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Idolatry in Islam and in Mecca



Read how there are numerous remnants of pre-Islamic idolatry in the modern Islam. Most of them are connected with the pilgrimage to Mecca



This article deals with idolatry in Islam. It is something that many sincere Muslims may ignore and deny, saying that there is nothing like it in Islam. However, that is not the case. It is noteworthy that the Fifth Pillar of Islam, the Pilgrimage to Mecca, contains several features related to idolatry. It is a question of matters that were already characteristic of the ancient religious practice and idolatry of the Arabs before the time of Islam and Muhammad. They have thus moved as such to today's Islam. Such features, some of which we are going to look at, are e.g. items on the list:


- Pilgrimage destination is Mecca

- Walking around temple many times

- Kissing or touching black stone

- Worshippers of heathen gods in Mecca called themselves Hanifs

- Sacrificing animals 

- Walking to Mt. Arafat

- Visiting hills of Safa and Marwa


The destination of the pilgrimage is Mecca. Mecca being the destination of pilgrimage comes from earlier practices. This habit was by no means born until through Muhammad, but also Arabs and other ancient worshippers of heathen gods customarily made pilgrimages to the same town and participated in cult ceremonies in the temple of Caba, where they worshiped 360 heathen gods. It has the following things in common with the modern pilgrimage: the destination was the same, pilgrims of both were called hanifs, and they carried out almost exactly the same stages of pilgrimage as the Muslims nowadays. Modern activities related to Mecca are clearly similar to those of ancient times. 

   The same activities continued until Muhammad, who himself had been a guard in the sanctuary when there still were 360 heathen gods. Muhammad decided to close the town to all but the supporters of Islam. This happened in 630 A.D. But Muhammad still preserved all the rituals of the former religion including its idolatry; they have been preserved until now.


Before the time of Muhammad, the idolatry of the Arab tribes had focused on the cube-shaped shrine of the Kaaba in Mecca. Islam’s own tradition confirms that 360 gods were worshiped in Mecca: “Abdullah bin Masud said,‘ When the Prophet arrived in Mecca, there were 360 idols around the Kaaba ’” (Sahih Bukhari) (1)


Going around Caba. The first connection with old idolatry was the pilgrimage to Mecca. The second point of similarity is the requirement to walk around the temple of Caba. Nowadays Muslims walk around Caba seven times. This was another ancient practice of idolatry and pilgrimage: people in those days walked around the temple, showed respect for it, and also kissed the black stone that was on the edge of the temple. These are activities that closely resemble those seen during modern-day pilgrimages to Mecca. 

   Other historical references describe occasions when people walked around other temples and stones in other locations. Greek historians referred to this custom, and the next example also illustrates that this custom was common practice in idol worship. 


People of Quraish took as their God a god called Hubal who was in the temple of Caba and stood near the well. They also worshipped Isaf and Na'il next to Zamzam, the place were they sacrificed. (…)

   Arabs adopted, in addition to Caba, taghuts or temples that they respected. Like Caba, they had their own doormen and caretakers. The Arabs gave them offerings just as to Caba and walked around them as they did in Caba. They also slaughtered animals close to these places. (2)


Kissing the black stone. One confluence between the former idolatry and the current pilgrimage to Mecca is the kissing and touching of the black stone in the Kaaba temple. Also the Arabs in the old days used to kiss this stone and worship it as a god a long time before the days of Muhammad. The black stone was the most honored object in the ancient temple and the focus of polytheistic worshipping. The Bedouins also worshipped it along with other stones long before the time of Islam and Muhammad. So it is quite curious that the Muslims these days kiss a stone that was previously used in idolatry.


Before Islam, the Arabs worshipped numerous gods, and their religion probably resembled the belief of the earlier Semite nations. (…) The Most important actively worshipped divinities were goddesses Allat, al-Uzza, and Manat who were probably regarded as the daughters of Allah, even though the pre-Islamic world of gods had not arranged itself into a clear pantheon.

 (…) In addition to commonly worshipped gods, each tribe seems to have had their own divinities. The god of Mecca was possibly a less well known (moon) god Hubal who according to tradition was worshipped in the temple of Caba before the birth of Islam.

   In addition to actual gods, holy stones, springs, and trees were worshipped. Worshipping of stones has been very typical for pre-Islamic Bedouins, also the Greek sources have mentioned this. The stones may have been formed naturally or be roughly outlined. The Bedouins worshipped both solid stones and stones they carried with them. The black stone of Caba was also worshipped already in the pre-Islamic period. (3)


The Kaaba temple and its black stone are thus an important part of the Islamic practice of religion. It is also evident from the fact that Muslims are praying converted to Mecca. Is there a belief that a black stone could act as a mediator of prayer? If this is assumed or that the direction of prayer matters, it will lead to Mecca and the black stone being considered the object of idolatry. Or isn't it like this? This is also different from the usual Christian prayer, where we can simply tell our concern to God (Phil 4: 6: Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.). It has no meaning in the direction of prayer.

