Idolatry in 2020

*Authors Note: This article will be the first part of a series of articles dealing with the modern day applications of the Islamic beliefs and the earliest messages of islam. This will be somewhat of a social commentary on the environment that bred the message of Islam as well as the modern context and how it can be applied.*

Before revelation came to our beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Mecca was the epicenter of one of the darkest periods in history. The influence of Mecca was that it housed the gods of pre-islamic Arabia. In Mecca was an ancient cube shaped shrine called the kaaba that was built by Abraham (pbuh) whom the three major religions of the modern world all revere and reference. The Meccans of their time agreed that the area that was near this building and the town around it was haram meaning holy or forbidden, because they forbid themselves from killing or shedding blood in this sacred place; Though they didn’t afford themselves the same moral viewpoint on going against the monotheistic belief of Abraham, their deviance from this monotheism was their worshiping of idols in the house that was built by the noble messenger of God.

Mecca did not only function as the religious epicenter of the Arabian peninsula, it also housed the status quo of the society therein. In Mecca lived some of the richest, most intellectual, artistic and passionate individuals of the era. The Quraysh were a tribe of Arabs who claimed to be descendants of Abraham through the line of Ishmael, and saw themselves to be the heirs and pretenders to the faith of Abraham, and the house that he built to worship God. It was through this belief in the superiority of their lineage that led them to become the cultural reference for all of the Arabs in the peninsula. The value of bloodlines and tribes was a heavy influence on the functionality of the society that the Meccans built. Another reason why they became the default for Arab culture was that they used the control of the Kaaba as a means of financial gain, charging people who came to visit the holy city with taxes and building thriving merchant markets in the areas that were near the Kaaba. Thus, one can conclude that the worship of figurines and depictions of gods was just a part of the deeper issues that had plagued Mecca; and without a doubt there was a reason why it was considered the time of jahiliyyah, or the age of ignorance before the emergence of the light of islam.

“the worship of figurines and depictions of gods was just a part of the deeper issues that had plagued Mecca”

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Idolatry is a noun that is defined simply as “the worship of idols”; But in the Islamic context there are usually two words that are used to describe an Idol. The first is sanam, which means a depiction or a statuette that one worships, whether that is a depiction of a holy person that has died or a god among the gods that people worship; it can also be defined simply as a depiction of any living being. This is corroborated by the Quran in chapter 21 verse 52 where Allah makes a reference to Abraham. Allah says:

إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا هَٰذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنْتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ

When he said to his father and his people, “What are these statues to which you are devoted?”. { Quran 21:52}

The Noble Qur’an uses the Arabic word Tamathil to reference the idols which were being worshipped by Abraham’s people. Tamathil, which comes from the root word mathal means an example or a depiction of something in the plural.

The second word that is used to describe an idol is a wathan. A wathan is anything that is worshiped that does not have a life of its own whether its a tree, a rock, a grave, or even an idea that trumps the moral compass of a person to the point that they submit whole heartedly to it. This meaning is also corroborated in a Hadith where the Prophet (pbuh) said:

اللهم لا تجعل قبري وثنا يُعبد

“oh Allah do not make my grave an idol that is worshipped” {Muwatta Hadith 419}

There is an overwhelming amount of historical analysis that has been done in order to convey the ideological destruction of the old idols of Arabia. Islam came with a message that called to the monotheism of old, this was to the Arabs of their time a “new message” and the Qur’an discusses this at length. The denial of the messenger, and their turning away to the worship of statuettes and depictions of gods was something that was brought by several other issues. The issue of self-gratification and following the whims, and desires of one’s own soul was an example of this. The earliest teachings of Islam made most of its strides in addressing the deep personal battles that every human had, regardless of their status, race, or their gender among all their other intersecting identities. Islam stressed that an unmitigated connection to God without any association or mediation was the key to the success of everyone. Islam taught that the application of the monotheistic values that Abraham had was the sole source of all moral correction. Though the mention of the Abrahamic monotheism is rampant in the Qur’an, there is a verse that talks about how this purification takes precedence. In Chapter 4 verse 125 Allah says:

وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ دِينًا مِّمَّنْ أَسْلَمَ وَجْهَهُ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحْسِنٌ وَاتَّبَعَ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَاتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ خَلِيلً

“And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.” {Quran 4:125}

A personal connection with Allah comes before all the actions that lead to good, and the main cause of the social woes that plagued the pre-Islamic Arabs was their disconnection from Allah. Although religion is seen as a personal journey, Islam defines itself differently. Islam is called a deen which translates to “a way of life”, the above verse uses that in its phraseology, where a better translation to the first clause would be “And who leads a better way of life than one who submits himself to Allah….”

Thus Without a doubt one can see that the tenants of the faith were not only set to preoccupy itself with fixing the social issues of its time at first draw, but rather used the platform of belief to connect all people to a higher consciousness. The hope for a life beyond the material was a very easy selling point to the minorities, and most marginalized members of the Meccan society. The earliest people to embrace the faith were women, slaves, children, and people of lesser tribal status among the Arabs themselves. Islam began as a grassroots endeavor that gave a group of people who were otherwise seen as weak a place of belonging, and a greater sense of connection. The Meccans were caught by surprise when they saw men that were once submissive slaves in their society being told that the best of them was not the one who had the most wealth or was born from the best lineage but rather the one who was strongest in his connection to Allah. This message became a springboard for a radical progressive change that has no historical comparison to-date. This was due to the constant pressure for anyone who became a muslim to recognize that their servitude to God was greater than servitude to any other human, the Quran stresses the point that we are all ultimately slaves and servants to our creator and that He values us based on our connection to Him.

This shows that no matter how staunchly you fight against injustice or immorality, if you do not have a personal connection with God first then you can never truly be fruitful in your fight. In the next installment of this series we will take a deeper dive into the issues that were dealt with, and the pain and struggle that the original freedom fighters of Islam went through.

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23 |Muslim | Writer

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Mohamed Chowder

Mohamed Chowder

23 |Muslim | Writer

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