Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Northern Arabia: Waṯani

Assalamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah

We learned in our sīrah about this kind of religion or method of worship within Arabian Peninsula. Those who perform worship with the focus to statues or to idols claimed that, they are not worshiping those stuffs. They know that, the God the Highest is the God but the idols are just the wasīlah (connector) for them to communicate with the God the Highest. 

They believed that they are not worth to directly communicate with the God the Highest so they needed a representative to bring all of their wishes to the God the Highest and to communicate with the God on their behalf. Generally, there are two kinds of wasīlah in Northern Arabia during the Age of Ignorance The first one, the people would find certain respected living people such as shamans, religious person, and so on to pray for them or to fulfill their wishes as for shamans. The second, are those who connect themselves to the Lord of the universe with idols, statues and others.


I had a Buddhist experience for about five years so it would be long for me to elaborate about the practice of iconography within non-Muslim Indian traditions such as vigraha and murti. Icons were used as an example for practices and there is also the history of the idol-making and iconography in ancient India.

I did not prostrate before Buddhas' icons but I just kneel in front of certain icon at the monasteries that I visited while reciting the three refuge sentences and precepts of noble conducts in Pali because the teachers taught me not to worship the icon as in connecting oneself with any power who ruled the universe. I prostrated only when there is no icon during a discourse known as personal meditation. In this practice of reaching the facts of life, there is a practice known as the "stations of mind" with regard to meditation objects. The practices of Buddhists could be different as according to regions, conditions and personal temperaments. Some would only meditate, some honoring their teachers, some would only bow and some prostrate. They would do everything according to the stage of mind and for Southern Buddhists there are various literature with regard to meditation, psychological studies and others such as yoga and breathing techniques to control one self. 

I had once kept a picture of Buddha in my wallet while I was a lonely young boy because my family are entirely Muslim by inheritance which also makes me a "Muslim". I cannot mix around with Malay kids due to my background. It makes me easier to perform the pujas (honor) and taking the example of the enlightened teachers for myself. I secretly did all the sadhanas (spiritual practices) with the help of those prescribed subject matters such as the offering of food (hospitality), three sandalwood sticks if I could get ones, some white flour, some sugar, a banana or any fruit that I have that I would share it with or other beings or some flower buds. If there was no offerings then I would perform them mentally through the method prescribed in anapanasati bhavana.

The offerings are offered in the form of devotion to enlightened teachers and as a symbol of respect to other creatures or souls. I did know that the picture does not eat the food. But it was a training to treat our guests and other creatures like that... Symbolic. When guests come to us, we would also practice the same thing and offer them with hospitality and welcome. The reason why I am telling this experience is that I would like to inform those who preach that they should not generalize everyone because this life is not as simple as we think. Do not low-estimate your audience and never insult their intelligence. Respect everyone and practice humility so you will reach the love of the heavens and the earth.

Idolatry: Muslim View

As according to Muslim worldview, idol is an object made of human hands which resembles living creatures or anything from heavens and earth being deified or worshiped. This is based from the Quranic verses which means:
"Do they associate the God the Highest with idols who can not create something else? While the idols themselves are the hand-made of the people?" (Surah al-A'araf 7:191).
"Those whom they invoke besides the God the Highest create nothing and are themselves created" (Surah al-Nahl 16:20).
"Not one of the beings in the heavens and the earth but must come to the Most Gracious as a servant" (Surah Maryam 19:93)"
Among the great signs of the Resurrection is that, there would be nations who would return to the idolatry which says, "Abu Hurairah reported, prophet Muhammad s.a.w says, 'Resurrection would never happen before the waists of the women from the Daws tribe giggling around the Dhu al-Khalash, which is an idol worshiped by the Daws in Tabalah during the Age of Ignorance'" (Muslim Compilation, No. 5173).

Ibn Kaṯir in his Qia al-Anbiyā' writes that, the first paganism happened in the world when human-being made the statues such as the Wadd, Suwā, Yaġuts, Ya'uq and Nasr. All of these figures were religious teachers who live in the time-span between Adam a.s and Noah a.s. They were the sons of Adam a.s. and Wadd was the eldest one and a devoted son (Ibn Abi Hatim; Urwah bin al-Zubayr; Ibn Katir in the Qiā al-Anbiyā': Story of Noah section 105). 

Most important rituals in the later paganism are generally related to illegal sex and war. Any form of worship toward the idols is viewed as focusing toward the satisfaction of passions, acquiring worldly physical strength and to achieve worldly "paradise".

There is no transcendental aspect within all teachings related to paganism. While the teachings related to patriarch Abraham emphasized higher achievement in life which is transcendental within the concept of eternal spiritual happiness in the hereafter.

Origin of Idolatry in Arabia

Ibn Abbas

Ibn Abbas has compiled the narration that idolatry appears in the age of sage Noah a.s. The origin of the idol names were taken from their holy men who had once lived among them. In order to keep those holy men in their memory, to remember their contributions to the people and to boost up the spirit of people in worship; so they made images, carvings which represent those holy men and symbols to visualize the physical of those deceased holy men. Generation passed by and those idols and holy men were deified as divinities beside the God the Highest as the God Himself.

From Ibn Abbas, "The idols being passed to ancient Arabs and it becomes Wadd, the name for the tribe of Kalb; suwa, the idol of the Huzail; the Yaguts, the idol of the Gutaifs; Ya'uq, the idols of the Hamdanites, the Nasrites and the Himyarites" (Bukhari, no. 4920; Ibn al-Munzir and Mardawaih).

Idols from the Period of Noah

Sage Noah a.s. is among the prophets respected by the Muslims and the narration and the exegesis of Ibn Abbas reported that some of the idols worshiped within Arab nations as originated from the idols of the people during the era of Noah a.s just before the great flood.

Among them are:

Wadd who was worshiped as a god by the Kaybites in Dawmat al-Jandal.   

Suwa who was adopted as a guardian in Yanbu' region closer to Medina. She was a goddess for the people in Ruhat and the Lihyanites were the servants involved within the services and the maintenance for the god.

Yagūts was worshiped in the form of lion by the Muradites. It was also venerated by the Gutaifs at the mountain slopes located in the Sheba city, by the Huras in Madhaj in Yemen. Others who venerate it were the An'um of Thayyi'. Ibn Kalbi mentioned that those from Madhaj and the Jurashites worshiped the idol. 

Ya'uq which was worshiped by the Hamdanites and the Kinanites as the god of horse. Its idol was erected in a village known as Khaywan, which took two nights to reach Mecca from there.

Nasr the god worshiped by Himyarites of Balkha in Yemen. It was assumed as the god of herring and the offering services were patronized by the Dhi Kila family.

The God the Highest says through the Revelation, "And they said, 'Never leave behind your gods and never leave Wadd or Suwa' or Yaguts and Ya'uq and Nasr!'" (Surah Nuh 71:23).

Each tribe worship different gods and having different temples for their tribe. The position of those gods were different. Later, the practice of venerating carving idols passing down from the nations before the great flood to the Arabs within the Arabian Peninsula since they mingled around with the Rasibites and those who lived among the Rasibites in the south of ancient Iraq.  

I think this topic would be an elaborate one since it is also related to some other cults and regions. I would try to make several different posts for this just for references for those who are interested in the history of ancient Arabia, inshā-Allah. We cannot understand things only in few minutes but we need to ponder and evaluate things with observations...

Sealed with prayers for mercy, peace and love, amin!

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