Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

The Origins of Islam

The most important stages in [Islam's] history were characterised by the assimilation of foreign influences. ...Its founder, Muhammad, did not proclaim new ideas. He did not enrich earlier conceptions of man 's relation to the transcendental and infinite. ...The Arab Prophet's message was an eclectic composite of religious ideas and regulations. The ideas were suggested to him by contacts, which had stirred him deeply, with Jewish, Christian, and other elements.l08    Ignaz Goldziher 

Muhammad was not an original thinker: he did not formulate any new ethical principles, but merely borrowed from the prevailing cultural milieu. The eclectic nature of Islam has been recognized for a long time. Even Muhammad knew Islam was not a new religion, and the revelations contained in the Koran merely confirmed already existing scriptures. The Prophet always claimed Islam 's affiliation with the great religions of the Jews, Christians, and others. Muslim commentators such as al-Sharestani have acknowledged that the Prophet transferred to Islam the beliefs and practices of the heathen or pagan Arabs, especially into the ceremonies of the pilgrimage to Mecca. And yet Muslims in general continue to hold that their faith came directly from heaven, that the Koran was brought down by the angel Gabriel from God himself to Muhammad. The Koran is held to be of eternal origin, recorded in heaven, lying as it does there upon the Preserved Table (suras 85.21, 6.19; 97). God is the source of Islam-to find a human origin for any part of it is not only vain but also meaningless and, of course, blasphemous. Perhaps Muslims have the unconscious fear that if we can trace the teachings of the Koran to a purely human and earthly source, then the entire edifice of Islam will crumble. But as Renan used to say, "Religions are facts; they must be discussed as facts, and subjected to the rules of historical criticism."109 To paraphrase Renan again,110 the critical study of the origins of Islam will only yield definitive historical results when it is carried out in a purely secular and profane spirit by people uninfluenced by dogmatic theology. Only then will we recover the historical Muhammad, and only then will his extraordinary life be integrated as a part of human history, with a secular meaning for all of us- Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The works of Ignaz Goldziher and Henri Corbin on the influence of Zoroastrianism on Islam; the works of Geiger, Torrey, and Katsch on the influence of Judaism; Richard Bell's pioneering work on the influence of Christianity; the work of Wellhausen, Noldeke, Hurgronje, and Robertson Smith on the influence of Sabianism and pre-Islamic Arabia; and the work of Arthur Jeffery on the foreign vocabulary of the Koran, all combine to make us concur with Zwemer's conclusion that Islam "is not an invention, but a concoction; there is nothing novel about it except the genius of Mohammad in mixing old ingredients into a new panacea for human ills and forcing it down by means of the sword."111

Arabian Idolatry 

It is undoubtedly true that in many passages of the Koran "the Islamic varnish only thinly covers a heathen substratum,"112 as for example in sura 113: "In the name of the merciful and compassionate God. Say: 'I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak, from the evil of what He has created; and from the evil of the night when it comes on; and from the evil of the witches who blow upon knots, and from the evil of the envious when he envies. ' "

Islam owes many of its most superstitious details to old Arabian paganism especially in the rites and rituals of the Pilgrimage to Mecca (see suras 2.153; 22.28-30; 5.1-4; 22.37). We can also find traces of paganism in the names of certain old deities (suras 53.19.20; 71.22.23); in the superstitions connected with jinns; and in old folk tales such as those of Ad and Thamud.


People come from far corners of the land 

to throw pebbles (at the Satan) and to kiss the (black stone). 

How strange are the things they say! 

Is all mankind becoming blind to truth?113

O fools, awake! The rites ye sacred hold 

Are but a cheat contrived by men of old 

Who lusted after wealth and gained their lust 

And died in baseness-and their law is dust


I search for the way, but not the way to the Ka'ba and the temple 

For I see in the former a troop of idolaters and in the latter a band of self-worshipers. 

                                                                                            Jalal Uddin Rumi 114

Had I not seen the Prophet kiss you, I would not kiss you myself. Caliph 'Umar, addressing the Black Stone at Kaaba 115

From an ethical standpoint, the Mecca pilgrimage, with its superstitious and childish ritual, is a blot upon Mohammedan monotheism. 

                                                                                                S. Zwemer 116

The entire ceremony of the pilgrimage has been shamelessly taken over from pre-Islamic practice: "a fragment of incomprehensible heathenism taken up un- digested into Islam."117 The Hajj or the Greater Pilgrimage to Mecca is performed in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, or the twelfth month of the Muslim year. It is the fifth pillar of Islam, and an incumbent religious duty founded upon injunctions in the Koran. Every Muslim in good health and with sufficient means must perform the pilgrimage once in his lifetime.

The first seven days constitute the lesser pilgrimage (Umrah) that can be performed at any time except the eighth, ninth, and tenth days of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah. These are reserved for the Greater Pilgrimage (Hajj), which begins on the eighth.


When the pilgrim first arrives at a point several miles outside Mecca, he prepares himself so that he is in a state of ritual purity or state of consecration. After donning simple pilgrim's dress and performing the necessary ablutions and prayers, the pilgrim enters the sacred precincts of Mecca, where he is expected to abstain from killing animals, tearing up plants, indulging in violence, and taking part in sexual intercourse. He makes further ablutions and prayers at the sacred mosque of Mecca, al-Masjid al-Haram; then he kisses the sacred Black Stone, which is set within the eastern corner of the Kaaba, the cubelike building in the center of the roofless courtyard of the Sacred Mosque. 

The pilgrim then turns to the right and circumambulates the Kaaba seven times, three times at a quick pace, and four times at a slow pace. Each time he passes around the Kaaba he touches the Yamani corner, where another auspicious stone is encased, and also kisses the sacred Black Stone. 

The pilgrim then proceeds to the Maqam Ibrahim (the place of Abraham), where Abraham is said to have prayed toward the Kaaba. He performs two further prayers and returns to the Black Stone and kisses it. Nearby is the sacred well of Zem Zem, where according to Muslim tradition Hagar and Ishmael drank in the wilderness. The pilgrims move on to an enclosure known as the al-Hijr, where Muslims believe that Hagar and Ishmael are buried, and where Muhammad himself is said to have slept on the night of his miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.


The pilgrim leaves the sacred mosque by one of its twenty-four gates. Outside, he climbs the gentle hill known as Mt. As Safa, all the while reciting verses from the Koran. He then runs from the top of As Safa to the summit of al- Marwah seven times, repeating various prayers. This absurd ritual commemorates Hagar's putative search for water in the wilderness. 

This is the sixth day of the pilgrimage; the evening is spent at Mecca where he goes around the Kaaba once more. On the seventh day, he listens to an oration in the Great Mosque, and then, on the eighth he proceeds to Mina, where he performs the usual services of the Muslim ritual and remains the night. On the ninth day, after morning prayers, the pilgrim proceeds to Mount Arafat where the rite of "standing" (wuquf, in Arabic) is performed. According to Muslim tradition, Adam and Eve met here after their fall from Paradise. Here the pilgrim recites the usual prayers and listens to another oration on the theme of repentance. He then hurries (the Arabic word means "stampede") to Muzdalifah, a place between Mina and Arafat, where he is required to arrive for the sunset prayer. 

The next day, the tenth, is the Day of Sacrifice, celebrated throughout the Muslim world as Id 'I-Azha. Early in the morning in Muzdalifah, the worshipers say their prayers and move on to the three pillars in Mina. The pilgrim casts seven stones at each of these pillars, the ceremony being called ramyu 'r rijam, the casting of stones. "Holding the pebble between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, the pilgrim throws it at a distance of not less than fifteen feet, and says, 'In the name of God, the Almighty, I do this, and in hatred of the devil and his shame.' " The remaining pebbles are thrown in the same way. He then returns and performs the sacrifice of a goat or lamb. After the feast, the pilgrims celebrate the rite of deconsecration, when many pilgrims shave their head or simply have a few locks clipped. 

Muslims rationalize this particular superstition as symbolizing Abraham's repudiation of the devil, who tried to keep the great patriarch from his divinely commanded duty of sacrificing his greatly cherished son Ishmael. The sacrifice of a lamb or goat simply commemorates the divine substitution of a ram for Abraham 's sacrifice. 

How did an iconoclastic, uncompromising monotheist like Muhammad ever come to incorporate these pagan superstitions into the very heart of Islam? Most historians agree that had Jews and Christians rejected Moses and Jesus and favourably received Muhammad as a prophet who taught the religion of Abraham at Mecca when Muhammad made Jerusalem the Kiblah (the direction of prayer), then Jerusalem and not Mecca would have been the sacred city, and the ancient rock (Sakrah) and not the Kaaba would have been the object of superstitious reverence. 

Frustrated by the intransigence of the Jews, realizing that there was little chance of them accepting him as their new prophet, Muhammad conveniently received a command from God to change the Kiblah (sura 2. 138f.) from Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Mecca. He knew that he had a good chance of eventually capturing Mecca with all its historic associations. 

In A.H. 6, Muhammad tried to enter Mecca with his followers but failed. The Meccans and Medinans met at Hudaibiyah on the frontier of the sacred territory. After much negotiation, the Muslims agreed to return to Medina, but were given permission to celebrate the feast in Mecca the following year. Muhammad, with many of his followers, came to Mecca in A.H. 7 and performed the circuit of the Kaaba, kissing the Black Stone as a part of the rites. 

Mecca was captured by Muhammad the following year, in A.H. 8. At first many Muslims joined the haii along with the unbelieving Arabs, but without the Prophet himself. Soon, however, a revelation from God declared that all treaties between the Muslims and unbelievers must be revoked, and that nobody who was not a true believer might approach Mecca or the haii (sura 9. 1ff., and 28). 

