Muhammad Islam Polemical Rebuttals

Before the Advent of Prophet­hood : The State of Prophet Muham­mad’s Reli­gious Beliefs

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The mis­sion­ar­ies have recent­ly intro­duced sev­er­al claims about the ear­ly state of the Prophet Muham­mad’s(P) reli­gious beliefs. Their aim is to show that :

    One thing that sticks out in Islam is that most of the rites and prac­tices adopt­ed into the reli­gion are actu­al­ly pagan cus­toms that Muham­mad claimed were sanc­tioned by God. In fact, we find that Muham­mad before, dur­ing, and after his mis­sion con­tin­ued to per­form rites that from a bib­li­cal per­spec­tive are noth­ing more than idolatry. 

It is inter­est­ing to note that most of his argu­ments from a bib­li­cal [SIC] per­spec­tive” are noth­ing new. They are argu­ments rehashed from ori­en­tal­ists in the last cen­tu­ry who allege that the Prophet’s(P) reli­gious atti­tude and prac­tices pri­or to the com­ing of the Rev­e­la­tions were no dif­fer­ent from his peo­ple. Most of these claims were spear­head­ed by D.S. Mar­goli­uth1 and sub­se­quent writ­ers fol­lowed him, includ­ing this mis­sion­ary whom we are address­ing. While the moti­va­tions of Mar­goli­uth and the mis­sion­ary in mak­ing these alle­ga­tions are not the same, the sim­i­lar­i­ties of Mar­goli­uth’s claims and the mis­sion­ary arti­cle in ques­tion are based on sev­er­al points, name­ly that :

  • He [the Prophet(P)] con­fessed to have at one time sac­ri­ficed an ewe to al-‘Uzza.
  • It was the monothe­ist Zaid bin Amr who inspired the Prophet to dis­like meat offered to oth­er idols. 
  • The Prophet(P) had retained sev­er­al prac­tices of pre-Islam­ic Ara­bia, of which the mis­sion­ary takes it even fur­ther to claim that they were repack­aged it in a monothe­is­tic context”. 

M. Mohar Ali in his mag­num opus Sir­at al-Nabi and the Ori­en­tal­ists<2 have respond­ed to Mar­goli­uth’s argu­ment in detail under the sub-head­ing CONCERNING THE STATE OF HIS [the Prophet Muham­mad’s(P)] RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

Hence our pro­ceed­ing mate­r­i­al will be based on this rel­e­vant chap­ter3 of M. Mohar Ali and serves as a rebut­tal to both the Ori­en­tal­ist Mar­goli­uth and the mis­sion­ary arti­cle which is loose­ly based upon this work, insha’allah.

Address­ing The Issues :

A. Con­cern­ing The Sac­ri­fice of An Ewe to al-‘Uzza

With regard to the claim that the Prophet(P) had alleged­ly con­fessed” to have sac­ri­ficed an ewe to al-‘Uzza, this is based on the argu­ment of Mar­goli­uth who had cit­ed on the author­i­ty of J. Well­hausen’s Reste, 34.4 This lat­ter schol­ar in fact bases his asser­tion on a report which occurs in the work of Yaqut and also in that of Abu Mund­hir (Ibn al-Kalbi) which the mis­sion­ary cites as a sec­ond-hand quo­ta­tion from F. E. Peters5.

The report is quot­ed by Yaqut as follows :

Abu al-Mund­hir has said : We heard that the Prophet, peace and bless­ings of Allah be on him, men­tioned her [Al-‘Uzza] once and said : I offered a grey sheep to Al-‘Uzza when I was fol­low­ing the reli­gion of my people.”

Now, all the recog­nised author­i­ties on the hadith lit­er­a­ture treat this Abi al-Mund­hir as a noto­ri­ous fal­si­fi­er and fab­ri­ca­tor of tra­di­tions and declare unan­i­mous­ly that he should not at all be trust­ed and relied upon in mat­ters con­cern­ing the Prophet’s(P) char­ac­ter and ques­tions of legal and the­o­log­i­cal rules.

Thus Ibn Hib­ban, one of the ear­ly author­i­ties on the hadith, char­ac­ter­izes Abi al-Mund­hir as an extreme Shi’ite, very pro­lix in telling strange sto­ries and reports of which there is no foun­da­tion in fact.

Ibn Hib­ban fur­ther says that Abi al-Mund­hir’s mis­takes and fab­ri­ca­tions are so noto­ri­ous that they do not require a descrip­tion6.

Sim­i­lar­ly Ibn Hajar cas­ti­gates Abi al-Mund­hir and quotes of Ahmad ibn Han­bal as say­ing that he (Abi al-Mund­hir) was a cheap sto­ry-teller and gos­sip-mon­ger. Ibn Hajar also quotes Al-Daraqut­ni as say­ing that Abi al-Mund­hir is always to be avoid­ed.7

Equal­ly unfavourable is the opin­ion of Al-Dha­habi. He men­tions that Ibn Asakir char­ac­ter­ized him as Rafi­di.8 These are by way of exam­ples only.

