Were There Any Influ­ences of Chris­tian­i­ty in the Hejaz ?

Yis­han Jufu & Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi 

The Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies and the oth­er oppo­nents of Islam have been try­ing to estab­lish on how the Prophet(P) was able to know many sto­ries of the past Prophets(P). They made many alle­ga­tions which were only sub­stan­ti­at­ed by their vain desires, such as accus­ing the Prophet(P) of bor­row­ing from Judeo-Chris­t­ian sources. Recent­ly, we hear the charge that Makkah was the seat of Chris­tian­i­ty and that War­raqa ibn Naw­fal, the uncle of the Prophet’s wife Khadeejah(R) was the Arch­bish­op of the Chris­tians in Makkah. We now seek to answer this alle­ga­tion so as it will be refut­ed, insha’ All?h.

Pre-Islam­ic Arabia

It is a well doc­u­ment­ed fact that the 6th — 7th cen­tu­ry Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la was entan­gled in the pol­i­tics between the Byzan­tine and Per­sian empires. Despite the fact that parts like present-day Egypt, Syr­ia and Yemen were under either Byzan­tium or Per­sian rule, the Hejaz itself was nev­er under any direct rule of either of these empires. There were also Arab tribes at the time of the Prophet’s birth who were either Jews or Chris­tians. Golam W. Chaudry records that

The Persians…supported the Lakhmid dynasty, while the Byzan­tines sup­port­ed the Ghas­sanid princes. Besides the exten­sion of polit­i­cal influ­ence by these two empires, there was also cul­tur­al and reli­gious pen­e­tra­tion. Some of the Arabs at the time of the Prophet’s birth were Chris­tians and there was also Judaism in this era.[1]

Safiy Al-Rah­man Al-Mubarak­foury also writes that

In addi­tion to the Arabs who for­got the Abra­ham­ic faith and became idol-wor­ship­ping pagans, Ara­bia had pres­ence by the Jews, Chris­tians, Zoroas­tri­ans [Per­sian reli­gion] and Sabe’ans [plan­et & stars-worshippers].

The peo­ple of the book were rep­re­sent­ed by :

a. The Jews in Mad­i­na (Yathrib), Taima’a & Khaibar : their reli­gion arrived in Ara­bia dur­ing the Baby­lon­ian and Asho­ri­an con­quests in Pales­tine and the pres­sure and per­se­cu­tion of the Jews there, which made them flee to var­i­ous areas. A sim­i­lar migra­tion by the Jews came to Ara­bia from Pales­tine when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Judaism spread amongst the Arabs of Hijaz from the con­tact they had with the Jew­ish tribes that set­tled in Ara­bia. Judaism also entered into Yemen through Tab­ban Asad Abi Karb. The Jews set up vil­lages in the areas that they inhab­it­ed and worked in agri­cul­ture and some trades.

b. The Chris­tians in Najran : Chris­tian­i­ty entered Hejaz after occu­pa­tion of Yemen by the Ethiopi­ans and Romans. A Chris­t­ian priest called Femion” (???????) came into Najran and called the peo­ple to Chris­tian­i­ty and some of them accept­ed it and became Chris­tians. It is also known that oth­er Arabs embraced Chris­tian­i­ty in oth­er areas of the Mid­dle East such as Al-Ghasaniy­een”, Tagh­lib tribes, Tay’a and oth­ers who were close to the Roman Empire influence.[2]

Chris­t­ian Influ­ence in The Hejaz ?

Now, we have acknowl­edged that there was Chris­t­ian pres­ence in Ara­bia, but does that mean Chris­tian­i­ty was a major influ­ence in the region ? Under Chris­tian­i­ty in Ara­bia the New Catholic Ency­clopae­dia says that dur­ing the time of the Muham­mad (P):

The Hijaz [Ara­bi­an penin­su­la] had not been touched by Chris­t­ian preach­ing. Hence organ­i­sa­tion of the Chris­t­ian church was nei­ther to be expect­ed nor found.[3]

This is also men­tioned in the books deal­ing with Chris­tian­i­ty among Arabs in pre-Islam­ic times from the point of view of poets.

