Arab Science: Dispelling The Ambiguity

Introduction

In 1883, Ernest Renan gave a lecture at the Sorbonne entitled, “Islamism and Science” (later published by Calmann-Lévy). It was the rationalist credo of a man of science who was familiar with history. Above all, it had the merit and interest of calling attention to an ambiguity, which had not escaped the Semitizer that he was, and which is contained in these words: “Arab science, Muslim civilization, Muslim science”.

This ambiguity has never been dispelled, and it is urgent to do so. Ernest Renan can actually be used in doing so.

His observation is simple: From about the year 775 until about the middle of the thirteenth century, there can be no doubt that there were very distinguished scholars and thinkers in Muslim countries. From this assumption was constructed the idea of an “Arab science,” of a “Muslim civilization” (today named as, “Islam, cradle of civilization”), even of a “Muslim science.” The ambiguity, meanwhile, has far from disappeared.

The Prominent Role Of Persia And Eastern Christians

What happened from the Hegira to the year 775, in other words, during the reign of the first four caliphs? Of course, “Omar did not burn the library of Alexandria;” but the principle that he conquered the world is infinitely more destructive: it attacks scholarly research and the very work of the mind. There is nothing more foreign to what can be called the “philosophy of science” than the first century of Islam.

Under the first four caliphs, there were no intellectual movements of a secular character. Islam was, “in the moment of conquest,” as the orientalists of the 19th century put it euphemistically, that is largely occupied with conquering, dominating, sowing desolation and ravaging the old lands of civilization.

But around the year 750, Persia gained the upper hand. It saw the dynasty of the children of Abbas come to triumph over the children of the Beni-Omeyrra. In other words, Persia chose the Abbasids against the Umayyads. The center of Islam was transported to the Tigris-Euphrates region.

This is where the traces of one of the most brilliant civilizations that the East has known can be found: that of the Sassanid Persians, who defeated the Arsacid Parthians, and took up the torch from the Achaemenids, whose brilliant state had been destroyed by Alexander. This Sassanid civilization experienced its zenith under the reign of Khosrow I Anushirvan. All tradition recognizes him as a great king. He did not just try to merely continue and resume a tradition of art and industry that had flourished for centuries; rather, he added to it an intellectual endeavor of great openness. Driven from Constantinople, the Eastern part of Greek philosophy took refuge in Persia.

Khosrow had books translated from India, which he commanded his personal physician, Burzoe, to personally research. The Fables of Bidpaï constitute one of the sources of our fabulist, Jean de la Fontaine. But this book disappeared when the Muslim armies arrived on the Iranian plateau, when the river, according to tradition, ran black with the ink of books. It was only later that this book of wisdom was rediscovered and translated from Pahlavi (Middle Persian) into Arabic, as Kalila wa Dimna , by Ibn al-Muqaffa, a Persian zindiq who had converted to Islam.

Above all, Christians of all persuasions formed the largest part of the population, for by then Persia was largely Christianized. They were well-versed in Greek science and philosophy, and medicine was entirely in their hands. Bishops were logicians, geometers. Khusrow founded the Academy of Gundishapur, the first medical university, a kind of “Silicone Valley” of its day.

When the followers of Muhammad arrived on the Iranian plateau, they put a stop to all this development for a hundred years.

But a century later, the rise of the Abbasids was akin to a resurrection of the brilliance of Khusrow Anushirvan. The Abbasids were like resurrected Sassanids. Persian troops, Persian leaders were at the head of this revolution. The founders – Abul-Abbas and especially Mansur, surrounded themselves with Persians. The intimate advisers of the princes, the prime ministers, were the Barmakids, a family from ancient Persia, who had converted to Islam late and without conviction. Christians soon surrounded these little believing caliphs – and with a sort of exclusive privilege, became their first doctors. The city of Harran, which remained pagan, and which had kept all the scientific tradition of the Greeks (and no doubt Indian) antiquity, as well as Syriac, provided the new school with a considerable contingent of scholars – foreign to the new revealed religion – especially skilled astronomers.

Baghdad thus stood as the capital of this resurgent Persia. All the great surviving tradition of the Gundishapur school was transported there.

Greco-Sassanid Science

Certainly, the language of conquest cannot be supplanted, religion cannot be completely denied. But the spirit of this new civilization was essentially mixed: The Parsis, the Christians, won. The administration, (especially the police) was in Christian hands.

All of these brilliant caliphs were hardly Muslims, and if they externally practiced the religion of which they were leaders, their spirit was elsewhere. They sought out the learning of India, old Persia and Greece. From time to time, the pietists appeared, and the caliph of the moment sacrificed his unfaithful friends or free thinkers. Then the breath of independence took hold again and he called back his scholars and his companions of pleasure.

The fables of the One Thousand and One Nights have fixed the features of this civilization, a curious mixture of official rigor and concealed laxity, where the serious arts, like those of the joyful life, flourished, thanks to the protection of misguided rulers of a fanatic religion.

The Syrian Christian doctors, continuers of the last Greek schools, well versed in philosophy, mathematics, medicine and astronomy were then employed by the caliphs to translate into Arabic the encyclopedia of Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, Ptolemy – the entire body of Greek science, but also Syriac, and undoubtedly also Indian.

A few more active minds were beginning to speculate on the eternal mysteries, with Al-Kindi in the lead. They were called filsuf; today they say falsafa; and afterwards, this exotic word was taken up within Islam but with a negative connotation. But rationalism prospered there: a sort of philosophical society, “Brethren of Purity” began to publish a philosophical encyclopedia; Al Fârâbî and Avicenna emerged; chemistry continued its underground work.

Muslim Spain took up these studies after the East; the Jews bring an active component of the collaboration there. Men like Avempace, Abubacer, Averroes elevated philosophical thought in the twelfth century to new heights.

This great ensemble which is called “Arabic” is called so only because what it wrote was in Arabic – and again, it also passed through a powerful Syriac corpus, largely destroyed, deliberately, in order to erase the traces of any existence of this Eastern Christianity. In fact, this “Arab science” was above all Greco-Sassanid. And a deep Christian leaven was its ferment.

The Awakening Of Europe

Science should have reached the West through Byzantium. But on the one hand, the treasures that they did not read, the Byzantines did not deign to share, and on the other hand, between the Latin world and the Byzantine world, religious discussions had created a deep antipathy, reinforced by the crusade of 1204. What Europe could not get from the libraries of Constantinople, where the originals were located, she sought out in the often-mediocre translations of a language which did not lend itself to rendering Greek thought, with all its abstraction and its subtleties.

It was through the Syriac and Arabic translations of books on Greek science and philosophy that Europe received the leaven of ancient tradition, necessary for the blossoming of its genius. For Greek science to reach Europe, it had to pass through Syria, Baghdad, Cordoba and Toledo. A poorly translated Greek science was sought out in Spain.

By the time Averroès died in Morocco, lonely and abandoned, Europe was on the rise. But it was predominantly Latin in its culture, and it had no Hellenists. We would have to wait another three hundred years for a Lefèvre d´Etaples, or a Budé.

From 1130 to 1150, an active college of translators, established in Toledo under the patronage of Archbishop Raymond, translated the most important works of this “Greco-Sassanid science in the Arabic language” into Latin. From the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Arab Aristotle entered the University of Paris. He had earlier entered the orbis litterarum through Boethius, but Boethius was not able to translate anything more than the Organon.

From around 1275, two shifts appeared. The first saw the Muslim countries enter into a state of the steepest decline. The second saw Western Europe resolutely take the path of the scientific search for truth. By the time Averroes became famous in the Latin schools, he was entirely forgotten by his co-religionists.

After the year 1200, there was no longer a single renowned philosopher within Islam. From 1200, philosophy and science were abolished in Muslim countries: philosophical manuscripts were destroyed (they burned the books of Averroes). Astronomy alone was tolerated to determine the direction of prayer.

Then the Turks took hegemony of Islam and manifested a complete lack of philosophical and scientific spirit. Apart from a few rare exceptions, like Ibn-Khaldun, Islam no longer had a broad mind. It killed off science and philosophy in its midst. It also killed a lot of men, women, children; and when it didn’t kill them, it oppressed them.

Among all the philosophers and scholars, only one was Arab: Al-Kindi. All the others were Persians, Transoxians – people from Bokhara and Samarkand (in other words from Central Asia), and Spaniards – from Cordoba, Seville. They used Arabic because it was the language of the dominant who had imposed themselves. In the 14th and 15th centuries, historians or historiographers of Islam were compilers and translators of encyclopedists – they did not innovate. But this corpus would reach nascent orientalist science, through Antoine Galland, then stationed in Constantinople. And, above all, thanks to the compilation work of Barthelemy d´Herbelot, the author of the Bibliothèque orientale.

Giving Arabia credit for science and philosophy is like giving credit for Latin Christian literature, the Scholastics, the Renaissance, the science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to Rome, because it is written in Latin.

Arab Science Or Muslim Science?

This science was not Arab. But was it Muslim? No, because this movement was the joint work of Persians, Christians, Jews, Harannians, (inhabitants of Harran), Ismailis and Muslims (who inwardly revolted against their own religion). This great movement received nothing but curses from Orthodox Muslims: Mamun was damned by theologians (the misfortunes which afflicted his reign were regarded as punishments for his tolerance of doctrines foreign to Islam). It was not uncommon for those who cultivated these studies to be called sendiks or zendiks – they were beaten in the streets, their houses burned down, and often the authorities put them to death.

Islam had always persecuted science and philosophy. Then it ended up suffocating both.

We must therefore distinguish three periods. The first, from the Hegira to the 7th century, is a period of conquest and crimes. But also barely concealed disbelief. The first Arabs, who joined the movement hardly believed in the Prophet’s mission.

Second, from the 7th to the 12th century, Islam, undermined by sects and tempered by a species of Protestantism (mutazilism) was less organized and much less fanatic than it was in the second age yet to come, and the work of the mind succeeded in maintaining itself.

Third came the absolute reign of dogma, without any possible separation of the spiritual and the temporal.

In the first half of the Middle Ages (the second period), Islam supported philosophy because it could not prevent it, for the it was without cohesion, and thus poorly equipped for terror. The policing was in Christian hands and was mainly engaged in pursuing Alid intrigues.

When Islam gained truly believing masses, it stifled everything. But at the same time, it destroyed the salt of the earth and the leaven which makes the dough rise. It turned conquered countries into regions that were closed to the rational cultivation of the mind. For Islam, research was pointless, frivolous, godless; the science of nature was an offense against God; historical science applying to times before Islam might revive old errors – and applying science to Islam might lay bare the extent of its devastation and its power of destruction and desolation.

Anyone who yet maintains a little lucidity today cannot fail to see the current inferiority of Muslim countries: the decadence of governed states, the intellectual poverty of those who derive their culture and education from this religion alone, and the boundless contempt. for other religions, which then authorizes all persecutions, exactions and the worst crimes of our times. And then there is the treatment inflicted on women. Believing that God gives fortune and power to whomever he sees fit, Islam has the deepest contempt for education, for science, and for everything that makes up the European spirit.

Conclusion

To all appearances, the Muslim world has entered a sort of fourth period. On the one hand, it has a mass of believers who have never questioned their doctrine, and who more often than not know nothing about the Koran which is not translated into their language. On the other hand, it has an army of fanatics. An army, and not just a few intellectuals – determined to do battle with a Europe that for several centuries held the destiny of the world in its hands. But which no longer holds them.

Islam intends to establish the kingdom of Allah on earth, which involves converting all peoples, and bringing the whole world under its own Law, the law of submission and oppression.

Conversion to Islam removes all religious diversity in the world. But not only that – It eliminates ethnic diversity: the Berber, the Sudanese, the Circassian, the Afghan, the Malay, the Egyptian, the Nubian who have become Muslims are that no longer. They are Muslims. Persia alone was an exception. French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Swabian, Croatian who have become Muslims will no longer be all those. They will only be Muslims.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.

(The original article in French was translated by N. Dass)


The featured image shows an imaginary debate between Averroes and Porphyry, from Monfredo de Monte Imperiali’s Liber de herbis, 14th century.

Fabricating the “Essene Monks”

From The 17th Century To The Present Day

It was in the West, especially in the 18th century, and then again in the 20th century, that the commonplace notion of “Essene monks” took form. This notion is still current and is the basis of the question: is Christianity post-Essenism? Siegfried Wagner traced the origin of these debates which agitated French and German speaking countries, following the publication of books by Carme Daniel a Virgine Maria in the 1680s.

For almost a century this commonplace gave rise to heated discussions in Italy and Spain, for reasons that may escape the gaze of too lay an historian. Indeed, in the wake of the reform of the Order of Carmel (female and male) in Spain, some Carmelite Fathers wanted to demonstrate at all costs the continuity that existed between the prophet Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and the first Western Christian monks who settled there in the 12th century (and who soon formed the Carmelite Order). There is nothing to indicate that the caves of the mount had ever been inhabited by monks before them; and two millennia separate Elijah from the sons of the great Teresian reform. But no one bothered with such details. The missing link indeed had been found – the “Essene monks.”

As early as 1596, the historian Baronius, who was very close to the Roman Curia, had protested against these claims known as the Elianic succession; and then the Bollandists (Jesuits) took charge. But the Carmelites succeeded in getting the Inquisitor of Spain on their side. And soon a first decree was issued in 1639, approving four proposals which affirmed that under the Old Law, there existed a true “monachate and religious order.” A second decree confirmed the first in 1673.

When these decrees became known in Northern Europe and encountered the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the debate soon took a different turn. Indeed, the question now became – is monasticism of Christian origin? Which then turned into the question – does Christianity really have an origin of its own? In this way, the path was paved for Voltaire who took up the idea of the “brotherhood of the Essenes,” with the aim of showing Christianity’s lack of originality. Jesus, he explained, had been an Essene! After the succession of revolutions, the controversy soon resumed in France in academia, down the Voltairian line, which Ernest Renan (1823-1892) popularized with the famous formula – “Christianity is a successful Essenism.” Despite the discovery of many manuscripts during the 19th and especially the 20th century (in particular those of Qumrân), the debate has curiously hardly evolved up to our day; or up till very recently – when we began to radically question the very concept of “Essene monks.”

