.

Muhammad's control over Mecca and the Meccan cult was first clearly marked at the Hadjdj of the year 9. As plenipotentiary of the Prophet, who did not participate in the pilgrimage, Abu Bakr announced to the assembled pilgrims the latest arrangements, which were put in the form of a revelation. They are contained in Sura ix., which

End p 587

Start p589

the sanctuary he wins a robe of honour for every step". Abu Vazid (al-Bistami) says: 'If anyone's recompense for worshipping God is deferred until to-morrow lie has not worshipped God aright to-day", for the recompense of every moment of worship and mortification is immediate. And Abu Vazid also says: "On my first pilgrimage I saw only the temple; the second time, I saw both the temple and the Lord of the temple; and the third time I saw the Lord alone". In short, where mortification is, there is no sanctuary: the sanctuary is where contemplation is. Unless the whole universe is a man's trysting-place where lie comes nigh unto God and a retired chamber where lie enjoys intimacy with God, lie is still a stranger to Divine love; but when he has vision the whole universe is his sanctuary. "The darkest thing in the world is the Beloved's house without the Beloved".

Accordingly, what is truly valuable is not the Ka'ba, but contemplation and annihilation in the abode of friendship, of which things the sight of the Ka`ba is indirectly a cause. (Iludjwin, transl. Nicholson, p. 327).

IV. The Ka'ba in Legend and Superstition.

The alleged religion of Abraham gave a basis for the esteem in which the Muslims held the Ka'ba. Legend attached itself to the Kur'anic statements and spun them out. As Snouck Ilurgronje has proved in his Mekkaansche Feest against Dozy's hypotheses (see his Israelielen in Mekka), there can be no question of a local Meccan tradition in this connection. There was, it is true, a local tradition, but it consists of semi-historical reminiscences of the last few centuries before Islam. But all that tradition relates regarding the origin of the Ka'ba and its connections with Biblical personages, belongs to Islamic legend.

The latter first of all attached itself to the statement that Ibrahim and Isma'il raised (rafa'a) the foundations of the Ka'ba (ii. 121). God's command to lbrahim to build the Ka'ba is by some placed before the episode of Hagar and by others after it. The patriarch came to Arabia led by the Sakina, which had the shape of a stormy wind with two heads; it is also described as having a snake's head. When it reached the site of the Ka'ba it wound itself round its foundation [see below] and said "Build on me". According to others, Ibrahim built on its shadow. He was helped by Isma'il in this; the stones were taken from five (or seven) hills: Hira', Thabir, Lebanon, Mount of Olives and the Djabal al-Ahmar near Mecca (other names are also given). When the building had risen to some height, he stood at his work on the stone, which still shows the impress of his feet, the Makam Ibrahim. The Black Stone, which was still white in those days and only received its present colour as a result of contact with the impurity and sin of the pagan period, was brought to him by Gabriel after having been kept in Abu Kubais [q. v.] since the Deluge. Within the building (which was not high and had no roof) Ibrahim dug the hole, which after-wards served as a treasury. When the work of building was completed, be took his stand on the makam, which now rose high above the mountains, and proclaimed the pilgrimage to all men. From all sides they answered: Labbaika, Allahumnra! Labbaika!

On the other hand Muslim legend has developed the passage, Sura iii. 90: "Truly, the first temple that was founded for men is that in Bakka; a blessed house and a guidance for (all) creatures". The ambiguous expression according to which lbrahim and Isma'il "raised" the foundations of the Ka'ba left room for the view that the foundations already existed on which he erected the building. Al-fabari in his commentary on Sura ii. 121 (i. 408 sq.) however recognises that there are two views: according to the one, Adam, according to the other, Ibrahim laid the foundations. Legend relates the following regarding the foundation by Adam. When after the fall Adam was hurled out of Paradise on the earth, he came to Mecca. Gabriel with his wing uncovered a foundation, which had been laid in the seventh earth, and the angels threw blocks on it from Lebanon, the Mount of Olives, Djudi [see Djudi] and Hira' until the hole was filled level with the earth. God then sent from Paradise a tent of red jacinth in which Adam lived; what was afterwards the black stone, then a white jacinth from Paradise, served as a seat. When God made his covenant with men, the latter acknowledged God's suzerainty; the document on which their acknowledgment was written was given by God to be swallowed by the Black Stone. At the Last Day it will be given a tongue, to bear witness against men; according to others, because it was originally an angel.

