History Makkah

The Kaaba And The Abrahamic Tradition

The story of Prophet Ibrahim’s migration from Babylonia to Syria-Palestine (Kan’an), then to Egypt, then his return to Palestine and subsequently his coming with his wife Hajar and son Isma’il to Makka is well-known. These epoch-making travels took place roughly at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Ibrahim had at first called his own people to abandon the worship of idols and other objects like the heavenly bodies and to worship the One Only God.1 They, however, instead of responding to his call, put him to various vexations and ultimately to the test of fire from which God protected and saved him.2 Only his wife Sarah and nephew Lot believed and accepted his call. Under God’s directive3 Ibrahim, accompanied by Sarah and Lot first migrated to Haran (in Syria) and then on to Kan’an (Palestine). At both the places he preached God’s message and called the people to worship Him alone. Next he travelled to Egypt where the reigning monarch initially designed evil against him but was subsequently attracted to him and respected him. The ruler presented Hajar to Ibrahim and Sarah. Hajar was originally a princess and queen to another ruler but was captured in a war by the Egyptian monarch.4

With Hajar, Ibrahim returned to Palestine and subsequently married her. Ibrahim had hitherto no child. So he prayed to God for a son. God granted his prayer and gave him the good news that a forbearing son would be born to him.5 As Hajar became pregnant Sarah grew jealous of her; but God blessed her. According to the Old Testament an angel visited her and gave her the good tidings that she would give birth to the first son to Ibrahim and that she should name the son Isma’il.6

In due course she gave birth to a son, the first-born to Ibrahim, and the child was named Ismail. Ibrahim was at that time 86 years old.

Until Ibrahim’s return from Egypt, Lut had all along been with him. Then Lut was called to Prophethood and was directed to preach to the people inhabiting the then prosperous region lying to the southeast of the Dead Sea. The sinful people rejected his repeated appeals to reform themselves and to obey Allah. Ultimately Allah destroyed the intransigent population and their habitat, saving Lut and a few of his believing followers.7 This happened some 12 or 13 years after the birth of Isma’il. The scenes of destruction and devastation are still visible in the region.

After Isma’il’s birth Sarah grew all the more jealous of Hajar so that Ibrahim found it necessary to separate her and the child from near Sarah. Under Allah’s directive and guidance he travelled with Hajar and Isma’il all the way from Palestine to the valley of Makka and left the mother and the child, with some provisions and water, at the spot near which the Ka’ba stands. It was then an uninhabited place. Hajar of course enquired of Ibrahim why he was leaving them there. In reply he said that he was doing so according to Allah’s directive and desire. The virtuous and believing Hajar willingly submitted to Allah’s will, expressing her confidence that Allah would not then let them down.8

Allah of course did not let Hajar and Isma’il down. As the little amount of water with them was soon exhausted Hajar went in search of water. She ran frantically between the nearby Safa and Marwah hills in search of water. As she thus completed seven runs between the two hills, the angel Jibril appeared before her by Allah’s command and caused the well of Zamzam to gush forth from the ground for Hajar and Isma’il. The provision of this well for them was indeed the beginning of their peaceful existence there. For water in those days (as also subsequently) was the most valuable wealth in desert Arabia. Soon a Qahtani tribe of Yaman was passing by the region. Noticing that a bird was flying over the spot of Zamzam they correctly guessed that there was water there. They reached the spot and sought and obtained Hajar’s permission to settle there.9

Thus the spot was settled and it soon grew to be an important trading centre, lying conveniently on the trade route from Yaman to the north and vice-versa. Isma’il grew up among the Jurhum tribe, learning the pure Arabic tongue from them. When grown up he successively married two ladies from the Jurhum tribe, the second wife being the daughter of Mudadd ibn ‘Aim, leader of the Jurhum tribe.

In the meantime Ibrahim continued to visit Makka from time to time to know about the well-being of his son and wife.10 On one such occasion, when Ismail had reached the age of understanding, Ibrahim received Allah’s command in dream to sacrifice his dear and only one son. He disclosed it to Isma’il. The virtuous son of the virtuous father, who himself was to be a Prophet of Allah; Isma’il unhesitatingly consented and asked his father to carry out Allah’s behest. Accordingly Ibrahim took Isma’il to a suitable spot.11 The Qur’an specifically states that both father and son submitted to Allah’s will12 made him lie on the ground, face downward, and was about to strike his neck with knife when Allah’s call reached Ibrahim saying that he had already passed the test and that he should instead sacrifice an animal.13

The test was for both father and son and both had creditably passed it. It was as a reward for having passed this test that Allah further blessed Ibrahim and gave him the good tidings that He would favour him with another son by his first wife Sarah, though both he and she had grown quite old14. Thus another son, Ishaq, was born to Ibrahim by Sarah when Isma’il was about 14 years old. On another occasion when Ibrahim visited Makka Allah bade him build a house for His worship15. Accordingly, he built the Ka’ba, assisted by his son Isma’il. As they raised the foundation they prayed to Allah to accept their good deed, to render them submissive to His will, to raise from among their progeny a people submissive to Allah and to raise from among them a Prophet who would purify them and recite unto them His scripture and directives16. Further they prayed Allah to make Makka and its vicinity a land of peace and security and to feed its people abundantly – “such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (Qur’an, 2:126).

When the building of the Ka’ba was completed Allah commanded Ibrahim to proclaim to mankind the duty of pilgrimage to the House (Ka’ba)17. So Ibrahim introduced the rite of pilgrimage to the Ka’ba.

The Qur’an as well as the Bible state that Allah especially blessed Ibrahim and both his sons, Isma’il and Ishaq, intimating that their descendants would multiply into nations18. Indeed, it was according to the Divine plan that the two sons were settled in two different lands. Ibrahim lived long to see his sons grow into maturity, establishing their respective families. According to the Old Testament Ibrahim lived for 175 years and when he died both Isma’il and Ishaq together buried him19.

Isma’il also lived long for 137 years and left behind him twelve sons from whom twelve tribes arose20. They and their descendants lived at Makka; but as their numbers increased they scattered over the other parts of Arabia. Of the tribes who arose out of the twelve sons of Ismail, those from the eldest two, Nabat and Qaydar21 became more prominent. The descendants of Nabat migrated from Makka towards the north where, in the course of time, they founded the famous Nabatian Kingdom (sixth century B.C. to 105 A.C.) with Petra as its capital. The descendants of Qaydar continued to live at Makka and its vicinity for long till the time of ‘Adnan, probably the 38th in descent from Qaydar. The descendants of ‘Adnan through his son Ma’dd and grandson Nizar multiplied so greatly that they were in the course of time divided into numerous tribes and spread over all parts of Arabia including Bahrayn and Iraq. Most of the tribes who subsequently attained prominence traced their descent from ‘Adnan and thus called themselves ‘Adnanites. Such famous tribes as Taghlib, Hanifah, Bakr ibn Wa’il, Qays ibn ‘Aylan, Sulaym, Hawazin, Ghataffan, Tamim, Hudhayl ibn Mudrikab, Asad ibn Khuzaymah, Thaqif, and Quraysh (sons of Fihr ibn Malik ibn al-Nadr ibn Kinanah) all traced their descent from ‘Adnan and through him from Isma’il and Ibrahim.

Indeed, this Abrahamic tradition was the most important and universal feature in the social life of the Arabs. It was the symbol of their unity and identity, despite their division into numerous independent tribes. It found expression in their practical life in various ways. Each and every tribe meticulously maintained their genealogy tracing it ultimately to Isma’il and Ibrahim. They universally practised circumcision as an Abrahamic tradition (Sunnah). All the peoples of all the tribes believed the Ka’ba to have been built by Ibrahim and they considered it as their spiritual centre. They even placed images of Ibrahim and Isma’il along with other images, in the Ka’ba. In pursuance of the Abrahamic tradition, all the Arabs used to perform pilgrimage to the Ka’ba and Makka, to make sacrifice of animals in connection with that rite, and to circumambulate the Ka’ba. And despite their relapse into gross idolatry, they did not forget the name of Allah, Whom they regarded as the Supreme Lord — a faint remnant of monotheism which Ibrahim and Isma’il had taught. And most important of all, when the Prophet asked them, through the Qur’anic text, to revert to the true faith of their forefather Ibrahim (millata ‘abikum Ibrahim) they did not controvert him on this point of their ancestry going back to Ibrahim, although they were only too ready to oppose the Prophet on all conceivable grounds. This is worth emphasizing; for nothing was more obnoxious to an Arab than to ascribe a false or imaginary ancestry to him.

Regarding The Abrahamic Tradition

(a) Consideration of Muir’s views

Of greater import are the opinions of the orientalists about the Abrahamic tradition. Generally, they deny that Prophet Ibrahim(P) ever came to Makka, that Hajar and Isma’il(P) were ever left there by him and that the Ka’ba was built by him. They also assert that it was Ishaq(P) and not Isma’il(P), who was intended to be sacrificed. These views are as old as Orientalism itself. It was Muir, however, who gave those views their modern form and pattern. And ever since his time others have mainly reproduced his arguments and assumptions.22 “The connection of the Abraham myth with the Ka’bah”, writes Margoliouth, “appears to have been the result of later speculation, and to have been fully developed only when a political need for it arose.”23

Of the others who reiterated and elaborated the same views mentioned may be made of J.D. Bate and Richard Bell. The former prepared an independent monograph entitled Enquiries Into the Claims of Ishmael24 in which he set forth almost all that the orientalists have to say on the theme including the question of the sacrifice of Isma’il. The latter, Richard Bell, suggested that the relevant Qur’anic passages on the subject are “later” revisions during the Madinite period of the Prophet’s mission25.

Clearly, the subject calls for separate treatment. The scope of the present work, however, necessitates confining the present section to a consideration of Muir’s views that are mainly elaborated and reiterated by his successors.

