Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia

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Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia included indigenous polytheistic beliefs, as well as Christianity, Judaism, Mandaeism, and Iranian religions of Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and Manichaeism. Arabian polytheism, the dominant form of religion in pre-Islamic Arabia, was based on veneration of deities and spirits.

Quotes[edit]

  • The new creed [Islam] had the greatest interest in obliterating all recollection of the pagan period, not only in stone monuments which still survived the natural weathering--these were destroyed to provide material for new buildings, or burned for lime or sometimes out of sheer vandalism--but also in literature, and even in consigning the ancient language to oblivion.
    • Franz Babinger, in First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, Leiden, 1987, Vol. VII, P. 15. Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • The Sabaeans practised “an ancient natural religion” in which “the sun, the moon and the planets” figured prominently. They “believed in the migration of the soul and in great world periods constantly renewed in an everlasting revolutions”... They built “massive temples” and “handsome gold and silver statues of their chief gods.”
    • The Encyclopaedia Americana, New York, 1952, Vol. XXIV, p. 77. Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • They say that the beginning of stone worship among the sons of Ishmael was when Mecca became too small for them and they wanted more room in the country. Everyone who left the town took with him a stone from the sacred area to do honour to it. Wherever they settled they set it up and walked round it as they went round the Ka‘ba. This led them to worship what stones they pleased and those which made an impression on them. Thus as generations passed they forgot their primitive faith and adopted another religion for that of Abraham and Ishmael. They worshipped idols and adopted the same errors as the peoples before them. Yet they retained and held fast practices going back to the time of Abraham, such as honouring the temple and going round it, the great and little pilgrimage, and the standing on ‘Arafa and Muzdalifa, sacrificing the victims, and the pilgrim cry at the great and little pilgrimage, while introducing elements which had no place in the religion of Abraham.
    • Ibn Ishãq, Sîrat Rasûl Allãh, translated into English by A. Gillaumne, OUP, Karachi, Seventh Impression.Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • “Every household had an idol in their house which they used to worship. When a man was about to set out on a journey he would rub himself against it as he was about to ride off: indeed that was the last thing he used to do before his journey; and when he returned from his journey the first thing he did was to rub himself against it before he went in to his family…
    • Ibn Ishãq, Sîrat Rasûl Allãh, translated into English by A. Gillaumne, OUP, Karachi, Seventh Impression.Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • “From the description of the idols worshipped by the pre-Islamic Arabs, enumerated by Ibn al-Kalbî, the word Sanam appears to apply to objects of very varying character. Some were actual sculptures like Hubal, Isãf and Nãi’la; so were the other idols set up round the Ka‘ba… Others were trees like al-‘Uzzã and many were mere stones like al-Lãt. Stones are well-known as objects of worship by the Semites in general and the traditionist al-Dãrimî states early in the first chapter of his Musnad that in the time of paganism the Arabs, whenever they found a stone remarkable for its shape, colour or size, set it up as an object of worship. Ibn al-Kalbî states that the Arabs were not content with setting up stones for idols, but even took such stones with them on their journeys…”
    • F. Krenkow in First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, Leiden, 1987 Vol. VII, p. 147. Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • The Arabs during the pre-Islamic period used to practice certain things that were included in the Islamic Sharia. They, for example, did not marry both a mother and her daughter. They considered marrying two sisters simultaneously to be a most heinous crime. They also censured anyone who married his stepmother, and called him dhaizan. They made the major hajj and the minor umra pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, performed the circumlocution around the Ka'ba tawaf, ran seven times between Mounts Safa and Marwa sa'y, threw rocks and washed themselves after sexual intercourse. They also gargled, sniffed water up into their noses, clipped their fingernails, removed all pubic hair and performed ritual circumcision. Likewise, they cut off the right hand of a thief and stoned Adulterers.