The tes­ti­mo­ny of poets to the influ­ence of Chris­tian­i­ty in a spir­i­tu­al and a soci­o­log­i­cal sense is negative.[4]

Dr. Nab?h Aqel, a Pro­fes­sor of Ara­bic and Islam­ic His­to­ry in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Dam­as­cus, states in his book Tar?kh al-Arab al-Qad?m :

The big dif­fer­ence between Chris­tian­i­ty and Judaism is that Chris­tian­i­ty unlike Judaism did­n’t have any bases in Hijaz , Chris­tian­i­ty was an exter­nal source of enlight­en­ment echoed in Hijaz either by mis­sion­ary activ­i­ties form Ethiopia, Syr­ia and Iraq or from Alheer­ah’s Chris­t­ian cen­tres ; dair Hind al-Kubra [the order of Hind al-Kubra] — Um Amro al-Mund­hir [the order of Um Amm­ro] — Dair Hind al-Sug­ra [the order of Hind al-Sug­ra] or from some of the scat­tered church­es in Bahrain, al-Yamamah and Yemen.[5]

An obser­va­tion from the point of view of Islam­ic tra­di­tions had been made by Richard Bell quite a long time ago. He says that

…in spite of tra­di­tions to the effect that the pic­ture of Jesus was found on one of the pil­lars of Ka’a­ba, there is no good evi­dence of any seats of Chris­tian­i­ty in the Hijaz or in the near neigh­bour­hood of Makkah or even of Madina.[6]

Sir William Muir, despite being known as a harsh crit­ic of Islam, admits that

The leg­end, that the image of Jesus and the Vir­gin was sculp­tured on a pil­lar of the Kaa‘ba, and adored by the Arabs, is not an ear­ly or a well sup­port­ed one, and in itself is improb­a­ble. Chris­tian­i­ty nev­er found much favour at Mecca…[7]

How About Waraqa Ibn Nawfal ?

Waraqa ibn Naw­fal was one of the four peo­ple who aban­doned the pagan Arabs’ idol­a­try and searched for the true reli­gion of Abraham(P). He then lat­er became a Chris­t­ian and was learned in past Scrip­tures. Since we have pre­vi­ous­ly seen that there was lit­tle or no organ­ised influ­ence of Chris­tian­i­ty in the Hejaz, it is high­ly unlike­ly that Waraqa had ever been the Arch­bish­op of a com­mu­ni­ty of Chris­tians in Mecca.

The fol­low­ing hadith is a nar­ra­tion involv­ing Waraqa :

Nar­rat­ed Aisha : (Sahih Bukhari,Volume 1, Book 1, Num­ber 3)

…Khadi­ja then accom­pa­nied him to her cousin Waraqa bin Naw­fal bin Asad bin Abdul Uzza, who, dur­ing the PreIs­lam­ic Peri­od became a Chris­t­ian and used to write the writ­ing with Hebrew let­ters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as All?h wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eye­sight. Khadi­ja said to Waraqa, Lis­ten to the sto­ry of your nephew, O my cousin!” Waraqa asked, O my nephew ! What have you seen?” All?h’s Apos­tle described what­ev­er he had seen. Waraqa said, This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom All?h had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your peo­ple would turn you out.” All?h’s Apos­tle asked, Will they dri­ve me out?” Waraqa replied in the affir­ma­tive and said, Any­one who came with some­thing sim­i­lar to what you have brought was treat­ed with hos­til­i­ty ; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would sup­port you strong­ly.” But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspi­ra­tion was also paused for a while. 

This nar­ra­tion was the only account where Waraqa, who was an old man by the time of the Prophet’s(P) Rev­e­la­tions, was involved direct­ly in the Prophet’s (P) life, but the mis­sion­ar­ies of course make many spec­u­la­tions that the Prophet (P) might have vis­it­ed Waraqa before the Revelations.

We also note that Waraqa clear­ly said : if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would sup­port you strong­ly.” One would only ask a sim­ple ques­tion : that is, if Waraqa was indeed the teacher of the Prophet (P), why would he say that he would sup­port the Prophet(P)? Obvi­ous­ly, a teacher would be expect­ed to lead the pupil, and not otherwise.

Fur­ther­more, Waraqa died short­ly after Muham­mad (P) had received the rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’?n ; as clear­ly can be read from the above hadith. While the rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’?n con­tin­ued for more than twen­ty years after the death of Waraqa bin Naw­fal, the Prophet (P) was receiv­ing the rev­e­la­tion in dif­fer­ent places and even while he was among his Com­pan­ions. Also, he (P) was answer­ing direct ques­tions raised lat­er by the Jews in Mad­i­nah. In addi­tion, the Jews and the dis­be­liev­ers of Mec­ca would be very pleased if they knew for sure that there was a knowl­edge­able per­son who was teach­ing Muhammad(P) the Qur’?n.