On the basis of the information contained in the Old Testament Muir says: “Hager, when cast forth by Abraham, dwelt with her son in the wilderness of Paran, to the north of Arabia.”26. He further says that the “divine promise of temporal prosperity” in favour of Isma’il was fulfilled and his twelve sons became “twelve princes” whose descendants were founders of numerous tribes. These tribes, and also other Abrahamic and collateral tribes lived, according to Muir, in northern Arabia extending “from the northern extremity of the Red Sea towards the mouth of the Euphrates.”27

He admits, however, that the Abrahamic tradition and the legend connected with the Ka’ba were widely current and accepted in Arabia and Makka before the rise of Islam28 but he holds that these traditions, though earlier than Islam, grew there much subsequently to the time of Ibrahim. Muir mentions in this connection that though “a great proportion of the tribes in northern and central Arabia were descended from Abraham, or from collateral stock, we have no materials for tracing their history from the era of that patriarch for nearly two thousand years.”29. Therefore he proceeds to “conjecture”30the “facts” as follows.

He says that there were earlier settlers at Makka, many of whom were natives of Yaman. They brought with them Sabeanism, stone worship and idolatry. “These became connected with the well of Zamzam, the source of their prosperity; and near to it they erected their fane [the Ka’ba], with its symbolical Sabeanism and mysterious black stone. Local rites were superadded; but it was Yemen, the cradle of the Arabs, which furnished the normal elements of the system.”31 Subsequently, an Isma’ilite tribe from the north, “either Nabataean or some collateral stock”, was attracted there by its wells and favourable position for caravan trade. This tribe carried “in its train the patriarchal legend of Abrahamic origin” and engrafted “it upon the local superstitions.” “Hence arose the mongrel worship of the Ka’ba, with its Ishmaelite legends, of which Mahomet took so great advantage.”32.

In support of this “conjecture” Muir advances a number of other suppositions. He says that though the existence of the Abrahamic tradition was extensive and universal, it is “improbable” that it “should have been handed down from the remote age of the patriarch by an independent train of evidence in any particular tribe, or association of tribes”. According to him, “it is far more likely that it was borrowed from the Jews, and kept alive by occasional communication with them.”33 Having said so he states that so “extensive a homage,” i.e., homage to the Ka’ba “must have its beginnings in an extremely remote age; and similar antiquity must be ascribed to the essential concomitants of the Meccan worship, – the Kaaba with its black stone, sacred limits, and the holy months.”34 He then attempts to prove the great antiquity of the Ka’ba and its rites by mentioning that the Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.) speaks of one of the chief goddesses of the Arabs and mentions her name as Alilat which “is strong evidence of the worship, at that early period, of Allat the Meccan idol.”35

Next Muir points out that the Greek author Diodorus Siculus, writing in the first century B.C., spoke of a “temple” in Arabia which was “greatly revered by all the Arabs”. Muir observes that this must refer to the Ka’ba, “for we know of no other whichever commanded the universal homage of Arabia.”36 Finally, Muir suggests that the practice of idolatry was old and widespread in Arabia and, on the authority of Ibn Hisham (Ibn ‘Ishaq), points out that idolatrous shrines were “scattered from Yemen to Duma [Dumat al-Jandal] and even as far as Hira, some of them subordinate to the Kaaba and having rites resembling those of Mecca.”37

On the basis of such facts and arguments, Muir states that there “is no trace of anything Abrahamic in the essential elements of the superstition. To kiss the black stone, to make the circuits of the Ka’ba, and perform the other observances at Mecca, Arafat and the vale of Mina, to keep the sacred months, and to hallow the sacred territory, have no conceivable connection with Abraham, or with ideas and principles which his descendants would be likely to inherit from him”38 These were according to him “either strictly local” or being connected with the system of idolatry prevailing in the south of the peninsula, were imported to Makka by Banu Jurhum and others.

And when the Abrahamic legend was grafted on “the indigenous worship, the rites of sacrifice and other ceremonies were now for the first time introduced, or at any rate first associated with the memory of Abraham”39 and once the legend was thus established at Makka, its “mercantile eminence” which “attracted the Bedouins of Central Arabia” to it, “by degrees imparted a national character to the local superstition, till at last it became the religion of Arabia.”40

Finally, suggests Muir, the Prophet only took his stand on this “common ground”, and effected a bridge between the “gross idolatry of the Arabs and the pure theism of Israel”. “The rites of the Kaaba were retained, but stripped by him of every idolatrous tendency?”41

Clearly, this thesis of Muir’s is based on four assumptions, namely, (a) that polytheism and polytheistic practices existed at Makka before the migration of the Isma’ilite tribe there; (b) that the Ka’ba and the rites connected with it are polytheistic and are of south Arabian origin, “having no conceivable connection with Abraham”; (c) that an immigrant Isma’ilite tribe superimposed the Abrahamic legend on those rites and (d) that the combined system was then by degrees adopted by the Arab tribes as the national religion.

The facts and arguments adduced by Muir do not, however, substantiate any of the four above-mentioned elements of the theory. With regard to the first assumption, Muir mentions three facts. First, he says that the fifth century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus speaks of an Arabian goddess Alilat. Muir notes that Herodotus does not speak specifically about Makka but maintains that Alilat should be identified with the well-known Makkan (in fact Ta’ifan) goddess Al-Lat. It should be pointed out that Herodotus, in fact, speaks with reference to north Arabia. Even taking his statement to apply to Arabia in general, and accepting the identification of Alilat with Al-Lat, the evidence would take us back only to the 5th century B.C., that is, by Muir’s own admission, to a period some one thousand and five hundred years subsequent to that of Ibrahim. Muir’s second fact is that the first century B.C. Greek writer Diodorus Siculus speaks of a universally venerated Arabian “temple”.

Muir rightly takes it to refer to the Ka’ba, but this evidence takes us back still less in point of time. i.e., only to the first century, B.C. Muir’s third fact is that polytheism and polytheistic shrines were widespread all over Arabia. He cites this fact on the authority of Ibn Hisham (in fact Ibn Ishaq). It should be pointed out that the latter speaks of a state of affairs that prevailed prior to the emergence of the Prophet. Neither Ibn Ishaq nor any other authority implies that the situation obtained from time immemorial.

Thus, none of the facts mentioned by Muir takes us back beyond the fifth century B.C. It cannot be suggested that the supposed migration of the Isma’ilite tribe to Makka took place so late as the fifth century B.C. or even after that; for, Muir himself admits that the descendants of Kedar, son of Ismail, became so widespread in northern and central Arabia that the Jews, i.e., the Old Testament, used to speak of the Arab tribes generally of those regions as Kedarites42
. According to modern critics, the extant Old Testament was composed not later than the fifth century B.C. As it speaks of a state of affairs already prevailing in northern and central Arabia, which includes Makka, for a long time, and not of a recent dispersion of the Kedarite tribes over those regions, the Isma’ilite tribes must have been settled at Makka long before the fifth century B.C.

Muir’s second assumption that the Ka’ba and its rites are polytheistic, that they are of south Arabian (Yamani) origin and that they have “no conceivable connection with Abraham” is both incorrect and misleading. The Ka’ba and its rites must, of course, be assigned very high antiquity, as Muir emphasizes. But that in itself does not prove them to be pre-Abrahamic in point of time, nor that they are south Arabian in origin. Muir does not advance any evidence to show that the Ka’ba is of south Arabian origin. If it was established in imitation of anything like it existing in Yaman, we should have found some trace of that original temple or some mention of it in ancient accounts; and it should have been initially more important and more venerated than its supposed imitation temple at Makka. But the existence of no such old or venerable temple is known, neither in Yaman nor elsewhere in Arabia, from any source, not even from the writings of the ancient Greek authors. To cite the evidence of Diodorus again. He speaks of only one universally venerated “temple” in Arabia, not of anything else like it or superior to it. The existence of a number of idolatrous shrines throughout Arabia before the rise of Islam to which Ibn Ishaq refers and of which Muir speaks, including even the “Yamani Ka’ba” of Abrahah, were all established subsequently to and in imitation of the Makkan Ka’ba, not before it. Muir simply attempts to put the cart before the horse when he draws attention to the existence of these Ka’ba-like idolatrous shrines in order to suggest that the Makkan Ka’ba was originally one such idolatrous establishment. Even then he is forced to admit that many of those idolatrous shrines were subordinate to the Ka’ba “having rites resembling those at Mecca”.,

In fact, none of those shrines was older than the Ka’ba, nor was any one of them regarded by the Arabs as of similar antiquity and commanding comparable veneration. This fact alone proves that those shrines were established in imitation of the Ka’ba. That they were devoted to idolatrous gods or goddesses was also naturally in imitation of the idolatry which had in the meantime been installed at the Ka’ba, not vice-versa, as Ibn Ishaq and others very distinctly mention. Idolatry had of course been prevalent in many of the surrounding countries since a much earlier period, but to prove that the Ka’ba was originally built as an idolatrous temple requires some more relevant evidence than what Muir has adduced. All that he has mentioned, to repeat, takes us back only to the fifth century B.C. He cannot imply that the Ka’ba was built so late as the 5th century B.C. or around that time.

Muir admits that the Abrahamic tribes of Arabia “originally possessed knowledge of God.” They indeed did; it has been noted earlier that despite their declension into gross idolatry they had not lost sight of Allah (God) as the Supreme Lord of the universe. And it is remarkable that throughout the ages the Arabs used to call the Ka’ba the “House of Allah” or Bayt Allah. While all the other shrines were each named after some specific god or goddess, such as the shrine of Al-Lat, that of AI-‘Uzza, that of Wadd and so on, the Ka’ba was never called after any such idolatrous deity, not even after the Quraysh’s principal idol Hubal. If the Ka’ba was originally built for any idolatrous deity, the name of that deity would have remained associated with it. It cannot be supposed that the name of that deity was obliterated when the immigrant Ismailites allegedly superimposed the Abrahamic tradition upon the “temple”. If such subsequent superimposition had at all taken place, it is more in accord with reason that the name of that idolatrous deity would have been conjoined with Allah at the time of the supposed integration of the Ka’ba with the Abrahamic tradition.

