Response to Mr. Weasel

June 27, 2007 at 10:24 pm (History, Islam, Religions)

Ah, thank you. I’ve always wondered what the prevailing religion was in the Middle East in the time of Muhammad. So, you’re saying it was a multi-deity paganism, along the lines of, say, Shinto? So the association with Christianity and Judaism was a Muhammadan construct? Historically, there is no prior relationship?

There were pockets of Christians and Jews throughout the Arabian peninsula. Notably, there were many Jews in Yemen and Christians in Ethiopia (which, while not on the peninsula, was still quite close, being as it is across the Red Sea, close to whose banks was Mecca). So Muhammad would have had plenty of opportunities to encounter them. Significant for him, there were three Jewish tribes in Yathrib (to which he fled when Mecca became too dangerous).

But the predominant religion, and what made Mecca the heart of the Arabian peninsula, was the multi-deity Arab paganism that thrived throughout the peninsula. The Ka’bah in Mecca was the main shrine for all Arabian deities.

Muhammad had plenty of contact with people of various religions, not only because of their presence near him but also because he used to be a trader and, as such, had ample exposure to different religions and their tales and legends. This partly explains why there are so many corrupted versions of narratives found in Judaism and Christianity.

Now, to put Islam in some perspective, it began as an Arabian religion for Arabs. The only way to convert — in the beginning of Islam’s history — was to be adopted in an Arab tribe. In other words, to become a Muslim one had to become an Arab.

The introduction of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian elements were complete novelties with regard to Arab religious systems. There was no doubt that Christianity and Judaism came from outside the Arab peninsula, so Arab Jews and Arab Christians followed non-Arab religions. Muhammad integrated Jewish and Christian elements into the new Arab religion he founded. Indeed, considering how much stuff he borrowed from Judaism and Christianity and Zoroastrianism, I think one can debate whether Muhammad founded an Arab religion rather than the syncretic version of monotheistic religions that he introduced. Other than cultic ritual practices around Mecca, most of Islam can be said to have been derived from the other three religions. Which may be one reason why pagan Arabs had such a hard time accepting Islam. (The usual Muslim explanation is that they feared how Islam would diminish the prominence and status of Mecca and its ruling tribes and clans. But Muhammad enhanced Mecca’s prominence under Islam even as he set himself up as Mecca’s ruler: and considering he belonged to the Hashim clan of the Quraish tribe, the same tribe that ruled Mecca and the Ka’bah before Muhammad’s conquest of Mecca, the change in ruler was simply a matter of a change in clans. So it must have been a religion with so little of Sean paganism that made the Arab pagans hesitant to accept Islam.)

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3 Comments

  1. dicentra said,

    It is my understanding that Islam claims to be the restored religion of Abraham, that God needed to straighten out mankind after the Jews and Christians went astray and distorted the original message.

    Given that Joseph Smith’s claim is so similar in kind to Muhammad’s, how is it that you didn’t reject Mormonism out of hand?

  2. Muslihoon said,

    I did reject Mormonism. Before 1998 not only was I quite anti-Christian, I was quite anti-Mormon as well.

  3. Hanme said,

    What I don’t get is what religion was Mohammad’s father if he died before Mohammad was born and his name was Abdullah. Which of the arabic names are pagan and which are Islamic?

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