But cracks are appearing today among the learned but narrow defenders of the idea of “Essene monks.” Jean-Baptiste Humbert thus summarized the conclusions of a multidisciplinary conference, organized in November 2002, which brought together specialists from various (not to say divergent) fields, in these words: De Vaux’s thesis – a self-sufficient Essene complex that allegedly managed the caves and established its own cemetery – is under attack from several sides at once. The conference had the merit of underlining the coexistence of two tendencies: the ‘Old one,’ attached to the vulgate of de Vaux, or to other theories… and the ‘New ones,’ which want to move forward…”

The discoveries of Qumran could have been the occasion for a revival of the exegesis of the texts of Pliny, Philo and Josephus. That did not happen. In fact, the debate was closed before it even began. As early as 1950, when the texts of Qumran were just beginning to be deciphered, André Dupont-Sommer proclaimed the “Essene” identity of the Qumranian site. This was widely covered by the press.

However, not only was the debate closed, it was written in advance. It is indeed surprising to see the idea of the existence of a convent of “Essene monks” near the Dead Sea put forward twenty years earlier by another Frenchman, the novelist Maurice Magre. In one of his novels, a character, initiated into an esoteric secret society, says: “During my trip to the East, I went to the shore of the Dead Sea to contemplate the place where the Essenes had once lived, those wise and perfect men, in the midst of whom Jesus was instructed… Actually, not very far from the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, there is a monastery, a monastery without a chapel and whose threshold is not dominated by any cross…”

Earlier in the novel, another equally esoteric character is presented: “He had, he said, sought in Palestine and in Syria the traces of the ancient Essenes. He had therefore stayed in various monasteries, in particular in that of Baruth, built on the remains of an old maritime fortress of the Templars. There, he had rummaged in a library buried in dust and neglected by ignorant monks. He had discovered forgotten manuscripts, and learned of lost secrets.”

Then, Jean Hubaux comments: “It should not be assumed that, as early as 1929, Magre had predicted the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it should be noted that as early as 1929, maktub, it was written that on the day when ancient manuscripts would be found in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, these documents could only be Essene.”

We should also add that the ruins, described as a monastery and located on the shore of the Dead Sea, were more or less long declared as “Essene,” for the site of Qumrân was known in France, in fact, since the middle of the 19th century. The “Essene” narrative was already written in advance.

As a result of thousands of articles, or scholarly books, praised by the press, what should have remained a working hypothesis turned well-nigh into dogma, going so far as to “reconstruct” a life-like “Essene scriptorium” (in the current archaeological museum of Palestine), even though “reconstruction” is hardly the proper term for a work of the imagination, which is itself based entirely on what we know about the rooms of medieval monastic copyists. By a ripple effect, this Palestinian museum’s scriptorium has served as a reference for many authors and illustrators of the supposed life of the monks of the “monastery” of Qumrân. Who could possibly doubt the existence of copyists in the face of such a wealth of colorful details?

Thus, curiously, the modern commonplace of the “Essene monks” is the result of a motley alliance between Carmelites imbued with their own importance, the Spanish Inquisition, the Freemason Voltaire, King Frederick II, and finally a scholar who obtained a chair at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Now, given that the supposed explanation of the cave manuscripts existed years – or rather centuries – before their discovery, whoever hastened to proclaim said explanation without verification might not deserve the kudos. One former student of the manuscripts, Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz, himself a former excavator of Qumrân, alongside Father de Vaux, summed up the situation as follows: “Dupont-Sommer, a former priest, was tempted to downplay the value of Christianity by making it a pale imitation of the Essene movement.”

Such a view was facilitated by the context of traditional Western moralism, which had tended to make Jesus more of a timeless model than a son of Jewish history and nation. However, Laperrousaz explains, it was necessary to come back to this primary evidence: “Faced with the similarities between these texts and the New Testament, we just forgot that Jesus was a Jew and that the commonalities between the Gospel and Qumran were not in themselves surprising.”

This commonsense conclusion is even more enlightening when one perceives to what extent the tree constituted by the idea of an “Essene sect” was able to hide the forest of Jewish associative realities in antiquity, which obviously did not exist, and thus had disappeared neither in 68 AD, nor in any other year.

Hereunder, follows the final outline of the dossier of the “Essene monks.” Their “invention” is a phenomenon that must be followed step-by-step from the 3rd century to the present day.

It is totally impossible, from an archaeological point of view, that a religious community ever inhabited the site of the ruins of Qumran, and the manuscripts found around there have thus been misattributed.

The mistake did not come only from the undue connection made between the ruins and the manuscripts – a connection all the more arbitrary since manuscripts had been found in ten other caves, and that the placing in the cave of the manuscript jars had to be subsequent to the abandonment of the premises. What also played a role was the desire to give a historical substrate to the old legend of the Essenes, which dates back to antiquity but had already been used a lot in the 18th century in the Voltairian argument against the originality of Christianity.

Thus, for fifty years, ideological postulates were able to silence archaeological research which was going in the opposite direction, where the buildings of Qumrân, before being abandoned, formed a place of production of expensive ointments, taken from the balsam trees which, at the time, grew thick in the region and became the basis of the feminine perfumes and oils used in the Temple. Those who lived at Qumrân were rich people (which is proven by the decorative elements found on the site). But it was necessary, to accredit the legend, to say that, on the contrary, these were poor “monks,” busy copying books in a “scriptorium” – all straight out of the imagination of Western academics (but then the press had a lot to do with it, too).

One of the oldest proponents of this Essene fiction, André Paul, changed course in 2007. The expression, “bursting with dogma” is his. But the dogma was starting to crack. However, it has still not yet been understood enough that the Essene fiction in and of itself has been harmful; and it also prevents us from seeing a major reality of history, in the way that a tree can hide the forest.

The Tree That Hid The Messianist Forest – And Its Continuation In Islam

The problem has been the content or, so to speak, the dominant ideology of the unbiblical manuscripts found in the caves. In their themes and expressions, they are related to various apocalyptic and sectarian texts that have been known since antiquity, or which had been discovered for a century or two before. Now, could some of these texts, which call for taking power over the world, be pre-Christian, especially when we see links with the New Testament, for example in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs? “Essene” dogma certainly said so. As a result, this dogma prevented the entering into the subtleties of this Messianist ideology, and above all, it made this ideology disappear during the first “Jewish War,” during the destruction of the site of Qumran.

However, the messianists who wrote these writings had nothing to do with Qumran or even with the cave region. They lived everywhere, with or without strict rules. They stemmed above all from a religious state of mind inspired by biblical and then Christic revelation, and which today we would call “revolutionary.” And, of course, they had not disappeared in 70 AD. On the contrary, it is from this year, marked by the ever-shocking destruction of the Temple, that their politico-religious “ideology” would be structured, spread and influence groups far from sources originally located in the Holy Land, among very diverse peoples and cultures. This is where the link to Islam comes in.

This link is not only one of “politico-religious” ideological resemblance, by way of a certain number of avatars, as can be said of Arianism. This is a much more direct continuity, because of the action of the descendants of these early messianists – the Judeo-Nazarenes. At the time of the politico-religious project around Muhammad, those who saw themselves as saviors of the world, elected by God, were not yet the Arabs but those Judeo-Nazarenes who, recently, had undertaken to rally some of their Arab neighbors to their crazy project of conquering the world. This proto-Islam, although hidden under a formidable legendary apparatus, still forms the mainspring of Islam today.

In a way, the “Essene” fiction has helped to make the historical origins of Islam more incomprehensible than ever. One can quickly fabricate an untruth. But it takes a lot of time and effort to get out of it afterwards. A barrier to the accessibility of these origins is disappearing. Other obstacles have emerged or strengthened in the meantime. The work continues.


Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.


The featured image shows imaginary Essenes at Qumran.

Christian Slavery Under Islam: A Conversation With Darío Fernández-Morera

This month, we are greatly pleased to present this interview with Darío Fernández-Morera, Associate Professor Emeritus of Northwestern University. He has a B.A. from Stanford, an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. from Harvard. He has served in the United States National Council for the Humanities.

His research and teaching include, among other subjects, Golden Age and Medieval Spanish literature, culture and history. He has published several books and editions and many articles and reviews in English, Spanish and French on cultural, historical, theoretical and methodological issues in Spain, Europe, Latin America and the United States, including the encounter between Europeans and Amerindians, Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Fray Luis de León, Inca Garcilaso, Vicente Aleixandre, Islamic Spain, and Modernism.

Darío Fernández-Morera with Koban.

He has published in, and served as consultant and reader for, History of European Ideas, The European Legacy, Le Figaro Histoire, Symposium, Hispanic Review, The United States National Endowment for the Humanities, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, Comparative Civilizations Review, Comparative Literature Studies, Modern Age, MLN, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, etc.

Among his publications are The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, now translated into French as Chrétiens, Juifs et Musulmans dans al-Andalus: Mythes et Réalités de l’Espagne Islamique, with a Prologue by French Philosopher, Arabist, Hellenist and Hebraist, Rémi Brague, and into Spanish as El Mito del Paraiso Andalusí: Musulmanes, Cristianos y Judíos bajo el Dominio Islámico en la España Medieval; American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas; The Lyre and the Oaten Flute: Garcilaso and the Pastoral; Fray Luis: Poesía (ed); Europe and its Encounter with the Amerindians (ed.); Cervantes in the English Speaking World (ed. with M. Hanke); Cervantes y su mundo (ed. with K. Reichenberger); Cervantes y su mundo II (ed. with E. and K Reichenberger et al).

He is the recipient of the 2008 award for Graduate Teaching Excellence from the Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies. He has served as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He likes animals, especially dogs, plants, and the sea.

He is in conversation with Father Seán Connolly, in which he gives a thorough analysis of a little-known part of history, namely, the plight of European slaves in Islamic lands.


Father Seán Connolly (Fr.SC): What was the ultimate purpose of the early Islamic conquests?

Darío Fernández-Morera (DFM): Applied sharia (fiqh) required that infidels who did not submit peacefully to Islam should be fought and prisoners enslaved. As experts in Islamic Law, such as Felipe Maíllo Salgado (University of Salamanca) explain, and Medieval Islamic treatises and chronicles attest, religion was fundamental. They also make clear that jihad was understood as a struggle to make the world submit, not as some “spiritual” struggle to become “a better person.”

This religious foundation is evident in the answer given by Muslim authorities to the Americans before the “Barbary Wars” (1801-05, 1815), fought by the United States to try to end North African Muslim raids on American and European ships:

We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the Grounds of their pretentions to make war upon Nations who had done them no Injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The Ambassador [of Tunis] answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [sic] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise. (Letter of American Commissioners to John Jay, 28 March 1786).

Christians enslaved Muslims, but unlike the case of Islam’s religious texts, the Gospels have no analogous injunctions against non-Christians. Nor was the enslavement of Muslims comparable. As historian Robert C. Davis shows in Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800, entire European coastal areas and towns were depopulated by Muslim raids. We have no comparable record of depopulation in Muslim lands. As you point out, so vast was the enslavement of Christians, that not one but two monastic orders dedicated themselves to their rescue.

Fr.SC: Detail the dominance of Islamic armies in the Mediterranean region between the 8th and the 19th centuries.

DFM: These attacks, and the enslavement of Christians, should be contextualized within much more encompassing jihads to make the world submit. Islam ended the enclaves of Jews and Christians in Arabia. The larger offensive against Christianity started with the unprovoked jihad against the Christian Greek Roman Empire (misnamed “Byzantine”: its inhabitants called themselves Romans; its enemies called them Romans—Rum, as do Muslim texts–and Europeans called them Greeks to avoid calling them Romans because Europe now had its own “Holy Roman Empire,” started by Charlemagne; nobody called them “Byzantines,” a name invented by a Protestant scholar in the sixteenth century and adopted by academics since).

This jihad wrestled from Christianity the Holy Land, Syria, North Africa, Anatolia (today’s Turkey), Armenia, and Greece. Only Greece and Armenia eventually escaped Islamic control.

This jihad began with the victory over the Christians at Yarmuk (636). It continued until the Christian defeat at Manzikert (1071). Manzikert opened the Christian Anatolian peninsula to the Muslim Turks. It prompted the Greek Roman Emperor Alexius I Comnenos to ask Europe for help. Pope Urban II gave him this help by organizing the First Crusade. Against terrible odds, the crusaders recovered the Holy Land, though only from 1099 to 1291. The Islamic assault against what remained of the Christian Greek Roman Empire culminated with the Fall of Constantinople (1453). Turkish dictator Ataturk, architect of the Armenian Christians’ genocide, changed Constantinople’s name (Κωνσταντινούπολις “the city of [Emperor] Constantine”) to “Istanbul” to erase its Greek and Christian origin.
Islam conquered Zoroastrian Persia (today’s Iran) in the seventh century, ending Zoroastrian rule.

Muslim armies, made up largely of North African Berbers recently forced to convert, crossed the strait named Pillars of Hercules (changed by Muslims to Jebel-al-Tariq, hence Gibraltar, to celebrate their commander Tariq) and conquered three quarters of Christian Spain (711-719). Christians from the North gradually fought back (the Spanish Reconquista), and after their victory at the big battle of Navas de Tolosa (16 July 1212) recovered most of the land, except for the small kingdom of Granada, which fell in 1492.

For centuries, the Spanish Catholic Church celebrated Navas de Tolosa as the day of the Triunfo de la Santa Cruz because Christians saw a cross in the sky, and a banner with the cross, carried by a Canon on horseback before the archbishop of Toledo, Jiménez de Rada (who fought on horseback alongside the Christian soldiers), led the Christians to victory without suffering damage. Navas de Tolosa was the culmination of a Crusade blessed by Pope Innocent III (d. 1216). The celebration has disappeared from the Catholic calendar.

Under Turkish leadership, Islam conquered the Christian Balkans and much of Christian Eastern Europe, and then moved against Central Europe. These attacks culminated with the sieges of Vienna in 1529 (Spanish and German troops saved Vienna) and 1683 (by September 11 Vienna was about to fall, but Vienna and probably Europe were saved on the morning of September 12 by the arrival of Catholic Polish king Jan Sobieski III with his Winged Hussars, who crushed the Turks).

All these attacks produced millions of captives, not counting the centuries of attacks against the coasts and ships of Europe–which reached as far as Iceland–or the massive enslavement of Slavs in Eastern Europe by Islamized Mongols and Tatars. In 846 Arabs even sacked the St. Peter and Paul Basilicas’ treasures and relics (Pope Sergius II fled behind the Aurelian walls; his successor Leo IV built the Vatican walls). Turks sacked Otranto (1480), enslaved thousands, and beheaded 800 who refused to convert (the Martyrs of Otranto); they conquered Cyprus (1570), beheaded the commander of Nicosia, deceived and skinned alive the commander of Famagusta, Marcantonio Bragadino, and enslaved Nicosia and Famagusta’s Greek population. Historian of slavery Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau (Sciences Po, Paris) estimates that the Islamic enslavement of whites far surpasses the transatlantic trade in black slaves (Les traites négrières).

One victim of the raids in the Mediterranean was Miguel de Cervantes, who was captured and enslaved in Algiers for five years. The Trinitarians ransomed him. He later became a Franciscan Lay Brother, but he asked to be buried at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid. Islam impacted Cervantes’s life even earlier: he fought at the crucial Battle of Lepanto (Greek, Naupaktos) on October 7, 1571, off the coast of Greece. At Lepanto, a Christian fleet of Spanish, Venetian, Genoese, Papal, and other Italian ships, organized by Pope Saint Pius V, and commanded by John of Austria, half-brother of King Philip II, defeated a larger Turkish fleet and checked the Islamic advance in the Mediterranean. Fifteen thousand Christian slaves rowing in the Muslim ships were freed. Though ill, Cervantes asked to be placed at the most dangerous part of the ship, and was shot three times. He recovered, but lost the use of his left hand—“for the greater glory of his right one,” as the Spanish saying goes.

October 7th was celebrated by the Catholic Church as the day of Our Lady of Victory, because Saint Pius V instructed all Christian fighters to pray the Rosary before the battle. The day is now called Our Lady of the Rosary. The great banner of the Turkish admiral, decorated with the image of Muhammad’s scimitar, and the name of Allah stitched in gold 29,800 times, was captured and kept for years near the tomb of Saint Pius V at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In 1965 Pope Paul VI gave it to the Turks as a gesture of good will.

Islam attacked China from 651 to 751. Most of China remained unconquered. But the outer regions of the Chinese empire fell. Today’s Kazaks, Uzbeks, Uyghurs, among others, are Muslims. These areas were once Buddhist, Hindu (as was Afghanistan) and even Christian.

Tatars invaded Christian Russia, exacting gold and slaves. After the big Battle of Kulikovo (1380) against the by then Islamized Tatars, Russians gradually reconquered their land.

Islam’s conquest of Hindu lands was brutal. Historian Will Durant wrote: “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history” (The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental History). So massive was the export of slaves from India through the mountains, that they were named Hindu Kush, which according to Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta (d. 1368/69) means “Killer of Hindus” in Persian, because of the vast number of Hindus who died from cold and hardships while transported. Pakistan was once Hindu and Buddhist, with some Christians as well.

Such was the impact of Christian slaves on Islamic lands, that many of the Umayyad rulers of Islamic Spain, as the sons of sexual slaves, were blue-eyed and blond or red-haired; and the founder of the “Arabic” Nasrid dynasty of Granada was called al-Hamar, “the Red One,” because of his reddish hair and beard. Tenth century Muslim geographer Ibn Hawqal writes that one of the main exports of Islamic Spain was slaves, and that “most of the white eunuchs of the world come from Spain.” Arabist Celia del Moral observes that in Umayyad al-Andalus the most coveted and therefore expensive sexual slaves were blond and red-haired females from the Northern Christian regions (see, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise).

Fr.SC: How large scale was the enslavement of sub-Saharan (“black”) Africans during this period?

DFM: Bernard Lugan, Africanist at the University of Lyon III, observes that the slavery of black Africans was initially a trade among black Africans, and that all peoples have practiced slavery, but only the white Europeans abolished it first (Esclavage, l’histoire à l’endroit). This is also noticed by the Benin Professor Abiola Felix Iroko.

Arab merchants were the principal intermediaries in this trade, and they conducted raids to capture black Africans. (See, Ghanan professor John Allenbillah Azumah’s The Legacy of Arab Islam in Africa). Islamic countries did not abolish slavery until recently. Turkey abolished the trade in black (Zanj) and white (Circassian) females in 1908. Kuwait abolished slavery in 1949, Qatar in 1952, Niger in 1960, Saudi Arabia in 1962. In some countries, slavery continues, unofficially.

It was the European colonizers of North Africa in the nineteenth century who not only finally ended the enslaving of white Europeans, but also officially ended the enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans by black Africans and Muslims. This ignored aspect of colonialism is underlined not only by Lugan, but also by Ivorian intellectual Ernst Tigori.

Fr.SC: Would you agree that little attention has been given to this in the teaching of history? Why do you think this is?

DFM: Yes. I want to point out that although traveling on donkeys rather than horses, characteristic of the Trinitarians, may be attributed to humility, another possibility is that in Islamic lands, where the friars went to help the Christian slaves, Christians were forbidden to ride horses. Nor could the Trinitarians have worn their blue and red crosses in Islamic lands. Islamic law considered offensive and even blasphemous and therefore forbade the display of crosses in public, even on the outside walls or on top of churches. They could be shown only inside churches. Moreover, churches could not be allowed in the main parts of a city, only on the outskirts; and they could not be taller or more beautiful than Muslim buildings.

Why all this is not taught in schools, or even discussed amply in academia, is the result of many factors. I will mention only one: “stake-holders” interests. Many academics who write and teach about Islam do not want to present their subject, which they love and is the bread and butter on which they publish, under such unfavorable light; and they will fight tooth and nail anyone who does. Prestigious Western universities and Islamic Studies programs receive large donations from Islamic countries. Academics do not want to jeopardize their careers, and even traveling to Islamic lands, by highlighting the issues examined here; and those who write about slavery do not wish to contextualize their condemnations of black slavery in the Americas by highlighting its centuries of existence before and after 1619 among black Africans and Muslims, or by mentioning the millions of whites enslaved by Islam through the centuries.


The featured images shows, “The Slave Market, Constantinople,” by William Allan, painted in 1838.

The Sana’a Manuscripts: Early Koran?

The Sana’a manuscripts were discovered in the Grand Mosque of the city of Sana’s, Yemen, in 1972, by construction workers, who gathered up all the old, rotting pages, stuffed them into potato bags, and left them beneath some stairs. Nothing was done until 1981, when Professor Gerd R. Puin, the leading scholar of Arabic orthography and Koranic paleography, undertook a systematic study. In this interview, Professor Puin speaks of the discovery and his study.

He is interviewed here by Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr, the current head of Inarah, the foremost institute for the study of early Islam. Inarah publishes a yearly collection of work, of which the most recent edition is now available. Dr. Kerr’s work has appeared frequently in the pages of the Postil, including his recent article on the true meaning of “Mecca.”

This is a truly a fascinating interview…

Unfortunately for English readers, the majority of the important work being done on early Islam is in German and French. Perhaps, in the future, this will be rectified by way of good translations of this important work, which has entirely rewritten the history of the beginnings of Islam.

The featured image shows a leaf from the collection of fragments housed at Stanford University. This is “Sana’a1 Stanford ’07,” recto, which dates to before 671 AD.

The Original Islamic Hajj To Jerusalem

The Islamic claim to historicity is well known, but its true history is hidden in countless individual details, each of which requires individual investigation, as has been shown by Inârah’s researches. For Islam, the so-called “five pillars” (arkān al-Islām or arkān ad-dīn “the pillars of faith”) constitute the actual fundamental rituals of Islam, which are considered obligatory by the faithful and form the basis of Muslim life (cf. the so-called Gabriel Hadith). These are:

  1. The Shahāda, the creed of Islam (“There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God”);
  2. Ṣalāt, daily ritual prayer towards Mecca (location of the Kaʿba), the qibla, which is to be performed at fixed times (awqāt) five times a day and which is also the supreme duty of all Muslims;
  3. The Zakāt, the obligatory giving of a certain portion of one’s possessions to the needy and other specified groups of people;
  4. The Ṣaum, the fast between dawn and sunset during the month of Ramaḍān;
  5. The Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of dhu l-ḥiǧǧah.

Something about the history of Islam’s development is made clear by the observation that none of these rites can basically be considered exclusively Islamic, which is confirmed by the fact that all these terms are borrowed from Aramaic (which in turn took the last four from Hebrew).

Thus, we have made a small step forward in deciphering the Islam’s path of development, namely the significant role of Aramaic (Syriac)-speaking Eastern Christianity, of which some groups, among other things, rejected the divinity of Christ, and which must be regarded as the actual substrate of Islam.

But here we are largely in the Late Antique Near East, east of the Euphrates, i.e., in Mesopotamia, far away from Mecca in the endless desert of the Ḥijāz, where according to later Islamic tradition the birthplace of a “Muḥammad,” and thus of Islam, is said to be located. After all, the second and fifth pillars of Islam listed above seemingly refer to this city. In the Qur’an itself, however, the word Mecca (Makka) is explicitly mentioned only once, in Sura 48:24: “And He it is Who hath withheld men’s hands from you, and hath withheld your hands from them, in the valley of Mecca, after He had made you victors over them. Allah is Seer of what ye do.”

It is often asserted, usually accompanied by claims to otherwise unknown phonetic changes, that the mention of Bakka in 3:96 also refers to this city: “Indeed, the first House (inna awwala baytin) established for mankind is surely the one at Bakka, blessed, and a guidance for (all creatures in).”

And according to most commentators, 14:37 is supposed to describe this location in more detail: “Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near unto Thy holy House (ʿinda baytika l-muḥarami), our Lord! that they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and provide Thou them with fruits in order that they may be thankful.”

The precise relationship of Mecca to Bakka remains unclear, and linking them together requires a leap of faith, especially since Mecca itself is only attested very late and then only in Islamic sources which are otherwise uncorrelated. The Qur’an only speaks of an unspecified valley.

Bakka, on the other hand, according to the Qur’an, is home to “the first house,” which in our opinion was not founded for the people, but by the people (lilnnāsi – li– then here as the so-called Lamed auctoris). If “the first house” means (the) temple, i.e., the supposed earthly dwelling place of God, which would then also be the “holy house,” it is conceivable that 14:37 actually refers to this, which could mean a valley known as Bakka.

Islamic orthopraxy, being itself relatively late, offers no support in this regard. Islamic tradition itself notes that the original direction of prayer was not towards Mecca, but northwards or towards Syria (aš-šam); Muhammad is said to have changed this only in Madīna, after the Jews there refused to convert. But in the Islamic sources, the creation of legends is widespread and, as usual, quite contradictory with many subsequent attempts at harmonisation.

Thus, Mecca as the (original) point of reference for Islamic prayer is clearly an invention of later tradition – it should be mentioned in passing here that qibla in the sense of “direction of prayer,” in the Qur’an only 2,142- 145, can probably be interpreted more meaningfully as Kabbalah in the older Jewish sense of this term, namely as “(previously) revealed scriptures” (esp. the Hebrew Bible, excluding the Torah).

As for the pilgrimage (to Mecca; cf. the Hebrew term ḥag, which is used in the biblical context for the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot and from which Hajj ultimately derives), this is attested in the verse subsequent to the mention of Bakka, i.e. 3:97: “… And pilgrimage to the House (ḥiǧǧu l-bayti), is a duty unto Allah for mankind, for him who can find a way thither…”

The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca consists of various elements: on 8 Dhu l-Ḥiǧǧah in Mecca after entering the consecrated state of Ihram, the first Ṭawāf (the sevenfold circumambulation of the Kaʿba) is performed; this is followed by the Sa’i, the run between the hills Safa and Marwa (aṣ-Ṣafā wal-Marwa); after this pilgrims drink from the Zamzam well, after which they go to the plains of Mount ʿArafāt to keep watch; then they spend a night on the plains of Muzdalifa, and a symbolic stoning of the devil is performed by lapidating three pillars. Afterwards, the pilgrims shave their heads, perform a sacrificial ritual and celebrate the three-day festival ʿīdu l- aḍḥā.

Julius Wellhausen postulated that the original Hajj was a ritual that only included the stations in the ʿArafāt plain, in Muzdalifa and in Mina, but had nothing to do with the Meccan sanctuary of the Kaʿba (Reste arabischen Heidentums, Berlin, 1897, 79-84). We will then leave the former out of consideration here; in the Qur’an, the Kaʿba (Arab. “Parthenon;” that is a shrine originally dedicated to the virgin mother of Dushara/Dionysus/ Bacchus) is mentioned only twice, 5:95 and 97 (“Allah has made the Kaʿba, the inviolable House, a place of prayer for mankind (l-kaʿbata l-bayta l-ḥarāma qiyāman lilnnāsi“), as well as the sacred month and the sacrificial animals and the animals with the neck ornaments.

This is so that you may know that Allah knows what is in the heavens and what is on earth, and that Allah knows all things”), whereby the reference to a specific place is not given. According to today’s understanding of the Meccan part of the rite, only Safa and Marwa (aṣ-ṣafā wal-marwa) can be located near Mecca, the course between these two hills being given by 2:158: “Lo! (the mountains) As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the indications of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who is on pilgrimage to the House (of Allah) or visiteth it, to go around them (as the pagan custom is). And he who doeth good of his own accord, (for him) lo! Allah is Responsive, Aware.” Again, there is no direct reference to Mecca here.

The conclusion so far, briefly summarised:

Mecca is mentioned once in the Qur’an (48:24), but not in relation to the Hajj. Another verse (3:96) mentions a “first house” located at Bakka, which is possibly also mentioned in 14:37 (does the one and only Allah inhabit more than one house?). A pilgrimage to the “house” is suggested in 3:97.

The run between Safa and Marwa (aṣ-ṣafā wal-marwa), which forms part of the Islamic Hajj, is conditionally prescribed in 2:158. From this patchwork of Qur’anic verses, the Islamic pilgrimage in and around Mecca emerged at some point, when cannot be ascertained hitherto. In the Semitic languages, the noun bayt “house” can also be used in the sense of a temple dedicated to a deity, often in a genitive compound (“in the house of the Lord,” bə-ḇêṯ-Yahweh, e.g. Psalm 134:1).

In biblical tradition, this term in the cultic sense actually always refers to the Jerusalem Temple; its use for an unknown, historically at best insignificant sanctuary far away in the Ḥijāz seems strange.

With regard to Jerusalem, however, in the Jewish Antiquities Flavius Josephus’ account of Alexander the Great at Jerusalem, where he is said to have sacrificed to Yahweh in the Temple according to the instructions of the High Priest (here, since our interest remains purely geographical, the historicity of the event is insignificant), we read XI.329 (ed. Whiston): “And when he understood that he was not far from the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable, and the manner of it different from that of other nations. It reached to a place called Sapha, which name, translated into Greek, signifies a ‘prospect’ (σκοπόν), for you have thence a prospect both of Jerusalem and of the temple (τά τε γὰρ Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ τὸν ναὸν συνέβαινεν ἐκεῖθεν ἀφορᾶσθαι).”

This place is none other than Mount Scopus in Jerusalem (today the main site of the Hebrew University), one of the highest places in that city (cf. one of the Arabic names: ğabal al-mašārif). The Hebrew name har haṣ-ṣōfīm “Watchman’s Mountain” confirms Josephus’ indication. In postbiblical Hebrew, a ṣōf is a pilgrim who has seen Jerusalem, cf. another Arabic name ğabal almašhad “Witness Mountain” (cf. above on the ‘first pillar’). This mountain in Arabic rendering is then none other than aṣ-ṣafā.

In the biblical tradition (cf. 2 Chronicles 3:1; the Targum to Song of Songs 4:6 etc.) the Temple Mount (har hab-báyiṯ is Mount Moriah (har ham-moriyyāh; where according to Genesis 22:2 the sacrifice of Isaac almost took place), i.e. in Arabic, Marwa. On the basis of these explanations, we have in Jerusalem the “house” (scil. of God – báy(i)t), undoubtedly in the monotheistic understanding “blessed and a guidance for the worlds” (Q3,96), on the Temple Mount, that is Moriah/Marwa as well as the second mountain Scopus/har haṣ-ṣōfīm/aṣṣafā. All that remains is Bakka (3:96) and a “barren valley” (or wadi 14:37) near to the “house of God” (bi-wādin ġayri ḏī zarʿin ʿinda baytika l-muḥarrami).

A valley named Bakka, however, is mentioned in the Bible, Psalm 84:7: “ 5 Blessed are those who dwell in your house (bêṯäḵā); in whose heart are the ways of them. 6 Who passing through the valley of Baca (bə-ʿämäq hab-bākkā – lit. “Valley of Weeping”) make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. 8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah. 9 Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.”

To all appearances, in this conception rendered here by the Psalmist, the valley of ‘weeping’ or Bakka (from the root bkw, also the origin of Bacchus, see above) is not far from Jerusalem. In the Targum of this psalm verse, the valley of tears/ʿämäq hab-bākkā is rendered “valley of Gehenna”, also the Talmudic understanding, because those damned to hell are said to wail and shed copious tears due to their infernal fate (Eruvin 19a). The Gehenna Valley, where child burnt offerings were once made to Yahweh (Joshua 15:8; 18:16; Jeremiah 19:2) was close to Jerusalem.

The historical site of the pre-exilic Moloch sacrifices (apparently the present-day wādī ar-rababi) was not, however, the same as that of Late Antique biblical exegesis, which called it the Kidron Valley (Hebrew naḥal qiḏron “the valley of darkness;” its upper course, significantly, in Arabic is wādī annār “the valley of fire”) or the Jehoshaphat Valley, according to Joel 3:1-3/4:1-3: “For behold, in those days and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people, and for mine heritage Israel: whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. And they have cast lots for my people, and have given the child for the harlot, and sold the girl for wine, that they might drink.”

This infernal valley is by definition barren and, moreover, adjacent to the Temple Mount (ʿinda baytika l- muḥarami), vividly illustrating the contrast between ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘light’ and ‘bright’, ‘redeemed’ and ‘damned’. This Judeo-Christian exegetical tradition is carried on without exception by the Islamic tradition, the valley is here called wādī al-ğahannam “Hell Valley,” suspended over which at the end of times during the Last Judgement, will be aṣ-ṣirāṭ (“way, path, road,” here rather “bridge”) connecting the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, which in Islamic eschatology must be crossed by the deceased to reach Paradise.

This eschatological gangplank is said to be as thin as a hair, and underneath it is the abyss to hell: those who have no trust in God will falter and waver and thereupon fall thither, those however who trust God and are forgiven their transgressions shall cross unhindered. Wellhausen’s insightful suggestion to separate the Meccan parts of the Hajj rite from those taking place extra muros is thus seemingly accurate – the proto-Islamic pilgrimage clearly went to Jerusalem, which is actually hardly surprising. Here are located the “House (of God),” the barren valley of Bakka, as well as aṣ-ṣafā and al-marwa.

Not only is their geographical location in (post)biblical tradition assured, they also fulfil a significant function in sacramental economy that is entirely absent in Mecca. In later Islamic tradition, some Umayyad caliphs were accused of having diverted the Hajj from Mecca to Jerusalem – in the 7th century, however, one cannot yet speak of “Islam” in the proper sense – here we are probably dealing with a later memory of a past time in which pilgrimages were still made to Jerusalem, which was then considered heretical after the complete transfer of the sacred geography of the rite to Mecca.

What we have then is a memory of a time in which the Hajj was to Jerusalem, which naturally later was seen as heretical. Thus, it is clear that the roots and motifs that define the Hajj stem entirely from biblical tradition; only much later were they recast so as to fit in with emerging innovative Islamic orthopraxy.

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

The featured image shows, “Vallée de la bekaa, liban,” by Anne Baudequin.

Al-Andalus: A History Contaminated By Political Correctness

We are highly honored to present the English-version of a series of questions (Q) that were asked of Dr. Arnaud Imatz, about Moorish Spain, and his answers. As regular readers of The Postil know, Dr. Imatz is a corresponding member of the Spanish Royal Academy of History and author of several important studies.

Q: What historical evidence can we base our claim that the supposed happy cohabitation of al-Andalus was a myth?

Arnaud Imatz (AI): Let us first clarify what the myth of al-Andalus is – all the more so as this is, as you know, denied, contested or even concealed, not only by extremist activists and polemicists, but also by academics anxious to defend their patch. In a few words, it is the idea of “Paradise Lost,” of “the Golden Age,” or “Eden,” supported by an infinity of Arabic texts, but just as cherished by a good number of Europeans and/or Westerners.

In counterpoint, we find the notion, no less omnipresent, of the threat of the Christian world which is described as ignorant, brutal, barbarous, intolerant, militarist and… European. This idea was adopted by Arabists and a good number of 19th-century historians. According to them, the autochthonous character and the virtues of the Iberian Peninsula, necessarily acclimatized, softened and Europeanized the Islam of al-Andalus, giving it, inevitably, features distinct from the rest of the Islamic-medieval world. It is the idea of a tolerant, advanced or “progressive” Islam ahead of its time, which has been taken up by our contemporaries anxious to demonstrate the open, modernizing and tolerant character of Islam. This is the “irenist” vision of a harmonious coexistence of the three cultures, so prevalent among politicians, journalists and much of academia, that it has become almost impossible to correct. It is a kind of dogma imposed, despite all the historical research of rigorous and disinterested specialists who show just the opposite. For Al-Andalus was not an Eden, quite the contrary.

It is impossible to summarize in a few lines the mass of information, the multiple sources and historical documents (Arab-Muslim and Christian) on which Arabists, philologists and medieval historians rely to demythify and demystify the history of al-Andalus. I am tempted to say that if we want to talk about cohabitation, coexistence, even “tolerance” in the Iberian Peninsula of the Middle Ages (a tolerance whose history dates back to antiquity and not to the 18th-century as affirm the most chauvinistic ideologues, in particular the French), it is better to refer to the Christian kingdoms rather than to the Islamic part.

To be convinced of this, it suffices to recall the situation of women in al-Andalus, with the wearing of the veil, sexual slavery, female circumcision or circumcision (as a legal and social practice), stoning, or the total lack of freedom in the public space for the hurra (“free Muslim woman”), and then to compare this with the condition of much freer Christian women in medieval Spain.

We can also cite here the works of Bernard Lewis and, before him, those of one of the fathers of scientific Orientalism, the Hungarian, Ignaz Goldziher, who showed, from numerous Arabic texts of the time, that ethnic and even racial criteria were commonly used in al-Andalus: Arabs from the north against Arabs from the south, Berbers against Arabs, Arabs against Slavs (the “Europeans”), Arabs and Berbers against Muladis (converted Muslims of Hispanic origin), and finally, all against blacks… and vice versa.

The work of the Spanish linguist, historian and Arabist, Serafin Fanjul, is essential here, but we must also underline the importance of the studies of several medievalists and researchers in Ibero-Roman languages. For my part, I have contributed to making known, in French-speaking countries, the work of three of the best specialists in the area, two Spaniards and an American.

First, Serafín Fanjul, already cited, professor of Arabic literature, member of the Royal Academy of History, author of Al-Andalus contra España (2000) and La quimera de al-Andalus (2004), published in France in a single volume under the title, Al-Andalus, l’invention d’un mythe (2017).

Then, the American, Darío Fernández Morera, professor of Romanesque and Hispanic literature, and author of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (2015) [French title: Chrétiens, juifs et musulmans dans al-Andalus, 2018].

And, finally, Rafael Sánchez Saus, professor of medieval history, ex-dean of faculty and rector of university, member of the Royal Spanish-American Academy, author of Al-Andalus y la Cruz (2016) which was published in French as, Les chrétiens dans al-Andalus. De la soumission à l’anéantissement (2019) [Christians in al-Andalus. From Submission to Annihilation].

I cannot recommend enough the reading of these books, which have been the subject of several reissues, including the last in pocket-format (March 2019, August and September 2020). I regret and I am surprised that to date these two Spanish works have not yet been translated into English.

For my part, I wrote the introductions to the books of Serafín Fanjul and Rafael Sánchez Saus, while Rémi Brague, recognized specialist in medieval philosophy (Professor Emeritus at the Sorbonne), kindly prefaced the work of Dario Fernández-Morera, as soon as I informed him that the publication in French was imminent.

I must add that other works by Spanish historians also deserve to be translated; among them, I should mention in particular, Acerca de la conquista árabe de Hispania. Imprecisiones, equívocos y patrañas (2011) [Concerning the Arab conquest. Inaccuracies, Ambiguities and Deceptions] by Felipe Maíllo Salgado, Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Salamanca.

The books by Fanjul, Fernández-Morera and Sánchez Saus are all definitive milestones in the demythification and demystification of the history of al-Andalus. They differ in their approaches and methods, but also because of the distinct expertise of their authors. However, they also complement each other perfectly.

Serafín Fanjul carefully analyzes the idea of the paradisiacal character or the “earthly Eden” of al-Andalus and then the “Arab” or Muslim survivals that allegedly passed from al-Andalus to Spain and shaped the Spanish character.

Darío Fernández-Morera examines the concrete cultural practices of Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities under Islamic hegemony, comparing them with other Mediterranean cultures, more particularly those of the Greco-Roman or Byzantine Christian Empire.

Finally, Rafael Sánchez Saus studies the fate of Christians in North Africa and Spain: the irruption of Islam and the constitution of the Arab Empire, the conquest and the birth of al-Andalus, the first reactions of Christians, the oppressive regime of the dhimma, submission, collaboration, orientalization and Arabization, the martyrs-movement, resistance, revolt, persecution and the final eradication of the Christians of al -Andalus.

These three authors presented their respective works, along with two of the best French specialists, Marie-Thérèse and Dominique Urvoy, during the colloquium, “Al-Andalus, from Myth to History,” held in Paris, on October 6, 2019, and sponsored by l’Association pour l’histoire (Association for History).

Q: Is there not, all the same, an intellectual contribution, with figures like Averroes, along with considerable artistic, scientific and architectural developments, compared to an archaic period, which we owe specifically to Muslim Spain?

AI: It is not a question here of denying the most admirable and most famous cultural and artistic elements of al-Andalus, of sinking into a kind of reverse caricature, of indulging in the apology of the Christian world and of the Reconquista without the slightest restriction; in other words, to recreate exactly what one is justifiably reproaching the promoters of the myth for. It is only a question of dismantling the pillars of legend, the alleged marvelous interfaith harmony (between Jews, Christians and Muslims), the exaggerated valuation of cultural and scientific achievements, and the widespread idealization of the social and political successes of al-Andalus.

It cannot be stressed enough that the ideological interpretations and partisan culling that can be made of the work of Fanjul, Morera and Sánchez Saus lie beyond actual work of these scholars. These three researchers and historians only want to compare the usual view that we have of this part of the history of the Iberian Peninsula with proven and verified facts. And the facts speak for themselves. Now it is up to the reader to judge.

Having said that, I don’t really understand what you mean by “archaic period.” Should we understand that, despite ups and downs, even some violence, which would be, as we say, “inevitable in a medieval society,” Muslim Hispania is the only true example of tolerance, thanks to the Muslim conquerors who imposed themselves on a barbaric, ignorant and intolerant Romano-Visigothic culture?

Does this also mean that this remarkable Muslim civilization was then destroyed by barbarian Christians, who seized the Peninsula again and imposed an even more intolerant regime than what existed before the arrival of the Berbers and Arab Muslims, and this was a real setback for Western progress? We can always dream!

The reality is that the culture of Visigothic Hispania was based on the heritage of Roman civilization and on the development of Isidorian thought. Even though this would have concerned only the elites, it was radically different from that of the Berbers and Arab conquerors, who for the most part could neither read nor write. The culture of the Visigothic kingdom had assimilated the “Greco-Roman Christian Empire.” Spania (far south of present-day Spain) had been a province of the Byzantine Empire. I am aware of the contempt of some academics for the culture of the largely Romanized Visigoth “barbarians.” But following them, we quickly forget the place and the role played by such prestigious figures as Eugenius II of Toledo, Leander of Seville, Isidore of Seville, or Theodulf of Orleans, to name but a few examples.

You mention the famous philosopher, Averroes (Ibn Rushdi). Dario Fernández-Morera devotes many enlightening pages to him. He nuances his portrait and recalls the lesser known side of the character. Averroes was a Malikite jurist who belonged to one of the most rigorous schools of Qur’anic exegesis, which was in the majority in al-Andalus. He was adviser to a ruthless Almohad caliph, a judge responsible for monitoring the application of Sharia law, author of Bidayat al-Mujtahid, a treatise containing the most edifying guidelines for use by Muslim judges (comments on the holy war, jihad, jizya, stoning, etc.).

In reality, when it comes to mutual “great debts” between the various cultures, one must be extremely careful. These are always relative and partial. Two examples, among many others, may suffice to show this.

Let us first take the title of the journal of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, Qantara (“bridge” in Arabic). The Spanish also know, as a noun and toponym, the word Alcantára, Alcanadre, and some other derivatives from Arabic. But it should be added that the Arabic word qantara comes from the Syriac qenterun, which itself comes from the Greek kentro, or even from the Latin centrum (This point is explained and documented in the Diccionario de arabismos y voces Afines en iberorromance by philologist, Federico Corriente Córdoba).

Another, infinitely more striking example is that of the Koran. Philologists have shown that the sacred text of Islam, for Muslims, contains a lexicon of relatively abundant Latin and Greek origin (about 170 foreign terms). But would it not, for all that, be absurd, unreasonable, even impious, to claim that the Koran has a “great debt” to Rome and Greece?

A superficial analysis or vision of al-Andalus – like those of foreign travelers to Spain in the 19th-century, or those of the many current polemicists and ideologists – may lead to only a few particularly striking visual elements, such as, the Alhambra, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, or the Giralda of Seville. But, as Serafín Fanjul says, these are just beautiful stones and nothing else. Rather, we should look for the living and active elements that have survived in society after 1492 or 1609 (the date of the expulsion of the last Moors). And here we have a veritable little breviary of received ideas which it is beneficial to deconstruct.

One of the most oft-used arguments to support Islamic influence in Spain is the lexicon of Arabic origin that the Spanish or Castilian language has retained. Professor Fanjul has shown that it is in fact a total of three thousand words (with about two thousand more being minor toponyms), which come from the 13th-century (the period during which the Arabic lexicon is most present in Castilian literature); that barely 0.5% of the total (and 0.6% in the work of Cervantes in the 16th-century). Proportionally, it is very little, and even less so, as it is a vocabulary relating to medieval techniques (agriculture, weapons, construction, medicine) which have since largely fallen into disuse. There is also no Arabic lexicon with spiritual or abstract significance, which is very revealing. Finally, Arab-Muslim influences in the fields of food, clothing, popular festivals or music are just as limited – whereas in these same areas, Latin-Germanic and Christian filiations are predominant, even overwhelming.

Q: So where does this myth of al-Andalus come from? Why and how did it develop and what keeps it going today?

AI: It’s very interesting to ask why the myth persists and why it is still developing today. The myth is spread by three categories of people. First, by politicians and journalists who, sometimes in good faith, are ignorant (like, for example, Obama, Blair or Macron) but often opportunists (they fear the censorship of “political correctness”). Second, by fanatics or extremist Islamophiles. And thirdly, by conformist academics, who defend tooth and nail their corporate interests. It is especially from the last two categories that the most virulent polemicists are recruited against the works of Fanjul, Fernandez- Morera, Sanchez Saus, and more generally against all the critics of the myth.

The most enthusiastic are usually supporters of the fanciful thesis that Arab Muslims never invaded Spain militarily. This thesis indirectly seeks to show that Catholicism is a religion foreign to Spain. It would have been, they say, repudiated by the inhabitants of “Hispania,” and would have triumphed only some time, before the Muslim presence, by force and violence. This thesis was developed at the end of the 1960s by the Basque paleontologist, Ignacio Olagüe (who had been a member of the JONS – Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista – in his youth, the national-trade union political movement of Ramiro Ledesma Ramos). Today, it is taken up by Andalusian nationalists and in particular by the neo-Marxist philologist, professor of the University of Seville, Emilio González Ferrín.

In the same exalted circle, we can cite the works of the orientalist and theorist of Unitarian Universalism, Sigrid Hunke, who worked in his youth for the SS (Ahnenerbe Research Institute). Partisan of National Socialist neo-paganism, apologist of Islam, “a virile religion against the Christian religion of effeminate slaves,” she considered that the Arab-Muslim heritage of the West was more direct or even more important than the Greco-Roman. All these theses, or rather all these rantings, have as much credibility as those which make aliens the builders of the pyramids.

In the second category, that of conformist academics, not to say rigid pen-pushers, we find a good number of Arabists, anthropologists and a few medievalists. This is the case with the anti-Zionist anthropologist, José Antonio González Alcantud, who does not fear ridicule when he asserts that “the deniers of the Andalusian link employ methods similar to those of the deniers of the Holocaust” (see his book, Al Ándalus y lo Andaluz, 2017). We can also cite, as an archetypal example, although he is a complete stranger outside Spain, the historian at the University of Huelva, Alejandro García Sanjuán, who has three obsessions and phobias: Christianity, the Church and the nation.

Among the militant “historians,” we can also cite the American of Cuban origin, María Rosa Menocal, or, in France, Alain de Libera, Jean Pruvost, Abderrahim Bouzelmate, and the geographer, lecturer, willing libellist in style, Emmanuelle Tixier du Mesnil (see, L’Histoire, no. 457, March 2019).

A more moderate Arabist in the diatribe is arguably Spain’s Maribel Fierro (see, Revista de Libros), but she nonetheless reproduces in soft-mode some of the most hackneyed clichés. According to her, Arabist specialists have long known everything for a long time – that there would have been violence, but which was perfectly normal in a medieval society; that “there was a legal framework,” and “the dhimma also had its advantages.” In short, the myth exists only in the minds of those who claim it exists, who keep stressing it – now, move along, there’s nothing to see here!

A last important factor explains the charges or indictments of these writers of history against Fanjul, Fernandez-Morera and Sánchez Saus – their resentment of the very positive reception, even admiring, by a good part of the big press, and their incontestably successful print-runs. Three months after the publication of Fanjul’s book, it had already sold more than 15,000 copies. A record for a history book which has subsequently been the subject of several reissues in paperback and in pocket size. The books by both Fernández- Morera and Sánchez Saus’ have also been notable successes.

But these mythologists of al-Andalus did not sit idly by. The bitterest and the most Manichean minds among them, those who knew they were condemned to having only a few hundred readers, used the entire panoply of conventional weapons and stratagems, and desperately tried to fight back – with slander, insults, innuendos, attacks against religious beliefs or supposed political options, accusations of Islamophobia, nationalism, fascism, or even wanting to foment the clash of civilizations, without forgetting, of course , the terrorist use of the supposedly “scientific” argument and the call for repression or exclusion from the academic community. The trouble is that the arguments of Fanjul, Fernández-Morera and Sánchez Saus are solid, rigorous, balanced, and their sources are indisputable.

Q: Did the jizya have a real impact on the conversion of certain non-Muslims to Islam? Were the conversions, in this context, sincere? And what were the treatments reserved respectively for new converts and those who remained outside of Islam?

AI: The Christian dhimmi had to pay a higher tax than the Muslim, and regardless of his fortune, because he was a Christian. He had to humiliate himself in front of the authorities when paying them. But the discrimination did not end there; and they weren’t just fiscal. Some example, the Muslim traveled on horseback and the Christian with a donkey; a Christian who killed a Muslim, even in self-defense, was inevitably condemned to death, although this rule did not apply in the reverse case; the testimony of a Christian against a Muslim was not admissible in court; a Christian had to get up when a Muslim entered, and he could only pass him on the left side, considered cursed; a Christian could not have Muslim servants or a house higher than that of a Muslim, without having to demolish it; a church, when it was not razed, had to be lower than a mosque; the fines imposed for the same offenses were less than half for Muslims; mixed marriages between members of submissive and Islamized populations and Arab women were almost impossible and absolutely prohibited between Muslims and pagans (musrikies). These were some of the so-called “benefits” of the dhimma.

We are told like a mantra that if tolerance in al-Andalus was not of course as it has been conceived since the 18th-century “that does not mean that there has not been coexistence more often than not, and a peaceful one at that.” But the truth is, intransigence towards other religions was untenable. Under the Umayyads, the slightest resistance or serious rebellion of Christians was drowned in blood. Only collaboration and submission were possible. We know the brutalities of Abd al-Rahman III with his sex slaves, as his biographer Ibn Hayyan tells it; we know his pedophilic passion for the young Christian Pelagius whom he finally killed because he resisted him.

The Umayyads were the most determined defenders of Islam and the greatest head-cutters or “beheaders” in the history of al-Andalus. The situation of Christians and Jews was such that over the centuries they did not stop migrating to the Christian kingdoms of the Spanish Peninsula. After the triumph of the Almohads, the Christian and Jewish communities had no other possible alternative but conversion to Islam, or deportation to Africa. By the 12th-century, the Christian community of al-Andalus had ceased to exist.

Q: Do the various initiatives in Spain, aimed at asking forgiveness from the Muslim community for the consequences of the Reconquista, seem to you to be historically founded, and why?

AI: It’s totally absurd, but you can always dream. I do not doubt for a moment that in the logic of Muslims or Islamists this request is justified. Dar al-Kufr (the “domain of the infidels” or “domain of unbelief,” or the “domain of blasphemy”) is the expression they use to designate the territories where Sharia law was once applied, but no longer applies.

And this is precisely the case with Spain; or rather, a good part of Spain since the Reconquista (the border line was located for a long time in the center of the Peninsula, where the Central System that separates the current autonomous communities of Castile and Leon and Castilla-La Mancha). But after all, in their logic, why would they not be also justified in asking the same forgiveness for the consequences of the reconquest in that part of France conquered as far as Poitiers? That being said, as far as I know, we are not forced to accept this propaganda, or we have to forget that not only Spain but also North Africa were both Christian long before they were Muslim.

The image shows the “Martyrdom of Pelagius,” by the Master of Becerril, painted ca. 1520.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Jesus In The Qur’an

The image of Jesus in the Qur’an could be summarized with the words of Nietzsche, words “human all-too human.” This, in contrast to the teaching and view of the Church. It is clear that this in principle does not embody a Qur’anic innovation but goes back to early disputes in nascent Christianity.
Thus the Qur’an partially preserves traces of embryonic Christology(-ies), which were later modified or expanded upon by councils.

Taken as a whole, such Qur’anic ideas about Jesus are diffuse, and the statements taken over from the Gospels (above all from Matthew) are not noted as such in the Qur’an. In the Qu’an, Jesus is sent to the people of Israel as a prophet and a messenger of Allah, but they rejected him (6,49; 61,6); he encounters a denial decreed by Allah Himself (5,100); with the exception of a (rather) small group of Israelites (61,14).

Theologically essential is that although Jesus’ virgin birth is deemed to be true, he is never viewed in the Qur’an as a son or descendant of David (vis-à-vis other traditions, such as those from Qumran, e.g. 4Q174, a Midrashic text in which God calls the Davidic Messiah his son). No royal dignity is attributed to him, neither the cross nor the resurrection (as in early Christianity) have any salvational relevance: in the Qur’anic view, Christ’s death on the cross had no existential reality, nor did it constitute any
part of his calling. Jesus either seems to die a natural death (19,33) or is taken up to heaven (3,55; 4,158; 5,117; cf. Enoch and Elijah) and is raised together with all the dead at the Last Judgment (19,33).

Through this desoteriologization of the life of Jesus, but especially of his Passion, his removal from the economy of salvation, a brazen psilanthropism (Jesus is a mere man: 4,171 “how could he (Allah) have a child?” yakūna lahū waladun) is discernible. Basically, the Qur’anic image of Jesus in the early Suras corresponds roughly to that of the Proto-Lucan gospel.

The image of Jesus in respect to the Christology found in the Qur’an is by no means uniform and is the result of theological debates in and during Syro-Mesopotamian Late Antiquity, and which Christology also underwent development, as can be clearly seen by comparing 19,1-33 (compatible with
Christianity) with the later interpolation 19,33-40.

Jesus himself is mentioned by name in 14 suras. The name ‘Īsā is usually understood as a realisation of Jesus (Ἰησοῦς < יְהוֹשַׁע< יֵשׁוַּע “Joshua,” i.e., the “Saviour”); but this is not unproblematic. Elsewhere, we find other terms, such as, “servant of God » (ʿabdu llāhi 19,30; cf. the Gospels and Acts 3,13; 4,27, in which the deutero-Isiaian servant of God [ עבד יהוה ] is applied to Jesus); “the word of God” (kalimatu mina llāhi, 3,39,45; see the λόγος, Joh. 1,1ff.); al-masīḥu ʿīsă bnu maryama rasūlu llāhi wa-kalimatuhū ʾalqāhā
ʾilā maryama wa-rūḥun minhu … wa-rūḥun minhu
, “The Messiah, ‘Īsā, Mary’s son is only Allah’s messenger and His word, … and Spirit from him” (4,171); “The Word of truth” (19,34; cf. Jn 1,14).

Often the Qur’anic Jesus appears in connexion with Adam and in lists of previous prophets (e.g., 2,136=3,84; 4,163; 6,85; 33,7-8; 42,13; 57,26f.), but he is said to be more significant than those (2,253, “supported by the Holy Spirit” wa-ʾayyadnāhu bi-rūḥi l-qudusi, cf. 2,87; 5,100; 4,171f. etc.).

Our findings so far: according to the Qur’an Jesus is a human being – in contrast to the Nicaean Creed (natum, non factum, unius substantiae cum Patre – Apostle’s Creed: qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine): created and not begotten! A figure comparable to Adam – the Virgin Mary is indeed his mother, but he does not descend from the line of David, nor does he claim royal dignity; whereas he appears as the (provisional) apotheosis of the prophets – Muhammad is interpolated into the Qur’an (3,144; 33,40; 47,2; 48,29) only in later redactional stages, whereby in some of these passages it is questionable whether it is not actually Jesus who is meant as the Muhammad (i.e. the Blessed One). Allah-God is unique and indivisible (tawḥīd , e.g., 112,1 a syntax which is Aramaic and not Arabic: huwa llāhu ʾaḥadun-i; this is of course a partial
imitation of the Shema Israel, “Hear, O Israel,” Deuteronomy 6, 4-9), and rules alone, i.e., a rejection of the Trinity, considered “association” (shirk).

Furthermore, the Torah and the Gospels are seen as the same revelation vis-a-vis the Qur’an, which though Jews (4:45) and Christians (e.g. 2:59;
7:162; 30:30) ‘corrupted’ (tabdīl).

This view of things is by no means new in the history of theology, and thus logically, this can not be seen as something unique, revealed to Mohammad, an illiterate merchant in distant Mecca. As explained at the beginning, the early pericopes of the Qur’an reflect long-lasting inner-Christian debates, often quite polemical in nature. We find similar theological views, for example, in the Pseudo-Clementines. This work, in a Greek (the so-called Homilies) and a Latin version (the so-called Recognitiones by Rufinus of Aquileia), represents the core of the “Teachings of Peter” (Κηρύγματα τοῦ Πέτρου), and both go back to a common source, called the Grundschirft,
probably the Περίοδοι Πέτρου of the Church Fathers (Origen, Epiphanes), the work of a scholarly anti-Marcionist theologian of Syrian Christianity in the fourth century, which is also known in later Syrian, Arabic and Ethiopian traditions.

In this once very influential treatise we have a corpus that can be regarded in many ways as a starting point for Qur’anic ideas. Here the monarchic rule of God is rigorously adhered to (μοναρχία θεοῦ), a bi- or triarchy is unimaginable (ἑτέροις συνάρχειν). Jesus did not fulfill the law as the Son of God (ὁ υἱός του Θεού < בן-אלהים), but as the Son of Man (ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου < בן-אדם ; i.e., ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἀνθρώπων). He was not preexistent, but merely accepted by God as his Son and annoited (Christ) at baptism (Recog. I.48 “qui in aquis baptismi filius a deo appellatus est“), understood as a fulfillment of Ps 2:7 (no longer present in the Koran); before this event, he was merely a Messiah designate.

In the Homilies, Jesus is ὁμοούσιος τῷ πατρί, born ἐκ τῆς ουσίας, all quite Arian formulations (“deus ingenitus – filius genitus”). Jesus is seen as a prophet, similar to Moses, who even prophesied about him (Dt 18,15-22). In Hom. VIII.10, we find that the concept of the ‘true prophet’ (ἀληθῆς
προφήτης
) is elaborated, as the proclaimer of the ‘eternal law’ (νόμος αιώνιος. This corresponds to the idea of the “well kept tablet,” lauḥ maḥfūẓ in Sura 85,22; cf. 5,48-59) in the past, present and future – “The true prophet, from the beginning of the world age hastening through” (“verus
propheta ab initio mundi per saeculum currens
,” Recog. II.22 ), which is identical to the “Holy Spirit” (ἅγιον πνεῦμα Hom. III.17, which ἔμφυτον ϗ ἀέννατος).

This human prophet is sinless (αναμάρτητος= צדיק , Hom. II.6; III.11), and is the only one who can “enlighten the souls of men” (Hom. I.19). Christ is not only the New Moses, but also the New Adam, since we find here the idea that the first man (Adam Qadmon) had breathed into him the breath (πνεῦμα) of God (cf. Qur’an 15,29; 38,72), and was also anointed with the oil of the Tree of Life (Recog. I.45). Thus an “anointed one,” i.e., Messiah or Christos (Hom. III.20), and could therefore prophesy. Thus Adam was sinless, and accordingly there could be no fall; otherwise, the Holy Spirit residing in him would have sinned as well.

Here we have an idea very similar to those found in the Qur’an (2:30-37; 20:115-122; 7:11-27). So, for example, no notion of original sin (e.g. Qur’an 7:23: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves”); in the Qur’an (e.g., 2,31), Adam does not give names to animals as in Genesis (2,19: “And the Lord
God formed of earth all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to man to see what he would call them, and that every living creature should bear the name that man would give it”), but Allah taught Adam (and not the angels) their names, a prophetic activity
(derived from the θεῖον πνεῦμα).

Explicitly, we find the equation of Adam and Jesus in the Qur’an (3:59: “Indeed, the likeness of ‘Īsā near Allah like that of Adam. He created him from dust. Then he to him ‘be’ and he was.” This is quite similar to what we find in the Gospel of John (1,3: πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν), based in turn on Psalm 33,6.9 ( כִּ֤י ה֣וּא אָמַ֣ר וַיֶּ֑הִי הֽוּא־צִ֝וָּ֗ה וַֽיַּעֲמֹֽד ), quite opposite to Paul’s conception of the Second Adam.

Thus, the teachings of Peter, based on Jewish tradition, describe how the divine spirit (θεῖον πνεῦμα), i.e. the glory of God (Hebrew שכינה), was already effective in Adam (which is why he is considered a prophet in this work, as in the Qur’an). This glory thereafter wandered through the ages to manifest itself successively in prophets – a metamorphosis and not a hypostasis – in, cf. e.g. Hom. XVII.4 (=Recog. II.47), an allusion to Proverbs 9,1 (“Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars”; cf. in the Talmud, Chagiga 12b: ז’ עמודים) —the list includes Adam-Christ Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus, the representatives of the “sevenfold mystery” (ἑβδομάδος μυστήριον, Hom. XVII.9), the ἑπτά στῦλοι υπάρχοντες κόσμῳ.

These bearers of revelation (ἡγεμόνες τὴς προφητείας, Hom. II.15 – “who are all born of women,” Recog. I.60) found their culmination in the “Jewish body of Jesus born among the Jews” (op. cit.), cf. in early rabbinical exegesis of Ecclesiastes 1:9 (“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again”): “Like the first the last saviour so shall the last saviour be.” Jesus, like Adam and Moses, were different from other prophets in that they possessed the ability to fortell (prognosis). Although the figures mentioned in the list of prophetic mediators of the ‘eternal law’ in the Pseudo-Clementines are subject to variation, Adam, Moses and Jesus are constant factors.

This has its counterpart in the Qur’an, which also often lists such
figures, e.g. 2,136; 3,84; 4,163; 6,85; 33,7-8; 42,13, and thus apparently continues this tradition: prophets are the representatives of humanity with whom God makes his covenant, and the truth of each former messenger is included in the proclamation of the following one, so that Mohammed, in the Islamic understanding, brings together once and for all all all the truth
conveyed by them (e.g. 33:7). Hom. VII.8 “Religion is to fear him [scil. God] alone and to believe only the Prophet of Truth” is to all intents and purposes equal to the Islamic Shahāda: “There is no God but God – Mohammed is the messenger of God.”

The reason for the successive repetition of revelation is the belief that not all parts of the Torah are equally authentic, some are even considered to be blatant forgeries. In Hom. I.18f./Recog. I,15 this is illustrated: the world is like a house filled with the smoke of ignorance, vice and aberrations, the true prophet must come to its door, open it and expel this smoke and let
in the (true sun)light (cf. Jn 3:19ff.).

Moses in this tradition, like Muhammad in the Islam tradition, only passed on what had been revealed to him orally, as ‹ interpretations’ (ἐπιλύσεις, Hom. II.38; see, IIPetr. 1,20 … προφητεία… ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως οὐ γίνεται). This, however, was quickly corrupted by Satan and thus the true παράδοσις Μωϋσέως became adulterated with false pericopes (ψευδεις περικοπαί), by bad instruction, misrepresentation, etc. Here we find a certain influence of Isaiah 29:13 (Septuagint) and Mt 15:13 (see also Jer 8:8, Ez 20:25).

Hence, everyone was able to read into the Scriptures (Hom. III.9) what he wished. Ergo, the repeated call in the homilies: “Therefore, if some of the scriptures are true and some are false, our Master said for a good reason: ‘Be good money-changers,’ insofar as there are some true whilst some are false.”

Generally speaking, the ‘eternal law’ (Hom. VIII.10, see above) was inscribed by God’s hand into the world at creation as the first teaching to mankind (IX.10); it was known to Adam (III.48 ), and was revealed again to Moses, becoming though in the course of time increasingly obscured by errors, until it was finally elevated to eternal validity by Jesus, who had the “knowledge of the mysteries or laws” (γνῶσις τῶν απόρρητῶν, XVIII.15; secretior legis intellegentia, Recog. I.74) (cf., Qur’an 3, 48; 5, 46, 100; 57, 27).

So, Moses received a Torah that was different from the one we have today. Specifically, the group behind the Pseudo-Clementines rejected the sacrificial cult as pagan, and which had only been temporarily tolerated by Moses. Therefore necessarily Pauline soteriology, which regarded the death of Jesus as a bloody atonement, is rejected outright.

In their view, Christian liberation from the Jewish sacrificial cult was not initiated by the sacrifice of the Son of God, but by the water of baptism, through which Jesus extinguished the fires of the sacrificial altar once and for all.

This understanding of Scripture, i.e., the existence of false verses or passages that corrupt the unchanging eternal law of God, which can only be reinstated through a new revelation, corresponds to the role of Mohammad in the later Islamic understanding of the Qur’an (see above on tabdīl; in Islamic theology the terms taḥrīf and kitmān are also used to denote the falsification of the holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity).

Another conspicuous feature that cannot be discussed in detail here is the political rejection of the monarchy (and the glorification, as with the Samaritans, of the age of Judges, Recog. I.38), which is seen as synonymous with war (Hom. III.62); the biblical kings were rather tyrants (tyranni magni quam reges), the building of the Temple, the place of sacrifice par excellence, was considered hubris – the whole institution, also the status of
David, is said to have had no part in the “eternal law.”

Thus, as has already been mentioned, Jesus’ Davidic descent is not mentioned in the Qur’an, nor is he mentioned in the Qur’an as king
(e.g., 21,78ff.). In Islam, as with Eastern Christianity (and Mesopotamian predecessors), we find the notion of “vicarious kingship” (e.g., Caliph means ‘vicar’; ʻAbd el- Malik was Caliph, the representative of God. Allah was King, Arab. Malīk – cf., Koran 20,114; 23,116; 59,23; 62,1; 114,2; also one of the ninety-nine most beautiful names of God in Islam – whose slave or servant this ruler viewed himself as). This was probably a reason for dispute of the early Umayyads with Heraclius after his Pyrrhic victory over the Sassanids – after his reorganisation of the empire, he took the title Βασιλεύς.

In the preceding, an attempt was made, admittedly with (very) coarse brushstrokes, to show that some decisive theologumena of the Qur’an already appear in the Pseudo-Clementines. As mentioned above, versions of this literature were handed down in Semitic languages during Late
Antiquity and probably exerted, directly or indirectly, influence on various Qur’anic authors who shared these attitudes or convictions, at least partially: Jesus both as Adam novus (see above e.g., ad 3,59) and Moses novus, as the ultimate fulfillment of revelation.

As far as the equation with the latter is concerned, it is interesting to note that in the Qur’an, Mary is presented as the daughter of ʻImran (e.g., Qur’an 3,35; in Christian tradition Joachim); in the Bible though Amram is the father of Moses; in 19,28 Mary (biblically, Miriam, is listed as Hārūn’s,
i.e. Aaron’s (who is aligned with John the Baptist) sister. Some commentators see in this a confusion – but this is unnecessary. If Moses is supposed to be a prefiguration of Jesus, Moses 2.0 (or Adam 3.0), then this similarity is more than understandable (also because Mary and Miriam
are actually the same in Semitic, m-r-j-m).

Here we see again a hint of the sophisticated compositional technique of the Qur’an. Theologians were at work here, not an illiterate desert merchant! The Islamic understanding of Mohammed as the last prophet, as Jesus novus (resp. 2.0 – which partly explains the intertextuality of Jesus’ vita
with that of Muhammad in the Sira) is but a continuation (Fortschreibung) of this theme.

The notion found in Hom. VIII.6f. that the teaching of both Moses and Jesus was the same(!) revelation, that love for Moses and Jesus was the true fulfillment of religion, and those who understand this (single!) revelation are blessed by God – is rooted historically in antimarcionite polemics. Yet the idea that the Torah and the Gospel are identical, as are Adam, Moses and Jesus show that this doctrine, in an expanded form, underlay the composition of the Qur’an.

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

The image shows Muhammad leafing Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayer, in heaven, in a 15th-century Persian miniature.

Looking For The God Hubal

When we look at the the later Islamic narratives of everyday life in Mecca in the days when a certain prophetic figure named Muhammad allegedly lived, for which there is no historical evidence, we would at first sight seem to be well-informed, there is a rich documentation. A closer look at these references, however, shows that they date some 150 to two centuries after the events they purport to narrate, and what they relate is often quite fantastic, in light of what we know about the ancient Arabs and the ancient Semitic world in general. An interesting case in point is the deity who is said to have been chiefly worshipped at the Meccan Kaaba in the sixth-century, namely, Hubal.

The Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Aṣnām) by the Iraqi Islamic savant, Hišām ibn Muhammad ibn as-Sā’ib al-Kalbī (see, in general, Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums), who flourished during the eighth-ninth centuries, notes, “From what I have heard, [the idol of] Hubal was made of red carnelian, having human form, but with a broken right Hand. The Quraish had received him in this condition, but had since made him a [replacement] hand of gold. He was inside the Kaaba.”

Here, as is often the case with Islamic traditions, there are many, often contradictory narrations. Al-Kalbī’s contemporary, the Baghdad judge Muḥammad b.ʿUmar b.Wāqid al-Wāqidī thought that the graven image stood in front of the entrance to the Kaaba, next to the door. The latter furthermore relates that in front of his statue seven arrows were placed for
the purpose of belomancy, performed by a ṣāḥib al-qidāh (“Arrow Lord”) – possibly a biblical motif, cf. e.g. I Sam 20; Ezek 21,26 and Hab 3,11: two are said to have been employed to establish the legitimacy of a child’s descent in case of doubt, one for necromancy, one for questions concerning marriage, and three whose function could no longer be inferred by the author.