Finally, to quote Zwemer, 

In the tenth year A.H. Muhammad made his pilgrimage to Mecca, the old shrine of his forefathers, and every detail of superstitious observance which he fulfilled has become the norm in Islam. As Wellhausen says the result is that "we now have the stations of a Calvary journey without the history of the passion. " Pagan practices are explained away by inventing Moslem legends attributed to Bible characters, and the whole is an incomprehensible jumble of fictitious lore.118

Islam is the creation of Central and Western Arabia. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the religion of the heathen Arabs in these regions is scanty. Lacking epigraphical evidence, the scholars have had to rely on Ibn al-Kalbi (d. A.D. 819), the author of The Book of Idols, on the so-called theophorus proper names, that is, names that describe the bearer as servant or gift, favour, etc., of this or that deity; on fragments of pre-Islamic poetry; and on certain polemical allusions in the Koran. "Finally," to quote Noldeke, 

we have to take into consideration the fact that Muhammad incorporated in his religion a number of heathen practices and beliefs, with little or no modification, and also that various relics of heathenism, which are alien to orthodox Islam, have been retained by the Arabs down to the present day. That the adoption of a new faith does not completely transform popular beliefs, and that the old conceptions, disguised under somewhat different names, frequently persist, with or without the sanction of the religious authorities, is a matter of common observation.119 

One might add that Muhammad very skilfully concentrated into the Muslim pilgrimage rites several ceremonies that, previously, were accomplished totally independently in different sanctuaries or localities.

Society in pre-lslamic Central Arabia was organized around the tribe, and each tribe had its principal deity, which was worshipped in a fixed sanctuary even by the wandering nomads. The deity resided in a stone and was not necessarily in human form. Sometimes the sacred stone was a statue or sometimes simply a big block of rock whose shape resembled a human. The heathen Arabs evidently imagined that the block of stone that served as a fetish was pervaded by a divine power and, in its turn, exercised a divine influence.

The names of the two hills As Safa and al- Marwa signify a stone, that is, an idol. Pagans ran between the two hills in order to touch and kiss Isaf and Naila. the idols, placed there as a means of acquiring luck and good fortune.


We have evidence that black stones were worshipped in various parts of the Arab world; for example, Clement of Alexandria. writing ca. 190, mentioned that "the Arabs worship stone, " alluding to the black stone of Dusares at Petra. Maximus Tyrius writing in the second century says, "The Arabians pay homage to I know not what god, which they represent by a quadrangular stone"; he alludes to the Kaaba that contains the Black Stone. Its great antiquity is also attested by the fact that ancient Persians claim that Mahabad and his successors left the Black Stone in the Kaaba. along with other relics and images, and that the stone was an emblem of Saturn.

In the vicinity of Mecca are various other sacred stones that were originally fetishes, "but have acquired a superficially Muhammadan character by being brought into connection with certain holy persons."I20

The Black Stone itself is evidently a meteorite and undoubtedly owes its reputation to the fact it fell from the "heavens. " It is doubly ironic that Muslims venerate this piece of rock as that given to Ishmael by the angel Gabriel to build the Kaaba. as it is, to quote Margoliouth, "of doubtful genuineness, since the Black Stone was removed by the. ..Qarmatians in the fourth [Muslim] century, and restored by them after many years: it may be doubted whether the stone which they returned was the same as the stone which they removed."121

Hubal was worshipped at Mecca. and his idol in red cornelian was erected inside the Kaaba above the dry well into which one threw votive offerings. It is very probable that Hubal had a human form. Hubal's position next to the the Black Stone suggests there is some connection between the two. Wellhausen thinks that Hubal originally was the Black Stone that, as we have already remarked, is more ancient than the idol. 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 al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza, whom the pagan Arabs called the daughters of God, but Muhammad stopped short of attacking the cult of Hubal. From this Wellhausen concludes that Hubal is no other than Allah, the "god" of the Meccans. When the Meccans defeated the Prophet near Medina. their leader is said to have shouted, "Hurrah for Hubal."

Circumambulation of a sanctuary was a very common rite practiced in many localities. The pilgrim during his circuit frequently kissed or caressed the idol. Sir William Muir thinks that the seven circuits of the Kaaba "were probably emblematical of the revolutions of the planetary bodies."I22 While Zwemer goes so far as to suggest that the seven circuits of the Kaaba, three times rapidly and four times slowly were "in imitation of the inner and outer planets. " 123

It is unquestionable that the Arabs "at a comparatively late period worshipped the sun and other heavenly bodies."124 The constellation of the Pleiades, which was supposed to bestow rain, appears as a deity. There was the cult of the planet Venus which was revered as a great goddess under the name of al-Uzza.

We know from the frequency of theophorus names that the sun (Shams) was worshipped. Shams was the titular goddess of several tribes honored with a sanctuary and an idol. Snouck Hurgronje l25 sees a solar rite in the ceremony of "wukuf' (see above page 37).

The goddess al-Lat is also sometimes identified with the solar divinity. The god Dharrih was probably the rising sun. The Muslim rites of running between Ararat and Muzdalifah, and Muzdalifah and Mina had to be accomplished after sunset and before sunrise. This was a deliberate change introduced by Muhammad to suppress this association with the pagan solar rite, whose significance we shall examine later. The worship of the moon is also attested to by proper names of people such as Hilal, a crescent, Qamar, a moon, and so on.

Houtsma 126 has suggested that the stoning that took place in Mina was originally directed at the sun demon. This view is lent plausibility by the fact that the pagan pilgrimage originally coincided with the autumnal equinox. The sun demon is expelled, and his harsh rule comes to an end with the summer, which is followed by the worship, at Muzdalifah, of the thunder god who brings fertility.

Muzdalifah was a place of fire worship. Muslim historians refer to this hill as the hill of the holy fire. The god of Muzdalifah was Quzah, the thunder god. As Wensinck says: "A fire was kindled on the sacred hill also called Quzah. Here a halt was made and this wukuf has a still greater similarity to that on Sinai, as in both cases the thunder god is revealed in fire. It may further be presumed that the traditional custom of making as much noise as possible and of shouting was originally a sympathetic charm to call forth the thunder."127

Frazer in the Golden Bough has another explanation for the ceremony of stone throwing:

Sometimes the motive for throwing the stone is to ward off a dangerous spirit; sometimes it is to cast away an evil, sometimes it is to acquire a good. Yet, perhaps, if we could trace them back to their origin in the mind of primitive man, we might find that they all resolve themselves more or less exactly into the principle of the transference of evil. , ..This notion perhaps explains the rite of stone throwing. Mecca; ...the original idea may perhaps have been that the pilgrims cleanse themselves by transferring their ceremonial impurity to the stones which they fling on the heap. 128

According to Juynboll, the hajj originally had a magical character

Its purpose in early times must have been to get a happy new year with plenty of rain and sunshine, prosperity, and abundance of cattle and corn. Great fifes were lit at Arafat and Muzdalifah, probably to induce the sun to shine in the new year. Water was poured on the ground as a charm against drought. Perhaps the throwing of stones at certain places in Mina, a relic of the primitive heathenism, was originally a symbol of throwing away the sins of the past year, and in this way a sort of charm against punishment and misfortune.l29

Similarly, the hurrying between Ararat and Muzdalifah, and from Muzdalifah to Mina may have had a magical significance. The feasting at the end of all the rituals was probably a symbol of the abundance that was hoped for at the end of the year. The various obligations of abstinence imposed on the pilgrim was originally to bring the pilgrim into a state of magical power.


The Kaaba

The idol was generally placed in a sacred precinct delimited by stones. This sacred enclosure was an area of asylum for all living things. One often found a well within this sacred precinct. We do not know when the Kaaba was first constructed, but the selection of the spot undoubtedly owes something to the presence of the well Zam Zam, which provided precious water to the caravans that passed through Mecca to Yemen and Syria.

The believers rendered homage with offerings and sacrifices. Inside the Kaaba was a dry well in which offerings were placed. The pilgrim coming to pay homage to the idol often shaved his head within the sacred precinct or the sanctuary. One notices that all these rituals are present in one form or another in the Muslim hajj.

According to Muslim writers, the Kaaba was fIrst built in heaven, where a model of it still remains, two thousand years before the creation of the world. Adam erected the Kaaba on earth but this was destroyed during the Flood. Abraham was instructed to rebuild it; Abraham was assisted by Ishmael. While looking for a stone to mark the comer of the building, Ishmael met the angel Gabriel, who gave him the Black Stone, which was then whiter than milk; it was only later that it became black from the sins of those who touched it. The above is, of course, an adaptation of the Jewish legend of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem.

While Muir and Torrey are convinced that the Abrahamic origin of the Kaaba was a popular belief long before the time of Muhammad, Snouck Hurgronje and Aloys Sprenger agree that the association of Abraham with the Kaaba was Muhammad's personal invention, and it served as a means to liberate Islam from Judaism. Sprenger's conclusion is harsh: "By this lie, ...Mohammed gave to Islam all that man needs and which differentiates religion from philosophy: a nationality, ceremonies, historical memories, mysteries, an assurance of entering heaven, all the while deceiving his own conscience and those of others. " 130


Islam also owes the term "Allah" to the heathen Arabs. We have evidence that it entered into numerous personal names in Northern Arabia and among the Nabatians. It occurs among the Arabs of later times, in theophorous names and on its own. Wellhausen also cites pre-Islamic literature where Allah is mentioned as a great deity. We also have the testimony of the Koran itself where He is recognized as a giver of rain, a creator, and so on; the Meccans only crime was to worship other gods beside Him. Eventually Allah was only applied to the Supreme Deity. "In any case it is an extremely important fact that Muhammad did not find it necessary to introduce an altogether novel deity, but contented himself with ridding the heathen Allah of his companions subjecting him to a kind of dogmatic purification. ...Had he not been accustomed from his youth to the idea of Allah as the Supreme God, in particular of Mecca, it may well be doubted whether he would ever have come forward as the preacher of Monotheism."131

Islam also took over-or rather, retained-the following customs from the pagan Arabs: polygamy, slavery, easy divorce, and social laws generally, cir- cumcision, and ceremonial cleanliness. Wensinck, Noldeke, and Goldziher have all contributed to the study of the animistic elements in the rituals connected with Muslim prayer.132 In the preparations for the five daily prayers, especially in the process of ablution, the object is to free the worshipper from the presence or the influence of evil spirits and has nothing to do with bodily purity as such. It is clear from countless traditions that Muhammad himself perpetuated innumerable superstitions on the subject of demonic pollution, which he had acquired from the prevailing paganism of his youth. According to one tradition, Muhammad said, "If any of you wakens up from sleep let him blow his nose three times. For the devil spends the night in a man's nostrils." On another occasion when Muhammad saw that a certain man had left a dry spot on his foot after his ablutions, he told him to go back and wash better and then gave this homily: "If a Muslim servant of God performs the ablution, when he washes his face every sin is taken away by it with the water or with the last drop of water. And when he washes his hands, the sins of his hands are taken away with the water. And when he washes his feet all the sins which his feet have committed are taken away with water or with the last drop of water until he becomes pure from sin altogether." This bears out what Goldziher has shown: that according to semitic conception water drives away demons. The Prophet used to "wash " his feet when he wore sandals by simply passing his hands over the outside of his sandals.