To prove the supposed idolatrous origin of the Ka’ba, Muir states that the “native systems of Arabia were Sabeanism, Idolatry, and Stone worship, all connected with the religion of Mecca.”43 This is a highly misleading statement. The religious systems mentioned were, of course, prevalent in Arabia at different places and at different times, not equally and everywhere at the same time. Sabeanism with its worship of the heavenly bodies prevailed in south Arabia. Muir does not show how this system was “connected with the religion at Mecca” except saying that as late as the fourth century “sacrifices were offered in Yemen to the sun, moon, and stars” and that the “seven circuits of the Kaaba were probably emblematical of the revolutions of the planetary bodies.”44 It is not understandable how sacrifices offered in Yaman “to the sun, moon and stars” could be connected with the religion at Makka. The Makkan unbelievers did, of course, offer sacrifices to their idols; but they did never do so by way of worshipping the sun, the moon, and the stars! Indeed the practice of sacrificing animals, or even human beings, for gods and goddesses, had been prevalent among many ancient peoples before even Prophet Ibrahim’s(P) intended sacrifice of his son to Allah. But none would, therefore, suggest that such sacrifices by the other ancient peoples or by Ibrahim were only symbolical of Sabeanism! In fact, the term Sabeanism is derived from the Sabaeans who emerged on the scene of history much subsequently to the generally assigned date of the Ka’ba. More specifically, worship of the heavenly bodies was prevalent among the ancient Greeks, among others. In that perspective, Sabeanism was only a south Arabian manifestation of Hellenism.

More strange is Muir’s statement that the “seven circuits of the Kaaba were probably emblematical of the revolutions of the planetary bodies”. There is no indication whatsoever that the Sabaeans or other ancient worshippers of the heavenly bodies used to make seven circuits around any object as part of their astral worship. It is also quite unreasonable to suppose that the ancient Makkans or others of the time were aware of “the revolutions of the planetary bodies”. If they had such modern astronomical knowledge, they would not have worshipped the heavenly bodies at all.

With regard to idolatry and stone worship Muir, after referring to what Ibn Ishaq says about the existence of idolatrous shrines in Arabia and how the Isma’ilites, when dispersing from Makka, used to carry with them a stone from the sacred precincts, states that this widespread tendency to stone worship probably “occasioned the superstition of the Kaaba with its black stone, than that it took its rise from that superstition.”45

As shown above, the evidence adduced by Muir does in no way show that the idolatrous shrines in Arabia and the attendant worship of stones or stone images came into existence before the erection of the Ka’ba. And Muir is grossly wrong in supposing that the Black Stone at the Ka’ba was symbolical of stone worship. Whatever the origin of the Black Stone and whatever the origin of stone worship in Arabia, the pre-Islamic Arabs, neither of Makka nor of the other places, are never found to have worshipped the Black Stone of the Ka’ba. The kissing of the Black Stone was no worship of the stone itself; it marked only the start of making the circuit around the Ka’ba. This circumambulation was not done for any specific idol in the Ka’ba or around it. It was to all intents and purposes a circumambulation of the House of Allah. And it is only an instance of the peculiar coexistence of the Abrahamic traditions and idolatry which the Makkan religion represented on the eve of the rise of Islam. It should be noted here that it was very much the practice of Ibrahim(P) that in the course of his travels from one land to another he set up, wherever he halted, a stone to mark a place dedicated to the worship of Allah (“an altar unto God” as it is put in the English versions of the Old Testament)46.

That these places of worship were symbolized by stones erected as pillars is clear from Gen. 28:10, 18-22, which informs us that Jacob [Ya’qub(P)], when he journeyed from Beer-Sheba to Haran, halted at night at a certain place and in the morning took the stone he had used as his pillow and “set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el.” He further declared: “And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.”47 In fact, these stone pillars were in the nature of foundation stones laid at different places where houses for God’s worship were intended to be erected. The Black Stone of the Ka’ba was one such stone with which the patriarch Ibrahim(P) laid the foundation of the House of Allah (Beth-el).48

Neither was the Black Stone of the Ka’ba symbolical of stone worship, nor were the Prophets Ibrahim(P), Ishaq(P) and Ya’qub(P), by any stretch of the imagination, stone worshippers on account of their erection of stone pillars as “altars unto God”.

The dogmatic assertion that the rites connected with the Ka’ba “have no conceivable connection with Abraham, or with the ideas and principles which his descendants would be likely to inherit from him”, is a downright misstatement. So far as the Black Stone is concerned, its connection with Ibrahim and with the ideas, practices, and principles that his descendants were likely to inherit from him, are indubitably demonstrated by the above-mentioned testimony of the Old Testament. That the institution of sacrifice also is very much in line with the Abrahamic tradition admits of no doubt, the incident of the intended sacrifice of his son being so clearly narrated in both the Old Testament and the Qur’an. In this case, too, the coexistence of Abrahamic rites with idolatrous practices is noticeable. While the unbelieving Arabs used to sacrifice animals on various idol altars at different places, their sacrificing of animals at Mina at the time of the pilgrimage was only in pursuance of the Abrahamic tradition. It was no sacrificing for any particular idols or their idols in general. Neither any idol nor any altar was there at Mina or ‘Arafat. Indeed the pilgrimage, the staying at Mina, the standing at ‘Arafat and the sacrifices made on the occasion were not done for any idol or idols. These were performed purely in accordance with the Abrahamic tradition. Muir’s remarks about sacrifice are somewhat confusing. In attempting to show the supposed connection of Sabeanism with the Makkan religion he states, as mentioned earlier, that as late as the fourth century A.C. sacrifices were offered in Yaman “to the sun, moon and the stars”. But while suggesting that the Abrahamic tradition was grafted on the supposedly preexisting Ka’ba and its rites by an ‘Isma’ilite tribe he states that “the rites of sacrifice and other ceremonies were now for the first time introduced or at any rate associated with the memory of Abraham.”49 This statement of Muir’s constitutes, in fact, a confession of the weakness of his theory and an admission that the “rites of sacrifice and other ceremonies” were very much connected with the Abrahamic tradition.

Indeed Muir’s third and fourth suggestions, namely, that the Abrahamic tradition was superimposed on the supposedly pre-existent and idolatrous Ka’ba and its rites by an ‘Isma’ilite tribe subsequently settling there, and that this tradition was still more subsequently adopted “by degrees” on the part of the Arab tribes because of the commercial pre-eminence of Makka which attracted them thither, are more illogical and absurd. Both these assumptions run counter to his other statement that so “extensive a homage” to the Ka’ba and its rites “must have its beginnings in an extremely remote age.”50

The Ka’ba and its rites, of course, go back to very remote antiquity. And it is also noted that Muir makes a distinction between the prior existence of the Ka’ba and the extensive homage to it on the one hand, and the Abrahamic tradition on the other, which according to him was superimposed on it and its rites. But that does not resolve the inconsistency and difficulty involved in his proposition. If the Arab tribes had since antiquity been paying extensive homage to the Ka’ba and its rites, they would not simply add to these institutions only the name of Ibrahim at a subsequent stage -for that is in essence what Muir suggests – just because an Isma’ilite tribe came to settle at Makka and imposed Ibrahim’s name on the existing institutions. In all likelihood, such an illegitimate attempt on the part of an Isma’ilite tribe would have met with universal resistance, both from the preexisting idolatrous population of Makka as well as from the Arab tribes.

Muir seems to have foreseen the difficulty. Hence he recognizes, on the one hand, the fact that the Arab tribes of northern and central Arabia were by and large of Abrahamic origin so much so that both the Jews and the Old Testament spoke of them as Kedarites (i.e., descendants of Isma’il’s son Kedar or Qaydar) and, on the other, attempts to make room for his theory in the situation by suggesting that it is “improbable” that the memory of the connection with Ibrahim “should have been handed down from the remote age of the patriarch by an independent train of evidence in any particular tribe, or association of tribes”. As noted earlier, he suggests that “it is more likely that it was borrowed from the Jews, and kept alive by occasional communication with them.”51 Now, it is highly unlikely that an acknowledged conservative people like the Semitic Arabs, who of all people were the most attached to their ancient traditions, remembering their individual genealogies going back to a distant past, would have continued to venerate the Ka’ba and its rites as belonging to their common past, and at the same time forgetting the real fact of their descent from Ibrahim.

The nature of “living tradition” is not that it should have been handed down “by an independent train of evidence in any particular tribe, or association of tribes.” It is handed down from generation to generation by “popular memory”, not by the memory or evidence of any particular individual or tribe. It is also just not correct to say, as Muir does, that the Arab tribes having supposedly forgotten their descent from Ibrahim “borrowed” the memory “from the Jews” and it was “kept alive by occasional communication with them.” No people who had forgotten their common ancestor would accept the ancestor of other people as their ancestor too because the latter stated so, without further and an “independent train of evidence.” The fact is that the Arab tribes of central and northern Arabia were not merely on “occasional communication” with the Jews. Throughout the ages till almost the beginning of the Christian era the Jews and the Kedarite tribes of northern and central Arabia were on constant contact with one another and they very much constantly remembered their common descent from Ibrahim. But leaving aside all these questions and going with Muir all the way, it is only reasonable to suppose that if the Jews at any point of time reminded the Arab tribes of their descent from their common patriarch Ibrahim, they would also have been told that that patriarch was no polytheist and that the (supposedly) pre-existing Ka’ba and its rites had no connection with him. Therefore the Arab tribes would not associate the Ka’ba and its rites with the memory of Ibrahim even when they were reminded of their actual ancestor. But, since the Arab tribes, by Muir’s admission and by all the available evidence did in fact associate the Ka’ba and its rites with Ibrahim for long before the coming of Islam, a natural corollary of Muir’s suggestion is that the Jews, when reminding them of Ibrahim, must also have told them that the Ka’ba and its rites were of Abrahamic origin.

