Some years ago I read an article proposing that the Ka‘ba was a Šiva temple before it was converted into a mosque by Prophet Muhammad. The article cited a long hymn in Arabic addressed to Mahãdeva who, according to the article, was the presiding deity of the Ka‘ba. The hymn, it was stated, had been composed in the reign of Vikramãditya of Ujjain in the first century BC.

A friend who got interested tried to get the hymn traced to the extant collection of pre-Islamic Arab poetry. He approached several libraries abroad but drew a blank. He as well as I then dismissed the proposition as the product of that school of Hindu historians according to whom every building everywhere in the world was a Hindu monument at one time.

But in the course of the present study I have run into some facts which force me to revise my judgment. I am not yet prepared to say that the Ka‘ba was a Šiva temple. I, however, cannot resist the conclusion that it was a hallowed place of Hindu pilgrimage. The facts are being placed before the readers for whatever worth they possess.

Hindu Presence in Arabia

Plenty of archaeological and literary evidence has by now come to light to show that Indian ports on the coasts of Tamil Nadu, Malabar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sindh, Baluchistan and Makran had participated since pre-Harappan times in the rich and vigorous trade carried on between China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India on the one hand, and Iran, Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt, West Asia and Europe on the other.1 It is also known that agricultural, mineral and industrial products from India formed a major part of this trade. Colonies of Indian merchants existed all along the coasts of countries bordering on the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. At the same time, colonies of Arabian, Iranian, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Syrian and European merchants had come up all along the aforementioned coasts of India. The Arabs and the Ethiopians had a larger presence as compared to the rest.

Ibn Ishãq provides evidence that Hindu presence in Arabia on the eve of Islam was pretty strong. When Yemen was invaded by the Abyssinians, Sayf b. Dhû Yazan, a chief of the dominant Himayrite clan of Arabs, went to Chosroes (Khusrû), the king of Iran, for help. “He said: ‘O King, ravens have taken possession of our country.’ Chosroes asked, ‘What ravens, Abyssinians or Sindhians?’ ‘Abyssianians,’ he replied.”2 Ravens meant blacks, who were identified with Indians and Abyssianans in the minds of Arabs and Iranians at that time. Later on, a deputation from B. al-Hãrith waited on the Prophet. “When they came to the apostle he asked who the people who looked like Indians were, and he was told that they were the B. al-Hãrith b. Ka’b.”3 The Prophet, it seems, was quite familiar with Indians.

In an article, ‘An Image of Wadd: A Pre-Islamic Arabian God’, Ch. Muhammad Ismail observed:

“The image of Wadd has been described by an Arab commentator as ‘the figure of a tall man wearing a loin-cloth with another cloth over it, with a sword hanging round his neck and also with a bow and quiver: in front of him a lance, with a flag attached to it.’ It will be perceived that this does not at all describe the figure in the Plate attached, which shows a short man wearing a kilt with pleats, like that of a Scottish Highlander. On the head is a close fitting cap with a long tassel, which seems to represent a long strand of hair. It may be noted that Beduins, who come to Aden from the Hinterland, while even to this day shaving the lower parts of the head with a razor, keep a tuft on the crown, and sometimes a long strand of hair like the badi of the Hindus. From this I once thought that perhaps there existed a connection between the peoples of Arabia and those of the Indus Valley, and I sent a drawing of this image of Wadd to Sir John Marshall, who wrote in reply as follows: ‘I do not think that there is any connection between the kilted figure (from Arabia) and the Indus people. Kilts were worn at all ages, and this figure I should take to be some 2,500 years later than those from Mohenjo-daro’; that is to say, he dated it at about 800 BC.”4

Archaeological excavations since the days of Sir John Marshall have, however, proved beyond doubt that there were regular contacts between Arabia and Sindh, even in the days of the Indus valley civilization. As we have seen, Sindh, Baluchistan, Makran, Fars, Islands in the Persian Gulf, and South Arabia were parts of the same cultural spread.

The Pagan Arab Pantheon

Prolonged contacts through trade and travel led to rich cultural contacts, particularly because Hindus as well as Arabs were pagans, and neither of them harboured exclusivism characteristic of prophetic creeds. We have noted, while dealing with pre-Islamic Gods of Arabia, that some of them were like Hindu Gods. Students of comparative religion know that the pagan psyche, everywhere and always, has projected many similar forms and myths in respect of their divinities.

