Is the Black Stone an Idol? and Is Pilgrimage a Pagan Rite?
By: Abdus-Samad Sharafuddin
Let us examine closely the square-structured Ka’bah (The Holy House) at Makkah, in Arabia, wherein in its Eastern corner lies the Black Stone set up chest-high. Every pilgrim in Makkah tries to kiss and caress it fondly, the first thing upon arrival there. This action marks the start of the act of Tawaf. The word "Tawaf" is an arabic infinitive noun which means to circle, compass or move around something. A pilgrim has to circle the Ka’bah seven times, to complete Tawaf. Each one of the seven rounds begins by kissing or caressing if possible, or by simply pointing at the Black Stone. The Black Stone thus, serves to mark the start of each round. Tawaf is one of the integral parts of Pilgrimage (Hajj), which is also performed, as a separate act of worship at any time. Thus we find the Ka’bah continually being circled by people day and night.
THE REAL IMPORTANCE OF TAWAF
Circumumbulating the Ka’bah and kissing the stone are in fact considered the Tawaf’s outer aspects, apart from its inner significance. They resemble something like the standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting postures observed in the daily Islamic prayers. Yet, the prayer postures, as well as the circling around the Ka’bah coupled with kissing, both form the outward shell of the chaff, which preserves the grain. The grain of the Tawaf lies in the lofty meanings of the Pilgrim’s recitation and prayers, in the soul-stirring emotions surging in his heart - such as his extreme love for Allah, his awe of Him, and his high hopes in Him. Examine, for instance, the words brimful of God's oneness, which the pilgrim utters. It is his regular formula, at the start of each round of the Tawaf, as he kisses, caresses, or points at the Black Stone, declaring: "(I begin) in the Name of Allah who is Most Great. O Allah! (I perform) believing in thee, confirming Thy Book, fulfilling Thy Pledge, and following the Way of Thy Prophet, Muhammad - Blessing and peace upon him!" As such, the Tawaf around the Ka’bah is done solely in the Name of the One Supreme Allah, and that it is never done in the name of any other deity, nor for the Black Stone itself, as others allege. The operation of Tawaf is in compliance with the Holy promise the pilgrim has committed with His Lord. He does it as a believer in the One God, not as an idolater, but as a conformer of Allah’s revealed Books, and as a follower of His Prophet (Peace be upon him). Far from worshipping the Stone, the Pilgrim is kissing it, or pointing at it, just as was done by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in his time.
GLORIFYING THE ONE GOD
Find out, how the pilgrim goes on glorifying Allah the most High, while performing the rounds, with these noble hymns: "Glory be to Allah! All Praise be to Allah! There is no deity save God. Allah is Most Great! There is no handling, nor power, save by Allah's Help." A Monotheist (One-God worshipper) holds these sublime prayers far more valuable than the earth's entire riches. With these, he praises his One and Only Lord, as he circles a spot made Holy by the presence of His House. Is there any remotest trace of Polytheism (multi-god worship) or Idolatry in such an act?
A SELECT PRAYER
As he has left all his worldly affairs behind, the pilgrim, besides praising Allah, also goes on praying for his worldly betterment, in between. Here is his all-embracing prayer to Allah, the Benevolent: "O Allah! make me content with my appointed lot, and bless me therein. And make good to me all, my losses and needs."
THE TWO-WORLD PRAYER
Unlike unbelievers, the pilgrim has a living faith in the coming, eternal hereafter. He does not fail here, therefore, to say the best possible prayer man could ever ask. It is from the Qur'an itself, and combines both the good of this world and the world to come in his supplication as follows: " O Lord! Bestow upon us the good in this world and the good in the hereafter. And save us from the torment of the fire" Holy Qur’an 12:201.
COULD A STONE BE GOD?
Although so reverently kissed and caressed during the Tawaf, the Black stone, in one of the corners of the Ka’bah, is no graven image for the pilgrims to worship. That is the last thing any One-God worshipper could ever imagine. For a stone is just a mere stone after all. It has no power whatsoever to do good or inflict harm to any one, apart from Allah, the Sole Deity of mankind. That is a thing cherished either knowingly, ignorantly or figuratively - by those who take to stone-worship instead of God-worship, a belief and practice as unholy as it is senseless. This is why the Black Stone becomes a mystery to such people, and so, some out of ignorance openly charge that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) did break every Idol in Islam except one - meaning the Ka’bah, or the Black Stone. Why, even unwitting Muslims get easily confused about the Black Stone. It was hence that 'Umar the second Caliph, did well to remove this hidden doubt from the mind. So when he came to kiss the Stone, he cried out publicly to it: Narrated ‘Abis bin Rabi’a: ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) came near the Black Stone and kissed it and said, "No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can either harm anyone nor benefit anyone. Had I not seen Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) kissing you, I would not have kissed you. Summarized Sahi Al-Bukhari, Al-Hajj, page 396 No. 808 on the Black Stone..
