Islam is said to be a revealed religion. This implies that all its beliefs and practices were sent from heaven. The Quran itself claims its heaven-sent: “We [Allah] have sent it down during a Blessed Night.” (44:2)
The Arabic word for “sent down” is tanzeel, which is derived from the word nuzool- meaning descent or movement from a higher place to a lower one. This means all the beliefs or practices of Islam shouldn’t have any earthly, let alone pagan origins. But there are several places in the Quran where Muhammad’s critics pointed out that his teachings were recycled ancient myths:
“When Our Signs are rehearsed to them, they say: ‘We have heard this (before): if we wished, we could say (words) like these: these are nothing but tales of the ancients.” (8:31)
“[A]nd none cries lies to it but every sinful transgressor: who, when our signs are recited to him he says ‘Fairy tales of the ancients.” (83:12-13)
It is either Muhammad’s critics made up these slanders because they couldn’t discredit his claims, or they actually brought up legitimate charges -which Muhammad himself couldn’t deny- and which destroys the very idea of Islam being a divine religion.
If you read the Quran, you will observe that its author doesn’t explain any of its rites or beliefs. Nowhere does it define or explain words like Allah, Kaaba, jinn or pilgrimage. Why? Because Muhammad’s listeners were already familiar with these beliefs and practices, so he didn’t need to explain them. They all grew up as pagans, and they fully understood the pre-islamic pagan concepts he was making references to:
“We have been told that the apostle of Allah once mentioned Al-Uzza saying ‘I have offered a white sheep to al-Uzza, while I was a follower of the religion of my people.” (Ibn Hisham, Kitab al-Asnam, [The Book of Idols], 17)
A comparison of pre-islamic Arabian pagan religion and Islam shows that most of what Muhammad claimed to have received as revelations from heaven, were already believed or practiced by the pagans before him. They believed in sacred stones, the constellations, jinns, curses, fetishes and magic etc. And according to a historian:
“They used to perform pilgrimages to Kaaba where they put on the Umra and Ihram. They also perform the tawaf [circulating the stone], running at Mt. Safa and Marwa and casting stones…solitary contemplation and they performed circumcision and cut the hands of thieves.” (Abu’l Fida, History Ante Islamica, ed. Fleischer, 180)
Prof. Arberry in his work, Religion in the Middle East notes that Islam is a “peculiarly Arabian religion.” Islam is basically a deification of 7th century Arab culture, politics, ideology and religion. Thus several Islamic practices and beliefs were simply carryovers from pre-islamic Arab paganism:
I. The Kaaba
The kaaba (from the Arabic word for cube) is the black stone in Mecca to which Muslims face in prayer. During the hajj, they circumambulate this stone 7 times. The stone was a pagan temple where most pre-islamic merchants who visited Mecca deposited their local gods. When Muhammad conquered Mecca, there were a total of 360 idols deposited at the kaaba. Even before then, Muhammad went there for pilgrimage:
“And when the apostle of God had finished his period of seclusion and returned [to Mecca], in the first place he performed the circumambulation of the kaaba as was his wont.” (A. Guilaume, The Life of Muhammad, 10)
II. Kissing the Stone
During the hajj, mllions of Muslims -including those infected with Tuberculosis or Hepatitis- converge to kiss this black stone. This pagan practice was endorsed by Muhammad as Umar bin Khattab said:
“By Allah! I know that you are a stone and can neither benefit nor harm. Had I not seen the Prophet touching (and kissing) you, I would never have touched (and kissed) you.’ Then he kissed it…” (Bukhari 2:26:671)
A similar gesture was offered to Baal, a pagan deity in the Bible (1Kings 19:18). A true prophet of God would not endorse idolatry. Its interesting to note also that Muslims dance around their stone 7 times just the same way Hindus dance around their deities. There is simply no difference.
III. Safa and Marwa
The pre-islamic pagans regarded two mountains- Safa and Marwa- as two deities. One of their rites was to run between them 7 times. Muhammad retained this pagan practice when he recited: “Verily! Safa and Marwa are among the symbols of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the kaaba to perform Umra to perform Tawaf before them’ [Q 2:158]” (Bukhari 2:26:710).
For centuries, the pagans regarded the kaaba and other sacred stones as shrines where they visited for pilgrimage. All the rituals performed at the kaaba were retained till date.