    • — Muhammad Shukri al-Alusi, Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab, Vol. 2, p. 122
  • “These Arabian deities, which were of diverse nature, fell into different categories. Some of them were personifications of abstract ideas, such as jadd (luck), sa‘d (fortunate, auspicious), riDã’ (good-will, favour), wadd (friendship, affection), and manãf (height, highplace). Though originally abstract in character, they were conceived in a thoroughly concrete fashion. ... “The heavenly bodies and other powers of nature, venerated as deities, occupied an important place in the Arabian pantheon. The sun (shams, regarded as feminine) was worshipped by several Arab tribes and was honoured with a sanctuary and an idol. The name ‘Abd Shams, ‘Servant of the Sun,’ was found in many parts of the country. The sun was referred to by descriptive tides also, such as shãriq, ‘the brilliant one.’ The constellation of the Pleiades (al-Thurayya), which was believed to bestow rain, also appears as a deity in the name ‘Abd al-Thurayya. The planet Venus, which shines with remarkable brilliance in the clear skies of Arabia, was revered as a great goddess under the name of al-‘Uzza, which may be translated as ‘the Most Mighty.’ It had a sanctuary at Nakhlah near Mecca. The name ‘Abd al-‘Uzza was very common among the pre-Islamic Arabs. The Arabian cult of the planet Venus has been mentioned by several classical and Syriac authors.”
    • Shaikh Inayatullah, ‘Pre-Islamic Arabian Thought’, in A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M.M. Sharif, Lahore, 1961, Vol. I.Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • “First of all, as regards the religion of the South Arabians, as we find it in their inscriptions, it is a strongly marked star-worship, in which the cult of the moon-god, conceived as masculine, takes complete precedence of that of the sun, which is conceived as feminine. ...But we may point out in conclusion that in all probability the Greeks borrowed from Arabian incense merchants their Apollo and his mother Leto as also Dionysos and Hermes, in the same way as they took their additional letters Phi, Chi and Psi from the South Arabian alphabet… This would seem to prove definitively that South Arabian civilization with its gods, incense altars, inscriptions, forts and castles must have been in a flourishing condition as early as the beginning of the first millennium BC.
    • H. Hommel, in First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, Leiden, 1987, Vol. I.Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • “Now Ri’ãm,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “was one of the temples which they venerated and where they offered sacrifices and received oracles when they were polytheists. The two rabbis told Tubba‘ that it was merely a shayTãn which deceived them in this way and they asked to be allowed to deal with it. When the king agreed they commanded a black dog to come out of it and killed it-at least this is what the Yamanites say. Then they destroyed the temple and I am told that its ruins to this day show traces of the blood that was poured over it.”
    • Ibn Ishãq, Sîrat Rasûl Allãh, translated into English by A. Gillaumne, OUP, Karachi, Seventh Impression. Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • “At this time,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “the people of Najrãn followed the religion of the Arabs worshipping a great palm-tree. Every year they had a festival when they hung on the tree any fine garment they could find and women’s jewels. Then they sallied out and devoted the day to it.” Faymiyûn reported to the nobles that the palm-tree “could neither help nor hurt” and that “if he were to curse the tree in the name of God, He would destroy it, for He was God Alone without companion.” The nobles agreed. Faymiyûn “invoked God against the tree and God sent a wind against it which tore it from its roots and cast it on the ground.” The miracle helped the people of Najran to adopt the “law of Îsã b. Maryam” in which Faymiyûn “instructed them.”
    • Ibn Ishãq, Sîrat Rasûl Allãh, translated into English by A. Gillaumne, OUP, Karachi, Seventh Impression.Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • As a baby, Muhammad was suckled by a desert woman, Halîma. One day she came to Mecca to see the ‘Ukãz fair, carrying Muhammad with her. An astrologer saw the baby and shouted, “Come here, O people of Hudayl, come here, O Arabs.” People gathered round him, Halîma among them. He pointed towards the baby and said, “He will slaughter people of your religion and smash your idols.” Halîma took fright and ran away with the baby.
    • Translated from ‘Alãma Abdullãh al-Ahmdî’s Urdu version of Tabqãt-i-ibn Sa‘d, Part I: Akhbãr an-Nabî, Karachi, (n.d.), p. 233. Quoted in in Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II

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