Abi al-Mund­hir him­self con­fess­es to his hav­ing on var­i­ous occas­sions fab­ri­cat­ed reports and pro­vid­ed false infor­ma­tion.9 Even by his own word­ing of the report under con­sid­er­a­tion it is a mere hearsay.

Thus the report which the ori­en­tal­ists and the mis­sion­ary him­self relies on has been reject­ed as a fab­ri­cat­ed and unre­li­able one long before the appear­ance of their writ­ings. It stands con­demned as a hearsay by the admis­sion of Ibn al-Kalbi himself.

B. Con­cern­ing The Hanif Zayd ibn Amr

Mar­goli­uth had cit­ed a tra­di­tion record­ed in the Mus­nad10 to fur­ther his claim that it was the monothe­ist Zayd ibn Amr who is report­ed to have inspired” the Prophet(P) to dis­like the meat offered to the idols. In this tra­di­tion it is record­ed that Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl once passed by the Prophet(P) and Zayd ibn Harithah. At that time Zayd ibn Amr was asked to par­take of a meal pre­pared for the for­mer two but he declined to do so say­ing that he did not eat any­thing slaugh­tered on an altar (nusub). The nar­ra­tor adds that there­after the Prophet(P) was not seen eat­ing any­thing slaugh­tered on the altar.

This tra­di­tion about a meet­ing between the Prophet(P) and Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl and the inci­dent of the meal has come down to us through dif­fer­ent chains of nar­ra­tors in var­i­ous ver­sions with con­sid­er­able addi­tions and alter­ations.11 This fact is in itself a clear proof that things have been mixed up in the course of trans­mis­sion of the report. So far as the report in the Mus­nad is con­cerned a few points need to be not­ed spe­cial­ly. In the first place, among its nar­ra­tors is Mas’?d ? about whom it is gen­er­al­ly held that he used to mix up mat­ters and that there­fore any report com­ing from him could not be cit­ed as evi­dence. Also two oth­er nar­ra­tors, Nufayl ibn Hisham and his father Hisham (ibn Sa’ad) are not quite trust­wor­thy. In anoth­er ver­sion Muham­mad ibn Amr ibn Alqam is one of the nar­ra­tors. He, too, is con­sid­ered untrust­wor­thy. Hence this par­tic­u­lar ver­sion in the Mus­nad is con­sid­ered weak”. In fact the entire por­tion of the report from Zayd met them” (famr bih­ma zayd) to the end of his report­ed remarks is a mix­ing up of what actu­al­ly hap­pened. This is evi­dent also from the fact that Al-Bay­haqi gives the report through the same Mas’u­di in which this por­tion does not occur.

Sec­ond­ly, even when tak­ing the Mus­nad’s text as it is, it can in no way be shown that the Prophet had slaugh­tered the ani­mal and pre­pared the meal. In fact none of the dif­fer­ent ver­sions gives such an impres­sion. On the con­trary the word­ings as well as the tenor of the var­i­ous ver­sions show clear­ly that the meal was pre­pared by oth­ers and pre­sent­ed by them to the Prophet and his com­pan­ion. And as regards the ques­tion of eat­ing of the meal, the cor­rect and reli­able report giv­en by Bukhari says that once Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl hap­pened to meet the Prophet before his call to Prophet­hood, at Bal­dah (near Mak­ka), when such a meal was pre­sent­ed to the Prophet. He refused to par­take of it ; so did Zayd ibn Amr, adding : I do not eat what you peo­ple slaugh­ter on the altars, etc.“12 Obvi­ous­ly this expres­sion of Zay­d’s, which was a sequel to the Prophet’s ear­li­er refusal to par­take of the meal and which Zayd made when he was in turn offered the meal, has been mixed up by some of the nar­ra­tors and made to appear as though he was the per­son who first declined to eat of the meal.13 That things have been mixed up in this nar­ra­tion is obvi­ous when one notes that in one ver­sion of this report, the same group of nar­ra­tors added to their report that the Prophet, while run­ning between Safa and Mar­wah strict­ly asked his adopt­ed son Zayd ibn Harithah to nei­ther go near nor to touch the two idols, Isaf and Na’i­lah, post­ed at those two places and which the Makkans would touch when mak­ing their rit­u­al runs.