“After the pilgrimage in pagan times, the pilgrims used to gather in assembles in which the praises of ancestors were sung. As the whole of the pilgrimage rites were spiritualized in Islam, so the aftermath of the pilgrimage was also spiritualized.” (Quran Commentary Appendix XVI)
The pilgrimage also had a lucrative side to it. Through it, merchants made more sales which in turn enriched the tribe that was the custodian of the kaaba. Today, many Muslim pilgrims deprive their nation’s economies by paying heavily into the Saudi treasury during the hajj. In 2014, Saudi Arabia made US $18.6 billion from pilgrimages alone.
Strip Saudi Arabia of all the myths weaved around it, and what you have left is a fallible human society where all sorts of vices persist. This “5th pillar” is as inane as the Russians making up a religious law for devotees to visit the Red Square or the Chinese compelling people to visit Hong Kong at least once in their lifetime in order to “receive blessings.”
V. The Constellations.
Commenting on pre-islamic Arabian pagan worship, Yusuf Ali noted that:
“A few individual stars did attract the worshipper’s attention e.g Sirius the Dogstar, the brightest fixed star in the heavens with a bluish tingle in its light…It is probably Sirius that is referred to as the fixed star in the Parable of Abraham (vi. 76)…It will be noticed that the sun and the moon and the five planets got identified with a living deity, god or goddess with characteristics and qualities of its own. Moon worship was equally popular in various forms.” (Quran: Translation and Commentary, XIII, 1620-22)
That sura 6:76-78 says Abraham worshipped the sun, star and the moon as “My Lord” before he became a Muslim. Muhammad was trying to tailor Abraham along the line of Arab paganism. There are also several places where the writer of the Quran swears “by the stars when it goes down” (53:1), “by the sun and his glorious splendour; by the moon as she follows him” (91:1-2), “by the heaven, and al-Tariq”(86:1) and “so verily I call to witness, the planets that recede” (81:15). Since a person swears by a being higher than himself, Muhammad was acknowledging the power of other Arab deities beside Allah. If Allah was the one inspiring him to swear by the constellations, then Allah is not the greatest afterall. God didn’t swear by His creations and He forbade worship of the constellations in His Word.
Auf b. Malik Ashja’i reported:
“We practiced incantation [ruyqa] in the pre-islamic days and we said: Allah’s Messenger, what is your opinion about it? He said: Let me know your incantation and said: There is no harm in the incantation which does not smack of polytheism.” (Muslim 26:5457)
Ruqya was an incantation accompanied by spitting, used to supposedly heal sickness, diseases, snake bites or insect stings. Muhammad adopted it from the pagans- as it was done in Allah’s name. (Allah was one of the many pre-islamic pagan deities).
The hadiths contain accounts of Muhammad allegedly healing people through his spit. He allowed ruqya be done for non-Muslims in exchange for money, banned it and later endorsed it again. This art is still practiced by many Muslims around the world, though, the majority prefer to go to the hospital for treatment, rather than waiting for someone to spit on their foreheads for “healing.”
VII. The Evil Eye
This is believed to be a curse placed on a person (or an animal) by an evil stare from an envious person. It is believed to cause injury, misfortune or diseases. The pagans believed beautiful (or handsome) folks were often its target, this is why Aisha reported that Muhammad “commanded me that I should make use of incantation for curing the influence of an evil eye.” (Muslim 26:5445)
In Islam, some magic words are chanted to supposedly ward off an evil eye. Most Muslims would say “Masha Allah” or recite Sura 113:1-5 where Muhammad said:
“I seek refuge with the Lord of Dawn; from the mischief of created things; from the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practise secret arts. And from the evil of the envier when he envies.”
This sura was allegedly “revealed” to Muhammad when he came under a spell and began to imagine having sex with his wives- since that was his obsession anyway (Bukhari 7:660). To a critical eye, these verses reflect 7th century pagan superstitions.
The fact that Muhammad’s “lord of the dawn” couldn’t protect him from the effects of a spell and the poison which led to his death, proves that he sought refuge in a false god. And if Muhammad was a true prophet, he wouldn’t be rehashing pagan myths and superstitions disguised as revelations from heaven. God doesn’t need such nonsense to compose a book.
This is why Arab scholar, Nazar-Ali concluded: “Islam retained many aspects of pagan religion.” Islam was not “sent from heaven,” its an earthly, man-made, revamped pagan religion. “God overlooked the times when people didn’t know any better. But now commands everyone everywhere to turn to Him” and turn away from such false worship. (Acts 17:30)