   Why, then, do Muslims accept black stone kissing and other idolatry? This is difficult to understand. The following quote tells more about the subject. Islam’s own tradition tells us that all current rituals such as pilgrimage to Mecca, Ramadan, circling the Kaaba, kissing the black stone, running between Saf and Marwa, stoning Satan, and drinking from the Zamzam spring are of pagan origin:


After circling the Kaaba seven times, the worshipers rushed to the pillars symbolizing Satan outside Mecca and stoned them. Closely related to this ritual was running seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa. They were near the main mosque of Mecca. The distance between the mountains is four hundred meters.

    The Qur’an testifies how this running-ritual was valid before Islam. When Muslims wonderingly asked Muhammad why they had to follow this pagan custom, he received an answer from Allah:


Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House (Kaaba) in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. (Suura 2:158)


Large number of people thus gathered to Mecca  to worship the gods placed inside or around the building that was covered with black cloth. Every tribe or individual who arrived in the city was allowed to choose a god they liked best from Kaaba. These pilgrimages provided a good income for the Quraish-tribe, who, as members of the largest tribe in Mecca, cared for and oversaw the shrine (…)

   There has been much thought as to why Muhammad left those pagan customs to Islam. One reason must have been that he left them alive to the liking of the Quraish tribe, as these rituals did not directly threaten Islam or deny Allah. When the people of Quraysh also converted to Muslims after the conquest of Mecca, they, as caretakers of the Kaaba, received decent money each year from pilgrims arriving in Mecca. Knowing the pagan origins of current rituals can be an embarrassing truth for those who want to deny the testimony given by history. (4)


Black stone and connection to moon worship. It was noted above that the kissing of the black stone and other current customs of Islamic pilgrimage appeared in idolatry long before Muhammad. Muhammad accepted these pagan customs as part of the Islamic practice of religion.

    One connection to the past is also the sign of the moon. The peoples of the Middle East used to worship the moon, sun, and stars. A lunar sickle has been found on thousands of altars, earthenware, vessels, amulets, earrings, and other artifacts. It refers to the prevalence of lunar worship. The idolaters in Mecca also believed that the black stone had been dropped from the sky by the moon god Hubal (see previous quotations!). However, this view was later changed by Muhammad himself, because he believed that the stone was sent by the angel Gabriel from Paradise and that the stone was originally white but changed into black because of the sins of the people. Was Muhammad right or is it only an ordinary meteorite that fell to Earth? It is impossible to prove this now.

    The following quotations continue on the same subject, namely the worship of the black stone and how this stone was believed to have originated from the moon, fallen from the sky by the god of the moon Hubal. The roofs of the current mosques still use the crescent moon, which resembles the past idolatry, as well as black stone kissing and other features in pilgrimage.


Unlike the Persians who – taught by Zoroastrian – worshipped the Sun as the residence of the Highest Being and connected good with light and fire, and bad with dark, the Arabs of those days generally worshipped the Moon. To a Persian who lived in the land of high mountains, the heat from the Sun may have been welcomed but to an Arab of the desert plains, the Sun was a killer and the Moon brought dew and darkness after the boiling heat and dazzling light. According to a heathen legend, it was believed that Hobal, the God of the Moon dropped the black meteorite stone of Caba from Heaven. It was deemed holy long before Islam, and was worshipped by pilgrims and travelers who believed that the Moon was also a god. (5)


Al-Hadis (Book 4, Chapter 42, No. 47) contains the astonishing statement of Muhammad: “Abu Razin al-Uqaili narrated: I asked: O Messenger of Allah: Does everyone on the Day of Resurrection see their Lord in His open form? ‘Yes,’ he replied. I asked: What is the sign of this in His creation? They said: Oh Abu Razin. Isn’t it that each of you sees the moon in full moonlight in bare form.” This verse gives an indication that the moon was a symbol of Allah. Research has shown that:


• Allah was an Arab idol for centuries. “He is the Lord of you and of your fathers (Surah 44: 8). The God of the Arabs and their ancestors was by no means the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, YHVH Yahweh, but Allah

• The moon was a symbol of Allah.

• Allah was called the God of the Moon.


(…) Scholars of Western religions agree with the Bible that the main religion of the peoples of the Middle East was associated with the worship of the moon, sun, and stars.

   Thousands of altars, earthenware, vessels, amulets, earrings, and other artifacts found by ancient scholars have the sickle of the moon. It speaks of widespread worship of the moon.

   The texts of the clay tablets found in the archaeological excavations contain descriptions of the victims given to the moon. One may ask why the sickle of the moon still stands on the roofs of mosques today. The symbol of God was, of course, placed on the roofs in the same way that Christians put the cross in their churches as a symbol of the salvation made by Christ.

