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Revelation, Monotheism and Black Stone

Questioner

Saima

Reply Date

Aug 31, 2016

Question

Salam, My question is regarding the revelation of the Quran and the manner of which Muhammad received it from the angel Gabriel. What counters the view that the appearance of Gabriel may have been Satan himself? It bothers me particularly that the angel Gabriel would physically harm Muhammad to read (or recite) if he already knew he was illiterate? Muhammad himself thought he was "possessed”. Also, why was Makkah a place of idol worship before the Quran and remains to be so in the name of Allah with reference to the Black Stone? Therefore, is not paganism the root of Islamic worship? With all due respect, I am just in search for the truth. The manner of the introduction of the Quran has not yet convinced me to believe that Muhammad received Divine revelation from the One true God. Many thanks.

Consultant

Answer


Revelation, Monotheism and Black Stone

Salam Dear Saima,

Many thanks for your questions, which as always are welcome in pursuit of the truth and deeper knowledge of Islam.

It is the opinion of many anthropologists these days that monotheism was a later development in human religion, and that earlier people worshipped manifestations of nature in the search for the ultimate.

However, Quran is explicit in teaching the opposite. It shows that the earliest people served only the true God, and those later generations deviated from the purity of worship and set up idols as intermediaries between them and Allah (God).

The main purpose of God sending prophets and messengers to all nations throughout history was to return them to the essential truth of monotheism, as well as teaching them morality through their words and example.

One of the earliest was Prophet Noah (peace be upon him), who condemned the idol-worship of his people, but met largely with mockery and rejection:

{and said to each other: ‘Do not renounce your gods; especially Wadd, Suwa, Yaghuth, Yauq, and Nasr (the names of their idols)} (Quran, Nuh 71:23)

Commentators explain that these names belonged to righteous men who had been amongst the community some decades earlier. After their death, the people erected statues in their memory. However, with the passage of time, later generations forgot their purpose and began to worship these statues.

Therefore, idolatry was a departure from the primordial religion of monotheism.

Makkah and Monotheism

The city of Makkah has a significant history as the first spot on earth established for the worship of God Almighty:

{The first House [of worship] to be established for people was the one at Mecca. It is a blessed place; a source of guidance for all people;} (Quran, Aal-Imran 3:96)

Some accounts indicate that Adam and Eve, the first human beings, were the first people to construct the Kaabah, the building that continues to provide a focal point for the prayers of Muslims around the world.

Later, the two prophets Abraham (Ibrahim) and his eldest son Prophet Ishmael (Ismail), may peace be upon them, raised the building of the Kaabah on its original foundations and prayed to Allah to raise up generations of believers in its vicinity:

{As Abraham and Ishmael built up the foundations of the House [they prayed], “Our Lord, accept [this] from us. You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. Our Lord, make us devoted to You; make our descendants into a community devoted to You. Show us how to worship and accept our repentance, for You are the Ever-Relenting, the Most-Merciful.} (Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:127-8)

Thus, the Arab tribes that dwelt in the region, including Quraish, among whom prophet Muhammad emerged, traced not only their biological lineage to Abraham, but also their spiritual lineage, despite the large extent to which they deviated from his teachings.

The Makkans of the generations preceding Muhammad were steeped in humiliating servitude to idols they carved with their own hands, seeking help from helpless wood and stone.

The origin of this idolatry is known to be a leader called Amr bin Luhayy, who brought an idol named Hubal from Syria and ordered the people of Makkah to pray to it for their needs. (Ibn Hisham, 77)

Thus the people became accustomed to this practice and used to keep idols in their homes as well as three hundred and sixty of them in and around the Kaabah, which was originally dedicated to the worship of One God.

Although they knew that there was a supreme deity called Allah, the sole Creator, the vast majority of the Makkans worshipped idols to serve their daily needs and as intercessors before Allah. Only a handful, known as the Hanifs, dissented from these practices.

The Mission of Muhammad

Muhammad (peace be upon him) arose as the answer to the prayer of his forefathers Ibrahim and Ismail, which is mentioned in the verse following the ones quoted previously:

{Our Lord, make a messenger of their own rise up from among them, to recite Your revelations to them, teach them the Scripture and wisdom, and purify them: You are the Mighty, the Wise.} (Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:129)

Muhammad purified them by eradicating idolatry from the Arabian Peninsula through the dramatic events of his prophetic life: First in Makkah, then in Madinah, and culminating in the peaceful conquest of his home city.