In the well-known hagiography (Sīra) of Muhammad, attributed to Ibn Hišām, it is noted that Muhammad’s grandfather ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib almost sacrificed his son ʿAbdallāh in a narrative reminiscent of the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen 22, after an oath had been taken (cf. Jephthah in Judges 11) — according to Islamic exegesis (Sura 37,106f. refers hereto), we also find an explanation as to why Muhammad was referred to as Ibn adh-dhabīḥaini, “the son of the twice sacrificed,” i.e., his father and his alleged ancestor Ishmael.

Muhammad on the other hand, who was already fatherless at birth, was brought to the Kaaba by his grandfather for a paternity test by means of arrows, according to the Riwaya of Yūnus ibn Bukayr of the 9th-century; according to aṭ-Ṭabarī in the 10th century, the infant was brought to the idol Hubal in the Kaaba (fa-adkha-ahu ʿala Hubal fi jawfi l-Kaʿba), while the idol is not mentioned by Ibn Hišhām (fa-dakhala bihi l-Kaʿba). Either the latter interpolated his source (Ibn Isḥaq’s), or Hubal was introduced into the tradition secondarily.

By all accounts, the latter possibility would seem to be more likely, especially since later Islamic traditions tend to provide more, albeit quite peculiar and downright odd information.

In yet other traditions, we learn that Hubal cohabited with (the idols of) 360 other deities, apparently one for every day of the then current solar year (the current Islamic lunar calendar was only introduced later). This is somewhat surprising, since usually only one deity, a duad or, on occasion, a triad inhabited one and the same shrine. Allegedly then the Kaaba collapsed when Muhammed recited Q17,82.

Other accounts make even less sense: e.g. the ‘blue-eyed’ historian of the city of Mecca, Abū l-Walīd Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Azraqī, who purportedly lived during the 7th century, claims that the standard sacrifice for Hubal was a hecatomb of camels. How this should have been done in a small building like the Kaaba or on a smallish stone (fixed in a wall) remains, as is customary in such accounts, unmentioned.

Furthermore, as is often the case with pre-Islamic Arabian deities in Islamic traditions, Hubal, is not seen as an indigenous god. So in The Book of Idols (ed. Klinke-Rosenberger, pp. 33-37 Arabic), the arrival of various idols, among these Hubal, is associated with the journey ʿAmr Ibn Luḥayys to Syria (note the similarity of this description with that of Naaman and Elisha in 2Kings 5).

According to al-Azraqī, Hubal is said to come from Hīt in Mesopotamia; Ibn Hišām on the other hand claims that he came from Moab, in the country of Balqā’. To what extent these statements can be seen as containing historical information remains uncertain, also because Islamic tradition attributes the building of the Kaaba to Abraham and must see to preserve a certain memory of his “true monotheism” from primeval times, which was then corrupted by external influences, as is the wont of foreigners.

It is striking that outside of these Islamic sources, Hubal seems to be unknown in the Hejaz. He is not even found as a theophoric element in Arabian personal names. Wellhausen (Reste arabischen Heidentums, 1897, attempted to explain this conspicuous omission by asserting that Hubal was originally seen as the given name of God, i.e. Allah – just as Yahweh is the name of the Jewish God (‘ɛlōhīm). This is not a convincing argument, merely a desperate guess conditioned by the lack of data.

However, for the time being, for the sake of argument, let us view the Islamic material as historically credible – if Hubal is to be viewed as a newly arrived divine resident foreigner, this could, to some extent, explain why he seems to have been largely unknown; also because, according to Islamic tradition, written history began only with the Koran after Mohammad’s death.

If this were actually the case, however, one would expect that this god be attested elsewhere, in his alleged homeland(s), for example, namely, Mesopotamia, Palestine or Syria. In the onomasticon attested especially in ancient North-Arabic and later Aramaic inscriptions, we find a name HBL (variants WHBL, ‘HBL), which superficially at least would seem to be concordant with the Islamic findings related in the preceding.

However, this is not a theophoric element, but rather a verb which modifies such, i.e. whb + ‘l “God’s gift” (cf. e.g. Deodatus, Nathaniel, etc.). In secondary literature, a Nabataean inscription from the Ḥegra (Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ), in contemporary northern Saudi Arabia, is often brought to bear (Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum II, Paris, 1889), No. 198).

Certainly corroboratory mention of this deity in a text written to the Arabic Nabataeans (who, however, customarily used an Aramaic dialect as their written language) would certainly lend Islamic tradition considerable substantiation. This inscription is a funerary text for two women, scil. Kmkm and her daughter Kljbt, dated roughly to the year 0 AD. As often the case with such inscriptions, curses are pronounced against those who may come later to desecrate the grave (lines 3-8):

…wjlʿn dwšr’ wmwtbt w’lt mn ʿmnd wmnwtw wqjšh mn jzbn kpr’ dnh ’w mn jzbn ’w jrhn ’w jntn jth ’w jnpq mnh gt ’w šlw ’w mn jqbr bh ʿjr kmkm wbrth w’ḥrhm wmn dj l’ jʿbd kdj ʿl’ ktjb p’jtj ʿmh ldwšr’ whblw wlmnwtw šmdjn 5 …

“And may Dušara … his ??? … and Allat of ʿAmnad, and Manūthu, and Qaiša curse he who would sell this grave, or he who buys it, or he who taxes it or he who would give it away, or removes bodies or body parts, or buries herein another besides Kmkm or her daughter or their progeny. Whosoever acts contrary to that which is stated here, shall be cursed fivefold by Dušara, and HBLW, and Manūthu…”

As was noted, this inscription is often cited as proof for the cult of a deity known as Hubal (cf. e.g. CIS a.l.ex antiquis Arabum diis“). Two points mitigate this proposition:

1) As remarked by Euting in CIS, the dative preposition l- is missing (“Euting dubitat an hic verus sit sensus, præpositione lante nomen deficiente; suspicatur ergo epitheton aliquod dei Dušara, sed vix probabile“). The editor’s doubts about Euting’s postulate are actually untenable nowadays, since no further unquestionable evidence for this deity has been found during the last century, during which our knowledge of the language as well as the number of known published inscriptions has grown considerably.

It is much more likely to interpret the word HBLW as a toponym, i.e. Dušara of hblw (cf. “Our Lady in/of/on/with …”) – cf. the place name hbltt in a Safaitic inscription (A. Jamme, Miscellanées d’ancient arabe VII,, 28, Fig. 6).

2) The content of this inscription can by no means be described as unique, since a large part of the corpus of the Nabataean epigraphy consists of such texts; and moreover, there are several approximately contemporaneous texts from the same place (with comparable inscriptions). See CIS II No. 197, 199, 205, 209, 212) that mention Dušara and/or Manûthu among others, but never Hubal. The old rule applies here: Unus testis, nullus testis.

In the preceding, we clearly see a methodological problem of Islamology. Orientalists of earlier times, the decipherers and first editors of such inscriptions, often depended on Islamic traditions to interpret these newly discovered texts. These results in turn found their way into Islamic studies – a classical circular reasoning. If this were just any any other (obscure) word, instead of hblw, nobody would think of lexicalising it as a deity.

How then is this deity Hubal, supposedly imported to Mecca, who seems to have been unknown even in his purported homeland, to be analysed? Perhaps an etymologisation of his name can help us further? Let us note briefly that among the older Semitic languages this root is only attested in Bible Hebrew, and in some later Aramaic dialects influenced (in part) by it, such as Syriac (heḇlā “Dust, Vanity”), Targumic Aramaic (“Breath, Vanity”) and the Jewish-Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmud (“Breath, Steam, Haze”) (> Arabic habalt “Fume, steam,” perhaps why in some Islamic traditions Hubal was interpreted as a rain god).

The Hebrew root HBL (cf. the dictionaries) is usually seen as an onomatopoeic term for “breath, breath” as well as “wind”, which then in Gen. 4 uses the name for Adam and Eve’s second son, the shepherd Abel (Hebrew Heḇel), as well as for “nothingness” (“Man is like a breath [la-heḇel], his days are like a shadow scurrying by! -Psalm 144:4); or “vanity” (“O vanity of vanities! [hăḇēl hăḇālīm] says the preacher; O vanity of vanities! [hăḇēl hăḇālīm] Everything is vanity! [hāḇel] -Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Often, however, especially in the Deuteronomistic polemic against (supposed) idolatry, this lexeme takes on a technical theological meaning in the sense of “idol”, “idolatry,” because now only the orthodox view of the worship of Yahweh was acceptable in their eyes, everything else was considered vain vanity. We see this use of Heḇel or plural Hăḇālīm, e.g., in Deut 32:21; 1Kings 16:13,26; 2Kings 17:15; Jeremiah 2:5 (“What did your fathers find wrong with me, that they departed from me and followed vainglory and became vain? [ha-heḇel waj-jehǝbbālū]); 8:19; 10:3,8; 14:22; Jonah 2:9(8); Psalm 31:7(6) (in the last two examples in parallelism with šāw’ “emptiness, futility”).

We also find this understanding in some renditions of the Septuagint, e.g., Deut 32:21; Jeremiah 14:22; 16:19, where the Hebrew term is translated with with “idol” (i.e. εἴδωλον, in classical Greek, originally a “phantom; figure, idea;” only in the later biblical tradition did it take on the meaning “idol”) or μάταιος (actually “futile, vain,” > “idol,” under the influence of Hebrew), e.g., in Jeremiah 2:5 (cf. also Esther 4:17p [prayer of Esther], 3Maccabees 6:11; as well as this use in the NT, especially Acts 14:15).

Here we see how a word that actually means ‘nothing at all’ comes to mean something that is not and can not be. For the sake of clarity, in this specific biblical usage, the Hebrew term Heḇel (plural Hăḇālīm) does not indicate a deity (real or imagined), but it is rather a pejorative term to declare all divine beings except Yahweh, and all representations of gods (including Yahweh) to be ‘null and void’.

From the point of view of Semitic etymology then, Hubal is not a god, but rather instead Heḇel, divine non-existence. Apparently we have landed in nothingness, having shown that Hubal is nihility (which might bemuse some Islamicists), he has literally evaporated in a biblical thunderstorm. Is it possible to bring this god back?

Theologians, in order to preserve their faith in the divine (in this case anyway) can be quite inventive. If on the one hand hebraica Veritas can be helpful in understanding Islamic tradition, then one can also use Arabic (once called the Ancilla Fidei, “servant of the faith” because she was considered to be useful in the study of the Hebrew vocabulary of the Old Testament) to interpret the Bible.

For example, the Canadian Old Testament scholar William Ewart Staples attempted to use the Hebrew term Heḇel as a theological term to denote a “cult mystery” in Canaanite nature religion. Later, his Scandinavian colleague, Hans M. Barstad went even further and claimed that the Hebrew word actually implied a Canaanite rain god (cf. e.g. Zechariah 10:1-2 “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone. The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams (Heḇel) that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd” – he rules of Hebrew grammar are willingly disregarded to inject an Islamic rain deity (see above) into this biblical verse (see Bob Becking). And thus yet another link is added to the previously mentioned circular argument.

In order though to make something out of nothing, to save what is salvageable, others have attempted to relate Hubal (the vocalisation is secondary and need not be viewed as original) to a supposed apotheosis of Abel (see, Hibil-Ziwa in the Mandaic tradition) – cf., e.g., T. Fahd, Le panthéon de l’arabie centrale à la veille de l’hégire. But this remains problematic and unconvincing (cf. Fawzi Zayadine, Journal Asiatique 257, 1969, 172) — this also applies to the proposal already suggested by Edward Pockocke in the 17th century, which is still occasionally used today, namely that Hubal is derived from Hebrew hab-baʿal, “the Baal”.

In conclusion, despite the combined efforts made hitherto by Islamologists, Old Testament scholars and Orientalists, their efforts may best be summed up by a quotation from Ecclesiastes: “But when I looked around for all my works that my hands had done, and for the trouble I had taken to do them, behold, all was vanity and a haste for wind and nothing lasting under the sun!”

This god, as his name implies, could not have existed. On the other hand, it can probably not be a coincidence that a specific Deuteronomistic term of anti-polytheistic polemics is used by a later tradition (indirectly) dependent for a similar purpose.

The fact that much of what is biblical in later Islamic tradition (note the so-called Isrāʾīlīyāt) was also adopted from Jews and Judaism is certainly not a new insight. Likewise, the Islamic polemic of Arab idolatry in the Hejaz during the so-called ǧāhilīya (“period of ignorance”) is largely ignorant itself, i.e., largely based on imaginary foundations, as the many anachronisms make clear.

One cannot escape the impression that when the Islamic historians and theologians wanted to report about the bad old days of idolatry, realising that they had no first-hand information at all (also because the formation of Islam in Mecca and Medina is historically not viable), they were dependent on those who, as is well known, possessed knowledge of times distant, namely the Jews.

Apparently, Islamic historiographers borrowed a word to indicate the vanity of idols to denote the chief idol of their holy city in an imagined past – Hubal never was. Trying to find him is like chasing after the wind!

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

The image shows a pre-Islamic anthropomorphic stele.

Origins Of the Ka’ba And The Hajj

When it comes to the origins of Islam, in the popular imagination anyway, all seems to be clear. To paraphrase Ernst Renan, a French scholar of the nineteenth century, Islam was born “in the full light of history.” When, however, we look closely at the sources, a more complex and confusing picture emerges.

This applies especially with regard to the origins of the Islamic pilgrimage to the Kaʿba in Mecca, Allah’s “sacred House” (al-bayt al-ḥarām) and the activities partaken by believers. (Pilgrimage involves both the Ḥajj and the ʿUmra – note that Islamic texts are rather vague on the fusion of the ʿUmra with the Ḥajj and when it might have happened, often assuming that the latter had always included circumambulation of the Kaʿba).

In Islamic texts pertaining to these rites, there is often discomfort with regard to some of the rituals, so for example, the famous ḥadīth which has ʿUmar state his disinclination to make istilām (greeting or kissing) of the black stone of the Kaʿba is well known, and so too is al-Ghazālī’s admittance that some of the Ḥajj rituals lack obvious aesthetic pleasure or rational explanation. We also often find mention of the Hajj to ʿArafat not to the Meccan Kaʿba, which only seem to have been conflated at a later period.