Con­clu­sion

Since we have seen that there was no orga­nized com­mu­ni­ty of Chris­tians in the Hejaz, espe­cial­ly Makkah, any claim that Islam was con­sid­er­ably influ­enced by Chris­tian­i­ty should be reject­ed as an absur­di­ty. Fur­ther­more, Waraqa ibn Nau­fal, who was was only men­tioned once in the Hadeeths, lat­er died after the first Rev­e­la­tion of the Prophet(P). How­ev­er, the Prophet(P) con­tin­ued to receive the Rev­e­la­tions for the next 23 years, both in Mec­ca and Med­i­na. There­fore, any attri­bu­tion of the Rev­e­la­tions to Waraqa is also con­sid­ered unsubstantiated.

The Qur’an many times clear­ly denies that some­one was teach­ing the Prophet(P) and at the same time points to the fact that the lan­guage is foreign.

We know indeed that they say It is a man that teach­es him.” The tongue of him they wicked­ly point to is notable for­eign while this is Ara­bic pure and clear. Those who believe not in the Signs of All?h All?h will not guide them and theirs will be a griev­ous Penal­ty. (Qur’?n, 16:103 – 104)

Had some­one been teach­ing Prophet Muham­mad (P), his fam­i­ly and close friends would have even­tu­al­ly known. How­ev­er, far from being skep­ti­cal about his claims to Prophet­hood, these peo­ple gave their wealth and lives for Islam, even when under great per­se­cu­tion by the pagan Arabs.

In Sura’ Fussi­lat, the Qur’?n explains the rea­son why the rev­e­la­tion is in Ara­bic. This is to make sure that the peo­ple who were expe­ri­enc­ing it could not make excuses.

Had We sent this as a Qur’?n (in a lan­guage) oth­er than Ara­bic they would have said : Why are not its vers­es explained in detail ? What ! (a Book) not in Ara­bic and (a Mes­sen­ger) an Arab?” Say : It is a guide and a heal­ing to those who believe ; and for those who believe not there is a deaf­ness in their ears and it is blind­ness in their (eyes); they are (as it were) being called from a place far dis­tant!” (Qur’?n, 41:44)

Now with the absence of Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian sources in Makkah, the ques­tion remains : who was teach­ing Muhammad(P) the sto­ries of the old Prophets and Nations which were most­ly revealed in Mec­ca as the fol­low­ing table shows :

Arranged accord­ing to Qisas al-Anbiya’ - Sto­ries of the Prophets — by Imam Ibn Kath?r

The only answer to the ques­tion of who was teach­ing Muhammad(P) the Qur’?n can be found in these verses

Your Com­pan­ion is nei­ther astray nor being mis­led. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than Inspi­ra­tion sent down to him. He was taught by One Mighty in Pow­er. (Qur’an, 53:2 – 5)

It should also be kept in mind that the Qur’an was pub­licly mem­o­rized and recit­ed by all Mus­lims, both dur­ing and after the life of Muham­mad (P). If it was not clear­ly and wide­ly known in Mec­ca that Muhammad(P) was illit­er­ate, the vers­es which claimed that he was cer­tain­ly would have caused doubts amongst the Mus­lims. How­ev­er, not only did the Prophet’s(P) fol­low­ers con­tin­ue to grow — in spite of great per­se­cu­tion — but there is also no record of the pagan Arabs in Mec­ca accus­ing Muham­mad (P) of not being illit­er­ate. They instead accused him of hav­ing a tutor or of being pos­sessed, as pre­vi­ous vers­es have shown, since it was com­mon knowl­edge that he was illiterate.

And cer­tain­ly, only God knows best !

Ref­er­ences

[1] Golam W. Chaudry, The Prophet Muham­mad : His Life and Eter­nal Mes­sage, p. 18

[2] Safiy Al-Rah­man Al-Mubarak­foury, Al-Raheeq Al-Makhtoom (1418 A.H.)

[3] New Catholic Ency­clo­pe­dia, under head­ing Chris­tian­i­ty in Arabia 

[4] J. S. Trim­ing­ham, Chris­tian­i­ty Among the Arabs in Pre-Islam­ic Times (1971), Long­man Pub­lish­ers, p. 247

[5] Dr. Nab?h Aqel, Tar?kh al-Arab al-Qad?m .

[6] Richard Bell, The Ori­gin of Islam in its Chris­t­ian Envi­ron­ment [1968 (Reprint­ed)], Frank Cass and Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed, p.42

[7] Sir William Muir, The Life of Mahomet (Vol­ume I)Endmark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *