The Pagan Origins of Islamic Hajj

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Aerial view of the Kaaba during Hajj

The annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj begins tomorrow, but what exactly is the Hajj,what does it entail and where does it originate?

Al-Jazeera provides us with a concise explanation of the Hajj:


Hajj 2017: Why, when and how?

The dates for the five-day Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca have been officially announced after moon sighting on August 22.

Um al-Qura: August 30
Confirmed on August 22
Completed in 5-6 days

Every year, millions of Muslims make their way to Mecca to perform Hajj. The pilgrimage is made up of actions performed by Prophet Muhammed. The rites also symbolize the trials of Prophet Abraham.

When is Hajj?

The first day of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca will be on Wednesday, August 30, 2017, as announced by Saudi Arabia’s High Judicial Court.

In the Islamic calendar, Hajj begins every year on the 8th day of the Dhu al-Hijjah lunar month, and traditionally the length of lunar months is only confirmed after moon sighting on the 29th day of the previous lunar month.

Since the moon was not seen on August 21, the first day of the Dhu al-Hijjah lunar month lunar will be August 23, and so Hajj should begin on August 30.

The High Judicial court in Saudi Arabia announces the dates for Hajj, and Eid al-Adha after reviewing moon sighting reports.

Why do Muslims go on Hajj?

For Muslims, Hajj re-enacts the actions of Prophet Muhammad’s “farewell pilgrimage” in 632 AD. Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam, but is only a requirement for those who are able to afford the trip and are physically strong enough to complete the pilgrimage.

Muslims perform Hajj with the aim to cleanse their souls and revive their relationship with God. It is also meant to strengthen the bonds among Muslims, since pilgrims come from the four corners of the earth for the pilgrimage.

A significant aspect of Hajj is that it removes all markers of class, wealth and materialism, which is why the pilgrims dress in simple cloth for the duration of the pilgrimage. Men wrap themselves in two pieces of white cloth called the ihram, which also means the sacred state.

Hajj also hearkens back to the time of Prophet Abraham. Muslims believe that he built the kaaba, along with his son Ishmael. The cubic structure was intended as a gathering point for worshipers.

Pilgrims gather at Mount Arafat for key rite

How do Muslims perform Hajj?

1. Pilgrims enter ihram: a sacred state that includes controlling one’s baser instincts, such as anger, and maintaining a state of purity.

2. Head to Mina: an area outside of Mecca, where they stay in tents and spend the days leading up to Arafah in prayer and worship.

3. Spend the day at Arafah: The pilgrims head there and spend their time in prayer andworship until sunset.

4. Spend the night at Muzdalifah: on their way back to Mina, pilgrims stop at a place called Muzdalifah they pray the evening prayers and collect pebbles for another ritual.

5. Celebrate Eid al-Adha: During hajj, the pilgrims can pay to have a lamb sacrificed or go to a specific area outside of Mecca where they could partake in the symbolic ritual.

6. Throw pebbles at the three pillars: This action signifies another trial that prophet Abraham endured. Muslims believe that on his way to the sacrifice, Satan tried to deter Abraham from the act, so Abraham threw stones at the devil to fend him off.

7. Make tawaf at Mecca: circle around the kaaba, which includes supplication and remembering Allah.


A Brief Overview of the Origins of the Haaj

Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen provides us with a brief overview of the pre-Islamic Pagan origins of the Hajj:

The Ka’aba in Mecca was a center of idol-worship. 360 idols were kept in the Ka’aba. According to Hadith Bukhari 3:43:658 Narrated Abdullah bin Masud: The Prophet entered Mecca and (at that time) there were three hundred-and-sixty idols around the Ka’aba. He started stabbing the idols with a stick he had in his hand and reciting: “Truth (Islam) has come and Falsehood (disbelief) has vanished.”

The Black-stone or al-Ḥajar al-Aswad of the Ka’aba became the central shrine object in Islam. It was one of the many stones and idols venerated by pre-Islamic Pagans. The Black Stone was kissed by people during pre-Islamic pagan worship. Muhammad did not completely abolish Idol worship, he made the Black Stone stay and allowed people to continue the practice of kissing the stone. It is the same pre-Islamic Pagan stone that Muslims kiss today during Hajj and Umrah. The Islamic historians believe that the black stone was a pagan deity called ‘Al-Lat’, one of the three daughters of Allah, the Pagan moon-god. She was once venerated as a cubic rock at Ta’if in Arabia.

