Muhammad and Idolatry

Sam Shamoun

A prominent feature of Islam is that most of its rites and practices were adopted from the pagan Arabian rituals of Muhammad's time. To hide their pagan origins, Muhammad claimed that God initially sanctioned these rites. In fact, before, during, and after his mission, Muhammad continued to perform rites that were nothing more than idolatry. For instance, a hadith of al-Bukhari records that, prior to his calling, Muhammad made sacrifices to the pagan idols:

Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said that he met Zaid bin 'Amr Nufail at a place near Baldah and this had happened before Allah's Apostle received the Divine Inspiration. Allah's Apostle presented a dish of meat (that had been offered to him by the pagans) to Zaid bin 'Amr, but Zaid refused to eat of it and then said (to the pagans), "I do not eat of what you slaughter on your stone altars (Ansabs) nor do I eat except that on which Allah's Name has been mentioned on slaughtering." (Sahih al-Bukhari 7:407)

Despite the fact that the parenthetical statements — "that had been offered to him by the pagans" and "to the pagans" — are not part of the Arabic text, the point is still clear that Muhammad ate food sacrificed to idols while Zaid refused to eat it. This is brought out clearly from the following citations taken from F.E. Peters. According to a tradition reported by Zaid ibn Haritha, who was also present at the event,

The Prophet slaughtered an ewe for one of the idols (nusub min al-ansab); then he roasted it and carried it with him. Then Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl met us in the upper part of the valley; it was one of the hot days of Mecca. When we met we greeted each other with the greeting of the Age of barbarism, in'am sabahan. The Prophet said: "Why do I see you, O son of Amr, hated by your people?" He said, "This (happened) without my being the cause of their hatred; but I found them associating divinities with God and I was reluctant to do the same. I wanted (to worship God according to) the religion of Abraham..." The Prophet said, "Would you like some food?" He said, "Yes." Then the Prophet put before him the (meat of the ewe). He (that is, Zayd ibn Amr) said: "What did you sacrifice to, O Muhammad?"

"He said, "To one of the idols." Zayd then said: "I am not the one to eat anything slaughtered for a divinity other than God." (Al-Kharqushi, Sharaf al-Mustafa, cited in F. E. Peters, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1994], pp. 126-127)

Ibn al-Kalbi also confirms that Muhammad offered up an ewe to al-Uzza, "in accordance with the religion of the people." (Ibid., p. 127)

In fact, noted historian of the Arab peoples Philip K. Hitti accepts the veracity of al-Kalbi's report:

Al-'Uzza (the most mighty, Venus, the morning star) had her cult in Nakhlah east of Makkah. According to al-Kalbi, hers was the most venerated idol among the Quraysh, and Muhammad as a young man offered her a sacrifice. (Hitti, History of the Arabs from the Earliest Times to the Present, revised tenth edition, new preface by Walid Khalidi [Palgrave Macmillan, 2002; ISBN: 0-333-63142-0 paperback], p. 99)

Alfred Guillaume gives a tradition recorded by the first Muslim biographer, Ibn Ishaq, who wrote:

I was told that the apostle of Allah said, as he was talking about Zayd son of 'Amr son of Nufayl, 'He was the first to upbraid me for idolatry and forbade me to worship idols. I had come from al-Ta'if along with Zayd son of Haritha when we passed Zayd son of 'Amr who was in the highland of Mecca. Quraysh had made a public example of him for abandoning his religion, so that he went out from their midst. I sat down with him. I had a bag containing meat which WE HAD SACRIFICED TO OUR IDOLS — Zayd b. Haritha was carrying it — and I offered it to Zayd b. 'Amir — I was but a lad at the time — and I said, "Eat some of this food, my uncle." He replied, "Surely it is part of those sacrifices of theirs which they offer to their idols?" When I said that it was, he said, "Nephew mine, if you were to ask the daughters of 'Abd al-Muttalib they would tell you that I never eat of these sacrifices, and I have no desire to do so." Then he upbraided me for idolatry and spoke disparagingly of those who worship idols and sacrifice to them, and said, "They are worthless: they can neither harm nor profit anyone," or words to that effect.' The apostle added, 'After that I never knowingly stroked one of their idols nor did I sacrifice to them until God honoured me with his apostleship. (Guillaume, Islam [Penguin USA; ISBN: 0140203117], pp. 26-27; bold and capital emphasis mine; bold emphasis ours)