Traditionally, a Muslim is required to cover his head, especially the back part of his skull. Wensinck thinks this is to prevent evil spirits from entering the body. Many other gestures, movements, the cry of the muezzin, the raising of the hands, etc., have been shown to be animistic in origin and often employed with the intention of warding off evil spirits.


The thesis of the influence of Zoroastrianism-sometimes called Parsism-on the world's religions has been disputed by some scholars and vigorously defended by others. Widengren unhesitatingly states:

The historical importance of the Iranian religions lies in the great role they played in Iranian developments and in the significant influence Iranian types of religion exercised in the West, especially on postexilic Jewish religion; on Hellenistic mystery religions such as Mithraism; on Gnosticism; and on Islam, in which Iranian ideas are found both in Shi'ah, the most important medieval sect, and in popular eschatology [doctrines dealing with the last times ).133

Widengren showed the influence of Zoroastrianism on the Old Testament during the Babylonian exile of the Jews in Die Religionen Irans (1965). Morton Smith was perhaps the first to point out the striking similarities between Isaiah 40-48 and the Zoroastrian hymns known as Gatha, especially Gatha 44:3-5: the notion that God created light and darkness appears in both. John Hinnels has written of "Zoroastrian Savior Imagery and Its Influence on the New Testament," with this influence stemming from the contacts between the Jews and the Parthians  in the second century B.C. and the middle of the first century B.C.I34

Islam was directly influenced by the Iranian religion, but the indirect influence on Islam of Judaism and Christianity, has never been doubted. For this reason, it is worth pursuing the parallels between Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

Ahura Mazda, the supreme lord of Iran, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, endowed with creative power, which he exercises especially through the medium of his Spenta Mainyu-Holy Spirit-and governing the universe through the instrumentality of angels and archangels, presents the nearest parallel to YHWH that is found in antiquity. But Ormuzd's power is hampered by his adversary, Ahriman, whose dominion, however, like Satan's shall be destroyed at the end of the world. ...There are striking parallels their eschatological teach- ings-the doctrine of a regenerate world, a perfect kingdom, the coming of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting. Both. ..are revealed religions: in the one Ahura Mazda imparts his revelation and pronounces his commandments to [Zoroaster] on the mountain of the two holy communing ones; in the .other YHWH holds a similar communion with Moses on Sinai. The [Zoroastrian] laws of purification, morover, more particularly those practised to remove pollution incurred through contact with dead or unclean matter, are given in the Avestan Vendidad quite as elaborately as in the Levitical code. ...The six days of creation in Genesis find a parallel in the six periods of Creation described in the Zoroastrian scriptures. Mankind according to each religion is descended from a single couple and Mashya (man) and Mashyana are the Iranian Adam (man) and Eve. In the Bible a deluge destroys all people except a single righteous individual and his family; in the Avesta a winter depopulates the earth except in the Vara (enclosure) of the blessed Yima. In each case the earth is peopled anew with the best two of every kind, and is afterward divided into three realms. The three sons of Yima 's successor Thraetaona, Airya, Sairima and Tura are the inheritors in the Persian account; Shem, Ham and Japheth in the semitic story. [Judaism] was strongly influenced by Zoroastrianism in views relating to angelology and demonology, and probably also in the doctrine of the resurrection.135

The first Islamicist of repute to take seriously the idea of the direct influence of Zoroastrianism on Islam was probably Goldziher, on whose article I rely heavily in this section.136

The Muslim victory, over the Sassanian Persian army at the Battle of Qadisiya in 636 A.D., marks the beginning of the first direct contact of the two peoples. This contact with a superior culture had a profound influence on the Arabs and Islam. Recently converted Persians were to bring a new sense of the religious life into Islam.

When the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown, the Abbasids founded a theocratic state under the influence of Persian religio-political ideas; indeed, the revolution of Abu Muslim, which brought the Abbasids to power, was originally a Persian movement. The Abbasids were to adopt many of the traditions of the Sassanians: they took the title of king of Persia, being perfectly aware of the relation between the institution of the khalifah and the conception of Persian kingship; their kingdom was an ecclesiastical state and they were its religious heads; like the Sassanians they considered themselves divine. There was an intimate relation between government and religion, an interdependence, nay, a perfect union with it. Government and religion were identical, and therefore religion was the government of the people.

The concept of acquiring religious merit by reciting various parts of the Koran is an echo of the Persian belief in the merit of reciting the Avestan Vendidad. In both creeds, the recital of the sacred Book relieves man of any demerits acquired on earth; it is essential, even, for the salvation of the soul. Both Muslims and Zoroastrians read the Holy Book for several days after the death of a member of family. Both communities condemn expressions of mourning for the dead.

The Muslim eschatological doctrine of the "mizan" or balance, that is, the scales on which the actions of all men shall be weighed, is borrowed from the Persians (Koran, sura 21.47). Under their influence of the scales, the Muslims calculate the value of the good deeds and bad deeds as so many units in weight. For example, the Prophet is reputed to have said: "Whoever says a prayer over the bier of the dead earns a kirat but whoso is present at the ceremony till the body is interred merits two kirats of which one is as heavy as the Mount Chod." The prayer in congregation has a value twenty-five times higher than individual prayer.

According to Muslim commentators, on Judgment Day, the angel Gabriel will hold the scales on which the good and bad deeds will be weighed, one side hanging over paradise and the other over hell. Similarly, in Parsism, on Judgment Day, two angels will stand on the bridge between heaven and hell, examining every person as he passes. One angel, representing divine mercy, will hold a balance in his hand to weigh the actions of all men; if good deeds preponderate the persons will be permitted to pass into heaven; otherwise the second angel, representing God's justice, will throw them into hell. Other elements in the Islamic ideas of the balance come from heretical Christian sects and are part of our further discussion.

The Muslim institution of five daily prayers also has a Persian origin. Muhammad himself, at fll"St, instituted only two daily prayers. Then, as recounted in the Koran, a third was added, giving the morning prayer, the evening prayer, and the middle prayer, which corresponded to the Jewish shakharith, minkah, and arbith. But on encountering the religious fervor of the Zoroastrians, Muslims, not wishing to be outdone in devotion, simply adopted their custom; henceforth, Muslims paid homage to their God five times a day, in imitation of the five gabs (prayers) of the Persians.

Over and above the influence of Persian ideas through Judaism and Chris- tianity, how did Persian notions enter pre-Islamic Arabia? The merchants of Mecca constantly came in contact with Persian culture; while several Arabic poets are known to have traveled to the Arab Kingdom at al-Hira on the Euphrates, which had long been under Persian influence and as Jeffery says, "was a prime center for the diffusion of Iranian culture among the Arabs,"137 poets, such as al-Asha, wrote poems that are full of Persian words. A large number of Persian words from Avestan and Middle Persian (that is, Pahlavi) and other expressions appear in Arabic. There is even evidence of some pagan Arabs in those regions becoming Zoroastrians. Persian influence was also felt in South Arabia, where Persian officials exercised authority in the name of the Sassanians. Above all we have the testimony of the Koran itself, which refers to the Zoroastrians as Madjus and puts them on the same level as the Jews, Sabians, and Christians, as those who believe (sura 22.17). Ibn Hisham, the biographer of the Prophet, tells us that there was one an-Nadr ibn al-Harith who used to recount to the Meccans the stories of great Rustem and of Isfandiyar and the kings of Persia, always boasting that the tales of Muhammad were not better than his own. As Torrey says, "the prophet saw his audience vanish, and was left to cherish the revenge which he took after the battle of Badr. For the too entertaining adversary, taken captive in the battle, paid for the stories with his life."138 We also learn from Ibn Hisham that among the companions of the Prophet there was one Persian called Salman, who may well have taught Muhammad something of the religion of his ancestors.

Muhammad may well have been influenced by the Zoroastrians in his attitude to the sabbath and his hostility to the preposterous idea that God needed to take a rest after creating the world in six days. The Parsi theologians took a similar position against the Jewish sabbath. For Muhammad and all Muslims, Friday is not the sabbath, the day of repose, but a day of assemblage for the weekly celebration of the cult. According to tradition, Muhammad journeyed to heaven where he met the angel Gabriel, Moses, and Abraham et al., on an animal called the Buraq, a white, two-winged animal of a size between that of an ass and a mule. Buraq is said to resemble the Assyrian gryphon, but it has been shown by Blochet that the Muslim conception owes everything to Persian ideas. The details of the actual ascent to heaven are also borrowed from Zoroastrian literature. The Muslim account goes something like this (Muhammad is the speaker):139

Gabriel mounted me upon Buraq, and having carried me upwards to the lowest heaven called out to open the gate. "Who is this?" one cried. "It is Gabriel." "Who is with thee?" "It is Muhammad." "Was he summoned?" "0 yes!" was Gabriel's answer. "Then welcome him; how good it is that he has come." And so he opened the gate. Entering, Gabriel said, Here is your father Adam, make the salutation to him. So I made to him my salaam, and he returned it to me; on which he said, Welcome to an excellent Prophet. Then Gabriel took me up to the second heaven, and 10 there were John (the Baptist) and Jesus. In the third heaven there was Joseph; in the Fourth Idris (Enoch); in the Fifth Aaron; and in the Sixth Moses. As he returned the salutation, Moses wept and on being asked the reason said: "1 mourn because more of the people of him that was sent after me do enter Paradise than of mine." Then we ascended the seventh heaven; "This is your father Abraham," said Gabriel, and salutation was made as before. At the last we made the fmal ascent, where there were beautiful fruits and leaves like the ears of an elephant. "This," said Gabriel, "is the last heaven; and 10! four rivers, two within, and two without." "What are these, 0 Gabriel?" I asked. Those within, he said, are the rivers of Paradise; and those without, are the Nile and the Euphrates.

This ascent to heaven (or Miraj in Arabic) can be compared to the account in the Pahlavi text called Arta (or Artay) Viraf written several hundred years before the Muslim era.l40 The Zoroastrian priests felt their faith fading away and so sent Arta Viraf to heaven to fmd out what was taking place there. Arta ascended from one heaven to another and finally came back to earth to tell his people what he had seen:

Our first advance upwards was to the lower heaven; ...and there we saw the Angel of those Holy Ones giving forth a flaming light, brilliant and lofty. And I asked Sarosh the holy and Azar the angel: "What place is this, and these, who are they? "(We are then told that Arta similarly ascended to the second and third heavens.] "Rising from a gold-covered throne, Bahman the Archangel led me on, till he and I met Ormazd with a company of angels and heavenly leaders, all adorned so brightly that I had never seen the like before. My leader said: This is Ormazd. I sought to salaam to him, and he said he was glad to welcome me from the passing world to that bright and undefiled place. ...At the last, says Arta, my guide and the fire angel, having shown me Paradise, took me down to hell; and from that dark and dreadful place, carried me upward to a beautiful spot where were Ormazd and his company of Angels. I desired to salute him, on which he graciously said: Arta Viraf, go to the material world, you have seen and now know Onnazd, for I am he; whosoever is true and righteous, him I know.

In Muslim traditions, we also find the notion of the "road," Sirat. Sometimes, the right way of religion is meant, but more often this term is used to refer to the bridge across the infernal fire. The bridge is described as being "finer than a hair and sharper than a sword, and is beset on each side with briars and hooked thorns. The righteous will pass over it with the swiftness of the lightning, but the wicked will soon miss their footing and will fall into the fIre of hell."

This idea has obviously been adopted from the Zoroastrian system. After death, the soul of man must pass over the Bridge of the Requiter, Chinvat Peretu, which is sharp as a razor to the unrighteous and therefore impossible to pass.

The Indian and Iranian religions share a common cultural heritage, since the ancestors of the Indians and the Iranians once formed one people-the Indo- Iranians, who in turn were a branch of an even greater family of nations, the Indo-Europeans. Thus, it is not surprising to find the idea of a bridge (Chinvat Peretu) in ancient Hindu texts (e.g., Yajur Veda). The Muslim vision of paradise thus closely resembles both Indian and Iranian accounts. The Zoroastrian text, Hadhoxt Nask, describes the fate of a soul after death. The soul of the righteous spends three nights near the corpse, and at the end of the third night, the soul sees its own religion (daena) in the form of a beautiful damsel, a lovely ftiteen-year-old virgin; thanks to good actions she has grown beautiful; they then ascend heaven together. This vision resembles the Hindu stories of the Apsarasas, described as "seductive celestial nymphs who dwell in Indra's paradise,"141 and often are dancers of the gods, but who also welcome the soul into paradise. "They are the rewards in Indra's paradise held out to heroes who fall in battle."142

Thus, the Hindu account in many ways resembles the Muslim view of paradise, with its vivid and voluptuous scenes of houris and virgins that so scandalized early Christian commentators. These maidens are also offered in heaven to Muslim warriors who die in the Muslim cause. Some of the words used in the Koran to describe paradise are clearly of Persian origin: "ibriq,"water jug; "araik," couches. Here is what Jeffery has to say on this subject: "It does seem certain that the word 'hour' in its sense of whiteness, and used of fair-skinned damsels, came into use among the Northern Arabs as a borrowing from the Christian communities, and then Muhammad, under the influence of [an Iranian word] used it of maidens of Paradise."143

A Pahlavi text describing paradise talks of every place resembling a garden in spring, in which are all kinds of flowers and trees. This reminds us very much of the Muslim vision of Gardens of Delight (sura 56.12-39; 76.12-22; 10.10; 55.50): "But for those that fear the Lord there are two gardens. ..planted with shady trees. ...Each is watered by a flowing spring. ...Each bears every kind of fruit in pairs. "

There are striking similarities between the Zoroastrian concept of the archetypal religious man and the specially Sufi Muslim concept of the Perfect Man. Both creed. require an intention to worship in order for it to be acceptable. Both hold certain numbers in superstitious awe: e.g., the figure 33 plays an important part in Parsi ritual, and in Islam 33 angels carry the praise of man to heaven; whenever sacred litanies are referred to we find the mention of 33 tasbih, 33 tahmtid, 33 Takbir, and so on.

Jinns, Demons, and Other Shadowy Beings

Given all the gross superstitious elements in Islam, already described, one wonder. how eighteenth-century philosophers ever came In regard it", a rational religion Had they delved a little deeper into Muslim ideas of jinn, demons, and evil spirits, they would have been even more embarrassed at their own naivet?/FONT>

The belief in angels and demons is said to have been acquired from the Persian. (the Koranic word "ifrit" meaning "demon" " is of Pahlavi origin, If this is " the case then it was acquired long ago, for the pagan Arab. before Islam already had a confused notion of a class of shadowy beings "everywhere present yet nowhere distinctly perceived,'' the jinn or djinn. The word jinn probably means covert or darkness. Jinns are the personifications of what " uncanny in nature, or perhaps the hostile and unsubdued aspects of it. In heathen Arabia, they were seen mainly as objects of fear, it was only with the advent of Islam that they began to be seen, on occasions, as benevolent as well.

For the heathen Arab. the jinn were invisible but were capable of taking various forms, such as those of snakes, lizards, and scorpions If a jinn entered a man, it rendered him mad or possessed. Muhammad, brought up in crass superstition, maintained a belief in the spirits: "in fact the Prophet went so far to recognize the existence of the heathen gods, classing them among the demons (see sura 37.158). Hence these primitive superstitions not only held their ground in [Muslim] Arabia but were further developed, spread over the rest of the [Muslim] world, and often combined with similar, in some cases much more elaborate conceptions which prevailed among foreign people."

Professor Macdonald recounts how the poet and close friend of Muhammad, Hassan ibn Thabit first came to write poetry under the influence of a female jinn.

She met him in one of the streets of Medina  leapt upon him, pressed him down and compelled him to utter three verses of poetry. Thereafter he was a poet, and his verses came to him from the direct inspiration of the Jinn [Djinn}. He refers himself  to his brothers of the Jinn" who weave for him artistic words and tells how weighty lines have been sent down to him from heaven. The curious thing is that the expressions he uses are exactly those used of the sending down, that is the  revelation of the Quran.144

Macdonald further points to the extraordinary parallel between the terms used in the story of Hassan ibn Thabit 's inspiration and the account of Muhammad 's first revelation:

Just as Hassan was thrown down by the female spirit and had verses pressed out of him, so the fIrst utterances of prophecy were pressed from Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. And the resemblances go still farther. The angel Gabriel is spoken of as the companion of Mohammad, just as though he were the Jinni accompanying a poet, and the same word, nafatha, blow upon, is used of an enchanter, of a Jinni inspiring a poet and of Gabriel revealing to Mohammad.

Muhammad's own beliefs in jinns are to be found in the Koran, which contains numerous allusions and references to them: sura 72 (entitled "The Jinnj; 6.100, where the Meccans are reproached for making them companions of Allah; 6.128, where the Meccans are said to have offered sacrifices to them; 37.158, where the Meccans assert the existence of a kinship between them and Allah; 55.14, where God is said to have created them from smokeless fire. There is a vast literature on the beliefs surrounding jinns. For our purposes, it is sufficient to realize that this superstition is sanctioned by the Koran, and jinns are in Islam officially fully recognized, and as Macdonald says, the full consequences of their existence has been worked out. "Their legal status [in Islamic law] in all respects was discussed and fixed, and the possible relations between them and mankind, especially in questions of marriage and property, were examined."145 Ibn Sina was perhaps the first Islamic philosopher forthrightly to reject the very possibility of their existence.

The Koran also sanctions another widespread superstition in the entire Muslim world, the evil eye, which is considered a very frequent cause of misfortune (sura 113). Muhammad himself is said to have believed in its baneful influence: Asma bint Umais relates that she said, "0 Prophet, the family of Jafar are affected by the baneful influences of an evil eye; may I use spells for them or not?" The Prophet said, "Yes, for if there were anything in the world which would overcome fate, it would be an evil eye. "

The Muslim Debt to Judaism

Islam is nothing more nor less than Judaism plus the apostle-ship of Mohammad. -S. M. Zwemer 146

We have the testimony of the Muslim historians themselves that the Jews played an important part in the social and commercial life of Medina. We know of the Jewish tribes of Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Qurayza, and Banu Nadir, that were wealthy enough to own land and plantations. There were also many skilled craftsmen, artisans, and tradesmen working in the city. The Jews had sizable communities in other cities in North Arabia, such as Khaibar, Taima, and Fadak. Torrey seems to think there were Jews in Taima as early as the sixth century B.C. Certainly by the beginning of the Christian era, there were Jewish settlements in that area; further migrations took place after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In South Arabia, we also have evidence of Jewish communities founded by traders. They also exercised considerable influence, as indicated by the presence of Jewish religious ideas on South Arabian religious inscriptions. A famous tradition holds that a Himyarite king, Dhu Nuwas, converted to Judaism.