There was a particular reason for sending down the prototype of the latter Ka'ba. Originally Adam's stature was so great that lie could hear the song of the heavenly hosts around God's throne. As a result of the Fall, however, his stature was shortened; lie then lamented to God that the higher spheres were now closed to him. God then sent down the tent around which Adam now performed the tawaf, following the example of the angels. But Mecca was without inhabitants and the sanctuary without worshippers. When he gave vent to his regrets on this point, he was promised by God that in time this place would be the site of a cult; that the sanctuary would enjoy a particular karama; that it would be a haranz [q. v.] whose hurnza would extend above, below and around, and to which men would make pilgrimage with dishevelled hair and covered with dust, breaking out of every cleft with weeping and takbir [q. v.] and talbiya [q. v.].

After Adam's death his descendants (Shith is specially mentioned) built the Ka'ba. But the deluge washed the building away while the sacred stone was concealed by the angels in Abu Kubais. According to others, however, the flood did not touch the Ka'ba and Noah performed the tawaf round the holy house. According to the first tradition, only a red mound was left of the Ka'ba, which Abraham afterwards found.

But the legends also extend to the period after Abraham. The hole in the Ka`ba, which is called al-Akh,raf or al-Akhshaf, is said to have been several times plundered under the Djurhum [q. v.]. Therefore at God's command a snake took up its abode there and guarded the treasures. When the Kuraishis wanted to pull down the Ka'ba, the monster opposed this plan, until God sent a bird which carried it off' to one of the surrounding hills. - Every renovation of the Ka'ba is said to have been carried out amid terrible portents, such as lightning flashes. It is also said that on such occasions the foundation of the Ka'ba was brought to light and it looked like the necks of camels intertwined.

For the legend connected with the origin of the Zamzam well, see the article ISMA'IL. The following may however be added here. Once when `Abd al-Muttalib was sleeping in the hidjr, one appeared to him and in mysterious words ordered him to dig out the Zamzam, which was "at the battleground of the Kuraishis", at the "Ravenhole", and at the 'Ants' nest". Now when the Kurai5h contested his right to it (or the claim to the well already dug) both parties went to the Kahina of the Banu Sad b. Hudhail. On the way their water gave out. But the water which sprang from the impression of the hoof of `Abd al-Muttalib's mount was an indication from heaven that the latter was right. They therefore turned back to Mecca; and when `Abd al-Muttalib had begun to dig, he found there two golden gazelles which the Djurhum had concealed there, as well as swords and armour. All this was deposited at the Ka'ba or used to decorate the buildings.

This legendary story of the origin of the Ka'ba was easily brought into conformity with the cosmological views current among Christians and Jews in the East, the central point of which was the sanctuary itself. Muslim tradition at first adopted this cosmology completely, as is evident from the statements which are still wholly under the influence of the predominance of Jerusalem. They were however not content with this and transferred a considerable part of these sayings to Mecca. These traditions are grouped round the navel theory, the main ideas of which are as follows. The earth has a navel, whose functions are parallel to those of the human navel. It forms the part of the earth which was created before the rest of it and around which the rest stretches. It is also the highest point, the place which provides the whole world with its nourishment; and its forms the place of communication with the upper and under world.

This navel was at first Jerusalem and later Mecca. But not all the properties of the navel are attached in equal degree to Mecca. They may be briefly summed up as follows. About 40, according to others, 2000 years before the creation of the world, the sanctuary was an agglomeration (eutha') in the world ocean. The beginning of the creation consisted in the stretching out of the earth around this point as centre, in the following order: after the substance of the earth (which coincides with the navel) heaven was formed and lastly the earth itself. In agreement with this theory is the fact that in the Kur'an Mecca is called the mother of cities (Umm al-Jfura) (vi. 92, xlii. 5) and in popular literature the navel of the earth (YakUt Mu'r&arm iv. 278; al- hhantis, i. 37; al-Halabi, i. 195, etc.).