In fact, Muhammad's indulgence in idolatrous practices continued right into his alleged prophetic calling. For instance, the first Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq recorded the following incident that occurred after Muhammad’s supposed encounter with Gabriel:

"And when the apostle of God had finished his period of seclusion and returned (to Mecca), in the first place he performed the circumambulation of the Ka'ba, as was his wont. While he was doing it, Waraqa met him and said, ‘O son of my brother, tell me what thou hast seen and heard.'" (Sirat Rasulullah, trans. Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad [Oxford University Press, Karachi], p. 107; bold emphasis ours)

We must keep in mind that at this time in Muhammad's life, there was no revelation alleging that Abraham and Ishmael originally built the Kaba. That came later in his life. As far as Muhammad was concerned, the Kaba was nothing more than a pagan shrine erected in honor of pagan deities.

Some Muslims tried to read back into pre-Islamic history the belief that Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaba. But in so doing, they only managed to do further damage to Muhammad's prophetic claims. For example, the oldest biographer of Muhammad's life, Ibn Ishaq, mentioned an event which supposedly took place before Muhammad's time where certain Jewish rabbis are said to have told a king that the Kaba was built by Abraham. Yet, Ishaq, by mentioning this story, actually incriminates Muhammad:

... They [the rabbis] told that the sole object of the tribe was to destroy him and his army. ‘We know of no other temple in the land which God has chosen for Himself, said they, and if you do what they suggest you and all your men will perish.’ The king asked them what he should do when he got there, and they told him to do what the people of Mecca did: circumambulate the temple, to venerate and honour it, to shave his head, and to behave with all humility until he had left its precincts. The king asked why they too should not do likewise. They replied that it was indeed the temple of their father Abraham, but the idols which the inhabitants had set up round it, and the blood which they shed there, presented an insuperable obstacle. They are unclean polytheists, said they - or words to that effect. (Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, pp. 8-9)

Despite the Jews allegedly claiming that Abraham had built the Kaba, they still refused to partake of performing a pilgrimage to it due to all the idols contained therein which defiled it. And yet Muhammad, who is supposed to be God's final prophet, has no hesitation in running around a structure littered with abominable objects detested by the true God!

The Qur’an itself commanded Muslims to continue practicing the pagan rites as part of the religion:

Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to good, — be sure that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth. Surah al-Baqarah 2:158

The late Quranic translator, Yusuf Ali, stated:

"The virtue of patient perseverance in faith leads to the mention of two symbolic monuments of that virtue. These are two little hills of Safa and Marwa, now absorbed in the city of Mecca and close to the well of Zam-zam. Here, according to tradition, the lady Hajar, the mother of the infant Isma'il, prayed for water in the parched desert, and in her eager quest round these hills, she found her prayer answered and saw the Zam-zam spring. Unfortunately, the Pagan Arabs had placed a male and female idol here, and their gross superstitious rites caused offense to the early Muslims. They felt some hesitation in going round these places during the Pilgrimage. As a matter of fact they should have known that the Ka'ba (the House of God) had been itself defiled with idols, and was sanctified again by the purity of Muhammad's life and teaching. The lesson is that the most sacred things may be turned to the basest uses; that we are not therefore necessarily to ban a thing misused; that if our intentions and life are pure, God will recognize them even if the world cast stones at us because of some evil associations which they join with what we do, or with the people we associate with, or with the places which claim our reverence." (Ali, The Holy Qur'an: Translation and Commentary [Lahore, 1934 and 1937], p. 62, fn. 160; bold emphasis ours)