"Unquestionably, the first impression gained by a reader of the Koran is that Mohammad had received the material of his faith and practice mainly from the Jews of the Hijaz. On almost every page are encountered either episodes of Hebrew history, or familiar Jewish legends, or details of rabbinical law or usage, or arguments which say in effect that Islam is the faith of Abraham and Moses." [Torrey, p. 2]

Some scholars, such as Noldeke and Wellhausen, agree with the Muslim tradition that Muhammad was illiterate; while Torrey and Sprenger are convinced that he was literate. It seems unlikely, considering Muhammad's social background, that he did not receive any education. He came from a respected family, and it is unthinkable that a rich widow would have asked him to take care of her business affairs if he had been unable to read or write. It is true Muhammad did not want to be seen as a man of book learning, for that would have undermined his assertion that his revelations came directly from heaven, from God.

Where and how did the Prophet acquire his knowledge of Jewish history, law, and lore? Two important passages in the Koran indicate that he may well have had a Jewish teacher, probably a rabbi. In sura 25.5f., the unbelievers accuse him of listening to old stories, dictated to him by someone else. Muhammad does not deny the human teacher, but insists his inspiration is divine. In sura 16.105, the angel of revelation tells us, "We know very well that they say: it is only a mortal man who has taught him. But the language of him to whom they refer is foreign, while this language is clear Arabic!" Torrey has argued this instructor must have been a Babylonian Jew from Southern Mesopotamia.

Besides learning from particular individuals, by visiting the Jewish quarter, Muhammad learned from direct observation the rites and rituals of Jewish practice. In any case, the Arabs who came into contact with the Jewish communities had already acquired a knowledge of Jewish customs, stories, legends, and practice; much of this material is to be found in pre-Islamic poetry.

It is evident from the early suras of the Koran that Muhammad was much impressed with the Jews and their religion. He did his utmost to please them by adopting their practices (choosing Jerusalem as the direction for prayer, for example) and tried to convince them that he was only carrying on the traditions of the old prophets.

Zwemer, basing himself on Geiger's Judaism and Islam, has very conveniently tabulated the influence of Judaism on Islam in the following way:

A. Ideas and Doctrines

1. Rabbinical Hebrew Words in the Koran

2. Doctrinal Views

3. Moral and Ceremonial Laws

4. Views of Life

B. Stories and Legends

1. Rabbinical Hebrew Words in the Koran. Geiger lists fourteen words from the Hebrew that represent Jewish ideas not found in pagan Arabia or among the heathen Arabs:

a. Tabut-ark; the -ut termination shows the rabbinical Hebrew origin, since no pure Arabic word ends in this way.

b. Torah (Taurat)-Jewish revelation.

c. Jannatu Adn-paradise, Garden of Eden.

d. Jahannam (Gehinnom)-Hell (from the Vale of Hinnom where idol worship was rife, thus the word later came to mean hell).

e. Ahbar-teacher

f. Darasa-to reach the deep meaning of the scripture by exact and careful research.

g. Rabbani-teacher

h. Sabt-day of rest (Sabbath).

i. Sakinat-the Presence of God.

j. Taghut--error.

k. Furqan-deliverance, redemption.

l. Maun-refuge.

m. Masani-repetition.

n. Malakut-govemment; God's rule.

Evidently Muhammad was unable to express certain concepts in his native Arabic, since the Koran also contains a great many Aramaic and Syriac words in- dicating extensive borrowing of ideas-words such as Sawt (scourge ), Madina, Masjid (a place of worship), Sultan, Sullam (a ladder), Nabi (a prophet).

Key Islamic doctrinal views were also borrowed from Judaism, among which the following are the most important:


As we have already noticed, the oneness of God is not something new in pagan Arabia; nonetheless, it was the uncompromising monotheism of Judaism that profoundly impressed Muhammad and led him to preach a strict monotheism also.


The idea that Allah guided and helped mankind through revelations written down by inspired men was of central importance to Muhammad's development. He had been profoundly moved in the way that the learned Jews had shown such deep knowledge of their scriptures: "They know the Book as they know their own children!" (2.141; 6.20). He was determined to have an Arabian book that his followers would also learn in the same spirit and manner. Eventually the Koran itself is said to be a copy, the original of which is written in a table kept in heaven (85.22). This idea finds an echo in Pirke Aboth, v. 6, which also talks of the heavenly tables of the law.


Muhammad's account of the creation is clearly based on that found in Exodus 20.11: "We did create the heavens and the earth and what is between the two in six days, and no weariness touched us" (sura 1.37). Elsewhere, the Koran speaks of the earth being created in two days (41.8-11 ).


The Koran often refers to the seven heavens (17.46; 23.88; 41.11; 65.12), a notion also found in Chegiga 9.2. In the Koran, hell is said to have seven divisions or portals (15.44); in Zohar 2.150, we find the same description. These notions go back to old Indo-Iranian sources, because in both Hindu and Zoroastrian scriptures we fmd the seven creations and seven heavens. In sura 11.9 we are told of God's throne being above the waters; compare this to the Jewish Rashi, commenting on Genesis 1.2: "The glorious throne stood in the heavens and moved over the face of the waters. " In sura 43.76, we find reference to Malik as the keeper of hell who presides over the tortures of the damned; similarly the Jews talk of the Prince of Hell. Malik is obviously a corruption of the Fire God of the Ammonites, Molech, mentioned in Leviticus, I Kings, and Jeremiah.

In sura 7.44 there is a mention of a wall or partition called Aaraf which separates paradise and hell: " And between the two there is a veil and on al- Aaraf are men who know each other by marks; and they shall cry out to the fellows of Paradise, 'Peace be upon you!' they cannot enter it although they so desire." In the Jewish Midrash on Ecclesiastes 7.14 we have: "How much room is there between? Rabbi Jochanan says a wall, Rabbi Acha says a span; their teachers however hold that they are so close together that people can see from one into the other. " Again we find similar passages in Zoroastrian writings: "The distance is but as that between light and darkness. "

In certain passages of the Koran (suras 15.17; 37.7; 67.5) we are told of Satan listening stealthily and being driven away with stones; similarly we find in Jewish writings that the Genii "listened behind the curtain "in order to gain knowledge of things to come. "

In sura 1.29 we read: "On the day we shall say unto hell, art thou full? and it shall. reply, Is there yet any more?" In the rabbinical book Othioth Derabbi Akiba 8.1, we find: "The Prince of Hell shall say, day by day, Give food that I may be full. "

In suras 11.42 and 23.27, it is said of the Flood: "the oven boiled over. " In a Jewish work we are told that the People of the Flood were punished with boiling water. When talking of the difficulty of attaining paradise, the rabbis talk of the elephant entering the eye of the needle whereas the Koran (sura 7.38) mentions the camel passing through the eye of a needle.

According to the Talmud, a man's limbs themselves shall give testimony against him (Chegiga 16, Taanith 11). One passage reads, "The very members of a man bear witness against him, for it is said 'Ye yourselves are my witness saith the Lord.' " Compare this to sura 24.24: "the day when their tongues and hands and feet shall bear witness against them of what they did" (Cf. 36.65; 41.19).

Compare sura 22.46, " A day with the Lord is as a thousand years of what ye number," with Psalms 90.4, "For a thousand years in thy [the Lord's] sight are but as yesterday." (Cf. sura 32.4 and Sanhedrin 96.2.)


The traditions recount that one day " Abdallah asked the Prophet what formed the highest point on the earth. 'Mount car,' he said. ...[It is made] of green emeralds." This story is a garbled and misunderstood version of a passage in the Hagigah where we meet this comment on the word "thohu" in Genesis 1.2: "Thohu is a green line (Cav or Cat) which surrounds the whole world, and hence comes darkness. "


These are some of the moral precepts borrowed from the Talmud by Muhammad. Children are not to obey their parents when the latter demand that which is evil-Jebhamoth 6; sura 29.7. Concerning eating and drinking during the fast of Rarnzan, sura 2.187 tells us: "Eat and drink until ye can distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the day-break, then fu1f11 the fast." In the Mishnah Berachoth, 1.2. we learn that the Shema prayer is to be performed "at the moment when one can but distinguish a blue thread from a white thread. " At sura 4.46 we are told that believers ought not to pray when drunk, polluted, or when they had touched women. All these restrictions are found in Berachoth 31.2 and 111.4, and Erubin 64. Prayer may be performed standing, walking, or even riding- Berachoth 10; suras 2.230, 3.188, 10.13. Devotions may be shortened in urgent cases, without committing sin-Mishnah Berachoth 4.4; sura 4.102. The washing rituals prescribed in sura 5.8 are comparable to those demanded in Berachoth 46. According to sura 4.46 and 5.8, when lacking water, purification with sand is acceptable. The Talmud tells that he who "cleanses himself with sand has then done enough" (Berachoth 46). Prayers must not be too loud (sura 17.110); Berachoth 31.2 makes the same point.

The Koran (sura 2.28) stipulates a waiting period of three months before divorced women can remarry. Again Mishna Jabhamoth 4.10 lays down the same law. The degrees of affinity within which marriages are lawful is adopted in the Koran (sura 2.33) evidently from Talmud Kethuboth 40.1. Both religions insist that a woman is to suckle her child for two years-compare sura 31.13 and sura 2.223 with Kethuboth 60.1.