TRUE STORY OF THE BLACK STONE
More than five thousand years ago today, the father of the prophets, prophet Ibraham (Peace be upon him) the Upright (Haneef), had built the present structure of the Ka’bah under Allah’s own orders. He (Peace be upon him) had built it along with his youthful son, Ishmael (Peace be upon him), forefather of the Arabs. This is how the Qur'an describes their building it together: "And (remember) when Ibrahim (Abraham) and (his son) Isma'il (Ishmael) were raising the foundations of the House (the Ka'bah) at Makkah, ( saying), ‘Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us. Verily! You are the All-Hearer, all Knower.’" ( Qur’an 2:127). The father and the son, true Monotheists (Muslims), were thus raising the foundations with trembling hearts, for the Muslims are Allah’s most devoted servants, ever fearful of his displeasure. While building the Ka'bah, therefore, both of them were afraid that Allah may not accept their humble service, hence that prayer of theirs. How touching of such fidelity, how moving of such humility towards Allah the Great! It is the essence of Monotheism, the ideal pattern of Faith and Actions great and small for all Muslims to follow. When raised to a certain height, Ibraham (Peace be upon him) ordered his son to choose a piece of stone to mark the main cornerpoint. Even as the lad was searching for it, the Archangel Gabriel appeared with the Black Stone from Heaven. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: "The Black stone descended from heaven, when it was whiter than Milk, but people’s sins have blackened it". Tirmidhi, Kitab Al-Hajj, the Black stone,
Abraham (Peace be upon him) took it up and fitted it in, and there it stands up to this day. It is a heavenly stone, then, and not an earthly one. It was selected by Allah for His Holy House (the Ka'bah).
TEACHING THE PILGRIMAGE RITES
The building thus finished, this is how Ibraham and Ihmail (Peace be upon them) went on further praying to Allah, in the next Verse; "Our Lord! And make us submissive unto you and of our offspring a nation submissive unto You, and show us our Manasik (all the ceremonies of Pilgrimage - Hajj and Umrah etc.) and accept our repentance. Truly, You are the One Who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful." ( Qur’an 2:128). Thereupon Allah taught them through revelation the pilgrimage rites, which includes the Tawaf.
IS KISSING ESSENTIAL?
We have known the working procedure of the Tawaf, it consists of circling around the Ka’bah seven times. Each circle begins by kissing the Black Stone, or by caressing it, which is its normal procedure. But Tawaf is not a one-man business, hundreds, even thousands, are circling the Ka’bah at one and the same time. How could each person kiss the Black Stone separately? Naturally, when so over-crowded, the kissing will have to be dispensed with by some or many of them. At such times it is quite enough therefore, to face the Black Stone from any distance, and only point at it by one's right hand, at the start of each round. The pilgrim then recites his formula and proceeds on.
HISTORY UNFOLDS A RARE ASPECT
Assuming that the Black Stone is missing for one reason or another, does it render the Tawaf and Pilgrimage invalid and void on such account? Absolutely not. This is exactly what has already happened in the history of Islam. The Karamathians (Arabic: al-Qaramitah), the most un-islamic sect in Islam, had removed the Black Stone during their mad merrymaking in the year 317 AH/980 AD. They carried it away with them to their territory in Al-Ahsa (in the Arabian Gulf). After keeping it there for twenty years, they had returned it back to Makkah in the year 339 AH (see shorter Encyclopedia Leiden 1953, P. 219). In such an event, the Shariah (Law) maintains that the pilgrim shall perform his Tawaf without the Black stone. Instead of the Black Stone, the pilgrim shall touch its place at the corner of the Ka’bah, or point at its spot, and continue his Tawaf. Thus the total absence of the Stone itself makes no difference in the validity of the Tawaf and the Pilgrimage. This shows how tiny a part is being played by this stone. How ignorant of others and how childish, therefore, sounds the charge that it is the "most Precious Idol preserved by Islam"!
DOES KISSING MEAN WORSHIPPING?
Kissing a stone is not a sign of its worship at all. Kissing the Black Stone cannot be twisted into an idol worship, for the stone is no image, just as mere kissing is not worshipping by a mere imagination. Anyone might allege that Muslims do worship a certain ‘idol’. But the fact remains that they do not worship anything save God, the One. The idol and its worship simply do not exist. The Bible is kissed in lawcourts; does that mean then that it is worshipped? Moreover, parents kiss their children lovingly, without any trace of worship in it at all. A big question-mark that should come to one’s mind are the pre-Islamic Arab idolaters who had held the Ka’bah. With all their polytheism and idolatry, they too used to circle the Ka’bah and kiss the Black Stone. Had their kissing been an act of idol- worship, why then was there still a need for them-despite the presence of the "almighty" Black Stone-to install three hundred and sixty idols therein? This proves beyond a shadow of doubt that it is one thing to kiss the Black Stone under Divine Orders, and quite another to worship a stone or an idol. Most notable, perhaps, is the fact that One-God worshippers do nothing beyond simply kissing the Black Stone. They neither venerate it with folded hands, nor kneel down, nor prostrate themselves, nor squat before it. For all these is done only by idol-worshippers before their idols.
IS THE PILGRIMAGE A PAGAN RITE?
Some non-Muslims think or are made to believe that the Pilgrimage to Ka’bah is purely a pagan rite or one form of idol-worship. That it was being practiced by the Arab idolaters before Islam, and that Islam borrowed it from them. This assumption is further aided by the fact that the Ka’bah itself had been a temple housing no less than three hundred and sixty idols. Nevertheless, this is a pure conjecture belying facts and figures. For it was not the idolaters of Makkah, but prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him), who had initiated and established the holy Pilgrimage thereof, ages ago. On the contrary, it was these very idolaters, the degenerate descendants of Abraham and Ishmael (Peace be upon them), who had defiled Allah’s Holy Ka'bah into a huge pantheon. It was these rank idolaters who had injected pagan rites into the purely Islamic Pilgrimage laid down by prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him), one of the greatest worshippers of God. All honour is due to prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the seal of the prophets and the last of Abraham's (Peace be upon him) line of Prophethood, who first swept clean the Holy Ka'bah from its heathen idols. It was he again who restored the original pilgrimage to its pristine purity. The Muslims, are in fact the true followers of the Religion of prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him), the grand-father of prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him), where pilgrimage to Makkah is a notable heritage as well as an important fixture of the religion. How different could these facts be from the Non-muslims' random conjecture?
BUILDING THE HOUSE AND PROCLAIMING THE HAJJ
This is how Allah declared to prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him) regarding his Sacred House after showing him the site thereof: " And Remember when We showed Ibrahim (Abraham) the site of the Holy House (the Ka’bah) at Makkah saying : Associate not anything in worship with Me, [La Ilaha ill-Allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah - Islamic Monotheism], and sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it, and those who stand up for prayer, and those who bow and submit themselves with humility and obedience to Allah), and make prostration in prayer." Qur’an 22:26. Abraham (Peace be upon him) is being himself ordained in this verse to keep perfectly away from idolatry. He is being told, as well, to sanctify the House of God from all kinds of impurities, especially from that of idol-worship. Then follows the two-fold purpose for which that House was being built. First, is its being the center of Tawaf for those who compass it round, and its being the prayer-place for those who pray therein their daily Prayers second. This is as much as to say that the Tawaf and the Pilgrimage do depend upon the house of God, as much as do the prayers. For this reason all those who pray all the world over do turn in the one direction of the Ka’bah at Makkah. After being ordained to build and sanctify God's Ka’bah, prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him) receives in the next verse the command to proclaim the Pilgrimage to the Ka’bah, in this manner: "And proclaim to mankind the Hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant wide mountain highway to perform Hajj." Qur’an 22:27. That definitely proves that it was Abraham (Peace be upon him) who built the Ka’bah, and that it was also he who proclaimed the Pilgrimage, facts that should equally refute the oft-repeated allegation put forth that pilgrimage was some pagan rite invented by the heathen idolaters, and retained by Islam.