Despite the fact that there is not a single shred of evidence to support that Hagar was in Mecca or that Zam-zam was the well that sprung forth miraculously by the angel, Ali admits that the hills of Safa and Marwa originally housed two pagan idols. The Hadith relates that the Muslims were hesitant to run between these two hills due to their connection with Arab pagan practices:

I said to 'Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, and I was at that time a young boy, "How do you interpret the Statement of Allah: "Verily, Safa and Marwa (i.e. two mountains at Mecca) are among the Symbols of Allah." So it is not harmful of those who perform the Hajj to the House of Allah) or perform the Umra, to ambulate (Tawaf) between them. In my opinion it is not sinful for one not to ambulate (Tawaf) between them." 'Aisha said, "Your interpretation is wrong for as you say, the Verse should have been: "So it is not harmful of those who perform the Hajj or Umra to the House, not to ambulate (Tawaf) between them.' This Verse was revealed in connection with the Ansar who (during the Pre-Islamic Period) used to visit Manat (i.e. an idol) after assuming their Ihram, and it was situated near Qudaid (i.e. a place at Mecca), and they used to regard it sinful to ambulate between Safa and Marwa after embracing Islam. When Islam came, they asked Allah's Apostle about it, whereupon Allah revealed:—

"Verily, Safa and Marwa (i.e. two mountains at Mecca) are among the Symbols of Allah. So it is not harmful of those who perform the Hajj of the House (of Allah) or perform the Umra, to ambulate (Tawaf) between them." (Surah 2.158) (Sahih al-Bukhari 6:22)

Narrated 'Asim bin Sulaiman: I asked Anas bin Malik about Safa and Marwa. Anas replied, "We used to consider (i.e. going around) them a custom of the Pre-Islamic period of Ignorance, so when Islam came, we gave up going around them. Then Allah revealed:—

Verily, Safa and Marwa (i.e. two mountains at Mecca) are among the Symbols of Allah. So it is not harmful of those who perform the Hajj of the House (of Allah) or perform the Umra to ambulate (Tawaf) between them." (Surah 2.158) (Sahih al-Bukhari 6:23)

Other practices that were adopted into Islam include:

And complete the Hajj or 'umra in the service of Allah. But if ye are prevented (From completing it), send an offering for sacrifice, such as ye may find, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice. And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp, (Necessitating shaving), (He should) in compensation either fast, or feed the poor, or offer sacrifice; and when ye are in peaceful conditions (again), if any one wishes to continue the 'umra on to the hajj, He must make an offering, such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, He should fast three days during the hajj and seven days on his return, Making ten days in all. This is for those whose household is not in (the precincts of) the Sacred Mosque. And fear Allah, and know that Allah Is strict in punishment. Surah al-Baqarah 2:196

Yusuf Ali comments:

When this was revealed, the city of Mecca was in the hands of the enemies of Islam, and the regulations about the fighting and the pilgrimage came together and interconnected. But the revelation provides, as always, for the particular occasion, and also for normal conditions. Mecca soon passed out of the hands of the enemies of Islam. (Ali, Holy Quran, fn. 214, p. 78; bold emphasis ours)

So when ye have accomplished your holy rites, celebrate the praises of Allah, as ye used to celebrate the praises of your fathers, — yea, with far more Heart and soul. There are men who say: "Our Lord! Give us (Thy bounties) in this world!" but they will have no portion in the Hereafter. Surah al-Baqarah 2:200

Again Yusuf Ali,

After Pilgrimage, in Pagan times, the pilgrims used to gather in assembles in which the praises of ancestors were sung. As the whole of the pilgrimage was spiritualized in Islam, so this aftermath of the Pilgrimage was also spiritualized. It was recommended from pilgrims to stay on three days after the pilgrimage, but they must use them in prayer and praise to God. (Ibid., fn. 223, p. 80; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, Allah commanded Muslims to observe the pagan customs right alongside the Arab pagans and their 360 idols. Some of these practices included kissing the black stone:

Narrated 'Abis bin Rabia: 'Umar came near the Black Stone and kissed it and said "No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can neither benefit anyone nor harm anyone. Had I not seen Allah's Apostle kissing you I would not have kissed you." (Sahih al-Bukhari 2:667)

Narrated Salim that his father said: I saw Allah's Apostle arriving at Mecca; he kissed the Black Stone Corner first while doing Tawaf and did ramal in the first three rounds of the seven rounds (of Tawaf). (Sahih al-Bukhari 2:673; see also 675, 676, 679, 680)

The reason behind Umar's reluctance in kissing the black object is that the pagan Arabs also performed this ritual. Muhammad kept this pagan practice, a practice that Umar reluctantly observed. Yet, since he saw his prophet kissing it he was obligated to follow suit. One Muslim scholar, Sheikh Sha'rawi, says:

"The kissing of the meteorite is a firm practice in Islamic law because Muhammad did it. You must not ask about the wisdom behind that because this rite is (an expression) of worship in spite of the obscurity of its wisdom." (Sha'rawi, Legal Opinions, pt. 3, p. 167 as cited in Behind the Veil, p. 287; bold emphasis ours)

Muslim practices such as gathering on Friday and the four sacred months of Islam were also pre-Islamic customs:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Surah al-Tawbah 9:5 (Pickthall translation)

Lo! the number of the months with Allah is twelve months by Allah's ordinance in the day that He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred: that is the right religion. So wrong not yourselves in them. And wage war on all of the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you. And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him). Postponement (of a sacred month) is only an excess of disbelief whereby those who disbelieve are misled; they allow it one year and forbid it (another) year, that they may make up the number of the months which Allah hath hallowed, so that they allow that which Allah hath forbidden. The evil of their deeds is made fair seeming unto them. Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk. Surah al-Tawbah 9:36-37 (Pickthall translation)

One author writes in relation to these passages:

In Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab, we read, 'The four sacred months, Rajab, Dhu al-Qa'da, Dhu al-Hijja and Muharram, had been considered sacred during the pre-Islamic period [Jahiliya]. Raids, taking revenge, war, fighting and disputes were forbidden during them. If a man were to meet his enemy who killed his father or brother during these months, he would not quarrel with him… During the sacred months, [the people] were under restriction not to fight or make raids, and had to remove [their] spearheads as a sign that they would avoid fighting at all costs.' Obviously, Islam borrowed the hallowing of these months from Pre-Islamic Arabs and introduced nothing new into the world. ('Abdallah 'Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 VILLACH, AUSTRIA], p. 127; bold emphasis ours)

Interestingly, Muhammad abrogates the command forbidding fighting in the sacred months in order to allow Muslims the right to wage war against the unbelievers:

The prohibited month for the prohibited month, — and so for all things prohibited, — there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, Transgress ye likewise against him. But fear God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves. Surah al-Baqarah 2:194

They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso becometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter. Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide therein. Surah al-Baqarah 2:217 (Pickthall)

Yusuf Ali tries to justify Allah's decree to retaliate against the unbelievers in the sacred months:

Haram-prohibited, sacred. The month of the Pilgrimage (Zul-hajj) was a sacred month in which warfare was prohibited by Arab custom. The month preceding (Zul-qa'd) and the month following (Muharram) were included in the prohibition, and Muharram was specially called al-Haram. Possibly Muharram is meant in the first line (author - S. 2:194), and the other months and other prohibited things in "all things prohibited". In Rajab, also war was prohibited. If the pagan enemies of Islam broke that custom and made war in the prohibited months, the Muslims were free also to break that custom but only to the same extent as the others broke it. Similarly the territory of Mecca was sacred, in which war was prohibited. If the enemies of Islam broke that custom, the Muslims were free to do so to that extent. Any convention is useless if one party does not respect it. There must be a law of equality. Or perhaps the word reciprocity may express it better. (Ibid., fn. 209, p. 77; bold emphasis ours)