The unreasonableness of Muir’s proposition does not end here. He says that the Isma’ilite tribe, when it came to settling at Makka, brought “in its train the patriarchal legend of Abrahamic origin” and engrafted “it on the local superstitions.” Thus by Muir’s own statement, when the Isma’ilite tribe came to Makka, they had not forgotten their Abrahamic origin. It is, therefore, reasonable to add that they had also not lost sight of the fact that Ibrahim was no polytheist. Hence they would not have desecrated the sacred memory of their ancestor by associating it with the (supposedly) pre-existing and polytheistic Ka’ba and its rites, the more so because these institutions had long been commanding the homage of the Arabs. In such a state, if they intended to integrate themselves with the Arab tribes, or vice versa, they would have simply allowed the Abrahamic memory to remain in the background and would have accepted the Ka’ba and its rites as they were; for by so doing they would not have lost anything, neither their domicile nor the profitable trade of Makka. Since they did not do so, but accepted, as it is said, the Ka’ba and its rites as of Abrahamic origin, notwithstanding their having retained the memory of their descent from Ibrahim, and since also the Arab tribes accepted the Ka’ba and its rites as of Abrahamic origin, notwithstanding their constant touch with the collateral branch of Ibrahim’s descendants, the Jews, the natural conclusion is that they did so because they knew that the Ka’ba and its rites were of Abrahamic origin. Thus a rational analysis of even Muir’s theory of subsequent migration to and settlement at Makka by an Isma’ilite tribe, together with the other assumptions he makes and the facts he admits, leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the Ka’ba and its rites were of Abrahamic origin.

(b) About the Old Testament evidence

Muir’s above-discussed theory and assumptions proceed from his understanding of the information contained in Gen. 21:21. He says: “Hagar, when cast forth by Abraham, dwelt with her son in the wilderness of Paran, to the north of Arabia.”52 The above-mentioned passage of the Genesis simply says that Ismail and his mother “dwelt in the wilderness of Paran”. The clause, “to the north of Arabia”, is Muir’s own statement based understandably on the identification of Paran made by other Christian writers and exegetes of the Bible. Paran is mentioned in connection with other events at three other places in the Old Testament.53 But in none of all these places it is clear what exactly is the locality meant by the name Paran. The answer to the question where, according to Genesis 21:21, Hajar and Isma’il settled thus depends on the correct identification of Paran.

The subject was in fact exhaustively dealt with by Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur shortly after the appearance of Muir’s work54. As the arguments on either side have not advanced much since that time, it would be worthwhile to recapitulate the main points made by him, adding to them such other facts or points as bear on the subject. He drew attention to the fact that the early Muslim geographers speak of three different places bearing the same name of Paran, namely, first, the wilderness where Makka now stands, together with the mountainous region adjacent to it; secondly, those mountains and a village that are situated in Eastern Egypt or Arabia Petra and; thirdly, a district in Samarkand.55 He further pointed out that the Christian scholars and exegetes advance three different identifications of Paran. One view is that it comprised a vast area extending ‘from the northern boundary of Beer-Sheba as far as Mount Sinai’; the second view is that it was identical with Beersheba, which was also called Kadesh; and the third view is that it was the wilderness lying on the “western slopes of Mount Sinai.56

As regards these identifications the first two are obviously wrong, because the descriptions of the Old Testament itself clearly show Paran to be a distinct and different area, not a vast wilderness including many others such as the first identification would suggest, and also different from Beer-Sheba/Kadesh.57 The third identification, that of Paran being a locality on the western slopes of Mount Sinai, tallies with one of the Paran mentioned by the Muslim geographers, but the locality was in all likelihood not known by the name of Paran at that time. For Moses, in the course of his journey with the Israelites from Egypt to Sinai, does not make any mention of Paran although he passed through the same locality and mentioned the places on the way. Most probably the place came to be known as Paran at a period subsequent to that of Moses on account of the settlement there of a branch of Banu Pharan, a Qahtanite tribe.58

None of these three localities, however, could have been the domicile of Hajar and Isma’il. For, in the first place, no local traditions exist to the effect that they settled in any of those localities. Secondly, though Moses and his followers are stated to have proceeded further from Sinai and having passed through “Taberah”, “Kibrothhattaavah” and “Hazeroth” next halted at the wilderness of Paran59 the exact course taken by them is not clear. The Christian scholars themselves suggest as many as five different directions. Moreover, their statement that the descendants of Isma’il spread over the area “from ‘Shur to Havilah’, or across the Arabian peninsula, from the borders of Egypt to the mouths of the Euphrates” is based on an incorrect identification of “Havilah” mentioned in Gen. 25:18. They, guessing on a slender similarity in sound, identify Havilah with Aval or Auwal of the Bahrayn islands. In reality, as Syed Ahmed points out, Havilah is a locality in the vicinity of Yaman, lying at Lat. 17 degrees 30′ N and Long. 42 degrees 36, E, and called after Havilah, one of the sons of Joktan (Qahtan)60. It is thus evident “that the Ishmaelites settled in the wide tract of land extending from the northern frontiers of Yemen to the southern borders of Syria. This place now bears the name of Hedjaz, and it is identical with Paran”, as mentioned by the Muslim geographers.61 It is further noteworthy that an Arabic version of the Samaritan Pentateuch edited by R. Kuenen and published at Lugduni Batavorum, 1851, says in a note that Pharan and Hejaz are one and the same place.62

Thirdly, a close look at Gen. 21:14-15 would make it clear that the two consecutive passages do not really speak of one and the same occasion. The statement in Gen. 21:14 that Hajar “wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba” does not mean that she wandered only there and proceeded no farther. Nor does the statement in Gen. 21:15, “And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs”, mean that the incident took place in or in the vicinity of Beer-Sheba. Nor does it mean that the same water in the bottle with which she had left her home “was spent” and therefore she was obliged to “cast the child under one of the shrubs”. Beersheba was a place well known to her, Ibrahim having lived there with her for long. There were also a number of wells scattered over the region and dug by different persons, as the Old Testament very clearly states at a number of places. The well at Beer-Sheba itself was dug by Ibrahim. All these could not have been unknown to Hajar. She could, therefore, have obtained further water, after a little search, from any of the many wells in the area.

In fact, the Old Testament writer here describes, in two very short and consecutive passages, the long and arduous wanderings made by Hajar, of which the beginning was her wanderings in Beer-Sheba and the last stage was at such a place where she could get no water, nor replenish her bottle in any way. So in utter distress and despair, she cast the child under one of the shrubs. The two passages speak of two different stages of her wanderings, separated by not too small gaps of time and place.

Fourthly, the causes and circumstances that led to Hajar’s and Isma’il’s banishment from home, as described in the Old Testament, also indicate that they travelled to a land quite away from the area where Sarah and Ibrahim continued to live. According to the Genesis, Sarah wanted that Isma’il should not be heir with her son Ishaq. So also, according to the Genesis, it was God’s plan that Ismail and his descendants should settle in and populate another land. The Genesis very graphically describes the situation thus:

“11. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.”

“12. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of the bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”

“13. And also the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation because he is thy seed.”

“14. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar…”, etc. (Gen. 21:11-14)

Thus it is very clear from the Genesis that it was not really because of Sarah’s desire but decisively because of God’s plan and assurance of a fruitful future for Isma’il communicated to Ibrahim, and His command to him, that he banished Hajar and Ismail to a different land. God’s words to Ibrahim, “for in Isaac shall thy seed be called”, was a consolation as well as an assurance that the banishment of Ismail did not mean an end to or a constriction of the line of Ibrahim’s descendants. The statement, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” meant that Ibrahim’s progeny will continue there where he was at that time, through Ishaq; whereas the other statement was an emphasis on the fact that Isma’il was his seed (“he is thy seed”) but his progeny will be multiplied and made into a nation in another region. By the very nature of this plan of God’s (and Sarah’s desire to exclude Isma’il from his father’s immediate possessions was itself part of God’s plan), Hajar and Ismail could not have been settled in any place in the region of Beer-Sheba and Sinai, which were very much then within the sphere of Ibrahim’s and Sarah’s activities. Hajar and Isma’il could only have been and were indeed consigned to a far-away and unsettled land. The Paran/Faran mentioned in the Genesis as their domicile could not simply have been any Paran in and around Beer-Sheba and Sinai, as the Christian scholars imagine.

Fifthly, as regards the exact location of Hajar’s and Isma’il’s domicile Genesis 21 also furnishes a clue. Thus, when Hajar in her utter distress and helplessness prayed unto God and also the child Ismail cried out of hunger and thirst, God responded to them. Says the Genesis:

(Gen. 21:17-19)

17. And God heard the voice of the lad; and the Angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.”

“18. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.”

“19. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.”