Hisham ibn-Al-Kalbi (819 CE) in his ‘The book of Idols’ wrote that ‘Al-lat stood in al-Ta’if, and was more recent than Manah. She was a cubic rock beside which a certain Jew used to prepare his barley porridge (sawiq). Her custody was in the hands of the banu-‘Attab ibn-Malik of the Thayif, who had built an edifice over her. […]She is the idol which God mentioned when He said, “Have you seen al-lat and al-Uzza?” (Surah 53:19)

Muslims in the 21st century believe that the Black Stone fell from the heaven during the era of Adam and Eve. They also believe that the stone was originally white, but it turned black because of absorbing human sins.

Pre-Islamic Pagans prayed five times a day facing Mecca. Persian Zoroastrian tribe prayed five times a day too, in the direction of the Sun or fire temple. Before prayers, Zoroastrians cleaned themselves or practiced ablution. Ablution and the prayers for 5 times are not something Islam invented. The Hadith [Sahih Bukhari Book 8, no. 345] tells us that when Muhammad met Allah in heaven, Allah demanded 50 prayers per day. But with the help of Moses, Muhammad bargained with Allah and finally he was successful to reduce 50 prayers per day to 5 prayers per day. Even the Quran (4:28) says, ‘God wishes to lighten your burden, for the human being is created weak’.

During Hajj, Muslims walk between two mountains seven times. It is also a pre-Islamic practice. Let’s see what the Quran and the Hadith say about the special mountain walk.

Hadith Bukhari. Volume 2, Book 26, Number 710: Narrated ‘Asim: I asked Anas bin Malik: “Did you dislike to perform Tawaf between mountain Al-Safa and mountain Al-Marwa?” He said, “Yes, as it was of the ceremonies of the days of the Pre-lslamic period of ignorance, till Allah revealed: ‘Verily! Al-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the rites (or symbols) of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the Ka’ba, or performs ‘Umrah, to perform Tawaf between them.’ ” (Quran 2.158)


The Kaaba

The central point of the Hajj is the cubic stone building known as the Kaaba, it stands in the city of Mecca and existed long before Muhammad and the birth of the religion of Islam.

Kaaba without the Kiswa (the embroidered covering)
Idol representing the moon god Hubal

“Before Muhammad appeared, the Kaaba was surrounded by 360 idols, and every Arab house had its god. Arabs also believed in jinn (subtle beings), and some vague divinity with many offspring. Among the major deities of the pre-Islamic era were al-Lat (“The Goddess”), worshipped in the shape of a square stone; al-Uzzah (“The Mighty”), a goddess identified with the morning star and worshipped as a thigh-bone- shaped slab of granite between al-Taid and Mecca; Manat, the goddess of destiny, worshipped as a black stone on the road between Mecca and Medina; and the moon god, Hubal, whose worship was connected with the Black Stone of Kaaba.

Pre-Islamic Arabian Pagan idols

The stones were said to have fallen from the sun, moon, stars, and planets and to represent cosmic forces. The so-called Black Stone (actually the color of burnt amber) that Muslims revere today is the same one that their forebears had worshipped well before Muhammad and that they believed had come from the moon.”

“The Kaaba is a large masonry structure roughly the shape of a cube. (The name “Kaaba”comes from the Arabic word meaning cube). It is made of granite from the hills near Mecca. The most current dimensions for the structure are: 15 m high (49′) with sides measuring 10.5 m (34′) by 12 m (39′). [Petersen, Andrew. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. London: Routledge, 1996. p.142.] It is covered by a black silk cloth decorated with gold-embroidered calligraphy. This cloth is known as the kiswah; it is replaced yearly.

The eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba contains the Black Stone or al-Hajaru l-Aswad, which is generally thought to be a meteorite remnant.

Entrance to the inside of the Kaaba is gained through a door set 2.13 meters above the ground on the north-eastern wall of the Kaaba.

Inside the Kaaba, there is a marble floor. The interior walls are clad with marble half-way to the roof; tablets with Qur’nic inscriptions are inset in the marble. The top part of the walls is covered with a green cloth decorated with gold embroidered Qur’nic verses. Lamps hang from a cross beam; there is also a small table for incense burners. The building is otherwise empty. Caretakers perfume the marble cladding with scented oil, the same oil used to anoint the Black Stone outside.

According to Islamic tradition, God ordained a place of worship on Earth to reflect the house in heaven called al-Baytu l-Ma’mur. Muslims believe that Adam was the first to build such a place of worship.

According to the Qur’n, the Kaaba was built by the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael).