Torrey sums up some of the other doctrines Muhammad borrowed from Judaism:

The resurrection of all men, both the just and the unjust; an idea familiar at least since Daniel 12.2f.; and always powerfully influential. The Judgment Day, yom dina rabba, when the "books" are opened, and every man is brought to his reckoning. The reward of heaven, the garden, and the punishment of hell, with the everlasting fire of Gehinnam; ideas which Moharnmad of course enriched mightily from his own imagination. The doctrine of angels and evil spirits; in particular the activities of Iblis, and of Gabriel, the angel of revelation. Moharnmad must have been profoundly impressed by the f1fSt chapter of Genesis, judging from the amount of space given in the Koran to the creation of heaven and earth, of man, and of all the objects of nature.147


As Emanuel Deutsch said, "It seems as if he [Muhammad] had breathed from his childhood almost the air of contemporary Judaism, such Judaism as is found by us crystallized in the Talmud, the Targum, and the Midrash."

These Old Testament characters are mentioned in the Koran:

Aaron-Harun; Abel-Habil; Abraham-Ibrahim; Adam-Adam; Cain- Qabil; David-Daud; Elias~nyas; Elijah-Alyasa; Enoch-Idris; Ezra-Uzair; Gabriel-Jibril; Gog-Yajuj; Goliath-Jalut; Isaac-Ishaq; Ishmael-Ismail; Jacob-Yacub; Job-Aiyub; Jonah-Yunus; Joshua-Yusha'; Joseph-Yusuf; Korah-Qarun; Lot-Lut; Magog-Majuj; Michael-Mikail; Moses-Musa; Noah-Nuh; Pharaoh-Firaun; Saul-Talut; Solomon-Sulaiman; Terah-Azar.

These incidents and tales are taken from the Old Testament, but as the Dictionary of Islam puts it, "with a strange want of accuracy and a large admixture of Talmudic fable":

Aaron makes a calf: 20.90

Cain and Abel: 5.30

Abraham visited by angels: 11.72; 15.51

Abraham ready to sacrifice his son: 37.101

The fall of Adam: 7.18; 2.84

Korah and his company: 28.76; 29.38; 40.25

Creation of the World: 16.3; 13.3; 35.1,12

David's praise of God: 34.10

Deluge: 54.9; 69.11; 11.42

Jacob goes to Egypt: 12.100

Jonah and the fish: 6.86; 10.98; 37.139; 68.48

Joseph's history: 6.84; 12.1; 40.86 Manna and quails: 7.160; 20.82

Moses strikes the rock: 7.160

Noah's ark: 11.40

Pharoah: 2.46; 10.76; 43.45; 40.38

Solomon 's judgment: 21.78

Queen of Sheba: 27.72

Muhammad evidently wished to establish "a clear and flrln connection with the previous religions of the Book, and especially with the Hebrew scriptures."I48 Despite all the incidents and characters Muhammad borrowed from the Old Testament, most scholars agree that he cannot possibly have had a firsthand acquaintance with it. As Obermann says,

Not only the Hebrew original, but any sort of translation would surely have precluded the gross discrepancies, inaccuracies and delusions he exhibits, almost invariably, when his revelation involves data from the Old Testament; or for that matter from the New Testament. The decisive thing, however, is that in a great many instances where a biblical element appears misrepresented or distorted in the revelation of Mohammad, the very same misrepresentation and distortion can be shown to recur in post-biblical sources as homiletical or expository embellishments characteristic of the treatment of Scripture both in the Jewish Synagogue and in the Christian church.149

But in taking over elements from the Talmud and other Jewish sources, Muhammad showed little creativity. As Torrey puts it,

His characters are all alike, and they utter the same platitudes. He is fond of dramatic dialogue, but has very little sense of dramatic scene or action. The logical connection between successive episodes is often loose, sometimes wanting; and points of importance, necessary for the clear understanding of the story, l are likely to be left out. There is also the inveterate habit of repetition, and a very defective sense of humor. ...In sura 11.27-51 is given a lengthy account of Noah's experiences. ...It contains very little incident, but consists chiefly of the same religious harangues which are repeated scores of time throughout the Koran, uninspired and uniformly wearisome. We have the feeling that one of Noah's contemporaries who was confronted with the prospect of forty days and forty nights in the ark would prefer to take his chances with the deluge.150

Furthermore, Muhammad had only the fuzziest notions of Hebrew chronology. He knew that Saul, David, and Solomon were subsequent to the Patriarchs, but not the order of the other prophets nor the time at which they lived. Muhammad had bizarre notions about Ezra, and was unable to place him.

Elijah, and Elisha, Job, Jonah, and Idris are left by him floating about, with no secure resting place. He had heard nothing whatever as to the geneology of Jesus (the claimed descent from David), nor of his contemporaries (excepting the family of John the Baptist), nor of any Christian history. He associated Moses with Jesus, evidently believing that very soon after the revelation to the Hebrew lawgiver there had followed the similar revelation which had produced the Christians and their sacred book. This appears in his identification of Mary the mother of Jesus with Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron.

Muhammad transfers to the time of Solomon one event that rabbis placed at the time of Noah. Other confusions include Muhammad's making Noah live 950 years up to the time of the Flood (sura 29.13), whereas this is really the whole term of his life (Gen. 9.29). Muhammad is also confused about Ham's evil conduct, which, according to Genesis (9.22), took place after the Deluge. It is not clear why Noah's wife is classified as an unbeliever. In the Koran there is also an obvious confusion between Saul and Gideon (cf. sura 2.250 and Judg. 7.5).


In Sura 2.28-33 we read:

When thy Lord said to the angels, "Verily I am going to place a substitute on earth," they said, "Wilt thou place there one who will do evil therein and shed blood? but we celebrate Thy praise and sanctify thee." God answered: "Verily I know that you know not. " He taught Adam the names of all things, and then proposed them to the angels, and said, "Tell Me the names of these things if what you say be true. " They replied, "Praise be unto You, we have no knowledge but what You have taught us. For You are wise and all-knowing.'' God said, "0 Adam, tell them their names." And when he had told them their names, God said, "Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and know that which you reveal and that which you hide. "

Let us trace the sources of this fable.

When God intended to create man, He advised with the angels and said unto them, We will make man in our own image" (Gen. 1.26) Then said they, What is man, that Thou rememberest him (Ps. 8.5), what shall be his peculiarity? He answered, His wisdom is superior to yours. Then brought He before them cattle, animals, and birds, and asked for their names, but they knew it not. After man was created, He caused them to pass before Him, and asked for their names and he answered, This is an ox, that an ass, this a horse, and that a camel. But what is thy name? To me it becomes to be called earthly, for from earth I am created (Midrash Rabbah on Leviticus, Parashah 19, and Genesis, Parashah 8; and Sanhedrin 38).

Various suras also recount that God commanded the angels to worship Adam (7.10-26; 15.29-44; 18.48; 20.115; 37.71-86). They obeyed with the exception of Satan. This agrees with the account in Midrash of Rabbi Moses.


Geiger gives the story of Cain and Abel as an example of what Torrey criticized in Muhammad's narrative style-important points of the story are left out. Geiger points out that as it stands in the Koran (sura 5.35) it is not entirely coherent, and we only arrive at a clearer understanding when we look at a passage from the Mishna Sanhedrin 4.5. The murder of Abel in the Koran is borrowed from the Bible, but the conversation of Cain with Abel before Cain kills him is taken from the Targum of Jerusalem, generally known as pseudo-Jonathan. In the Koran, after the murder God sent a raven that scratched the earth to show Cain how to bury Abel:

And God sent a raven which scratched the earth to show him how he should hide his brother's body. He said, "Woe is me! I am not able to be like this raven"; and he became one of those that repent. For this cause we wrote unto the children of Israel that we who slayeth a soul without having slain a soul or committed wickedness in the earth-shall be as if he had slain all mankind;. and whosoever saveth a soul alive shall be as if he had saved all mankind. (sura 5.30-35)

The lines in italics have no connection with what has gone before. They only become clear if we look at Mishna Sanhedrin 4.5:

We find it said in the case of Cain who murdered his brother: The voice of thy brother's bloods crieth. It is not said here blood in the singular but bloods ill the plural i.e. his own blood and the blood of his seed. Man was created r, single in order to show that to him who kills a single individual, it shall be !\ reckoned that he has slain the whole race; but to him who preserves the life c of a single individual it is counted that he hath preserved the whole race.

The part omitted served as the connecting link between the two passages in the Koran, without which they are unintelligible. '.


A part of the story of Noah in the Koran obviously comes from Genesis, but an account of Noah's character is drawn from rabbinical sources (suras 7.57; 10.72; 22.43, etc.). The conversations Noah has with the people while he is building the ark are the same as those found in Sanhedrin 108; and both the Koran and the rabbinical scriptures declare that the generation of the Flood was punished with boiling water (Rosh Hashanah 16.2 and Sanhedrin 108; suras 11.42,33.27).


The story of Abraham (Ibrahim) is found scattered throughout the Koran-suras 2.260; 6.74-84; 21.52-72; 19.42-50; 26.69-79; 29.15,16; 37.81-95; 43.25-27; 60.4; etc. The Muslim traditions also dwell much on the patriarch's life. It has been shown by Geiger and also by Tisdall that the source of the Koranic and traditional accounts lies in the Jewish Midrash Rabbah. Both the Midrashic and the Muslim sources are at variance with the biblical account. In Genesis we simply learn that Nimrod is the grandson of Ham, and that he founded a great empire. In the Muslim and Midrashic story, Abraham is punished for having destroyed the idols worshipped by the people of Nimrod. He is thrown into a fIre but emerges unscathed. According to Tisdall,151 the whole story is based on a misunderstanding of Gen. 15.7: "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees." "Ur" in Babylonian means city, and the Chaldaean Ur was Abraham's hometown. But "Ur" in speech closely resembles another word, "Or," meaning light or fire. Years later, a Jewish commentator, Jonathan ben Uzziel, translated the same verse from Genesis as "I am the Lord that delivered thee out of the Chaldean fiery oven. " The commentator compounded his error by insisting that all this happened "at the time when Nimrod cast Abraham into the oven of fire, because he would not worship the idols. " Of course, even if Nimrod ever existed, he certainly was not Abraham's contemporary if we accept the account in Genesis.