Thus a com­par­i­sion and col­la­tion of the var­i­ous ver­sions of the report shows that nei­ther did the Prophet slaugh­ter the ani­mal and pre­pare the meal nor did he par­take of it…On the oth­er hand one ver­sion of the report in Bukhari, which is unques­tion­ably the more reli­able, cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly states that the Prophet was the first per­son to decline the meal. Also, two oth­er ver­sions of the report from the same group of nar­ra­tors empha­size, in addi­tion, that the Prophet strict­ly avoid­ed the idols placed at Saf ? and Mar­wah while mak­ing runs between those places. It is also obvi­ous from the dif­fer­ent ver­sions that the report­ed meet­ing between Zayd ibn Amr and the Prophet took place not long before the lat­ter’s call to Prophet­hood when his reli­gious atti­tude, par­tic­u­lar­ly his atti­tude towards idol­a­try, must have tak­en def­i­nite shape, espe­cial­ly as we know that he emphat­i­cal­ly stat­ed to his wife at an obvi­ous ear­ly stage of their con­ju­gal life that he had nev­er wor­shipped Al‑L?t and Al-‘Uzz?. Clear­ly at that junc­tion of time to which the report under dis­cus­sion relates the Prophet was in no need to be inspired” for the first time by Zayd ibn Amr and his like to detest the idols and to avoid meats ded­i­cat­ed to them.

C. On The Reten­tion of Pre-Islam­ic Practises

Like Mar­goli­uth, the mis­sion­ary takes issue with the kiss­ing of the Black Stone by indi­rect­ly imply­ing that the Prophet had not much of phys­i­cal repug­nan­cy to idol­a­try since this prac­tice was retained. The mis­sion­ary takes this point even fur­ther by stating

Abra­ham would nev­er have placed a black idol for his descen­dants to kiss, especail­ly [SIC] in light of the fact that one of his descen­dants received divine com­mands for­bid­ding the hon­or­ing of any vis­i­ble object…

In mak­ing this assump­tion the mis­sion­ary (and Mar­goli­uth includ­ed) makes a fun­da­men­tal error with regard to the orig­i­nal nature of the Black Stone and the pur­pose of the prac­tice of kissing/​touching it. It has been acknowl­edged that the nature and pur­pose of the Black Stone is to mark the start­ing and fin­ish­ing point of cir­cum­am­bu­lat­ing (tawaf) the House and that this was done by Abra­ham(P) him­self. Accord­ing to Ibn al-‘Athir, the Prophet Ibrahim(P), while erect­ing the Kaabah, obtained the stone from the nearby mountain of 'Abu Qubays and placed itin one corner of the Kaabah so that it might become the start­ing and fin­ish­ing point of the tawaf.

Fol­low­ing the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion the pre-Islam­ic inhab­i­tants of Makkah and oth­er Arabs used to start their cir­cum­bu­la­tion of the House from the point of the Black Stone and kiss it. How­ev­er there is noth­ing to sug­gest that the Black Stone was wor­shipped along with the var­i­ous idols that sur­round­ed the Ka‘abah. Nor is there any hint that they con­sid­ered the Black Stone to have had any divine attribute or pos­sess­ing any form of pow­er, much less regard­ing it as a form of wor­ship or a rite con­nect­ed with the wor­ship of idols. Hence the sug­ges­tion that the reten­tion of the prac­tice is a rem­nant of idol­a­try is sim­ply a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of its ori­gin and nature. The same could be said of the prac­tices in the hajj and umra’ such as the taw?f and sa’ie. It is cer­tain­ly not the result of “[t]he num­ber of cir­cum­am­bu­la­tion seem­ing­ly cor­re­spond­ed to the num­ber of plan­ets which the pagans ven­er­at­ed as deities” as the mis­sion­ary fan­ta­sizes, but it is the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion in Islam. The reten­tion of pre-Islam­ic prac­tices in Islam are seen as the reaf­fir­ma­tion of the Abra­ham­ic prac­tices and a return to its orig­i­nal pris­tine pur­pose, and not as a capit­u­la­tion to pre­vail­ing pagan Arab inno­va­tions. See also Do Mus­lims Wor­ship The Black Stone of the Ka’abah ? for a con­cise answer to the claim that the kiss­ing of the Stone is an idol­a­trous practice.


From the above infor­ma­tion that we have pro­vid­ed, it is clear that there is no way one can assume, as the mis­sion­ary does at the begin­ning of his paper, that

.…Muham­mad before, dur­ing, and after his mis­sion con­tin­ued to per­form rites that from a bib­li­cal per­spec­tive are noth­ing more than idolatry.