That the sanctuary is the highest point in the world cannot be scientifically maintained. The popular traditions however like to move in this direction. Thus, in the story of the creation, it is said that the earth is extended below the sanctuary. The semi-scientific cosmography says that the position of the Ka`ba corresponds to the Pole Star; as the latter is the highest point in the heavens, so the Ka'ba is the highest point on earth (al-Kis3'f, `.46a'ib al-Malakut, ms. Leiden, f. i5b). This view is probably connected with the conception of heaven and earth as domes or tents put one upon the other, which can be shown to exist in Muslim literature.

The view that the sanctuary connects on the one side with heaven and on the other with the lower world is not so clearly stated with regard to Mecca as to Jerusalem. But it is said that no place on earth is nearer heaven than Mecca; and in the pagan period men are said to have gone up on to Abu Kubais to offer particularly urgent prayers. Whether the pit in the Ka'ba was really regarded as the entrance to the underworld, like the corresponding arrangements in Jerusalem and Hierapolis is uncertain.

One typical characteristic of the lower world is certainly possessed by Mecca. It is described as a tomb. /Not only Isma'il, but a whole series of prophets, numbering hundreds, is said to have been buried round the Ka'ba. Every prophet belongs to Mecca. This is his essential starting point and termination of his career. Mullammad therefore also belongs to Mecca and Mecca is his real grave as theoreticians say (al-Halabi, i. 197) in opposition to the fact that he is buried in Medina.

Traditions which emphasise Mecca's importance for the nourishment of the world are hardly represented at all.

These theories had to be brought into consonance with the later cosmology of Islam, which regards the universe as a series of stories of seven heavens and seven earths. The Ka'ba is now not only placed in the centre of the earth (according to the navel theory) but it forms the central point of the whole universe. Its foundations as well as those of Abu Kubais lie in the seventh earth and form a kind of axis which runs through all these worlds.

The so-called stories are exactly like one another in plan. Every one has a sanctuary in the centre so that if the top one fell down, it would fall exactly on the lowest in the seventh world. The highest of the sanctuaries is the throne of God. Of those which lie between the throne and the Ka'ba two are mentioned by name, the Bait ma'miu-, the name of which is taken from the 1Cur'an (Iii. 4) and al-Durah. Jewish literature was already acquainted with a heavenly sanctuary in which the angels act as priests. In Islam these priestly functions are usually replaced by the tawaf.

V. Comparative History of the Cult.

From the fact that Ptolemy calls Mecca Macoraba (i. e. Mihrab, temple) we may conclude that in his time the Ka'ba was regarded as the dwelling of one or more deities. According to a statement of Epiphanius (Haereses, V, following the text in Philologus, 1860, p. 355), Dhu '1-Shara had his xaapov in Petra, in which word Ka'ba is also probably concealed. It is however not clear from Epiphanius, whether the temple in Petra was meant or the quadrangular black stone, which represented Dhu '1-Shara. Al-Bakkl (Mu`6am, ed. Wastenfeld, p. 46) relates that the tribe of Bakr Wd'il [q. v.] as well as the main body of the tribe of IyAd had their centre of worship in Sindad in the region of Ktlfa and that their holy tent (or temple, bait) here was called Dhit al-Ka`abit (cf. however al-Hamdinl, 5ifa l!jazfrat at-'Arab, P. 171, 14, 17, 230, r2). According to Wellhausen, the Ka'ba owed its sanctity to the Black Stone; this may be right, for the religion of the ancient Arabs was essentially stone-worship.

The form of the building may be compared with the apse of the Jerusalem temple, which was twenty ells in each direction.

It is not related that the Black Stone was connected with any special god. In the Ka'ba was the statue of the god Hubal who might be called the god of Mecca and of the Ka'ba. Caetani gives great prominence to the connection between the Ka'ba and Hubal. Besides him, however, al-Lat, al-`Uzza, and al-Manat were worshipped and are mentioned in the Kur'an; Hubal is never mentioned there. What position Allah held beside these is not exactly known. The Islamic tradition has certainly elevated him at the expense of other deities.

It may be considered certain that the Black Stone was not the only idol in or at the Ka'ba. The Makam Ibrahim was of course a sacred stone from very early times. Its name has not been handed down. Beside it several idols are mentioned, among them the 360 statues.

