Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who was Muhammad? Part 6 - The Influence of Hanafiya

SUMMARY: Zakariya Boutros presents evidence in this segment that Muhammad adopted the monotheistic beliefs and practices of the hanafiya and incorporated them into Islam. He also shows evidence that Muhammad copied some of the poetry of the hanif poet Umayya bin Abu Salt into the Q uran. Of particular interest is that fact that Muhammad did not initially call people to Islam, but to the faith of Abraham the hanif.

COMMENT: The idea that Muhammad codified the beliefs of the hanifs into a religion he called Islam will of course offend many Muslims. The important question, however, is not “Is it offensive?” but “Is it true?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AHMAD: We have spoken about the religious influences on the life of Muhammad, and the idolatry that was widespread in the Arab Peninsula. Can you also tell us about the hanifs and hanafiya?

ABUNA: The first thing I want to do is make a distinction between the Hanafiya legal school that was established by Abu Hanifa and is one of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and the hanafiya movement that existed before Islam. Shaykh Khalil Abd al-Karim writes in “The Historical Roots of Islamic Sharia” that the hanafiya was a religious movement whose followers were called hanifs and who believed theirs was the religion of Abraham. They did not worship idols, believed in only one God, did not drink alcohol, prohibited adultery, fasted, practiced the pilgrimage, circumcised their sons, and were against the murder of daughters as was commonly practiced at the time. Muslims often claim that Muhammad was the first to outlaw female infanticide, but it was condemned by the hanifs. They also believed in destiny and fate.

Dr. Jawad Ali writes that the hanifs did not follow an organized religion like Judaism or Christianity, and did not have a system of doctrines and regulations from texts that were revealed from heaven. He adds that today we would call them reformers, because they wanted to improve the general situation and elevate the role of reason.

AHMAD: Can you give the names of some of them?

ABUNA: There was Kab bin Luay, who was one of the ancestors of Muhammad, and Abd al-Mutallib who was Muhammad's grandfather. The poet Zayd bin Amer, who was the uncle of the Caliph Umar bin Khattab, was a hanif. So was the poet Umayya bin Abu Salt, who was a contemporary of Muhammad and influenced Muhammad to the extent that Muhammad adopted some of his poetry and turned it into verses of the Quran.

AHMAD: How was Muhammad influenced by hanafiya?

ABUNA: Muhammad found that this movement was all prepared, ready to be turned into a religion. He took the beliefs of this movement and turned them into a religion. He transformed them into a system and laws, and put them into a book and named it the Quran. He claimed this was revealed from heaven via the angel Gabriel. Shaykh Khalil Abd al-Karim writes, “Islam adopted the regulations and beliefs and practices of the hanifs, pronounced them openly, and called people to them.”

AHMAD: Is their evidence from the Quran that Muhammad adopted the ideas of the hanafiya movement and turned it into the religion of Islam?

ABUNA: Quran 16:123 says, “We revealed to you, Muhammad, that you are to follow the faith of Abraham, who was one of the hanifs.” Quran 12:38 says, “I have followed the faith of my ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and we would never attribute any partners to Allah.” Quran 6: 161 says, “My Lord has guided me in a way that is straight, the path of Abraham the hanif.” Quran 3: 95 says, “Follow the religion of Abraham the hanif, who was not one of the idolaters.” Quran 2:135 says, “They tell you to become Jews or Christians if you want to be rightly guided. Tell them you would rather follow the religion of Abraham the hanif.” Note that none of these verses even mention Islam. It was only in Quran 22:78 (which is a later Medinan surah) that they were called Muslims. That verse says, “Strive for Allah…he has chosen you and has given you the faith of your father Abraham, who called you Muslims.” Now Muhammad says that Abraham and those with him were Muslim.

AHMAD: Is their additional evidence from other Islamic sources?

ABUNA: We always begin with the Quran in our study, because that is the main authority for the Muslims. Then we look at the books that explain the Quran. In his exegesis of Quran 6:161 (“My Lord has guided me in a way that is straight, the path of Abraham the hanif”), Al-Tabari writes, “This was hanafiya, the religion of Abraham. The hanif was the one guided in a straight way.” Note that he says Muhammad proclaimed the religions of the hanifs, not a new religion.