Thus God provided Hajar and Isma’il with a well of water; on the spot where they were (“God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.”) Hajar did not have to look around and walk any distance to find the well. “God opened her eyes”, i.e., God made her open her eyes (Obviously Hajar was deeply absorbed in prayer with her eyes closed), “and she saw a well of water.” It was not simply a temporary relief. It was God’s especial gift for them to be the means of their sustenance and settlement there in accordance with His plan and promise to “make a nation” out of Isma’il. This divinely provided well cannot be identified with any well in Beer-Sheba and its surrounding region for the simple reason that none of these wells is mentioned in the Old Testament as God-given. On the contrary they are very distinctly described as the work of human hand. Nor is there any local tradition pointing to the existence there, now or in the past, of any divinely caused well. To attempt to identify the well given by God to Isma’il and Hajar with any of the wells in the Beer-Sheba region would be an affront to the clear wording and purport of the text of the Genesis. This well is unmistakably the Zamzam well by the side of the Ka’ba. Ever since the time of Hajar and Isma’il it has continued to be a perennial source of water for the descendants of Isma’il and others who repair there, except for a short period of human tampering with it.

Last but not least, the name of Makka, which is also called Bakka in the Qur’an (Q. 3:96), finds mention in the Psalm of David, together with the well too. Thus Psalm 84:6 says:

“Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.”

‘Baca’ in the above passage is clearly Bakka of the Qur’an, and the well spoken of is the well of Zamzam. It is also noteworthy that ancient works on history and geography make mention of floods being caused at Makka by occasional heavy rains, a feature not quite unknown even in modem times -thus completing the identification with Makka – “the rain also filleth the pools.”

Thus, despite some obvious discrepancies in the description of the Genesis, it is in consonance with all the essential features in the Qur’anic and Islamic accounts; and they combined to prove that Hajar and Isma’il were settled at Makka, according to the Divine plan and provision.

Professor of the History of the Islam, Centre for the Service of Sunnah and Sirah, Islamic University Madina, Saudi Arabia. Excerpts from Sirat Al Nabi and the Orientalists: With Special Reference to the Writings of William Muir, D. S. Margoliouth and W. Montgomery Watt. Compiled by Adam Rodrigues

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "The Kaaba And The Abrahamic Tradition," in Bismika Allahuma, October 15, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
  1. Qur’an, 6:74, 80-83; 19:41-50; 21:51-71; 26:70-82; 29:16-18, 24-25; 37:83-98 []
  2. Qur’an, 21:68-70 []
  3. Qur’an, 21:71 []
  4. Ibn Khaldun, Tarikh, II/I / 79; Ibn Sa’d, I, 48, 49 []
  5. Qur’an, 37:99-100 []
  6. Genesis 16:7-11 []
  7. Qur’an, 6:86:7:80-84; 11:77-83; 15:57-77; 21:74-75; 26:160-175; 27:54-58; 29:26, 28-35; 37:133-138; 51:31-37; 54:34-39; 66:10 []
  8. Bukhari, no. 3364 []
  9. Bukhari, no. 3365 []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Some reports say it to be at Mina; some others think it to be near the Marwah hill. []
  12. Qur’an, 37:103 []
  13. Qur’an, 37:102-107 []
  14. Q.37:112-113 []
  15. Bukhari, no. 3365 []
  16. Qur’an, 2:127-129 []
  17. Qur’an, 22:27 []
  18. Genesis 12:2; 16:10 []
  19. Genesis 25:7-9 []
  20. The Old Testament, after mentioning the names of the twelve sons of Ismail, states:

    “These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.” (Genesis 25:16) []

  21. Kedar of the Old Testament. []
  22. See for instance, A. Guillaume, Islam, London, 1964, pp. 61-62; P. Lammens, L’Islam, Croyance et Institutions, Beirut, 1926, pp. 28, 33 []
  23. D.S. Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, 3rd ed. (London, 1905), p. 104. This specific comment has been discussed at a subsequent stage in this work, infra, Ch. XIV, see I & II []
  24. First published, London, 1926; republished in 1984 []
  25. R. Bell, The Sacrifice of Ishmael, T.G.U.O.S., Vol. X, pp. 29-31; and The Origin of the Id al-Adha, M. W. (1933), pp. 117-120 []
  26. W. Muir, The Life of Mahomet, 1st edn, Vol. 1., London, 1858, p. cxi, citing Gen. XXI: 25; XXV: 18 []
  27. Ibid. []
  28. Ibid., pp. cxv; cxxv []
  29. Ibid., p. cxvi []
  30. Muir specifically uses this term twice, once at p. cxxv and again at p. cxxvi. He also designates his account as the “supposed history of the rise of Mecca and its religion”. See side-note on p. ccxiv of the first edition and p. civ of the third revised edition by T.H. Weir, London, 1923 []
  31. ibid., 1st edn., p. ccxv []
  32. ibid., pp. cxxv-cxxvi []
  33. ibid., p. cxv. See also pp. cxxiv-cxxv []
  34. ibid., p. ccxii []
  35. ibid., p. ccx []
  36. ibid., p. ccxi []
  37. ibid., p. ccxiii []
  38. ibid., p. ccx []
  39. ibid., p. ccxvi []
  40. Ibid., p. ccxv []
  41. Ibid., ccxviii []
  42. Ibid. See also Isaiah 21:16-17 []
  43. Muir, op. cit., p. ccxii []
  44. Ibid. []
  45. Ibid., pp. ccxiii-ccxiv []
  46. Gen. 12:6-8; 13:4; 13:18. See also Gen. 25:25 which speaks of Ishaq’s similarly setting up an ‘altar unto God’. []
  47. Gen. 28:10, 18-19 []
  48. See Muhammad Sulayman Mansurpuri, Rahmatullil-‘Alamin, (Urdu text), Delhi, 1980 []
  49. Muir, Op. Cit., p. ccxvi. See also supra, p. 72 []
  50. Muir, Op. Cit., p. ccxii []
  51. See supra, p. 71 []
  52. Muir, Op. Cit., p.cxi. Muir mistakenly cites in his footnote Gen. 21:25. It ought to be Gen. 21:21 []
  53. See Gen. 14:6; Num. 10:12; Num. 12:16 []
  54. Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur, Essay on the Historical Geography of Arabia (London, Trubner & Co., 1869) []
  55. Ibid., p. 74. See also Yaqu, Mu’jam al-Buldan, under Faran []
  56. Syed Ahmed, op. cit., p.76, citing Kitto’s Cyclopedia of the Bible and The Peoples’ Bible Dictionary []
  57. Syed Ahmed, op. cit., pp. 77-79. See also Gen. 14:5-7; Deut. 33:2; Hab. 3:3; Num. 10:12; 13:1-3, 6 []
  58. Syed Ahmad, Op. Cit., p. 85 []
  59. See Exod. 15:32; 17:8; 18:5; 19:2 and Num. 10:12; 11:34; 12:16; 13:26 and 14:25 []
  60. Syed Ahmad, Op. Cit., p. 80. See also Gen. 10:29 []
  61. Syed Ahmad, Op. Cit., p. 80 []
  62. Ibid., pp. 75-76 []
History Makkah

Do Muslims Worship The Black Stone of the Kaaba?

“ExHindu” (in response to an explanation regarding the Black Stone) wrote[dead link]:

    Give any explanation you want. I dont buy it. Arabs have been kissing that rock long before Mo[sic]. I call that IDOL Worshipping. You can label me as Islamophobe and I am proud that you give me that label. In the same manner, I anoint you a Hinduphobe.

I find it rather ironic to see someone who uses the moniker “ExHindu” accusing yours truly of being a “Hinduphobe”. After all, what does the use of the Internet username “ExHindu” really signify? A case of the pot calling the kettle black, we cannot really say.

Nevertheless, I believe that it is time that a response to this rather annoying polemic about the nature of the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad) and its significance in Islam by those who have an axe to grind about Islam (or otherwise known tenderly as the “Islamophobics”) is finally needed.

We will look at the common allegations about the Black Stone and then seek to address the matters concerned, insha’Allah.

Physical Description of the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad)

First, we shall describe the physical nature of the Stone itself. The Black Stone (Ar: ٱلْحَجَرُ ٱلْأَسْوَد‎, al-Hajar al-Aswad) is built into the Kaaba wall, at the eastern corner of the Kaaba, about 5 ft. above the ground level, not very far from the door of the Kaaba. The Kaaba itself can itself be described as a black box, which Muslims face in daily prayers.

Black Stone Kaaba

Muslims believe that the Black Stone was originally given to Abraham, who built the Kaaba used the Black Stone as a corner stone for the structure. Abraham and Ishmael taught the early Makkan Arabs monotheism; after the passing of Abraham and Ishmael, the Makkan Arabs with time regressed into pagan practices including idol worship. They ended up having a pantheon of gods, despite the original message of Abraham and Ishmael which taught the early Arabs to worship God alone (monotheism).1

Going back to the Black Stone, it was originally a single piece of rock but todayconsists of three large pieces and several small fragments (in which it was formerly broken) stuck together and surrounded by a large ring of stone, which in turn is held together by a silver band.

black stone front and side

Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt visited Mecca in 1814, and provided a detailed description as follows:

It is an irregular oval, about seven inches [18 cm] in diameter, with an undulated surface, composed of about a dozen smaller stones of different sizes and shapes, well joined together with a small quantity of cement, and perfectly well smoothed; it looks as if the whole had been broken into as many pieces by a violent blow, and then united again. It is very difficult to determine accurately the quality of this stone which has been worn to its present surface by the millions of touches and kisses it has received. It appeared to me like a lava, containing several small extraneous particles of a whitish and of a yellow substance. Its colour is now a deep reddish brown approaching to black. It is surrounded on all sides by a border composed of a substance which I took to be a close cement of pitch and gravel of a similar, but not quite the same, brownish colour. This border serves to support its detached pieces; it is two or three inches in breadth, and rises a little above the surface of the stone. Both the border and the stone itself are encircled by a silver band, broader below than above, and on the two sides, with a considerable swelling below, as if a part of the stone were hidden under it. The lower part of the border is studded with silver nails.2

It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The Black Stone came down from Paradise.”3

Material of the Black Stone

The material of the Black Stone has not been precisely determined. It is sometimes classified as lava and sometimes as basalt. The reason for this difficulty is that its visible surface is worn smooth by hand-touching, etc.4 Its estimated diameter is approximately 12″5. Its colour is reddish black with red and yellow particles.

silver frame around the black stone

Some Islamophobes have begun a baseless attack on the appearance of the Black Stone by alleging that it looks like a vagina in order to insult Muslims. The silver frame around the Black Stone were for centuries maintained by the Ottoman Sultans in their role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. This silver frame is a modern addition and the structure look doughnut shaped as a result. The frames wore out over time due to the constant handling by pilgrims and were periodically replaced.