The Ka'ba possessed in a high degree the usual qualities of a Semitic sanctuary. First of all it made the whole surrounding area into consecrated ground. Around the town lies the sacred zone (harant) marked by stones, which imposes certain restrictions on each one who enters it [see tkIRAmt]. Moreover, the sanctity of the area is seen in the following points. In the harant the truce of God reigns. When the Arab tribes made a pilgrimage to the Ka`ba, all feuds were dormant. It was for-bidden to carry arms. Next, the haram - and the Ka'ba especially -is a place of refuge. Here the unintentional manslayer was safe just as in the Jewish cities of refuge. On the Ka'ba there was a kind of handle to which the fugitives clung (AI-Azraki, p. III), an arrangement which recalls the purport of the horns on the Jewish altar.

Blood was not allowed to flow in the haram. It is therefore reported that those condemned to death were led outside the haram to execution. The idea of peace extended even to the flora and fauna. Animals - except a few injurious or dangerous sorts, - are not to be scared away; hence the many tame doves in the mosque. Trees and bushes were not cut down except the Idh-6-hir shrub, which was used for building houses and in goldsmiths' work. These regulations were confirmed by Islam and are in force to this day.

As to the rites, it is said that in the heathen period victims were slain at the Kalba. Among the ancient Arabs the idol of stone replaced the altar; on it they smeared the blood of the sacrificial animals. In Islam the killing takes place in Mina.

It is a question, whether and how far the Ka`ba was connected with the . hadjdj in the pre-Islamic period. Wellhausen (Reste Arab. Heidenluvns, 2nd ed., p. 79) defends the view that originally only the `untra [q. v.] was concerned with the Ka'ba while the scene of the ha&6 was Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina. The connecting of pilgrimage and `umra is regarded by him as a rather clumsy correction made by Islam. It must be con-ceded that Wellhausen with justice points to the fact that the `umra far down into Islam was closely connected with the month of Radjab. Moreover, the laK1j-_dj is called simply Ita6rV

`Arafal and, according to the Shafi'i school, the wukuf in `Arafat is the main ceremony of the hadjdj. On the other hand, it should be remarked that in the Kur'an (iii. 91) pilgrimage is connected with the Kaba (hadjdj al-Bait) and that tradition nowhere gives us the slightest hint of this being an innovation. The facts emphasised by Wellhausen may however be interpreted otherwise. He himself has pointed out that the ancient Arabs were fond of connecting sacred places situated close to one another by ceremonial rites. It is therefore more probable that the rather clumsy alteration had taken place by. the pre-Islam period and is to be regarded as the result of a connection of the cult of 'Arafat with that of Mecca.

As was said above, the Tubba' is regarded as the first who covered the Ka`ba. Whether this tradition is historically correct is beyond our knowledge. It is noteworthy that the coloured cloths are mentioned which were placed over the building, a rite which one has to consider in connection with similar rites used in other cases. The Jewish tabernacle, the high places of Canaan (Ezekiel xvi. 16), the throne of Solomon, the throne of the bishops, the mahmal, and sacred tents in ancient Arabia as well as the Sidrat al-Muntaha in paradise are all covered with coloured cloths. It is misleading to give a general explanation of all such things. But the idea of a connection with the sun shining in the heavens seems- obvious here; particularly for the Sidra this notion can be traced further.

The question might even be asked whether and how far the Ka'ba was regarded as an astral symbol. For the affirmative there is the fact that the Ka'ba is the object of the tawaf and that tawaf and Ka'ba are represented by Muslim tradition itself as connected with the host of spirits round the throne of God. The throne of God is, as is well known, a cosmic magnitude, and the Ka'ba and the Black Stone are described as the throne of God's khalifa on earth, Adam. The dance of the heavenly spirits can easily be interpreted as a dance of the planets. Moreover, golden suns and moons are repeatedly mentioned among the votive gifts (al-Azraki, p. 155 sqq.). According to al-Masudi (Murudj, iv. 47), certain people have regarded the Ka'ba as a temple devoted to the sun, the moon and the five planets. The 36o idols placed round the Ka'ba also point in this direction. It can therefore hardly be denied that traces exist of an astral symbolism. At the same time one can safely say that there can be no question of any general conception on these lines. The cult at the Ka'ba was in the heathen period syncretic as is usual in heathenism. How far also North Semitic cults were represented in Mecca cannot be exactly ascertained. It is not excluded that Allah was of Aramic origin. The dove of aloe wood which Muhammad found existing in the Ka'ba may have been devoted to the Semitic Venus.




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