Al-Wahidi writes in “Asbab al-Nazul” that Muhammad entered a Jewish school and called the Jews there to follow Allah. When they asked him which religion he belonged to, he replied he followed the religion of Abraham. One would have expected him to say Islam. Dr. Jawad Ali writes that the poet Umayya bin Abu Salt came to Muhammad in Medina and asked what he had brought to them. Muhammad replied that he had come with the hanafiya, the religion of Abraham.

AHMAD: You said that Umayya bin Abu Salt was one of the hanifs who influenced Muhammad. How did he do that?

ABUNA: Dr. Jawad Ali writes that Umayya was the first person to introduce his writings with the expression “In your name, who is their Allah.” Muhammad began to use this expression, and then exchanged it for the expression “In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate One” (which opens all but one of the chapters of the Quran). Umayya also recounted a story of angels appearing and opening his chest in preparation for prophethood, which was also adopted by Muhammad. Ibn Kathir recounts in his book “The Beginning and the End” stories that Umayya met with priests who saw on him physical marks of prophethood, and that enchanting beings descended on him and opened up his heart to cleanse and purify it. Muhammad took these stories that Umayya wrote, and claimed they happened to him. Umayya Ibn Abu Salt was a noteworthy and respected person among the Arabs. If Muhammad could claim to have the same experiences he did, it would be to his advantage. The earliest authoritative biographies of Muhammad including Ibn Ishaq’s “The Life of Muhammad” claim that all these events happened to Muhammad.

AHMAD: Umayya Ibn Abu Salt was a poet. Did Muhammad take any of his poetry and incorporate it into the Quran?

ABUNA: Yes, he did. The Arabic book “An Anthology of Christian Poets” gives some of Umayya’s poetry:

The God of the heavens and the earth
And lord of the mountain peaks
Created them and planted them firmly
Without visible pillars or cords
He made them and adorned them with light
From the sun and the moon
He put the shooting stars in the darkness
Throwing them swifter than arrows.

Is this not what Muhammad said in Quran 31:10: “He created the heavens without visible pillars, and planted mountains firmly on the earth.”

AHMAD: Are there other examples?

ABUNA: Yes, there are many. Ali Jawad writes that the descriptions of Umayya bin Abu Salt of judgment day, and heaven and hell, correspond in great detail to what is written in the Quran. Umayya wrote that Allah sends individuals as messengers and judges and rewards people. Those who do wrong are condemned to hell, and those who do right live forever in a heaven where they feast on water, wine, milk and honey, and have whatever they desire including beautiful women. Quran 47:15 contains direct quotes from Umayya’s poetry, “The heaven that has been promised to the righteous will contain rivers of water, milk, wine and honey.” Quran 56: 17-22 says, “Young boys will serve them wine from cups that will not cause headaches or intoxication, and they will have females with wide lovely eyes like pearls.

AHMAD: Is there more historical evidence that Muhammad knew the poetry of Umayya bin Abu Salt?

ABUNA: Sahih Muslim (book 28, hadith 5602) wrote that Amr bin Sharid reported his father said he was riding behind Allah’s Messenger one day when the Messenger asked him, “Do you remember any poetry of Umayya bin Abu Salt?” When the father said he did, the Messenger asked him to recite some of it. After he recited a few verses, the Messenger asked him to continue and he recited to the Messenger one hundred couplets of Umayya’s poetry. Another relevant hadith is (book 28, 5606), Abu Huraira reported that Allah’s Messenger said, “The truest verse recited by a poet is ‘Apart from Allah everything is vain’, and Umayya bin Abu Salt was almost a Muslim.”

The encyclopedia of Islamic Knowledge writes that the poetry of Umayya bin Abu Salt was one of the sources that the Quran relied upon.

AHMAD: Abuna, what do you personally think was the influence of Umayya on Muhammad?