The Kaaba during Hajj

At the time of Muhammad, his tribe, the Quraysh, was in charge of the Kaaba, which was at that time a shrine to numerous Arabian tribal gods. Desert tribesmen, the Bedouin, and inhabitants of other cities would join the annual pilgrimage, to worship and to trade. Caravan-raiding, common during the rest of the year, was suspended during the pilgrimage; this was a good time, then, for travel and trade.

The Qur’n describes Mecca as a barren wadi where life is tough and resources scarce. Indeed, there is no evidence that Mecca was anything but a center of local trade and worship (see Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Patricia Crone, Blackwell, 1987).

The prophet Muhammad, preaching the doctrine of monotheism and the promise of the Day of Judgment, faced mounting opposition in the city of Mecca. The Quraysh persecuted and harassed him continuously, and he and his followers eventually migrated to Medina in 622 CE. After this pivotal migration, or Hijra, the Muslim community became a political and military force. In 630 CE, Muhammad and his followers returned to Mecca as conquerors and the Kaaba was re-dedicated as an Islamic house of worship. Henceforth, the annual pilgrimage was to be a Muslim rite, the Hajj.”


Pre-Islamic Arabia

We find a comprehensive explanation of the roots of Islam in Arabian Paganism in the article The Plain Truth About Islam by Peter Salemi.

The word “Allah” is a contraction of “Al-ilah,” ‘al’ meaning “the” and “ilah” meaning ‘god.’ Early biographers said that “al-ilah” comes from ‘El” or ‘Elohim,” meaning the God of the Bible but, “Early scholars attested the diffusion of this belief solely to Christianand Judaic influences. But now a growing number of authors maintain that this idea [of Allah] had older roots in Arabia…” (Studies in Islam, Swartz, p.12).

The Arabs had tribal gods in which they worshipped. Every tribe had their own God. “The Quraysh tribe into which Muhammad was born was particularly devoted to ALLAH…” (Islamic Invasion, Morey, p.51, emphasis mine). Before Muhammad was ever born, his tribe worshipped Allah, and he was the chief god of Mecca: “Its been pointed out that Mecca was in the control of the Quraysh tribe into which Muhammad was born” (ibid., pp.39-40). Since they were in control of Mecca, it was only right that their God was chief of the Kaaba in Mecca.

“In pre-Islamic days, called the Days of Ignorance, the religious background of the Arabs was pagan, and basically animistic. Through wells, trees, stones, caves, springs, and other natural objects man could make contact with the deity… At Mekka, Allah was the chief of the gods and the special deity of the Quarish, the prophet’s tribe. Allah had three daughters: ” (Van Ess, John, Meet the Arab, New York, 1943, p. 29)

Zwemer writes: “But history establishes beyond the shadow of doubt that even the pagan Arabsbefore Muhammad’s time, knew the chiefgod by the name of Allah…ilah is used for any god and Al-ilah (contracted to Allah, i.e, the god), was the name of the supreme. Among the Arabs this term denoted the chief god of three hundred and sixty idols…As final evidence, we have the fact that centuries before Muhammad the Arabian Kaaba, the temple at Mecca, was called Beit Allah, the House of God…” (Muhammad is Mecca, pp.25-26, 31-36).

Collier’s Encyclopedia under “Allah” writes “…there were among the Arabs, long before the emergence of Islam worshippers of a supreme god known as Allah, and the Koran (13:17; 29:61; 31:24 [These show that the Pagan Arab and Muhammad worshipped the same Deity]) leaveslittle doubt that Meccans…recognized the Allah was creator and provider” (p.570).

The Encyclopedia of Religion of Ethics under “Allah” writes, “The origin of this [Allah] goes back to pre-Islamic times as Prof. Nokleke has shown…Muhammad found the Meccans believing in a supreme god whom they called Allah…with Allah however they associated minor deities [called] the daughters of Allah. Mohammed’s reform wasto assert the solitary existence of Allah. The first article of the Muslim creed, therefore ‘La-ilaha illa-Llahu-means only as addresses by him to the Meccans ‘There exist no god except the one whom you already called Allah” (Hastings, p.326).

“Islam owes the term ‘Allah to the heathen Arabs… Muhammad did not find it necessary to introduce an altogether novel deity but content himself of ridding the heathen Allah ofhis companions [known as the daughters of Allah…Had he not been accustomed from his youth to the idea of Allah as the supreme god in particular in Mecca, it may all be doubted whether he would have come forward as a preacher of monotheism” (Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim, p.42).