The Sabaeans of South of Arabia in particular were well-known for transacting the richest trade with India. They had established colonies all along the western coast of India. They were sun-worshippers and had a famous sun-temple in their area. As we have noted, they believed in transmigration and the cycles of yugas. But what is most significant, “The Arabs gave the name Bûdasp to the mythical founder of the religion of the Sabaeans…”5 Bûdasp was no other than the Bodhisattva.

Coming to idols in Arabia, the worship most widely prevalent was that of Baal against whom the Bible and the Qur’ãn hurl many invectives. Commenting on Qur’ãn 37.123, Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes, “Both Ahab and Azariah were prone to lapse into the worship of Baal, the sun-god worshipped in Syria. That worship also included the worship of natural powers and procreative powers as in the Indian worship of the Lingam.”6 This is confirmed by W. Roberston Smith in his Religion of the Ancient Semites. He says that Baal was “symbolized in conical upright stones much like the liNga of the Hindus” and represented “the male principle of reproduction.”7 Hindus present in Arabia could not but view Baal as the SivaliNga. Several such representations of Šiva must have been present among the idols in and around the Ka‘ba, and many more in the Arabian sanctuaries elsewhere.

The Ka‘ba

We have noted that the Ka‘ba was a pagan temple crowded with idols and that the Islamic lore about its foundation by Abraham is purefiction. It should not, therefore, sound strange that Hindus present in Arabia took easily to worship in the Ka‘ba. The pagan psyche responds with reverence to all idols, everywhere. The Muslim historian, Firishta, writes, “Before the advent of Islam, the Brahmans of India were always going on pilgrimage to the Ka‘ba, for the worship of the idols there.”8 He cites earlier historians as his authorities on the subject.

It is also significant that Muslims continued to believe for a long time that Lãt and Manãt, two prominent pre-Islamic Arab Goddesses, had fled from Arabia when the Prophet tried to destroy them, and taken refuge in the temple of Somnath. The repeated expeditions which Muslim invaders led in the direction of this temple were partly inspired by this legend which originated in Arabia. Why a legend about Somnath?  Simply because its famous temple on the coast of Saurashtra was a place of pilgrimage for pagan Arabs, in the same way as the Ka‘ba was for the Hindus. This inference may not sound unwarranted when we view the fact that Prabhas Patan was one of the principal ports for the Indian trade with Arabia, and had a strong Arab presence in pre-Islamic times. We have already noted in chapter 3 that Arab presence in this port continued to be strong even in the post-Islamic period, down to the reign of the Vãghelãs.

The Hindu Tradition

The Hindu tradition that the Ka‘ba was a Šiva temple was very much alive in the days of Guru Nanak and is preserved in the Janam Sãkhîs, particularly the Makkê-Madinê dî Goshatî. It has to be investigated how far back in time the tradition goes. It cannot be said that it was invented by Guru Nanak.

In an article, Guru Nanak’s Travels in the Middle East, Professor Surinder Singh Kohli writes: “In Arabia, the Guru clothed himself like Arabs. He had a staff in his hand, a prayer mat on his shoulder, the holy book under his arm and a long blue shirt reaching to his feet etc. He looked like a Sufi and everywhere people considered him to be a true faqîr. From Jedda, the Guru proceeded towards Mecca on foot. He reached Mecca late in the evening and fell asleep near Abraham’s Memorial behind the Kãbã. When the sanitary inspector Jiwan Khãn came in the morning, he admonished the Guru for sleeping with his feet towards the house of God… The Chief theologians of Islam who were present at Mecca at that time namely Maulvi Mohammad Hassan, Qãzî Rukn Dîn, Imãm Jaffar and Pîr Abdul Bahav held discourses with the Guru regarding spiritual matters. The substance of these discourses was noted by Sayyad Mohammad Ghaus Salas Faquîr in his book in Persian, which was translated into Punjabi by bhãî Bhãnã, according to Gyani Gyan Singh.”9

Guru Nanak is reported to have said: “Mecca is an ancient place10 of pilgrimage, and there is Liñga of Mahãdeva here. It was presided over by the BrãhmaNas. One of the BrãhmaNas, though born among them, became a Musalmãn. He subverted the Atharvaveda and renamed it as Furqãn. His own name was Muhammad which means the same as Mahãdeva.11 He, however, vitiated all other names, so that Hindu names stood cancelled and Muslim names came into vogue.12 He swore by God, but got cows butchered.  All BrãhmaNas were forced to fall away from the proper path, though they continued raising cries to Allãh. The Kalima says that God is one, but Muhammad got his own name mixed up with that of God. He sent out an order to the wide world that all should become Musalmãns. Most of those who were men of substance did not obey the order; but those who were tormented by want rallied round him. He concocted some sort of a creed, and taught it to them. They joined him for plundering the people; no one joined him with any other motive.”13