Although the story of the great patriarch is taken in the main from the Bible, Torreyl52 shows that there is an incoherence in the Koranic account of the life of Joseph in sura 12, where the entire sura is devoted to the patriarch; and that only if we fill in the missing links by passages from the Midrash does the story make any sense (Midrash Yalqut 146).

Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph, who at first refuses but at last becomes ready to yield when he sees a vision that deters him. Typically, the Koran leaves us in the dark as to the nature of the vision. However, from Sotah 36.2, from which the Koranic account is taken, we know that: "Rabbi Jochanan saith, 'Both intended to commit sin; seizing him by the garment, she said, "Lie with me." ...Then appeared to him the form of his father at the window who called to him, "Joseph! Joseph! the names of thy brothers shall be engraven upon the stones of Ephod, also thine own; wilt thou that it shall be erased?" , "

The sequel to the story in the Koran is not entirely intelligible without consult- ing the source, in this case the Midrash Yalkut 146. The story continues with Potiphar's wife inviting all the women who had laughed at her infatuation to a feast where they see Joseph's handsomeness for themselves, and in their excitement cut themselves with knives. In the Koran, it is not at all clear why they had knives; in the Midrash Yalkut, however, we learn that it is to eat fruit.

In the Koran we learn that Jacob tells his sons to enter at different gates; similarly, in Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, Parashah 91, Jacob "said to them, enter not through one and the same gate. " Torrey takes up the story.

When the cup is found in Benjamin's sack, and he is proclaimed a thief, his brethren say, "If he has stolen, a brother of his stole before him. " The commentators are at their wit's end to explain how Joseph could have been accused of stealing. The explanation is furnished by the Midrash which remarks at this point that Benjamin's mother before him had stolen; referring of course to the time when Rachel carried off her father's household gods (Genesis xxxi.19-35).

Again, the Koran tells us that Jacob knew by revelation that his son Joseph was still alive (sura xii.86) but it is in the Midrash Yalkut cxliii, that we learn whence he obtained the information: "An unbeliever asked our master, Do the dead continue to live? Your parents do not believe it, and will ye receive it? Of Jacob it is said, he refused to be comforted: had he believed that the dead still lived, would he not have been comforted? But he answered, Fool, he knew by the Holy Ghost that he still really lived, and about a living person people need no comfort."


The details of the patriarch Hud, who is usually identified with the biblical Eber, are also taken from rabbinical writings (compare sura 11.63 and Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.3). Similar borrowings abound in the Koranic account of Moses and Pharaoh. To take some random samples: In Rashi on Exod. 15.27, the Jewish commentators add that twelve fountains were found near Elim and that each of the tribes had a well. Muhammad transposes the statement and declares that twelve fountains sprang from the rock that Moses had struck at Rephidim. In Aboda Sarah 2.2, we have the fabulous tale of God covering the Israelites with Mount Sinai, on the occasion of the lawgiving. The Koran gives the following version (sura 7.170): "We shook the mountain over them, as though it had been a covering, and they imagined that it was falling upon them; and We said, 'Receive the law which we have brought unto you with reverence. ' "


The Koran makes much of the story of Solomon, especially his encounter with the Queen of Sheba. The Koran refers to Solomon's wisdom by alluding to his ability to converse with birds; the Jewish commentators held the same opinion. In various suras we learn that winds or spirits obeyed him, and demons, birds, and beasts formed part of his standing army (suras 21.81, 27.15, 34.11, 38.35). In the second Targum of the Book of Esther, we read, "demons of various kinds, and evil spirits were subject to him. " Muhammad tells the fable of how the demons helped in the building of the Temple, and being deceived, continued it after his death (sura 34). This is borrowed directly from the Jews (Gittin 68).


Sura 18 of the Koran is unusual in containing all sorts of legendary material that is not from the usual sources, namely, the Old Testament, rabbinical literature, or Arabian lore. Before tracing the sources, we begin with the story of Moses and his servant in search of the confluence of two rivers (Madjma' al-Bahrain), recounted in verses 59 to 81.

When they reach this place, they find that as a result of the influence of Satan they have forgotten the fish which they were taking with them. The fish had found its way into the water and had swum away. While looking for the fish [they] meet a servant of God. Moses (Musa) says that he will follow him if he will teach him the right path. They come to an arrangement but the servant of God tells Moses (Musa) at the beginning that he will not understand his doings, that he must not ask for explanations, and as a result will not be able to bear with him. They set out on the journey, however, during which the servant of God does a number of apparently outrageous things, which causes Moses (Musa) to lose patience so that he cannot refrain from asking for an explanation, whereupon the servant of God replies: "Did I not tell you that you would be lacking in patience with me?" He finally leaves Moses (Musa) and on departing gives him the explanation of his actions, which had their good reasons.

Noldeke and others have traced the sources of this story to (I) the epic of Gilgamesh; (2) the Alexander romance; (3) the Jewish legend of Elijah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi.

I. The Epic of Gilgamesh. This Babylonian poem dating from the eighteenth century B.C.E. recounts the heroic tale of two friends, Enkidu and Gilgamesh. When eventually Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh, dreading death himself, goes in search of immortality. He begins by searching for his ancestor Utnapishtim, who lives at the mouth of two rivers, for Gilgamesh is aware that Utnapishtim is the only mortal who has acquired immortality. His ancestor tells him of a plant that has the property of rejuvenating the old, but that it can only be found at the bottom of the sea. At the last moment, Gilgamesh is robbed of his plant by a serpent.

2. The Alexander Romance. The immediate source of the Alexander romance was to be found in Syriac literature, in the Lay of Alexander, whose ultimate source was the Alexander Romance of pseudo-Callisthenes, perhaps reaching as far back as 100 B.C. The Syriac version recounts how Alexander and his cook Andreas go in search of the Spring of Life. At one stage Andreas is washing a salted fish at a spring; the contact with the water makes the fish live again and it swims away. Andreas jumps in after the fish and thereby acquires immortality. When Alexander later learns of the story, he realizes that he has just missed discovering the very spring he had been looking for. Unfortunately they fail to find the spring again.

3. Elijah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi. The Jewish legend tells how Rahbi Joshua ben Levi goes on a journey with Elijah. Like the servant of God in the Koran, Elijah lays down a number of similar conditions. Again, Elijah does a number of apparently outrageous things that affects the rabbi in the same way that Moses was affected.

Wensinck sums up the result of comparing all the sources. "The figure of Joshua ben Levi, with which Muhammad first became acquainted through the Jews and which does not again appear in Muslim legend, was identified ...with Joshua b. Nun This identification may have resulted in a confusion of his master Elijah with Joshua b. Nun's master, Moses. Musa[Moses]thus represents Gilgamesh and Alexander in the fIrst part of the Koranic story and Elijah in the second "153

 Finally, Alexander himself puts in an appearance in verses 82 to 96, as Dhu'- Karnain, "He of the Two Horns." We know from the Syriac version of the legend that Alexander was called Two-Horned because God "caused horns to grow upon my head, so that I may crush the kingdoms of the world with them." The Koranic account then goes on to mix in the story of Gog and Magog with that of Alexander (cf" Gen 102, Ezek 38).


Muhammad often refers to God as rabb, "lord," sometimes as rabb al-al-'alamin, "lord of the worlds" (sura 5679, 8229, 83.6).154 In Jewish liturgy as well as the Aggadah we find ribbon ha-alamin. Muhammad also speaks of God as ar-rahman, the Merciful (55.1; 78.3.) At the head of each sura, but elsewhere in the Koran it occurs" over fifty times, almost as a personal name of God. This term seems to have been used in Arabia before Islam; it has been found in South Arabian inscriptions. Bell doubts that Muhammad was directly dependent on Judaism for its adoption. However Obermann points out that ha-rahman is also used frequently in Jewish liturgy Jeffery sums up his opinion thus "The fact that the word occurs in old poetry and is known to have been in use in connection with the work of Muhammad's rival Prophets, Musailama of Yamama and al- Aswad of Yemen, would seem to point to a Christian rather than a Jewish origin, though the matter is uncertain."155


He had very little idea of Christian teaching, or of what the Christian Church : was In fact, he never did acquire very intimate knowledge of these things As Noldeke pointed out long ago, the man who made such a stupid story of the chief Christian sacrament, as that in sora vJllff" one of the latest parts of the Quran, could not have known much about the Christian Church.

Richard Bell 156

Christianity was widely diffused throughout Arabia at the time of the birth of Muhammad, but it was probably of the Syrian kind, whether J acobite or Nestorian. In al-Hira many important Christian families, were Monophysite. We know that the language Syriac is the "most copious source of Quranic borrowings. " Undoubtedly, the major part of the Syriac influence on Arabic came from the Syriac used by the Christians of al-Hira. A Christian community also arose in South Arabia at Najran; many inhabitants were Nestorians, but a considerable number were Monophysites related to the Monophysite Church of Abyssinia. According to the Muslim traditions, Muhammad himself had had personal contact with the Christians of the Syrian Church. We know from Muslim sources that as a young man, Muhammad went on trading journeys to Syria; and there is an account of how on one occasion he listened to a sermon by Quss, Bishop of Najran, at the festival of Ukaz near Mecca.

For a long time there had also been close contact with Abyssinia in the form of trade; and, of course, South Arabia had been under Abyssinian rule for some time before the birth of Muhammad. We have the well-known story of a group of Meccans who converted to Islam and fled to Abyssinia to avoid any persecution. Torrey dates the new interest in Christianity that was awakened in Muhammad from this time.

Yet, despite this effort, Muhammad never even understood the doctrine of the Trinity. What is in the Koran about Christianity derives from heretical sects.


The legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus arose around the end of the filth century and soon spread all over western Asia and Europe. Perhaps the first mention of this legend appeared in the Syriac of James of Sarug, a Syrian bishop (452-521), and it was then translated into Latin by Gregory of Tours (ca. 540- 90), "De Gloria Martyrum" (1. i.c; 95). As Gibbon puts it, "this popular tale, which Mahomet might learn when he drove his camels to the fairs of Syria, is introduced, as a divine revelation into the Koran" (sura 18.8-26). The Koranic account begins thus: "Hast thou reflected that the companions of the cave and of al-Raqim were one of our wondrous signs." According to the fable, certain Christian youths escaped to a cave in the mountains to escape persecution under the Emperor Decius. Their pursuers found their hiding place and sealed them up. The youths miraculously survived and re-emerged nearly two hundred years later. Commentators have disputed over the meaning of the term "al Raqim" for years. Torreyl57 has suggested that this curious name is simply a misreading of the name Decius written in the Aramaic script.


In sura 19.28, 29, we read that after the birth of Jesus, the people came to Mary and said, "0 Mary, now you have done an extraordinary thing! 0 sister of Aaron! Your father was not a bad man, nor was your mother a whore!" Elsewhere, Mary is named "the daughter of Imran" (sura 66.12; 3.31); and again, "We gave unto Moses the Book and appointed him his brother Aaron as vizier." It is pretty obvious that Muhammad has confused Miriam the sister of Moses, with Mary the mother of Jesus. The commentators have verily taxed their brains to explain this "marvellous confusion of space and time. "

In sura 19, we read that Mary the Mother of Jesus, receives a visit from an angel who tells her that she will give birth to a child, even though she is a virgin, as this is God's wish. The sura continues (verse 20ff.):

So she conceived him, and she retired with him into a remote place. And the labor pains came upon her at the trunk of a palm tree, and she said, "0 that I had died before this, and been forgotten out of mind" and he called to her from beneath her, "Grieve not, for the Lord has placed a stream beneath thy feet; and shake towards thee the trunk of the palm tree, it will drop upon thee fresh dates fit to gather; so eat, and drink and cheer thine eyes, and if thou shouldst see any mortal say, 'Verily, I have vowed to the Merciful one a fast, and I will not speak today with a human being.'"

We can immediately see the source of this story in the apocryphal book called the History of the Nativity of Mary and the Saviour's Infancy, where the infant Jesus asks the palm tree, "Send down thy branches here below, that my mother may eat fresh fruit of thee. Forthwith it bent itself at Mary's feet, and so all ate of its fruit. ...[Then Jesus tells the tree to] open the fountain beneath thee. ...At once the tree became erect, and began to pour from its roots water beautifully clear and sweet before them."

Other parts of the story in the Koran are taken from the Protevangelium of James the Less, written in Hellenic Greek, and also from the Coptic History of the Virgin.


At sura 4.155, 156, the Crucifixion of Jesus is denied: "Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness. " Some have conjectured that this was Muhammad's invention, but we know that several heretical sects denied the Crucifixion, sects such as the Basilidians, who claimed that Simon the Cyrenean was crucified in Christ's place.

There are also various tales of Jesus speaking in the cradle, breathing life into birds of clay (sura 5.121), etc., which are taken from the Coptic work, The Gospel of St. Thomas. In sura 5, we also have the story of the Descent of the Table from heaven, whose origin undoubtedly lies in the supper that Jesus partook of with his disciples the night before his death.


The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is mentioned in three suras.

Believe therefore in God and His Apostles, and say not, "Three." (sura 4.169)

They misbelieve who say, "Verily God is the third of three." ..The Messiah, the son of Mary, is only a prophet,. ...and his mother was a confessor, they both ate food. (sura 5.77)

And when God shall say, "0 Jesus son of Mary hast thou said unto mankind, 'Take me and my mother as two Gods besides God?' " (sura 5.116)

The highly revered Muslim commentator al-Baidawi remarks that the Christians made the Trinity consist of God, Christ, and Mary; and it seems clear that that was Muhammad's own view.


As we saw earlier, from Persia came an element of the Islamic idea of the balance, that is, the scales on which the actions of men shall be weighed on Judgment Day. But other elements are clearly borrowed from a heretical work, "The Testament of Abraham," perhaps dating from the second century. Ultimately this work probably got most of its ideas from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

We have already seen how the Prophet's Ascent is largely based on the Pahlavi text. But again, large elements were taken from the "Testament of Abraham." In the apocryphal work, the Patriarch is taken to heaven by the Archangel Michael and is shown a vision of the two roads leading to heaven and hell:

[Abraham ] beheld also two gates, one wide like its road, and another narrow like the other road. Outside the two gates they beheld a Man [Adam ] sitting on a golden throne, his aspect terrible like unto the Lord. They saw a multitude of souls driven by the angels through the wide gate, but few souls led by the angels through the narrow one. And when the great Man ...saw but a few passing through the narrow gate, and so many through the wide gate, he grasped the hair of his head ..., and cast himself weeping and groaning from his throne upon the ground. But when he saw many souls entering in by the narrow gate, he arose from the ground, and with joy and rejoicing seated himself again upon the throne.

According to the Muslim work Mishkat'l Masabih, we learn that on his visit to heaven Muhammad saw Adam: "Lo! a man seated, on his right hand were dark figures, and on his left dark figures. When he looked to his right he laughed; when to the left, he wept. And he said, Welcome to the righteous prophet, and to the excellent Son. It is Adam ...the people on his right are the inhabitants of Paradise, and the dark figures on his left are those of the Fire; when he looks to his right he smiles; and when he looks to his left, he weeps."


In sura 7.38, we learn, "They that charge our signs with falsehood and proudly reject them, the gates of heaven shall not be opened to them, nor shall they enter Paradise until a camel pass through the eye of a needle"-a remarkable echo of the Matt. 19.24, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (See also Mark 10.25 and Luke 18.25)


Many scholars, such as Muir , for instance, have conjectured that Muhammad and his contemporaries in seventh-century Central Arabia must have been influenced by the Sabians. The situation is rather confused, since this term refers to two distinct sects. According to Carra de Vaux, in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Ist edition, the Koranic reference to the Sabians as the "People of the Book" along with the Jews and the Christians, suggests that the Mandaeans are meant. The Mandaeans were a Judeo-Christian sect that practiced baptism, and perhaps originated east of the Jordan in the f1fSt or second century. However, other scholars such as Bell and Torrey think it highly unlikely that Muhammad meant to indicate the Mandaeans by the term "sabi 'in. "

The second group intended by this term was the pagan sect of Sabians of Harran, who worshipped the stars and admitted the existence of astral spirits. Among these spirits are to be found administrators of the seven planets that are like their temples. According to al-Sharastani, one group of Sabians worship the stars, called temples, directly; and the other group worships handmade idols representing the stars in temples made by man. Insofar as the Sabians may have influenced Muhammad, we may note the prevalence of oaths by the stars and planets in the Koran (sura 56.75: "I swear by the falling of the stars; ..." sura 53, entitled "The Star," verse I: "By the star when it plunges. .."). The Sabians may well have influenced the rites and ceremonies of the pagan Meccans-we know, for instance, that the Meccans kept 360 idols in the Kaaba; and the ceremony of circling the Kaaba seven times, as Muir suggested, is perhaps symbolic of the motion of the seven planets.


108. Goldziher (2), pp. 4-5.

109. Quoted by Anatole France in "The Unrisen Dawn," London, 1929, pp. 110-11. 

110. Renan (1), p. 352.

111. Zwemer (1), p. 24. 

112. Quoted by Jeffery (1), p. I. 

113. Quoted by Dashti, p. 94. 

114. Quoted by Dashti, p. I. 

115. Quoted by Zwemer (3), p. 150. 

116. Zwemer (3), p. 148. 

117. Ibid., p. 150. 

118. Ibid., p. 157. 

119. Noldeke (1) in ERE VOL I, p. 659. 

120. Noldeke (1) in ERE VOL I, p. 665. 

121. Margoliouth (3) in MW vol. 20, p. 241. 

122. Muir (1), p. xci. 

123. Zwemer (3), p. 158.

124. Noldeke (1) in ERE Vol I, p. 660. 

125. Zwemer (3), p. 159. 

126. Ibid., p. 160. 

127. Ibid., p. 159. 

128. Ibid., p. 161. 

129. Juynboll art. Pilgrimage in ERE. 

130. Quoted by Bousquet in afterword to Hurgronje (3), p. 287. 

131. Noldeke (1) in ERE, Vol, I, p. 664. 

132. Zwemer (4) in MW, Vol, 8, p. 359. 

133. Widengren art. Iranian Religions in EB, p. 867. 

134. Hinnels in Numen 16:161-85, 1969. 

135. Article "Zoroastrianism," in JE, pp. 695-97. 

136. Goldziher (3), pp. 163-86. 

137. Jeffery (1), p. 14. 

138. Torrey, p. 106. 

139. Tisdal1, p. 78. 

140. Tisdal1, p. 80. 

141. Stutley, p. 16. 

142. Dowson, p. 20. 

143. Jeffery (1), p. 120. 

144. Quoted by Zwemer (3), pp. 126--27. 

145. Macdonald in Ell article "Djinn." 

146. Zwemer (1), p. 17. 

147. Torrey, p. 60. 

148. Torrey, p. 105. 

149. Quoted by Obermann, p. 94. 

150. Torrey, p. 108. 

151. Tisdal1, p. 23. 

152. Torrey, p. 109ff. 

153. Wensinck art. AL Khadir in Ell. 

154. Obermann, p. 100. 

155. Jeffery (1), p. 141. 

156. Bell, p. 136. 


Ibn Warraq is the author of Why I Am Not a Muslim and the editor of The Origins of the Koran, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, and What the Koran Really Says.
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