The mis­sion­ar­ies will gen­er­al­ly go to the extreme of exhibit­ing a prone­ness on their part to treat as gen­uine any­thing that appears to refect dis­cred­itably on the Prophet(P), with total dis­re­gard for its isnad. The paper that was writ­ten by the mis­sion­ary claim­ing that the Prophet(P) had embraced idol­a­try by rely­ing on weak or reject­ed nar­ra­tions is symp­to­matic of this atti­tude. It has been shown pre­vi­ous­ly that the pagan cus­toms” which the mis­sion­ary chides Islam for dates back to the days of Abra­ham(P) and the whole Arab nation had regard­ed it as such. Fur­ther, it is even by the admis­sion of the mis­sion­ary him­self that he [the Prophet Muham­mad(P)] entered the Kaba and destroyed every icon or sculp­tured idol”. Such a bla­tant con­tra­dic­tion of the pur­pose of his arti­cle with this open admis­sion of his makes us won­der whether the mis­sion­ary is actu­al­ly con­cerned” for the so-called idol­a­try” rem­i­nis­cent in Islam­ic prac­tices today, or is he sim­ply (mis)using the hadith lit­er­a­ture for the sole aim of dis­parag­ing Mus­lims and the Reli­gion that they adhere to. This is fur­ther evi­dent when we read what William Muir has to say on the subject :

We may freely con­cede that it [Islam] ban­ished for­ev­er many of the dark­er ele­ments of super­sti­tion for ages shroud­ing the [Ara­bi­an] Penin­su­la. Idol­a­try van­ished before the bat­tle-cry of Islam ; the doc­trine of the Uni­ty and infi­nite Per­fec­tions of God, and a spe­cial all-per­vad­ing Prov­i­dence, became a liv­ing prin­ci­ple in the hearts and lives of the fol­low­ers of Moham­mad, even as in his own…Nor are social virtues want­i­ng. Broth­er­ly love incul­cat­ed towards all with­in the cir­cle of the faith ; infan­ti­cide pro­scribed ; orphans to be pro­tect­ed, and slaves treat­ed with con­sid­er­a­tions ; intox­i­cat­ing drinks pro­hib­it­ed, so that Moham­madanism [Islam] may boast of a degree of tem­per­ance unknown to any oth­er creed.14

The answer is cer­tain­ly obvi­ous to all except for those mired in their welling hatred for Islam and what it stands for. And only God knows best ! The State of Prophet Muhammad's Religious Beliefs 26

For fur­ther read­ing : Refu­ta­tion of Arthur Jef­fer­y’s Was Muham­mad A Prophet From His Infancy?”

Adapt­ed from M. Mohar Ali’s Sir­at al-Nabi and the Ori­en­tal­ists : With Spe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Writ­ings of William Muir, D.S. Mar­goli­uth and W. Mont­gomery Watt”, King Fahd Com­plex, Makkah (1997)Endmark

Cite Icon Cite This As : 
  1. D.S. Mar­goli­uth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (3rd ed., 1893)[]
  2. M. Mohar Ali, Sir­at Al-Nabi and the Ori­en­tal­ists : With Spe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Writ­ings of William Muir, D.S. Mar­goli­uth and W. Mont­gomery Watt, Vol 1A (1997)[]
  3. ibid., pp. 195 – 203[]
  4. i.e. J. Well­hausen, Reste Ara­bis­chen Hei­den­tums, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1897[]
  5. As cit­ed by the mis­sion­ary from F. E. Peters, Muham­mad and the Reli­gion of Islam, p. 127[]
  6. Ibn Hib­ban, Kitab al-Majrahin Min al-Muhad­dithin wa al-Du’afi wa al-Matrikan, Vol. I‑III (ed. Muham­mad Ibrahim Zayd), Alep­po, 1396, III, 91.[]
  7. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan, VI, Beirut, third impres­sion, 14061986, p. 196 (no. 700)[]
  8. Al-Dha­ha­ba, Mizan al-I’ti­dal (ed. Ali Muham­mad al-Bukhari) VI, Dar al-Ma’ri­fah, Beirut, pp. 304 – 305. See also Al-Mugh­ni Fi al-Du’afi’ al-Kabir (ed. Nar al-Din Asir), II, n.d., p. 711, no. 6756.[]
  9. Ibn al-Kalbi, Kitab al-Asnam, p. 21[]
  10. Mus­nad, I, 198 – 190 (Mar­goli­uth, op. cit., 70)[]
  11. See for instance, besides the Mus­nad, Bukhari, nos 3826 and 5499 ; Al-Tabarani, Al-Mu’­jam al-Kabir, Vol. I., sec­ond impres­sion, n.d., p. 151 and Vol V, pp. 86 – 87 ; Al-Bay­haqi, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah etc., Vol. II, Beirut, 1985, pp. 120 – 128, 144 ; Al-Dha­habi, Siyar A’lam al-Nubali, Vol. I, Beirut, 1986, pp. 220 – 222 ; Al-Haytha­mi, Maj­ma’ al-Zawa’id etc., Vol. IX, Beirut, 1986, pp. 420 – 421. It has been record­ed also by Nasa’i in his sec­tion on man­aqib.[]
  12. Bukhari, no. 3826.[]
  13. See for com­ments on this report Fath al-Bari, VII, third impres­sion, pp. 176 – 178 and IX., pp. 630 – 631[]
  14. William Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p. 521[]

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