“Historians like Vaqqidi have said Allah was actually the chief of the 360 gods being worshipped in Arabia at the time Mohammed rose to prominence. Ibn Al-Kalbi gave 27 names of pre-Islamic deities…Interestingly, not many Muslims want to accept that Allah was already being worshipped at the Ka’ba in Mecca by Arab pagans before Mohammed came. Some Muslims become angry when they are confronted with this fact. But history is not on their side. Pre-Islamic literature has proved this” (G. J. O. Moshay, Who Is This Allah?, Dorchester House, Bucks, UK, 1994, pg. 134,)

And Ceasare Farah concludes: “There were hundreds of such deities in Pagan Arabia, of all those mentioned, four appear to be most popularly revered on the eve of Islam: Al-Uzza, Allat and Manat. All three female deities, popularly worshipped by the tribes of Hijaz, they were regarded as the daughters of Allah, the god who headed the Arabian pantheon when Muhammad beganto preach Allahwas the paramount deity” (Islam).

So the Allah that the Meccans worshipped was:

  • Chief god at Mecca in the Kaaba
  • The same god Muhammad was proclaiming and worshipped by him and the pagan Arabs.
  • He was worshipped centuries before Muhammad.
  • Allah was the tribal deity of Quraysh, Mohammed’s tribe, and was the supreme god of Mohammed’s youth.

But now we seem to have a contradiction in history about the chief of God the Kaaba? Even though history shows that Allah was the chief god of the Quraysh, and the Kaaba. We also see a god called Hubal who was the chief god of the Kaaba, and of the Quraysh tribe. How can this be? Is there a contradiction in history? Let’s look at some quotes from historians and scholars about Hubal, and then let’s answer this question logically and from the foundations of history.

“Among the gods worshipped by the Quraysh, the greatest was Hubal…The Quraysh had several idols in and around the Kaaba. the greatest of these was Hubal” (F.E. Peters, The Hajj, pp.24-25).

“Hubal was the principal deity [in Mecca] Tthe god of the moon…” (Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, p.179, emphasis mine).

“…of the 360 idols set up in the Kaaba, the most important was Hubal, the god of the moon… It was set up in the Kaaba, and became the principal idol of the Meccans…” (ibid., p.161, ).

“Hubal was the chief god of the Kaaba” (George W. Braswell, JR, Islam, p.44).

“…The main god of the shrine [was] Hubal” (Neighboring Faiths, Winfried, Corduan, p.78).

Just like Allah:

  • Hubal was the greatest god of the Kaaba
  • Supreme god of the Quraysh tribe.
  • Hubal was the chief god of Mecca.

How do we reconcile this obvious contradiction in history? Is this a contradiction? Absolutely not! We have found in our research that Hubal is Allah, they are one and the same god!

The Funk and Wignall’s Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend says under “Allah,” “The pre-Mohammedan Arabic god Hubal had as his title Allahu meaning ‘The God’…As the patron of the Kaaba at Mecca, already supreme he was maintained in Mohammedan theology as the one god…” (vol.1, p.36).

Under “Hubal,” or “Hobal,” the same dictionary says, “Some say that Hubal, was the real name of Allahu, the chief god of pre-Islamic times, who became the one god of Islam…” (ibid., p.499).

“In Mecca, a god Hubal was worshipped, who may be identical with Allah” (H. Ringgren and A.V Strom, Religions of Mankind, p.178).

Muslims don’t want to admit what history shows, the Hubal is Allah. Robert Morey writes: “Religious claims often fall before results of hard sciences such as archaeology…the hard evidences demonstrates that the god Allah was a pagan deity. In fact he was the moon god[ Hubal]…” (The Moon God, Allah, p.1, emphasis mine). People of religion can say and believe anything they want, but it’s what the facts show, that prove whether you are right or wrong! Hubal IS Allah!

In Ibn Warraq’s book, Why I Am Not A Muslim, he writes about Hubal, and who he really is: “Hubal was worshipped at Mecca, and his idol…Hubal’s position next to the black stone [ Muslims kiss this stone today] suggests there is some connection between the two…”Wellhausen thinks that Hubal was originally the black stone…Wellhausen also points out that God is called ‘Lord of the Kaaba,’ and ‘Lord of the Territory,’ of Mecca in the Koran. The prophet railed against the homage rendered at the Kaaba to the goddesses Allat, Manat, and Al- Uzza, when the pagans called them the daughters of God, but Muhammad stopped short of attacking the cult of Hubal. From this Wellhausen concludes that Hubal is none other then Allah ‘the god of the Meccans” (p.39, emphasis mine). Why wouldn’t Muhammad preach against the “chief of the deities,” and say the Allah was the greatest? Even the Dictionary of Islam had to admit: “It’s remarkable that there is no distinct allusion to the idol [Hubal] in the whole Quran” (Thomas Patrick Hughes B.D., p.181, under “Hubal,” emphasis mine). He’s right! It is quite remarkable that the chief of the Kaaba is not even mentioned in the Quran at all. How can Muhammad totally exclude him?