It is reported that when the Prophet Muhammad(P) entered the city of Makkah as a victorious leader, there were 360 idols around the Kaaba6. The Prophet(P) then had the Forbidden Sanctuary (the precinct around the Kaaba proper) cleansed of all these idols and proclaimed Monotheism in its true, most elevated and pristine form.

Thus saying that “Muslims worship the Black Stone as an idol” is clearly the most absurd thing ever pronounced in the history of mankind.

Significance of the Black Stone

From a physical perspective, therefore, the Black Stone does not have any special significance or importance.

Umar(R), later to become the second Caliph of Islam, is reported to have said that he fully realized that the Black Stone was merely a stone and thus had no power of its own to harm or benefit anyone7.

As for the reasons as to why we have the Black Stone in the wall of the Kaaba, we read about the following reasons, that:

    (a) it symbolizes the starting-point during the circumambulation of the Ka’abah, thus facilitating the remembrance of the number of circumambulations.
    (b) at this point, the Muslims, who are close to the Kaaba (during their circumambulation) touch the stone, while those who are away from it, raise their hands towards it, symbolizing the renewal of their pledge of allegiance with the Lord of the Kaaba. In this symbolic expression, the Black Stone is taken as a symbol of an oath on the hand of God.8

And with this, it is clear that this baseless assertion of Islamophobes is refuted. And only God knows best!

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Do Muslims Worship The Black Stone of the Kaaba?," in Bismika Allahuma, October 15, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
  1. Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheequl-Makhtum (Darussalam, 2002), pp. 26-28 []
  2. Burckhardt, Johann Ludwig (1829). Travels in Arabia, Comprehending an Account of Those Territories in Hedjaz which the Mohammedans Regard as Sacred. Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street. p. 250 []
  3. Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 877; al-Nasaa’i, 2935. The hadith was classed as saheeh by al-Tirmidhi. []
  4. Refer, for example, to the profile sketch of the Black Stone given by Ali Bey: Travels, Vol. ii (London 1816), p. 76, to note its surface hollowed out in undulations. []
  5. See al-Batanuni, al-Rihla al-Haziah, Cairo (1329 AH), p. 105 []
  6. See Sahih Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 583 (Muhsin Khan’s tr.) []
  7. See this statement in various narratives, such as: Sahih Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 26, Numbers 667, 675 (Muhsin Khan’s tr.); Sahih Muslim, Book 007, Number 2914 (Abdul Hamid Siddiqui’s tr.); Sunan an-Nasa’i (Arabic version), Vol. ii, p. 38, etc. []
  8. See the details of this point in M. Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, paragraph 181/a, Karachi 1969 []
History Makkah Polemical Rebuttals

Refutation of P.N. Oak’s Claims Against The Ka’bah

Some “researcher” known as P. N. Oak has come up with some ludicrous, puerile and absurd comments regarding Islam. His theory postulating the “impact of the Vedic religion on Islam” is laughable. Those acquainted with history will smile at the silliness of the assertions made by Oak.

Among the fallacious claims made by Oak is that The Holy Ka’bah in Makkah was “originally a Shiva temple”. But for this astounding and absurd claim he fails to present any evidence. He permits his imagination to play havoc with him, hence he bases his claim on “a gold dish” supposedly located in the Ka’bah. Oak alleges that some inscription on the gold dish supposedly found in the Holy Ka’bah refers to “Vikram’s enlightened rule”. Assuming that such a dish was in fact located in the Holy Ka’bah, how on earth can such a chance finding override and abrogate the volumes of historical facts surrounding the Holy Ka’bah? If a copy of the Holy Qur’aan is found in some Hindu temple or in a Christian shrine or in the Pope’s headquarters, does it follow that these places were some Muslim Shrines in some remote point in time and that it will be correct to conclude from such a finding that Islam has made an impact on the respective religions? No person of intelligence can uphold such a ludicrous and unreasonable conclusion. The finding of some dish, parchment, plate, garment or any other object is not an intelligent basis for upturning and negating facts which have been testified for accuracy by authorities, from generation to generation. If every simple find such as a dish, constitutes a valid basis for revising historical facts, then we dare say that the entire history of the world will have to be re-written.

If Oak’s “key” to his “research” is a mere dish supposedly located in the Holy Ka’bah, every man of some intelligence can understand the fallacy of his entire research-conclusions. It staggers the imagination to be informed that a man, supposedly a research scholar, is prepared to dismiss the wealth and volume of historical facts on the basis of a dish which has been claimed to have been found in the Ka’bah. If the same or a similar dish singing the praises of Vikram had to be found in Buckingham Palace, will it be sensible to aver that this Palace was a Hindu shrine once upon a time?

We have no knowledge of any “golden dish” with Hindu praises having been found in the Holy Ka’bah. Let Mr. Oak furnish factual proof regarding this “dish”.

Mr. Oak should also be apprized of some historical facts pertaining to the Ka’bah. Prior to the advent of Prophethood of Muhammad (on whom be peace), the Ka’bah was filled with hundreds of idols — the gods of the pagans who had abandoned the true religion of their forefather, Nabi lbraaheem (Prophet Abraham) — on whom be peace. The pagan Arabs in fact had a god (an idol) for each different day of the year. It will not be at all surprising if Mr. Oak’s research could have suggested that the cult of idol worship which existed among pre-Islam Arabs was the impact of the Vedic religion. Since the Hindu or the Vedic religion is an idolatrous cult with a multitude of gods, the idolatry of the pagan Arabs in the pre-Islamic era can understandably and reasonably be attributed to the Vedic religion. The idols of the pagan Arabs and the idols of the Vedic religion are birds of a feather, but, to suggest that the Vedic idolatrous religion had any impact on Islam and its rigidly monotheistic teachings and beliefs is preposterous and absurd in the extreme.

Again assuming that some Hindu golden dish was located in the Holy Ka’bah, common sense would have concluded that the “dish” was a relic of the idolatrous pagans who had filled the Holy Ka’bah with 360 idols. The idolatrous pagans of the pre-Islam era, having imported their cult of idolatry from the Hindu east, had similar rites of idol-worship. Offerings of a variety of kinds were made to propitiate the idols. It will, therefore, not at all be surprising if the supposed golden dish was among the offerings which the pagans had made to the idols which had been installed in the Holy Ka’bah by the pagan Arabs heavily influenced by the idolatry of the east — the idolatry of the Vedic religion being the most profound.

In terms of the “golden dish ” theory as propounded by Oak, Vedic missionaries had arrived in Arabia to preach their religion. This is the claim supposedly made in the inscriptions on the “dish”. If this is indeed so, then it accounts for the paganism and the idolatry of the Arabs before the advent of Muhammad (on whom be peace). The Arabs, being the followers of Nabi lbraheem (Prophet Abraham) — on whom be peace — were rigidly and uncompromisingly believers in THE ONE GOD. The spread of idolatry among them is therefore surprising. However, the “dish” theory of Oak throws light on the origin of idol-worship among the pre-Islam Arabs. A “golden dish” located in the Ka’bah, with Vedic inscriptions is testimony for the origin of the idols which had once occupied the Holy Ka’bah Mosque in the days before Muhammad (on whom be peace). When the Holy Ka’bah had housed even the idols of the pagan Arabs sedated by Hindu idolatry, then the location of a mere “dish” with Vedic inscriptions should come as no surprise.

Mr. Oak presents a number of fallacious points for his conclusion that the Vedic religion had an impact on Islam. The article in The Leader states:

    In his research Mr. Oak furnishes other proof reinforcing the belief that Arabs were once followers of the Indian Vedic way of life.

That the pre-Islam Arabs were pagans and idolaters is an undeniable and a well-established historical fact which ten-year old kids in a primary school are aware of. If the Arab idolatrous cult was the influence or even the product of “the Indian Vedic way of life”, there is nothing surprising about it. But, the cult of the pre-Islam Arabs should not be confused with the uncompromising religion of monotheism of Islam delivered to mankind by Muhammad (on whom be peace). No one will deny the idolatry of the pagan pre-Islam Arabs. If some theory or research establishes that the 360 idols installed by the Arabs in the Ka’bah prior to the advent of Islam were the influence or the impact of the Vedic religion, we shall not contest such a claim since reason can accept that a religion grounded and advanced in idolatry can spawn a cult of lesser idolatry, the lesser idolatry in this instance being the idolatry of the pagan Arabs.

One of his points is the Hajj. In this regard Oak states:

    The annual Hajj of the Muslims to the Ka’bah is of an earlier pre-Islamic congregation.