Upon the conquest of Makkah, one of the first acts of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was to topple the idols around the Kaabah, striking them with his own stick and proclaiming the words of the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God:

{And say, “The truth has come, and falsehood has passed away: falsehood is bound to pass away.”} (Quran, Al-Israa 17:81)

I think this summary is sufficient to dispel the notion that Islamic practice has any origin in paganism or idolatry.

Regarding to your specific reference to the way Muslims worship at the Kaabah and show respect to a rock at one of its corners known as the Black Stone, a brief clarification is needed.

In no way is the fact that Muslims prostrate in the direction of Makkah, specifically the Kaabah, to be construed as worshipping an object. It is merely a spot chosen by God to provide a focal point for worshippers wherever they may be. Thus, the Muslims standing in straight rows in their mosques and homes are actually standing in concentric circles spanning the entire globe.

When Muslims pray, they prostrate with their faces on the ground. No sensible person would accuse them of worshipping the ground itself! The same reasoning applies to a building towards which the physical actions of prayer are performed. The spirit of the prayer is focused only on God.

The Black Stone is said to have come down from heaven and been placed in the Kaabah by Prophet Ibrahim. Muslims raise their hands towards it while performing the pilgrimage rites, or even touch or kiss it, because that is the practice taught by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and is thought to symbolize pledging obedience to Allah.

Indeed, the second Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab was heard addressing the Black Stone, saying:

“By God, I know that you are nothing but a rock that can neither harm nor benefit. Had I not seen the Messenger of God kissing you, I would not have kissed you.” (Al-Bukhari)

I have never heard of anyone mistakenly believing that the building or this stone could provide anyone benefit or cause any harm, such that they worship the structure rather than the One in Whose worship it was established since time immemorial.

The Event of Revelation

You have also asked about the Prophet’s visitation by the Archangel Gabriel, and the aspects of fear and discomfort that accompanied it.

Certainly, revelation was no light matter, as its form was related to its importance. As God addresses His messenger in the Quran:

{We shall send a momentous message down to you.} (Quran, Al-Muzzammil 73:5)

It seems that you have interpreted the Angel’s powerful embrace of the Prophet in the story of the first revelation as something malign. However, the reality of its purpose was explained well by a contemporary author:

“[This] may be viewed as confirmation that what was taking place was the reception of something objective and external, lest anyone suppose that it was nothing but a figment of his imagination.” (M.S.R.)

The same author points out that the terror felt by the Prophet on this occasion, exemplified by his rushing home to his wife, Khadijah, trembling and asking to be wrapped in a garment, is a fact supporting the genuineness of the revelatory experience.

This is because it shows that the Prophet had no hand in creating the message that came to him, and he was far from expecting it before its sudden arrival.

For the remainder of the two decades of revelation until shortly before Muhammad’s death, the visitations by the Angel Gabriel were not quite so dramatic. The Prophet stated explicitly that:

“The easiest form of revelation would involve the Angel Gabriel coming to him in the form of a human being and speaking to him.” (Al-Bukhari)

Finally, the notion that there was any involvement of the devil in the revelation is contradicted most clearly by the teachings of the Quran itself. Its central message is to worship Allah alone, and achieve purity through obeying Allah and doing good, while rejecting the call of Satan and evil desires.

I do not think it an exaggeration to state that the Quran is the most anti-Satan book there is. I hope this fulfills your questions.

Thank you and please stay in touch.

Salam.

Works Cited:

Al-Buty Muhammad Sayid Ramadan , The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography, Dar al-Fikr al-Mouaser, Damascus 2001

Ibn Hisham, Abd Al-Malek. Sirat Ibn Hisham. Vol. 1. Tanta: Dar Al-Sahabah. 1995.




About Sohaib Saeed

Sohaib Saeed is a Scottish Muslim scholar specializing in Quranic studies and exegesis. He is founder and director of Quranica, an institute for research, education and outreach (www.quranica.com).

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