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Thursday, June 4, 2009

From Will Durant's "Age of Faith"

Some weeks ago, I wished I had this resource handy. A few days ago, whilst looking for something else in the garage, I found it. This is an extended quote from volume IV of Will Durant's history of the world, "The Age of Faith." Emphasis is mine:
The desert Arab had his own primitive and yet subtle religion. He feared and worshiped incalculable deities in stars and moon and the depths of the earth; occasionally he importuned the mercy of a punitive sky; but for the most part he was so confused by the swarm of spirits (jinn) about him that he despaired of appeasing them, accepted a fatalistic resignation, prayed with masculine brevity, and shrugged his shoulders over the infinite. He seems to have given scant thought to a life after death; sometimes, however, he had his camel tied foodless to his grave, so that it might soon follow him to the other world, and save him from the social disgrace of going on foot in paradise. Now and then he offered human sacrifice; and here and there he worshiped sacred stones.

The center of this stone worship was Mecca.
This holy city owed none of its growth to climate, for the mountains of bare rock that almost enclosed it ensured a summer of intolerable heat; the valley was an arid waste; and in all the town, as Mohammed knew it, hardly a garden grew. But its location--halfway down the west coast, forty-eight miles from the Red Sea--made it a convenient stopping point for the mile-long caravans, sometimes of a thousand camels, that carried trade between southern Arabia (and therefore India and Central Africa) and Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. The merchants who controlled this trade formed joint-stock companies, dominated the fairs at Ukaz, and managed the lucrative religious ritual that centered around the Kaaba and its sacred Black Stone.

Kaaba means a square structure, and is one with our word cube. In the belief of orthodox Moslems, the Kaaba was built or rebuilt ten times. The first was erected at the dawn of history by angels from heaven; the second by Adam; the third by his son Seth; the fourth by Abraham and his son Ishmael by Hagar...the seventh by Qusay, chief of the Quraish tribe; the eighth by the Quraish leaders in Mohammed's lifetime (605); the ninth and tenth by Moslem leaders in 681 and 696; the tenth is substantially the Kaaba of today. It stands near the center of a large porticoed enclosure, the Masjid al-Haram, or Sacred Mosque. It is a rectangular stone edifice forty feet long, thirty-five wide, fifty high. In its southeast corner, five feet from the ground, just right for kissing, is embedded the Black Stone, of dark red material, oval in shape, some seven inches in diameter. Many of its worshipers believe that this stone was sent down from heaven--and perhaps it was a meteorite; most of them believe that it has been a part of the Kaaba since Abraham. Moslem scholars interpret it as symbolizing that part of Abraham's progeny (Ishmael and his offspring) which, rejected by Israel, became, they think, the founders of the Quraish tribe; they apply to it a passage from Psalm cxviii, 22-3: "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner; this is Yahveh's doing" and another from Matthew xxi, 42-3, in which Jesus, having quoted these strange words, adds: "Therefore the Kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof"--though the virile Moslems would hardly claim to have fulfilled the ethics of Christ.

Within the Kaaba, in pre-Moslem days, were several idols representing gods. One was called Allah, and was probably the tribal god of the Quraish; three others were Allah's daughters--al-Uzza, al-Lat, and Manah. We may judge the antiquity of this Arab pantheon from the mention of Al-il-Lat (al-Lat) by Herodotus as a major Arabian deity. The Quraish paved the way for monotheism by worshiping Allah as chief god; He was presented to the Meccans as the Lord of their soil, to Whom they must pay a tithe of their crops and the first-born of their herds.
So, what do we know? We know that from antiquity, the Arabs of that area worshiped sacred rocks; we know that to this day, worshippers in the Kaaba, which was a center of idolatry from time immemorial, kiss an old black rock; we know that as far back as Herodotus, the Arabs of that area held al-Lat, one of the daughters of Allah, to be a major deity; that she was held to have two sisters; and that one of the idols in that old center of idolatry, the Kaaba, was called Allah. We know that for much of this time--probably a good two thousand years or more--the Hebrews had been worshipping their own decidedly-opposed-to-idolatry God quite apart from any "Allah," so there is no realistic possibility that the two were ever confused with one another by any knowledgeable person.

And we know that Muhammed preached, after a series of visions so frightening that he required reassurance from others that he was not going mad, a god called Allah to the very tribe that made a goodly sum of money managing the idol-worship devoted to...Allah. Allah and his daughters. Only now, Allah had a prophet--the last, the ultimate prophet.

Over and over again, I've been told, "MOTW, Muslims worship the same God you do." I reject this notion. It seems ludicrous. Imagining that Muhammad's "Allah" didn't start out as the same "Allah" his own tribe had been idolatrously worshipping from ancient times, or imagining that Muhammad innocently chose an idol's name for his god because it literally means "the god," and that he really had in mind the idol-hating God of the Hebrews--that is, imagining that "Allah" is not merely an idol, freshened up and dusted off for Muhammad's own purposes--requires rather more credulousness than I possess.

Draw your own conclusions; my mind's made up. I think Jerry Vines was right. Not PC, perhaps, but right.

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