ABUNA: Rather than give my opinion, I’d rather continue with what the Muslim historians themselves have written. I have a feeling that after this program today, the Muslim shaykhs are going to attack their own books!

Jawad Ali writes that Umayya bin Abu Salt said, “If Muhammad was truly a prophet, he would not have killed those people in the cemetery.”

AHMAD: What was he talking about?

ABUNA: Umayya bin Abu Salt was going to meet with Muhammad, and on the way he and his associates passed a cemetery. Someone informed Umayya that the people in the cemetery were those Muslims who had been killed in the battle of Badr. Umayya had been in Syria at the time of that battle, not in Medina. Umayya tore his tunic and said, “By Allah, if he were truly a prophet he would not have killed his own people.” That was the opinion of Umayya bin Abu Salt.

AHMAD: The same person whose poetry Muhammad took and put it in the Quran!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Who was Muhammad? Part 5 - The Practices of Islam

SUMMARY: In this segment, Boutros Zakariya shows from Muslim sources that many things Muslim practice today were part of pre-Islamic society.

COMMENT: Few Muslims know that practices as common as the fast of Ramadan and the circumambulation of the Kaaba during the Pilgrimage were done by the pagan Arabs long before Islam. The Muslim belief, of course, is that these were revealed to Muhammad from Allah. Muslims often have two responses when presented with new, unfavorable information about Islam. The first is to admit they did not know this. The second is to deny it. The majority continue in that denial for the rest of their lives.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AHMAD: We have looked at the idols that were present during the “jahiliyah” (the time of ignorance before Islam). Let’s move to a related subject, which is the religious practices of the idolaters and their influence on Muhammad and Islam.

ABUNA: Every religious system has its accompanying religious practices, and this is true of idolaters as well. I would like to introduce at this point an important additional reference text, “The Historical Roots of Islamic Shariah” by Shaykh Khalil Abdel Karim. He is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, and his book is very important. There is also the book of Dr. Jawad Ali about the Arabs before Islam that we saw in our previous session.

AHMAD: Can you tell us the religious practices of the time that influenced Muhammad?

ABUNA: Dr. Ali Jawad points out that the religious practices of the Arabs before Islam included fasting, things that were permitted and prohibited (halal and haram), major and minor pilgrimages (the hajj and the umrah), and houses for their gods including the Kaaba and its cloth covering. Shaykh Khalil Abdel Karim adds to this list the month of fasting (Ramadan), the exaltation of Abraham and Ismail, and a public meeting on Fridays (Islam’s holy day). All these Islamic practices were present before Islam.

AHMAD: As a former Muslim, the first thing that comes to my mind is Ramadan. What can you tell us about fasting before Islam?

ABUNA: The Quraysh would fast on the day of Ashurah, which is still practiced by Muslims today (and was a fast of the Jews at the time of Muhammad). Muhammad practiced this before he imposed the month of Ramadan, and afterwards he allowed it as a voluntary fast. Shaykh Khalil writes that even the fast of Ramadan was practiced before Islam.

AHMAD: About 80 days after the end of Ramadan comes the pilgrimage. What can you tell us about that?

ABUNA: I want to repeat one important comment, which is that the fast of Ramadan did not just drop out of the sky as revelation to Muhammad but was practiced by the Arabs before Islam. Some of the hanifs would fast in the cave of Hira during that time (which is where Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran). Ramadan is simply a continuation of a practice that existed before Islam.

Now for the Hajj (pilgrimage). Shaykh Khalil writes that the Arab tribes agreed that the Kaaba in Mecca was sacred, and were eager to make pilgrimage to it. Islam continued the emphasis on the holiness of the Kaaba and Mecca, and the Quran used many expressions common at the time to describe them. Jawad Ali adds men and women would circumambulate the Kaaba naked. And even today the white cloth (the ihram) they wear at the pilgrimage leaves them half-naked.

AHMAD: What is the meaning and origin of the word “Hajj”?