There is no evidence as yet that the pre-Islamic Arabs were Hindus, or bore Hindu names, or knew the Atharvaveda, or were guided by BrãhmaNas.14 The Janam Sãkhî seems to have preserved the Hindu refugee version of what happened in Arabia after the advent of Islam. It is on record in Muslim histories that Hindus resident in lands invaded by Islam had to run for their lives. The same thing had happened in the Roman Empire after it was taken over by Christianity.

The common people everywhere are prone to interpret events in the language of their own culture. It may be that by the time the story reached Guru Nanak, or perhaps much earlier, the Ka‘ba had become a Šiva temple in the eyes of Hindus, and the principal idol there a Šivaliñga. The pagan priests who presided in the Ka‘ba became BrãhmaNas, and the Qur’ãn a perversion of the Atharvaveda. What is quite obvious is that the Hindus, resident or present, in Arabia did not relish the revolution that had upturned Arabia’s ancient religion, and imposed a new belief-system by means of brute force. The image of the Prophet and his followers formed by Hindus at that time was more than confirmed by their subsequent experience of Islam in their own homeland. They had no reason to revise the story which has persisted till today, in spite of the herculean efforts made by a whole state apparatus to proclaim the Prophet as “a great religious teacher”, and to whitewash Islam into “a noble faith”. In any case, the subject needs serious investigation by scholars in the field.


1 Shaikha Haya Ali Al Khalifa and Michael Rice (ed.), Bahrain through the ages, the Archaeology, London, 1986, pp. 73-75, 94-107, 376-82; Andre Wink, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Vol. I, OUP, 1990, Chapters II and III; Lokesh Chandra et. al. (ed.), India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture: A Vivekananda Commemoration Volume, Madras, 1970, pp. 579-88; Muhammad Abdul Nayeem, Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula, Vol. I, Saudi Arabia, Hyderabad (India), 1990. pp. 160-69.

2 Sîrat Rasûl Allãh, op. cit., p. 30.

3 Ibid., p. 646. Tãrîkh-i-Tabarî, op. cit, p. 46, report the Prophet as saying, “Yeh to Hindustãnî mã’lûm hole haiñ.”

4 Indian Antiquary, Vol. LVIII (May, 1929), pp. 91-92.

5 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit, Vol. II, p. 770.

6 The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’ãn, Text, Translation and Commentary, Cairo, Third Edition, 1983. Vol.  II, p. 1203, Footnote 4112.

7 Summarised by Will Durant, op. cit., p. 309.

8 Tãrîkh-i-Firishta translated into Urdu, Nawal Kishore Press, Lucknow, 1933, Vol. II, p. 498 corresponding to p. 311 of the Persian text. The sentence in Urdu reads, “Aur Brahman Hindustãn ke qibl zahûr Islãm khãna-i-Ka‘ba ki ziyãrat aur wãhañ kê butoñ kî prastish kê wãstê hameshah ãmdo-shud kartê thê.” See also Tãrîkh-i-Firishta, translated into Urdu by Abd Illahi Khwaja, 1983, Vol. II, p. 885, and John Briggs, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 234.  He observes in a footnote, “The subject is full of interest, opens an extensive field of investigation for the Oriental antiquary, as leading to the development of the history of a period at which India and Egypt were closely connected…”

9 Lokesh Chandra et. al. (ed.), op. cit., p. 598.

10 Makkê-Madînê dî Goshatî, edited by Dr. Kulwant Singh, Panjabi University, Patiala, 1988, p. 49.

11 By “BrahmaNas” Guru Nanak means the priestly class, al-Hums among the pagan Quraysh. Furqãn, of course, is the Qur’ãn. The word “Muhammad” in Arabic means “he who is prayed to”.

12 It is on record that the Prophet changed all personal names which referred to ancient Gods and Goddesses of Arabia, and substituted them with Jewish names. The practice continues till today in all conversions to Islam.

13 Translated from a Hindi version of Makkê-Madînê dî Goshatî, op. cit, p. 188.

14 Though the al-Hums who looked after the Ka‘ba in the pre-Islamic period resembled the BrãhmaNas in many respects (First Encyclopaedia of Islam. op. cit, Vol. III. p. 335).

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