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?”
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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!