ABUNA: In his important book “Myths and Traditions”, Dr. Qimni writes that the word “hajj” originally came from the root “hakk”, and even today some Arabic dialects pronounce the “J” sound as a “K”. By the way, they have silenced Dr. Qimni, but they cannot silence his books (Sayyid Qimni or Qemni is a current Egyptian reformer whose writings are attacked and banned in his own country). The root “hakk” is a derivative of “ihtikak”, which means “to rub against”. In “Al Milal wal Nahal”, Abu Qasim al-Shahristani writes that the pilgrims used to rub themselves against the black stone in the Kaaba. Dr. Qimni adds that the women would rub menstrual blood against the black stone. My question for my Muslim brethren is, If that was the meaning of the pilgrimage in the jahiliyah, why was it incorporated into Islam? What is the meaning of their kissing the black stone today?

AHMAD: You have also noted that the pilgrimage was a time of commercial profit.

ABUNA: “The Encyclopedia of Islamic Knowledge” informs us the pilgrimages were held during the date season, and markets to sell dates were set up during that time. Dr. Qimni says this was also a time where prostitution and group sex were practiced by the pilgrims as a celebration of the date harvest. One of the idols in the Kaaba was Hubal, the god of fertility, and sex was considered part of his worship. This explains why circling the Kaaba nude was part of the pilgrimage. They also practiced a form of prostitution known as “mutah” (a form of “temporary marriage” or “marriage for enjoyment” still practiced today among the Shia; the word “mutah” means “enjoyment” and it is explained in detail at In Quran 4:24, the list of women that Muslim men can marry includes those “for enjoyment” to whom a price is to be paid. In his “Exegesis of the Quran”, Qurtabi writes that Abu Durr said “mutah” marriage was practiced in the pilgrimage.

AHMAD: What were other pilgrimage rites at that time?

ABUNA: Shaykh Khalil writes that the pilgrims did many of the same practices they do today. These included the chant, “I am here at your service, Oh Allah”, wearing special clothing, stopping at Mt. Arafat, circling the Kaaba, throwing stones at the devil, etc.

AHMAD: What is the origin of throwing stones at the devil?

ABUNA: Jawad Ali writes that the idea of throwing stones at the devil goes back to Amr ibn Lahya (or Luhayy, who lived 400 years before Muhammad). Murtada al-Zubaydi writes in “The Bride’s Crown” that Amr brought seven idols to Mecca and then threw three stones at each one saying it was larger than the one before it. So the idea of throwing stones at the devil at the Kaaba preceded Muhammad by hundreds of years.

AHMAD: What about the black stone of the Kaaba? Was it considered sacred before Islam?

ABUNA: The black stone was sacred before Islam to the extent that the Kaaba itself took its sacredness from it. Mahmud Salim al-Hut says in his book “Mythology and the Arabs” that the Kaaba housed the black stone they believed had come down from heaven. The Arabs used to circumambulate this stone. I have already mentioned that women would rub their menstrual blood against it in the belief that would give them fertility.

AHMAD: Did Muhammad consider the black stone to be sacred?

ABUNA: Yes indeed, and he used to kiss it. He preserved circumambulating the Kaaba and the black stone in the rituals of the Hajj. The Kaaba is the focal point of the pilgrimage. In the hadith of Bayhaqi, he writes that Ibn Abbas said that Muhammad kissed the black stone and rubbed his right cheek against it. He added that the Prophet would circle the Kaaba three times running like a gazelle, and would then circumambulate it four times walking slowly in respect of the black stone. Sahih Bukhari adds that the Caliph Umar kissed the black stone and said, “I know that you are only a stone, having no power of good or evil, and I would not kiss you had not I seen the Prophet kiss you.” I ask the Muslims, why did Muhammad make this stone sacred? Can they give one reason?

AHMAD: Do you have any comment as to why Muhammad considered the black stone sacred, when Umar realized it was only a stone?

ABUNA: This is an indication of how Muhammad tried to please people, in order to gain them to his side. He called for the abolition of idols, but considered the black stone sacred. Was that not an idol? Umar realized that the stone carried no blessing. Was he better than Muhammad? Did Muhammad not realize that as well? Is it proper of a prophet that he try to please the idolaters to attract them to him? Why is the black stone still located in the Kaaba?