HIGHLIGHT OF PILGRIMAGE
Initiated by Abraham (Peace be upon him), and reflected by the Seal of the Prophets, Pilgrimage to the House of God is a unique experience to every true Muslim. For a "Muslim" is essentially the one who shifts from the false to the true Religion - from disbelief to Belief in God, and from multi-god to One-God worship. This trait made Abraham (Peace be upon him) a "Perfect" Muslim when he entered the Pantheon at Babylon, and smashed the idols therein to pieces. Allah entrusted him with building His House at Makkah, and tasked him to proclaim the Pilgrimage to it. Henceforth, Pilgrimage to the House of God becomes the most predominant trait of being a Muslim. A haven of absolute freedom, and a sanctuary of perfect peace and security, this Holy Mosque is the only spot on earth set up by Allah for one and all the people alike, without any distinction. It is the House of God wherein all men are equal, none being entitled to own it exclusively. This is told in these words of Allah: "...and from Al-Masjid-al-Haram at Makkah which We have made open to all men, the dweller in it and the visitor from the country.... "(Qur’an 22:25) The message of this Surah 22, verses 26-27 named "The Pilgrimage" itself, is describing the construction of the Ka’bah and its sanctification, it being the focal point of Tawaf as well as the center of Prayers. Thus, the incumbency of Pilgrimage to this "first house of One-God worship", etc. Verses 28-37, do contain the basic elements of the Monotheistic religion of prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him), wherein one of the main objectives emphasized is the need to celebrate the Name of Allah Alone over the animal-whether ordinarily slaughtered, or offered as sacrifices to Allah, as against those offered to the idolaters' idols, as evidenced particularly by verses 28, 30, 34, 36 and 37. "Avoiding the abomination of idols", and "neglecting the word that is false" (telling and witnessing falsehood), these two cardinal sins, have been specially prohibited in Verse 30. But the crowning message of unparalleled importance is the commandment: "Hunafa' Lillah (i.e. to worship none but Allah), not associating partners (in worship, etc.) unto Him...", which is the soul and the heart of Monotheism (one-God worship), and the annihilator of all Polytheism (multi-god worship). This last, but not the least message, is the essence of Pilgrimage, as also the topmost concern and happiness of every Muslim. The Makkahn idolaters too, used to perform the Pilgrimage, calling themselves thereby as "Haneefs" (followers of Abraham). And therefore, Muslims are being told to perform the Pilgrimage, and call themselves as "Haneefs" but with this difference: "Being true in faith to Allah, and never assigning partners to Him". Thus the sublime Truths, the essence of the creed: "There is no deity save God", seem to be beyond the comprehension of idol-worshippers, all over the world, and in all ages.
THE FIVE-TIME PRAYERS
This performance of the Pilgrimage --- a colossal feat of Monotheism, is closely knit around the Ka’bah and its surrounding environment. It occurs only once a year, but far more important and surpassing is the performance of prayers in Islam, which are equally connected with the Ka’bah. Prayers are an obligatory duty upon every Muslim. This is why every Muslim anywhere around the world turns towards Allah, facing in the direction of the Ka’bah five times daily. Of course, the Ka’bah is for outward direction to face in one's prayers, though inwardly, one faces his entire heart, to the Lord of the Worlds Himself. In this manner, Muslims are so intimately related to the Ka’bah through their Pilgrimage and Prayers, till the last moment of their lives. Not only this, but every Muslim is made to face the direction of the Ka'bah when breathing his last. Nay, even after death he is buried in his last resting place, i.e. in the grave, so that he faces the same direction of the Ka’bah.
PRAYERS AND SACRIFICE
Both the Pilgrimage and the Prayers are equally connected with the Ka'bah. And offering an animal and the Prayers are major Hajj ceremonies, where both the Prayer and sacrifice are special tokens of the single worship of Allah, with both being jointly dedicated to Him. It is a most sublime dedication the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was asked to offer in the following words: " Say [O Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him)]: ‘Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists), He has no partner, And of this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims.)" (Qur’an 162-163). And this forms the only straight path, that is the religion of our father Abraham (Peace be upon him), which is referred to in the preceding verse: "Say [O Muhammad (Peace be upon him)] "Truly, my Lord has guided me to a Straight path, a right religion, the religion of Ibrahim (Abraham). Qur’an 6:161.
On the whole, the Hajj is a unique annual gathering of its own kind. Herein, true Muslims from all over the world come together on the basis of one-God worship, that is pure Monotheism and true Islam. Forgetting their mutual differences of caste, color and social status, they assemble in this international city of Makkah to glorify the One Lord of all creation. Incidentally, they get a rare opportunity here to discuss together all sorts of communal, religious, economic, social and political problems on an all-world scale, after which no better or more beneficial gathering could be imagined. Such a high, all-embracing congregation has been held every year in the House of Allah for thousands of years now. All these manifold benefits are hinted at in the words: "......That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.." Qur’an 22:28. Pilgrimage, therefore, is never a pagan rite, but rather the fulfillment of an incumbent duty concerning One-God worship!
INVITATION TO NON-MUSLIMS
This is the legacy left behind by prophet Ibraham (Peace be upon him) for all posterity to accept and follow, and no people of any country or nation, are an exception to that posterity. Instead of regarding the Pilgrimage duty as a pagan rite, people ought to reflect upon their own age-old idolatry, and accept and follow the religion of our father Abraham (Peace be upon him). The hour has come for these very people to proclaim of their own accord: "There is no God Worthy of worship except Allah!" May they perform the Pilgrimage to the House of God at Makkah! And may they offer their Prayers regularly facing towards that same House! Ameen…