In addition to the quote above about Allah being ‘Lord of the Kaaba,” Muhammad evidently said that he “received commandments to worship the ‘Lord of the House’ i.e. the Kaaba” (Muhammad, Tor Andrea, p.31). So its obvious he was talking about the pre-Islamic deity Hubal!

Well Muhammad did not exclude him for the simple reason: “There are stories in the sira of pagan Meccans praying to Allah while standing besides the image of Hubal” (Watt, Mohammed’s Mecca, p.39, emphasis mine). They are one and the same! Remember The Allah of the Meccans is the same Allah that Muhmmad was proclaiming to them!

Robert Morey writes on his cultbusters website:

“Was the title al-ilah (the god) used of the moon god? YES!

“Was the word “Allah” derived from “al-ilah”? YES!

“Was the pagan “Allah” a high god in the pantheon of deities”? YES!

“Was he worshipped at the Kaaba? YES!

“Did they place the statue of Hubal on top of the Kabba? YES!

“At the time was Hubal considered the Moon god?YES!

“Was the Kaaba thus the “house of the moon god”? YES!

“Did the name “Allah” eventually replace that of Hubal as the name of the Moon God? YES!”

“…Hubal the moon god, was the central focus of prayer at the Kaaba and the people prayed to Hubal using the name Allah” (Morey at www.cultbusters.com).

The origin of Allah and Allat were as sun and moon deities. (Zwemmer, (Ed) The Daughters of Allah, By Winnett, F V, MWJ, Vol. XXX, 1940, pg. 120-125).

This had to be the case that Hubal and Allah are one and the same as this source says: “What deity did the Quraysh represent? The Meccan shrine accommodated Hubal…but Hubal is not mentioned in the Quran…a building accommodating Hubal makes no sense around a stone representing Allah [as Warraq noted originally Hubal was the black stone] if Quraysh represented Allah. What is Hubal doing in the shrine?…Naturally Quraysh were polytheists, but they [the different gods] were house separately. No pre-Islamic sanctuary, stone or building is known to have accommodated more than one [chief] malegod, as opposed to one male god and a female…if Allah was a pagan god [as we have seen he is] like any other Quraych would not have allowed Hubal to share the sanctuary with him…One who have to fall back on the view that Allah might simply be another name for Hubal, as Wellhausen suggests; just as the Israelites knew Yahweh as Elohim, so the Arabs knew Hubal as Allah,meaning god” (Muslim Trade and the Rise of Islam, pp.192-193).


Conclusion

The Islamic pilgrimage known as the Hajj is largely a continuation of pre-Islamic Arabian pagan tradition, it’s centrepiece, the Kaaba is a pre-Islamic pagan sanctuary of the god Hubal, who later became known as Allah.

Hubal/Allah was the supreme deity among a large pantheon of gods venerated and worshipped by the pre-Islamic pagan Arabs; in their animistic cult/religion Hubal was represented by a black stone that is most likely a meteorite. Both followers of Islam and their pagan forebears believed that this stone had fallen from the moon; because Hubal/Allah was the ‘God of the Moon’ this stone became associated with him and was set into a corner of the sanctuary built for him (the Kaaba).

Muhammad was a member of the Quraysh tribe of Arabs who controlled Mecca and were responsible for the protection of the Kaaba. In the early 7th century, Muhammad began to preach a new monotheistic religion that became known as Islam which was based on a selected subset of pagan beliefs held by the animistic, pagan Quraysh tribe. Muhammad chose to abandon all the other gods and their idols and instead recognise only one – the supreme deity Allah. However, he omitted to include in his new religion the history and backstory behind Allah and his roots in the pagan, animistic cult/religion of the Arabs.

Therefore we can conclude that Islam is a distillation of earlier pagan beliefs and Allah is Muhammad’s interpretation of the earlier supreme deity of the animistic pagan Arabs. Furthermore, the Hajj, its rituals and its Kaaba centrepiece are continuations of earlier pagan religious rituals and beliefs.

 

Author Details
Ian Greenhalgh is a photographer and historian with a particular interest in military history and the real causes of conflicts.

His studies in history and background in the media industry have given him a keen insight into the use of mass media as a creator of conflict in the modern world.

His favored areas of study include state-sponsored terrorism, media manufactured reality and the role of intelligence services in manipulation of populations and the perception of events.
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