The intolerance and persecution of the Pagan clique at Mecca caused untold hardships to the Holy messenger of Islam and his early disciples. They bore all with meekness and long-suffering patience until the holy one permitted them to take up arms in self defense. Then they were twitted in the breach of the custom about Prohibited Months, though they were driven to fight during the period against their own feeling of self defense. But their enemies not only forced them to engage in actual warfare, but interfered with their conscience, persecuted them and their families, openly insulted them and denied God, kept out the Muslim Arabs from the Sacred Mosque, and exiled them. Such violence and intolerance are deservedly called worse than slaughter. (Ibid., fn. 238, p. 85)

Yusuf Ali's reasons that it was okay for believers to sin and break an ordinance of God in order to avenge themselves. In other words, Allah is more concerned with the destruction of his enemies than he is with the observance of his commands. The simple fact is that two wrongs never make a right.

O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of God, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if ye but knew! And when the Prayer is finished, then may ye disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of God: and celebrate the Praises of God often (and without stint): that ye may prosper. But when they see some bargain or some amusement, they disperse headlong to it, and leave thee standing. Say: "The (blessing) from the Presence of God is better than any amusement or bargain! and God is the Best to provide (for all needs)." Surah al-Jumua 62:9-11

Muslim commentator Al-Baidawi comments:

It was called the Day of Congregation because people [were] to gather on it for prayer. Arabs had called it al-'Aruba. Some claim that it was Ka'b Ibn Lu'ay who called it that name, for people used to gather around him on that day. The first Friday on which the Messenger of God gathered the people for prayer was in Medina after he had spent a week in Quba'. It was in the valley of the clan Salim Ibn 'Auf. (Al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible?, p. 126)


The author Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-Arab said the same thing as the above but added that Ka'b Ibn Lu'ay used to preach to the people on that day (vol. 1, p. 250). Thus, the sanctity of Friday was a pre-Islamic tradition, laid out by Ka'b Ibn Lu'ay, not by the revelation of God." (Ibid.)

The fact is that even the Muslim prayers were not something unique, but something stemming from paganism! Muslim writer Muhammad Shukri al-Alusi in his Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab states that,

The Sabeans have five prayers similar to the five prayers of the Muslims. Others say they have seven prayers, five of which are comparable to the prayers of the Muslims with regard to time [that is, morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night; the sixth is at midnight and the seventh is at forenoon]. It is their practice to pray over the dead without kneeling down or even bending the knee. They also fast for one lunar month of thirty days; they start their fast at the last watch of the night and continue till the setting of the sun. Some of their sects fast during the month of Ramadan, face Ka'ba when they pray, venerate Mecca, and believe in making the pilgrimage to it. They consider dead bodies, blood and the flesh of pigs as unlawful. They also forbid marriage for the same reasons as do Muslims. (Ibid., pp. 121-122; bold emphasis ours)

Muhammad ibn 'Abdalkarim al-Sharastani in his Al-Milal wa al-Nihil, admits that most of the practices of Islam were actually rites performed by the pagans:

"The Arabs during the pre-Islamic period used to practice certain things that were included in the Islamic Sharia. They, for example, did not marry both a mother and her daughter. They considered marrying two sisters simultaneously to be a most heinous crime. They also censured anyone who married his stepmother, and called him dhaizan. They made the major [hajj] and the minor [umra] pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, performed the circumambulation around the Ka'ba [tawaf], ran seven times between Mounts Safa and Marwa [sa'y], threw rocks and washed themselves after intercourse. They also gargled, sniffed water up into their noses, clipped their fingernails, plucked their hair from their armpits, shaved their pubic hair and performed the rite of circumcision. Likewise, they cut off the right hand of a thief. (Ibid., vol. 2 chapter on the opinions of the pre-Islamic Arabs as cited by al-Fadi, p. 122)