In the Qur’an, according to Islam, a revelation to Muhammad, at least three passages assume that the Hajj is directed towards the bayt which, in one passage, is identified as the Kaʿba:

  • In 3:97 we read that mankind owes the duty of ḥijj al-bayt to Allah;
  • In 2:158 it is stated that “whoever makes Hajj of the bayt, or ʿumra” (man ḥajjaʾl-bayt awi ʿtamara) and includes the names of al-Ṣafā and al-Marwa;
  • 2:196 which starts with the command to “fulfill (or complete) the Hajj and the ʿumra for Allah,” goes on to mention ʿArafāt in verse 198;
  • 22:26-29 notes firstly that Allah showed Abraham the place of the House, whereupon he is ordered to proclaim the Hajj to all humanity, which seems to suggest that it is the “House” or bayt that constitutes the object of Hajj – verse 28 then refers to the slaughter of animals which are to be eaten and shared with the poor, and verse 29 prescribes a final circumambulation of the“ancient House” (al-bayt al-ʿatīq), once the tafath (usually interpreted as ritual dishevelment) has been completed.

Taken together, these passages would seem to suggest that it is the bayt that is to be the object of Hajj, and they probably have much to do with the widely accepted idea that the Kaʿba has always been at the centre of the Ḥajj. The Kaʿba is equated with the bayt in 5:97, which states that
Allah made the Kaʿba, al-bayt al-ḥarām, as a support(qiyām) for mankind (al-nās). These passages are, even when taken together are rather vague.

Scholarship has shown that verses in the Qurʾan which allude to Abraham and the bayt are adaptations of Jewish and Christian midrash, and we know that in the Late Antique Middle East there were numerous sanctuaries associated with Abraham and where an annual festival during a specific month was celebrated.

It would therefore seem that much of the quranic material focusing on the bayt (esp. 3:97 and 22:26-29) as the focus of a festival or celebration (ḥajj) has originated with reference to a place other than the Kaʿba at Mecca, and indeed the key term ḥajj in this meaning is a borrowing from Syriac (which in turn borrowed it from the Hebrew Bible). Only later did it become attached to the Kaʿba, which was identified as Abraham’s foundation.

The material which can be gleaned from Islamic sources pertaining to the history of the Ḥajj during the early Islamic period – between the death of the Prophet and that of Ibn al-Zubayr – shows it as a symbol of religious and political authority, but does not suggest any way in which it might have been connected with Muḥammad or Abraham.

The legitimate question in light of the evidence available, or the lack thereof, is whether the Prophet ever took part in the Ḥajj? Before the Prophet’s “Farewell Pilgrimage” (ḥijjat al-wadāʿ) we have no real evidence, and it should be noted that there are many variant reports about the Farewell Pilgrimage, and it is clear that over time these underwent considerable literary amplification.

One might be tempted to envisage a development that was begun by the Prophet and still in formation in 72 AH (Ibn az-Zubayr), although this does seem rather far-fetched by all accounts. The attention the sources give to the re-building of the Kaʿba by Ibn al-Zubayr, and to the alterations made to its form, seem at odds with the sense of continuity in its history that Muslim tradition generally seeks to present.

Based on the available Islamic sources relating to the period between the death of the Prophet and the fitna of Ibn al-Zubayr, it is hard to make the case that the Ḥajj was focussed on, or even associated with, the Kaʿba, which is not mentioned as frequently as one might have expected, and based on the same evidence, one is even led to call into question the historicity of the traditional accounts of the Farewell Pilgrimage.

Apart from al-Yaʿqūbī’s report about ʿAbd al-Malik’s designs regarding the Dome of the Rock, it is rarely, if ever, clearly stated that the Ḥajj involved visiting the Kaʿba. Depending on our attitude to the reliability of the reports, we might conclude that the Meccan sanctuary was a building of some religious importance, possibly associated with an anachronistic notion that the Prophet may once have prayed inside, and that when people came to Mecca for the Ḥajj they may have visited it.

Nonetheless, Muslim tradition on the Meccan sanctuary before Ibn al-Zubayr’s construction work really makes no mention of the site’s Abrahamic associations. It is well known that Ibn al-Zubayr justified his rebuilding by an appeal to the alleged wishes of the Prophet and by the claim that he was restoring the building as per the original foundations laid down by Abraham. It is rather unclear why that should have been necessary at the time, but the tradition gives the impression that an
inappropriate, or at least an imperfect, jāhilī structure was to be replaced with a properly Islamic (i.e. Muḥammadan and Abrahamic) one.

At this point, we should ask ourselves a few pertinent questions.

What is a Kaʿba and is it unique?

As was noted, there were numerous contemporary shrines dedicated to Abraham:

Traditionally, the term Kaʿba is taken to mean “cube”, vis-à-vis the present shape of the Meccan sanctuary (cf. the root’s quadratic semantics in modern Arabic, which are later and derived from the Islamic shrine).

However, in Arabic, the primary meaning of the root k-ʿ-b denotes “swelling” (cf. ابو كعيب ābw kʿyb – “mumps”), often of the breasts of young girls during puberty (or compare كواعبkāwʿb), hence unsurprisingly كعبةk’b, etc. “virginity.”

In EpiphaniusPanarion, we find a reference to the mother of the Nabatean God Dusares ( ذو الشرىdhu al-sharaa) as Χααβου or Chaabou, because, like Mary, she was a virgin. Now then, both mother and son were widely venerated by both Arabs and other Semitic peoples in antiquity, hence the numerous shrines attested in literature.

A Kaʿba then, a shrine dedicated to this goddess (and her son), is analogous to the Parthenon, i.e. a building dedicated to a virgin goddess (or the many Christian Churches named after “our Lady”, a pre-Christian appellation for a goddess). What though does any of this have to do with Abraham?

If we look at the modern Kaʿba, we might still be able to find some clues. To the North-West of the structure, we find a low-standing semi-circular wall which is part of the sacred precinct (around which the Tawaf is performed), called الحطيم (āl-ḥaṭim ,“something destroyed”?), in which we find the ,حجر إسماعيل (ḥiǧr Ismāʿil, traditionally seen as Ismael’s grave; outside thereof we find that of Hagar.

Now in Islam, like in Judaism, there is a taboo on corpses, unlike in Christianity in which churches once needed to contain the relics or to be built on the grave of a martyr or biblical figure (especially since St Helena, Constantine’s mother). The fact that the only two people allegedly buried in an Islamic shrine are buried in المسجد الحرام (al-masjid al-haram, the Grand Mosque) is surprising at least.

It is clear that the Arabs traced their lineage to Abraham through Ismael, not an indigenous tradition, but one developed by Josephus and later amplified by Church Fathers, especially Saint Jerome. In the fifth century, we see that this is used to convert pagan Arabs, i.e., by converting to Christianity they might be able to reclaim their birthright – Ismael was Abraham’s firstborn, and present when God made His covenant with him.

For Arab and Semitic Christians especially, who rejected Pauline soteriology, and who saw in the person of Jesus a human prophet who did not repudiate the Law, Abraham and Ishmael were important. Some insight in this longstanding theological debate, which also sheds some light on traditions that would go on to become incorporated in Islam, can be found in Galatians chapters 3-4, esp. 4:21ff. The Arabs of the seventh century, who rejected Chalcedonian Christology, saw themselves as both the spiritual
and biological heirs of Abraham through his son Ismael.

As was noted in the preceding, we find no real evidence for Mecca as the site of the Ḥajj before Ibn az-Zubayr. As noted, he rebuilt the sanctuary, allegedly according to its original intent or design. At the same time, the criticism brought to bear in (later!) Islamic texts against his contemporary and adversary, ʿAbd el-Malik, was that the latter allegedly diverted the pilgrimage from Mecca to Jerusalem.

However, these texts leave one with the impression that later authors knew of the Umayyad pilgrimage to Jerusalem – but did not understand that Mecca only gained primary significance later. There do not seem to be traditions about the Umayyads being connected to Mecca – and therefore later authors assumed that they had rerouted the Ḥajj. In this time there is no evidence associating Mecca with either al-’Isrā’ wal-Miʿrāj’ (which is only centuries later), nor is Jerusalem referred to as al-quds; instead, we find a realisation of the city’s Latin name Aelia.

Indeed, the Umayyads are often criticised in these later texts for being somewhat deviant vis-à-vis later Islamic orthopraxy. The disparagement is valid, simply because Islam did not yet exist in the seventh century, only in the latter half of the eighth and first half of the ninth centuries can we see what would become Islam slowly emerging in the Abbasid capital Baghdad.

In the preceding, we have noted that the Qur’an makes no specific mention to the Ḥajj at the Meccan Kaʿba. Furthermore, Muhammad’s association herewith is spurious at best. Indeed, before Ibn az-Zubayr, during the second Fitna, we have no real tangible evidence, and by all accounts, there was a major Ḥajj to Jerusalem, hardly surprising for a monotheistic “Abrahamic” religion.

It would though seem that Mecca was also one of the many pilgrimage sites devoted to Abraham, especially in relation to the veneration of his son Ismael, and was frequented especially by Arab believers, who saw themselves as Abraham’s biological and spiritual heirs through Ismael (whose firstborn Nebaioth, Genesis 25:13, is sometimes seen as the progenitor of the Nabateans).

Originally the Kaʿba at Mecca though, in pre-Christian times, was dedicated to the Semitic deity Dusares and his mother Kaabou, who was actually a sacred stone (a Baetylus, i.e. beth-’el the dwelling of (a) god, بيت الله bayt allah). That cult sites were repurposed and adapted to new religious realities (“under new management”), needs no further explanation.

By all accounts, Ibn az-Zubayr, in the power struggle of the latter seventh century, a civil war among various Arab factions, for hegemony over an Arabic Empire (Islamic is an anachronism), chose as his site, Mecca, which must have had considerable longstanding cultic significance for the Arabs. After his demise, this site was understandably given preference over Jerusalem and incorporated over time into the primary sanctuary of what would later become Islam.

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

The image shows an illustration of Mecca by Sir Francis Burton, the famed soldier, linguist, scholar, explorer, discoverer, poet and author, from his book, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, published in 1855-1856.

A Camel And The Eye Of The Needle In The Qu’ran

Not only those familiar with the New Testament will know the expression “Camel through the eye of a needle.” This phrase is attributed to Jesus, Matthew 19:23-24 (cf. Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25): “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

This metaphor is of course quite powerful, irrespective of any questions about its eventual authenticity, although the exaggerated hyperbole paradoxically results in tragic irony, since a conventional camel could never pass through the eyelet of a normal needle. This would mean that it is unreservedly impossible for a rich person to enter heaven – perhaps appealing to liberation theologians, or those who ascribe to the social gospel and/or predetermination, yet nonetheless doubtlessly a contradictio in adjecto.

Since at least Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-215 AD), a solution to this conundrum has been proposed. If we assume that an early copyist (and the first Christians who copied New Testament texts were not trained professionals, for which they were often rebuked by their opponents such as Porphyry) mistakenly wrote κάμηλον (kamelon) “camel” instead of κάμιλον (kamilon) “rope, cable” (of a ship, of a net), then the aphorism might make more sense to “fishers of men.”

One problem, is that kamelon is only attested once in what survives of ancient Greek. Nonetheless, the notion of a rope or a cable, made by twisting together strands of hemp or some other such material is quite attractive, as by unravelling, disposing oneself of material possessions, it might just be possible to finally go through the needle’s eye, or enter heaven as it were.

This apophthegm is of course found in the Qur’an in 7:40: “Lo! they who deny Our revelations and scorn them, for them the gates of heaven will nor be opened not will they enter the Garden until the camel goeth through the needle’s eye (ḥattā yaliǧa lǧamalu). Thus do We requite the guilty.”

Obviously, this is borrowed, whether directly or indirectly need not concern us here, from the New Testament passages mentioned in the preceding, and thus tells us something about the history of the Qur’an – its obscurity precludes it being an independent composition.

Naturally, the same syllogistic concerns apply here as with its ultimate source. Interestingly enough, in traditions attributed to Ibn ʽAbbās (questions as to his doubtful historicity need not concern us here), and cited by some later exegetes, we find the suggestion that instead of ǧamal “camel” one should instead read ǧummal “thick nautical rope, anchor cable.”

The fact that this lexeme, like the Greek term mentioned in the preceding, has maritime semantics is noteworthy. It should be noted here that both Greek terms, scilicet, κάμηλον/ “camel” thus κάμιλον/ “rope cable” are Semitic loan-words, the former necessitates no explanation; the latter from a common Semitic root ḥbl (cf. e.g. Hebrew ḥeḇel, Arabic ḥabl).

This of course would seem to imply that not only the precept itself, but also this exegesis was borrowed from Christian traditions (in the widest sense of the word). Since the semantics of ḥbl denoting a (nautical) rope (rather surprising indeed, if we are to believe that the Qur’an originated in the Hejaz), along with the fact that ǧummal in this meaning is only really employed in Arabic in connexion with this Quranic verse (s., Lane, Lexicon, S. 461) one might ask whether a word was invented to fit the established exegetical tradition.

In old Arabic, such as is found in the oldest Quranic manuscripts, which are unpointed, ǧamal/camel/ جمل und ḥabl/rope,cable/ حبل are quite similar, حمل (j/ḥ/ḫ/ml), one can easily read this passage as ḥattā yaliǧa l-ḥablu “until the rope goeth through the needle’s eye.”

The fact that both the ropy semantics and the ǧīm were preserved, although a good Arabic alternative was available, demonstrates that the Ibn ʽAbbās tradition, that which shows the most familiarity with biblical materials, must be dependant on these, to which the neologism ǧummal testifies.

This is just another indication that the Qur’an and its early exegesis were rooted in the exegetical and hermeneutical culture of interpretation of the Bible, where occasionally something was lost in translation. We may yet ourselves be sooner able to pass through a needle’s eye before we are completely able to understand the convoluted language of the Qur’an.

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

The image shows the “Camel going through the eye of a needle,” a print by Maarten van Heemskerck, from his series, The Wretchedness of Wealth, from 1563.