Similarity of Islamic Rituals with Paganism
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

Some elements of Hajj and ‘Umrah are very similar to what the Arab pagans did before the advent of Muhammad (sws). For example, throwing rocks at the Jamarāt columns, going round the Ka‘bah and kissing the black stone. What is the history of these rituals and why are they so similar to that of the pagans?


In this regard, one needs to understand that after the Qur’ān, the second source of Islam is the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). By Sunnah is meant those established religious practices of the Prophet Abraham (sws) to which the Prophet (sws) gave sanction among his followers after reviving and reforming them and after making certain additions to them. The Qur’ān has directed the Prophet (sws) to obey these Abrahamic practices in the following words:

Then We revealed to you to follow the ways of Abraham, who was true in faith and was not among the polytheists. (16:123)

These Abrahamic practices were in vogue in Arabia and the pagan Arabs of course were following them in whatever form they were at the advent of the Prophet (sws). They fasted, did Hajj, offered prayers, gave Zakāh since they were the progeny of Abraham (sws) and the followers of his religion.

Consequently, it should remain clear that practices of worship like Salāh, Zakāh, Hajj, animal sacrifice were not introduced by the Qur’ān or the Prophet through his Sunnah. However, since over the years, many innovations had crept up in these rituals, the Prophet (sws) cleansed them and re-shaped them into their original Abrahamic form. The rituals which existed in their original shape were of course not tampered with and were adopted as they were.

If we analyse the case of Hajj (from where your question has originated), it will become evident that some of its practices had been distorted by the pagan Arabs. For example, they would not go to ‘Arafāt and would return from Muzdalifah (2:199). The Prophet (sws) corrected it. Similarly, they would circumambulate the Ka‘bah naked. This was also abolished (7:31).

Now for the philosophy of the Hajj rituals you have referred to:

a. In ancient Arabia, covenants and agreements were strengthened by kissing hands and by moving around in circles. Both these were adopted in the Hajj ritual because when one comes to the Ka‘bah, one actually revives the covenant of pleasing the Almighty. This revival is symbolised by kissing the black stone (the Hajr-i-Aswad) and by circumambulating the Ka‘bah (Tawāf).

b. Pelting stones on columns (the jamarāt) symbolise that a person must have the will to fight Satan and his accomplices in his life. He should even be ready to lay down his life for this purpose, if need be.

I think if this symbolism is known, the Hajj rituals become very meaningful.


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