It is clear that Mr. Oak is a poor student of history. Even our little children are aware of the fact that the Hajj pilgrimage was in existence prior to the appearance of Nabi Muhammad (on whom be peace). The Hajj worship came into existence among the Arabs during the time of Nabi lbraheem (on whom be peace). From this angle it will be correct to conclude that the Hajj of the present-day Muslims “is of an earlier pre-Islamic congregation”. By “pre-Islamic” will mean the era prior to the advent of Muhammad (on whom be peace). But, it is ridiculous to infer that the Islamic Hajj is the impact of the Vedic religion merely because it was in existence from the time of Prophet lbraheem. Every practice of the pre-Islam pagan Arabs cannot be attributed to Vedic influence or the influence of some other idolatrous cult. While the actual worship of Hajj among the Arabs came into existence during the time of Nabi lbraheem (on whom be peace), the Arabs who later abandoned the true religion of lbraheem (on whom be peace) introduced many pagan and idolatrous rites into the Hajj pilgrimage persumably under influence of Vedic idolaters who came to Arabia to preach the idolatry of the Vedic religion. But, such idolatrous influences introduced by the pre-Islam pagans cannot be cited as a basis for the preposterous claim that the Hajj itself is a Vedic rite. There is absolutely no factual or historical evidence to substantiate this fallacious claim made by Oak.

Another absurd claim made by Oak is stated in The Leader as folIows:

    The principal shrines at Varanasi, in India and at Makkah, in Arrastan, were Shiva temples. Even to this day ancient Mahadeva emblems can be seen.

Such emblems can be seen on the Shiva temples in India. But the allegation of such signs of idolatry — such emblems of paganism — on the Ka’bah is a blatent falsity. What is Oak’s proof for existence of such emblems in the Ka’bah? Such “emblems of Mahadeva” allegedly in or on the Ka’bah are the reflections of Oak’s imagination.

The “dish” theory constrains Oak to conjecture the following conclusion which ‘he seems to believe as factual evidence:

    According to the inscriptions, if King Vikram spread the Vedic religion, who else but he could have founded the Ka’bah Temple?

If King Vikram did in fact spread the Vedic religion of idolatry which gave birth to the 360 idols of the pagan Arabs, it does not follow there from that the Holy Ka’bah was a Hindu temple built by Vikram. For such a preposterous claim factual proof is required. The wishful thinking of Mr. Oak cannot override the facts of history. Even the pagan Arabs were fully aware of the origin of the Ka’bah. They had full knowledge of the fact that Nabi lbraheem (on whom be peace) was the founder of the Ka’bah. The groundless suggestion of a man in this belated century is nothing other than pure wishful thinking — a fallacy to be dismissed with contempt.

In support of his conclusions based on the “dish” theory, Oak claims:

    Pilgrims’ shaving of head and beard and donning white cloth are remnants of the old Vedic practice of entering temples clean shaven.

Oak demonstrates his lack of knowledge of Islamic practices by his claim of shaving the beard. Hujjaaj (pilgrims) do not shave their beards. Muslim males are not permitted to shave their beards whether they are at home or entering temples or Mosques, be it the Sacred Mosque of the Ka’bah or any other mosque. While shaving the head for male pilgrims is a rite of the Hajj, shaving the beard is not permissible. It may be a Vedic practice to shave the beard, but definitely not a Muslim practice.

Muslim pilgrims do not shave their heads in order to enter temples or Mosques. If shaving the head is a Vedic practice necessary for entry into a temple, Mr. Oak should learn from us that it is not a practice of Islam. Muslim pilgrims either shave or clip some hairs to release them from the restrictions of the Hajj (pilgrimage).

If donning white cloth was a custom of “old Vedic” religion, it does not logically follow therefrom that the white garments which Muslim pilgrims don are “Remnants of old Vedic practice”. What are Oak’s grounds for this fictitious theory? It is absurd to suggest that wherever a white religious garb exists it must be the result of Vedic influence.

Among the points put forward by Oak for his fallacy is the emblem of the crescent moon. Stating this point of Oak, The Leader says:

    In India the crescent moon is always painted across the forehead of the Shiva symbol. The same emblem now adorns the flag of Islam.

Mr. Oak has transgressed all bounds of absurdity in putting forward this ignorant claim. What is the “flag of Islam” in Oak’s understanding? From where did this ‘research scholar’ obtain his information in this regard! If the flags of Muslim countries have the symbol of the crescent, it does not follow that the Flag of Muhammad (on whom be peace) — the Flag of Islam — also displayed the crescent emblem. The crescent emblem is an innovation which did not exist during the time of the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) nor during the time of his righteous Khulafa (Representatives and Successors). Assuming that the crescent emblem did exist among the Muslims of the Prophetic era, then too, Oak will have no grounds to bolster his clatim of Vedic origin and Vedic influence. One cannot venture such claims without producing facts and proofs to substantiate one’s claims which are in conflict with all facts of history.

Endeavouring to present his wishful thinking as a fact of history, Oak asserts that the Tawaaf (circumambulation) of the Ka’bah by pilgrims is the influence of the Vedic religion. Thus, The Leader says:

    Muslim pilgrims go around the Ka’bah seven times, a common practice among Hindus. In no other mosque does circumambulation prevail.

Circumambulation of the Ka’bah is because of the special religious significance which Muslims believe is exclusive to the Ka’bah, the first Place of Worship ever to be constructed on earth. According to Islamic belief, the first person to build the Ka’bah was Adam (on whom be peace) — the first man on earth. lts superior rank and the special divine presence which Muslims believe surrounds the Ka’bah are the facts underlying the circumambulation. If Hindus do in fact circumambulate some temple seven times, it cannot be claimed that such a Hindu practice gave rise to the Tawaaf (circumambulation) rite of Islam, Mere similarities between opposite and divergent religions cannot be cited as evidence for one’s claims unsupported by factual proof.

Another point of Oak stated by The Leader is:

    Eid in Sanskrit means worship and Bakri Eid, which derives from sacrifices of Vedic times was celebrated with mutton feasting at the time of the sun’s entry into Aries.

If the term “Eid” means “worship” in Sanskrit, we have to apprize Oak of the fact that in Arabic the word “Eid” does not mean “worship”. In Arabic “Eid” means ‘the Day of Return’. The Islamic Festivals are known as such because of their ‘return’ or ‘repeated coming’. The term itself does not connote ‘worship’ in Arabic. Thus, there is no question of the Arabic term ‘Eid’ being the Sanskrit term contended by Oak. There is, therefore, absolutely no point for Oak’s “dish” theory” in the Arabic word, “Eid”. “Bakri Eid” being the occasion when Muslims sacrifice animals unto Allah Ta’ala has no resemblance with any Vedic mutton-feasting practice dedicated to idols. The word “Bakri” is not Arabic. It is an Urdu term meaning ‘goat’. Since goats are generally sacrificed in India on the occasion of Eidul Adhaa, Indian Muslims have coined the name “Bakri Eid”. The main animal of sacrifice for the Arabs has always been the camel. Eidul Adhaa — the original and correct name of this auspicious Day — is the name known to the arabs. The sacrifice of animalson this occasion is in commemoration of the supreme sacrificeof lbraheem (on whom be peace). There is absolutely no resemblance to any Vedic mutton-eating custom of idolatrous merry-making. If the Vedic custom of mutton-feasting is to mark the sun’s entry into ‘Aries’, the Islamic practice of sacrificing animals is not. Even the Christian Bible speaks of the sacrifice of animals. If the Islamic custom of sacrificing animals has to be the result of Vedict impact, then Oak may also argue that the Biblical practice of sacrificing animals is likewise the influence of the Vedic religion.

Oak then claims:

    The Islamic word Eidgah, signifies “House of Worship” which is the exact Sanskrit connotation of the term.

Again Oak exhibits his total ignorance of Islam and its practices. In Arabic there is no such term as “Eidgah”. Thisterm was unknown to the Prophet and his followers during the early history of Islam. The term ‘gah’ means place in the Urdu language. It is not of Arabic origin nor does Eidgah in Urdu mean “House of Worship”. The Eidgah is a special venue set aside for solely the prayers which are performed on the Day of Eid. Eidgah, therefore, means in Urdu the place where the special Eid prayers are performed. Since the term is not of Arabic origin nor is it the word used by the Arabs to describe the place where the Eid prayers are conducted, there is no support in it for Oak’s conclusions stemming from his “dish” theory. In Arabic the place where the Eid prayers are conducted is known as the “Musallaa”.

Oak betrays his ignorance of Islam in similar fashion by tendering the following point in substantiation of the “dish” theory:

    Also, the word Namaaz derives from two Sanskrit roots, ‘Nama and yajna’ meaning bowing and worshipping.

The word “Namaaz” is not an Arabic term. It was never used by the prophet of Islam nor by the Arab Muslims. Even to this day the Islamic practice of prayers is described as Salaah, not Namaaz. Namaaz isof Persian origin. While Salaah (Islamic prayers) is known as ‘Narnaaz’ in Persian and Urdu, it has never been the case in Arabic. How ridiculous then, is it not, for Oak to cite an Urdu term coined ages after the Prophet of Islam (on whom be peace), to bolster his theory arising out of a dish supposedly found in the Ka’bah? The Urdu language consists of words from many languages, including Sanskrit. But the Urdu language was not the language of the Prophet or of the Arabs.

It is therefore meaningless to seek to forge a theory concerning the Arabs of the pre-Islam and post-Islam era by tendering terms introduced by non-Arab Muslims centuries after the advent of the Prophet of Islam (on whom be peace).

Presenting another preposterous and fallacious point in substantiation of his “dish” theory, Oak says:

    …that Shabibarat is the corrupt form of Shiva Ratra and that the term ‘Eidul Fitr’derives from the Eid of Piters (worship of forefathers in Sanskrit tradition and Pitri Paksha among Hindus).

The term “shab” is not Arabic. The occasion referred to is the 15th night of the month of Sha’baan in the Islamic calendar. The Arabs do not know this night by the name, ‘Shabibarat’. This is an Indian term, also introduced ages after the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace). It is blatantly false to aver that the Urdu or Faarsi word ‘shab’ is the corrupt form of ‘shiva’. Whatever shiva may mean in Sanskrit, it has absolutely no relationship with the Urdu term, ‘shab’ which means night. The word ‘baraa-ah‘ is not a corrupt form of the Sanskrit term, ratra’- Oak has allowed his imagination to play havoc with him. He makes sweeping claims without furnishing grounds for his fallacies.