To further complicate matters, the pagans, much like the Muslims, ran around the Kaba seven times. The number of circumambulation seemingly corresponded to the number of planets which the pagans venerated as deities. That number totaled seven! Yusuf Ali, commenting on the paganism of Arabia, states:

But the moving 'stars', or planets, each with a motion and therefore will or influence of its own. As they knew and understood them, they were seven in number, viz.: (1) and (2) the moon and the sun, the two objects which most closely and indubitably influence the tides, the temperatures, and the life in our planet; (3) and (4) the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, which are morning and evening stars, and never travel far from the sun; and (5), (6) and (7) Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, the outer planets whose elongations from the sun on the ecliptic can be as wide as possible. The number seven itself is a mystic number, as explained in n. 5526 to lxv. 12.

6. It will be noticed that the sun and the moon and the five planets got identified each with a living deity, god or goddess, with characteristics and qualities of its own. (Ali, Holy Quran, Appendix XIII, p. 1621; bold emphasis ours)

And where does Ali draw the inference that the number seven is a mystical number? Is it from the Holy Bible and the fact that God is said to have rested on the seventh day, thus hallowing it? (Cf. Genesis 2:2-3) Let us read note 5526 and find out:

"Seven Firmaments." The literal meaning refers to the seven orbits or firmaments that we see clearly marked in the motions of the heavenly bodies in the space around us... In poetical imagery there are the seven Planetary spheres, which form the lower heaven or heavens, with higher spheres culminating in the Empyrean or God's throne of Majesty... The mystical meaning refers to the various grades in the spiritual or heavenly kingdom, the number seven being itself a mystical symbol, comprising many and yet form an indivisible integer, the highest indivisible integer of one digit. (Ibid., p. 1567)

It is quite obvious that there are nine, not seven, planets or orbits in our galaxy and therefore this is an error in the Qur’an. The belief in seven orbits, two of which were the sun and moon, stemmed from the pagan belief prevalent in Muhammad's day as Ali himself admits in the citations above.

Finally, after Muhammad had attacked Mecca and won over the Quraysh tribes, he entered the Kaba and destroyed every icon or sculptured idol. According to some reports, Muhammad found Christian icons of Jesus, Mary, and Abraham that he did not destroy but left intact.

[After the conquest of Mecca] Apart from the icon of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, and a painting of an old man, said to be Abraham, the walls inside [Kaaba] had been covered with pictures of pagan deities. Placing his hand protectively over the icon, the Prophet told 'Uthman to see that all other paintings, except that of Abraham, were effaced. (Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources [Inner Traditions International, Ltd., One Park Street, Rochester, Vermont 05767; 1983], p. 300; ref.: al-Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi 834, and Azraqi, Akhbar Makkah vol. 1, p. 107)

... pictures of the prophets and pictures of trees and of angels. Among them there was a picture of Ibrahim as of an elderly man, drawing lots with arrow lots, and the picture of Jesus, the son of Mary, and of his mother and a picture with angels. (Al-Azraqi according to the Arabic text edited by Ferdinand Wuestenfeld, Chroniken der Stadt Mekka, Band 1, Leipzig 1858, reprint Beyrouth 1964, p. 110)

On the day of the conquest of Mecca the Prophet entered the House (= the Kaaba; my comment) and sent al-Fadl ibn al-Abbas ibn Abdalmuttalib to get water from the well of Zemzem. He ordered to bring pieces of cloth and to imbue them with water and then he commanded to wash off these pictures, as it was done. He stretched his arms, however, over the picture of Jesus, the son of Mary, and of his mother and said: 'Wash off all except what is under my hands!' But eventually he took away his hands away from Jesus, the son of Mary, and his mother. (Source: soc.religion.islam newsgroup posting)

F.E. Peters mentions that during the rebuilding of the Kabah a Greek or Coptic carpenter or artisan named Baqum - Pachomius - was the one who placed the prophets' pictures within the Kabah:

Baqum then built the roof and inside made pictures of the Prophets, including Abraham and the Child Jesus...