   Because lunar worship was common throughout the Middle East, Arabs were also lunar worshipers. A shrine, Kaaba, was also built for the Moon God. It housed a special object of worship, the black stone fallen from the Moon, which Muhammad kissed during the conquest of Mecca. (6)


Muhammad's revelation of the three goddesses. The above was discussed about idolatry in Mecca and the pilgrimage there. It was noted how black stone kissing, the circumvention of the Kaaba, and other forms of idolatry performed in Mecca were common even before the time of Islam. Muhammad accepted them as such into modern Islam. Therefore, the same idolatry forms are still practiced.

    The issue connected to Muhammad and idolatry is also Qur’an of 53: 19,20, which is called "the Satanic Verse.". According to tradition, these verses, which describe three goddesses worshipped by the Arabs (Allat, al-Uzza, and Manat), originally included a reference describing these goddesses as some kind of mediators. In other words, these verses that Muhammad received encouraged people to turn to heathen gods.  Because of these verses, the residents of Mecca were ready to confess that Muhammad was the Prophet. They are believed to have been in the following form. The deleted passage has been marked in bold:


Have you thought on Allat and al-Uzza and on Manat, the third other? "These are high beings and their intercession can be hoped."


What is noteworthy about this is that it is not an invention of outsiders, but has been referred to by Islam’s own early sources. The authors did not deny the value of Muhammad as a prophet. It has been referred to by such pious Muslims as Ibn Ishag, Ibn Sa’d, and Tabari, as well as by the later author of the Qur’anic commentary Zamakhshari (1047-1143). It is very hard to believe that they would have told about the case if they had not considered it genuine. The same thing is explained in the following quote, which refers to a commentary by an imam on the Qur’an. It shows how this passage in the Qur’an was changed because Muhammad soon received a new revelation to the contrary. It also shows the fact how the Qur’an is completely based on the revelations and words received by Muhammad. Significantly, some former disciples could not accept Muhammad’s first revelation and therefore began boycotting him.


Imam El-Syouty explains the Sura 17:74 of the Qur’an in his commentary as follows: "According to Muhammad, the Son of Kaab, the kinsman of Karz, the prophet Muhammad read Sura 53 until he came to the passage, which said, 'Have you seen Allat and Al-Uzza (heathen gods)... ' In this passage, the devil himself made Muhammad say that the Muslims can worship these heathen gods and ask them for intercession. And so from the words of Muhammad, a verse was added to the Qur’an.

   The Prophet Muhammad was very sad because of his words, until God encouraged him with a new one, "Also as always before, when we have sent messenger or prophet, has Satan put his own wishes along them, but God wipes away it, what Satan has got mixed for them, and then he confirms his own mark. God is knowing, wise.” (Sura 22:52.)

   Because of this Sura 17:73-74 says: "And surely they had purposed to turn you away from that which We have revealed to you, that you should forge against Us other than that, and then they would certainly have taken you for a friend. And had it not been that We had already established you, you would certainly have been near to incline to them a little;"  (7)


The following quote speaks of the same subject, satanic verses. It shows that this matter is not an invention of outsiders, but has been referred to by Islam’s own early sources and how Muhammad was inclined to accept idolatry. The authors did not deny the value of Muhammad as a prophet:


The case of the Satanic Verses has naturally been a strong cause for embarrassment for muslims throughout centuries. Indeed, it shadows Muhammad’s whole claim of him being a prophet. If Satan was once able to put words in Muhammad’s mouth and made him think they were messages from Allah, then who is to say that Satan did not use Muhammad as his spokesman during other times as well?

… It is difficult to understand, how and why such a story would have been fabricated, and also how and why such devoted muslims like Ibn Ishag, Ibn Sa’d and Tabari, as well as the later writer of the annotation of the Koran, Zamakhsari (1047-1143) – from whom it is relly difficult to believe that he would have said so if he didn’t trust the sources – thought that it was genuine. Here, as well as in other areas, the evidence of the early Islamic sources are indisputably strong. Athough the events can be explained in another light, those, who wish they could make the instance of the Satanic Verses go away, cannot deny the fact that these elements of Muhammed’s life are not inventions of his enemies, but the information about them came from people, who really believed Muhammed to be a prophet of Allah. (8)






1. Martti Ahvenainen: Islam Raamatun valossa, p. 20

2. Ibn Hisham: Profeetta Muhammadin elämäkerta, p. 19

3. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila: Johdatus Koraaniin, p. 28

4. Martti Ahvenainen: Islam Raamatun valossa, p. 23,24

5. Anthony Nutting: The Arabs, pp. 17,18

6. Martti Ahvenainen: Islam Raamatun valossa, pp. 244,242

7. Ismaelin lapset, p. 14

8. Robert Spencer: Totuus Muhammadista (The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion) p. 92,93





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More on this topic

Muslims believe in the reliability of the Koran, but there have been several versions of the Koran, a few passages have changed, and it contradicts the Bible


From what source were the revelations Muhammad received? Were they from God or not? Why can’t the fruit of Muhammad’s life be considered good?


Jesus Christ in the Koran and Islam. The high position and deity of Jesus is revealed in numerous passages in the Koran

Muslims’ objections to the Christian faith, such as the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Jesus, and the death of the cross. Why are Muslims wrong?