His claim regarding “Eidul Fitr” is just as fallacious. Eidul Fitr has absolutely no connection with some idolatrous worship of forefathers. Eidul Fitr is the Day of Happiness marking the end of the month of fasting, viz., the month of Ramadhaan. In Islam there is no ritual or practice which is even remotely akin to the Hindu custom of worshipping forefathers.

Oak claims that the word ‘Allah’, the Islamic term for God Almighty, is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘goddess or mother’. If there is some such word in Sanskrit having these meanings stated by Oak, there is absolutely no proof for the claim that the Arabic word, Allah has been borrowed from Sanskrit. In Arabic, the word ‘Allah’does not mean ‘goddess’ nor ‘mother’. The word, ‘Allah’ has been known to the very first man on earth, viz., Aadam (on whom be peace). If some of the progeny of Aadam in the different parts of the world retained the term ‘Allah’ after having abandoned the true religion taught by the Prophets, there is no surprise whatsoever.

It is the belief of Muslims — a belief stated by the Qur’an –that Almighty Allah had sent Prophets to all nations. Prophets of Allah have therefore appeared in India and in all places to deliver the Truth of Islam. It is, therefore, quite possible, in fact, almost certain that the Prophet or Prophets who came to India many thousands of years ago, had come with the word, Allah. The Indians must have been apprized by the Prophets that God Almighty is Allah, The One. Therefore, it is not at all surprising if the term ‘Allah’ has been retained by the Sanskrit language. But, then why do Hindus not refer to God with the name Allah if their language and their religion claim that the correct word for God is ‘Allah’?

Oak, spurred on by his imagination, is reading too much in word similarities. Word similarities exist in most languages. A word of the same or similar pronunciation may be found with the same or different meanings in different languages. Historical facts of certitude cannot be deduced from such similarities of ambiguity. Such flimsy theories which are the product of mere imagination and wishful thinking cannot constitutefacts and grounds for the negation of historical and religious facts supported by the testimony of generations of authorities.

In conclusion we are compelled to observe that the findings of Oak are amazing in absurdity and in their degree of fallacy.

Published by Young Men’s Muslim Association, P.O. Box 5036, Benoni South 1502 (South Africa)

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Refutation of P.N. Oak’s Claims Against The Ka’bah," in Bismika Allahuma, October 29, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
History Islam Makkah

The Soul of Hajj

Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Hajj: Reflection on Its Rituals

No annual event on the face of the globe, religious or non-religious, compares to hajj in terms of the sheer number of participants, duration of the event and the breadth of agenda. In spite of this fact, it has always remained equally fascinating and mysterious to not only non-Muslims, who are barred from entering the holy city, but also to millions of Muslims, who had not performed hajj.

What then is hajj? In essence, hajj is man’s evolution toward Allah; his return to Him. It is a symbolic demonstration of the philosophy of creation of Adam (AS: alayhis salam), the first man. To further illustrate this, it may be stated that the performance of hajj is a simultaneous show or exhibit of many things. It is a show of creation. It is a show of history. It is a show of unity. It is a show of Islamic ideology. It is a show of Ummah, the community of Muslims. That is why, it is said in the Qur’an:

“And proclaim unto mankind the hajj …. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.”1

Just as in any other good show or movie or theatre-play, the following conditions prevail in hajj. Allah is the Stage Manager. The theme portrayed is the actions of these main characters –- Adam, Haw’a (Eve), Ibrahim (Abraham), Hajar (Hagar), Isma’il (AS), and Shaytan (Satan). The main scenes are –- Masjid al-Haram, ‘Arafat, Mas’a (space between the mountains -– Safa and Marwa), Mash’ar (area between ‘Arafat and Mina) and Mina. Important symbols are –- Ka’ba, Safa, Marwa, day, night, sunshine, sunset, idols and rituals of sacrifice. The dress and make-up are –- ‘Ihram, halq and taqseer (part of ceremonies of hajj involving cutting of hair and nails, afterward).

Lastly, the player of the show is –- you –- the Hajji. You are the main feature of the performance. The role of Adam, Ibrahim, Isma’il (Ishmael) and Hajar in confrontation between Allah and Satan is all played by you. As a result, you are the hero of the show!

  1. Qur’an, 22: 27-8 []
History Makkah

An Opinion on The "Hajj"

Asif Iqbal

C. Snouck Hurgronje (1857?1936) was a famous Dutch orientalist as well as the main architect of the Dutch colonial policy towards Islam in Indonesia, which, under his directions, was much more interfering in the internal affairs of the Muslims than the British policy in the Indian sub-continent.

In those days when colonialism and slavery used to be justified by Christianity, the general attitude of Europeans, and especially the Christian missionaries, was predominantly contemptuous in regard to the affairs of their colonial subjects, their religion and civilization.

In that age of empire and mission, Hurgronje?s writings on Islam show a rare specimen of (comparative) objectivity and honesty. He is at some pains to defend the genuinely praiseworthy elements of Islam from the unjustified criticism of the Christian missionaries, as well as from the distortions of some of the Muslim scholars alike.

His writings, however, were a product of his age and need to be studied today while keeping in mind his position as the highest advisor to the colonial Dutch government, and that his foremost objective was the safeguarding the interests of the Dutch in her Muslim colonies. This consideration has obvious effects on his objectivity.

The following extract of his is concerning the Hajj, presented here for the information of the readers:

In Mecca yearly two or three hundred thousand Moslims from all parts of the world come together to celebrate the hajj, that curious set of ceremonies of pagan Arabian origin which Mohammed has incorporated into his religion, a durable survival that in Isl?m makes an impression as singular as that of jumping processions in Christianity.

Mohammed never could have foreseen that the consequence of his concession to deeply rooted Arabic custom would be that in future centuries Chinese, Malays, Indians, Tatars, Turks, Egyptians, Berbers, and negroes would meet on this barren desert soil and carry home profound impressions of the international significance of Isl?m.

Still more important is the fact that from all those countries young people settle here for years to devote themselves to the study of the sacred science. From the second to the tenth month of the Mohammedan lunar year, the Haram, i.e., the mosque, which is an open place with the Ka’bah in its midst and surrounded by large roofed galleries, has free room enough between the hours of public service to allow of a dozen or more circles of students sitting down around their professors to listen to as many lectures on different subjects, generally delivered in a very loud voice.

Arabic grammar and style, prosody, logic, and other preparatory branches, the sacred trivium; canonic law, dogmatics, and mysticism, and, for the more advanced, exegesis of Qor?n and Tradition and some other branches of supererogation, are taught here in the mediaeval way from mediaeval text-books or from more modern compilations reproducing their contents and completing them more or less by treating modern questions according to the same methods.

It is now almost thirty years since I lived the life of a Meccan student during one university year, after having become familiar with the matter taught by the professors of the temple of Mecca, the Haram, by privately studying it, so that I could freely use all my time in observing the mentality of people learning those things not for curiosity, but in order to acquire the only true direction for their life in this world and the salvation of their souls in the world to come.

For a modern man there could hardly be a better opportunity imagined for getting a true vision of the Middle Ages than is offered to the Orientalist by a few months’ stay in the Holy City of Isl?m. In countries like China, Tibet, or India there are spheres of spiritual life which present to us still more interesting material for comparative study of religions than that of Mecca, because they are so much more distant from our own; but, just on that account, the Western student would not be able to adapt his mind to their mental atmospheres as he may do in Mecca. No one would think for one moment of considering Confucianism, Hinduism, or Buddhism as specially akin to Christianity, whereas Isl?m has been treated by some historians of the Christian Church as belonging to the heretical offspring of the Christian religion. In fact, if we are able to abstract ourselves for a moment from all dogmatic prejudice and to become a Meccan with the Meccans, one of the “neighbours of Allah,” as they call themselves, we feel in their temple, the Haram, as if we were conversing with our ancestors of five or six centuries ago. Here scholasticism with a rabbinical tint forms the great attraction to the minds of thousands of intellectually highly gifted men of all ages.

The most important lectures are delivered during the forenoon and in the evening. A walk, at one of those hours, through the square and under the colonnades of the mosque, with ears opened to all sides, will enable you to get a general idea of the objects of mental exercise of this international assembly.

Here you may find a sheikh of pure Arab descent explaining to his audience, composed of white Syrians or Circassians, of brown and yellow Abyssinians and Egyptians, of negroes, Chinese, and Malays, the probable and improbable legal consequences of marriage contracts, not excepting those between men and genii; there a negro scholar is explaining the ontological evidence of the existence of a Creator and the logical necessity of His having twenty qualities, inseparable from, but not identical with, His essence; in the midst of another circle a learned muft? of indeterminably mixed extraction demonstrates to his pupils from the standard work of al-Ghaz?li the absolute vanity of law and doctrine to those whose hearts are not purified from every attachment to the world.

Most of the branches of Mohammedan learning are represented within the walls of this temple by more or less famous scholars; and still there are a great number of private lectures delivered at home by professors who do not like to be disturbed by the unavoidable noise in the mosque, which during the whole day serves as a meeting place for friends or business men, as an exercise hall for Qor?n reciters, and even as a passage for people going from one part of the town to the other.

In order to complete your mediaeval dream with a scene from daily life, you have only to leave the mosque by the B?b Dereybah, one of its twenty-two gates, where you may see human merchandise exhibited for sale by the slave-brokers, and then to have a glance, outside the wall, at a camel caravan, bringing firewood and vegetables into the town, led by Beduins whose outward appearance has as little changed as their minds since the day when Mohammed began here to preach the Word of Allah.

Extract taken from: Mohammedanism, Chapter iv: “Islam and Modern Thought”, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1937.