There was a picture of Abraham as an old man and performing divination by the shaking of arrows, and a picture of Jesus son of Mary and his mother, and a picture of angels. On the day of the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet entered the House and he sent al-Fadl ibn al-Abbas to bring water from Zamzam. Then he asked for a cloth which he soaked in water, and ordered all the pictures to be erased, and this was done.... Then he looked at the picture of Abraham and said, "May God destroy them! They made him cast divining arrows. What does Abraham have to do with divining arrows?" Ata ibn Abi Rabah said that he saw in the House a decorated statue of Mary with a decorated Jesus sitting on her lap. The House contained six pillars... and the representation of Jesus was on the pillar next to the door. This was destroyed in the fire at the time of Ibn al-Jubayr. Ata said he was not sure that it was there in the time of the Prophet but he thought it was. (al-Azraqi 1858, p. 111) (Peters, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, pp. 140-141)

Not all sources agree with this story. A. Guillaume writes in The Life of Muhammad, p. 552:

"The Apostle ordered that the pictures should be erased except those of Jesus and Mary.3"

In his footnote, he states:

3 Apparently Ibn Hisham has cut out what Ibn Ishaq wrote and adopted the later tradition that all the pictures were obliterated. A more detailed account of these pictures will be found in Azraqi 104-6.

The typical Muslim response to these allegations is to assume that Abraham and Ishmael instituted these rites after the latter migrated to Mecca with his mother Hagar. Not only is there no biblical evidence for this view, the sound Hadith itself makes it impossible for Abraham and Ishmael to be the ones who built the Kaba:

Narrated Abu Dhaar: I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Which mosque was built first?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Haram." I asked, "Which (was built) next?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Aqs-a (i.e. Jerusalem)." I asked, "What was the period in between them?" He replied, "Forty (years)." He then added, "Wherever the time for the prayer comes upon you, perform the prayer, for all the earth is a place of worshipping for you." (Sahih al-Bukhari 4:636)

This Hadith affirms that the Kaba was actually built long after Abraham and Ishmael had died. Abraham lived about 2000 BC and the Temple was built by Solomon in about 958-951 BC. This implies that the Kaba was built approximately 998-991 BC. If Muhammad is correct, then the Qur’an is wrong. But if the Qur’an is correct in stating that Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaba, then the Hadith is wrong. Yet, if this particular Hadith is wrong then this throws into question the authenticity of the Hadith collections, especially al-Bukhari's collection which is considered to be the most reliable and authentic collection. Yet, to reject the Hadith is to destroy the historical significance of Islam since the pillars, Muhammad's prophetic calling, his life and wives, the caliphate, the wars are things that are only found in Islamic traditions. The Qur’an does not mention the names of Muhammad's mother, father, his wives, companions etc, with the exception of Zaid. But even here the Quran fails to give details regarding Zaid’s exact identity. These things are only to be found in the Hadith.

Secondly, Abraham would never have placed a black idol for his descendants to kiss, especially in light of the fact that one of his descendants received divine commands forbidding the honoring of any visible object:

Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children." You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars - all the heavenly array - do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. Deuteronomy 4:10-19

Hence, the true God of Abraham would never send a black stone for his followers to kiss.

Thirdly, the idol of Mary and Christ is something that finds no biblical precedence since the New Testament and the earlier Christians never fashioned images of Christ or Mary. Pagans converting to Christianity who integrated pagan customs into the Church adopted this practice centuries later. This integration is precisely what Muhammad did when he fused pagan Arabian practices with his brand of monotheism to create the religion of Islam.

In conclusion, we must say that Muhammad began and ended up with a pagan religion with the only difference being that he repackaged it in a monotheistic context.

See also Arthur Jeffery's article Was Muhammad a Prophet From His Infancy?, and Sam Shamoun's response to a Muslim denial of the above.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page