Judaism and Christianity had equipped the Prophet of Islam with an exclusive god and a sectarian scripture which declared war on pagan Gods and their places of worship. The Jews and Christians in Arabia, descended from immigrants or native converts, also provided practical demonstration of how to proceed vis-a-vis pagan temples, whenever and wherever these two sects acquired political power, howsoever shortlived.

We do not know what the Christianized Arabs on the borders of the Byzantine Empire did to pagan places of worship; the sources are silent on the subject. It is a safe bet that they must have followed in the footsteps of their mentors in the Empire. Some information, however, is available on what happened in Yemen, the southern province of Arabia. Some years before the birth of Muhammad, Tubba‘, the Himayrite king of Yemen, had converted to Judaism under the influence of two rabbis from Yathrib (Medina). He used state-power for converting his people to the new creed. “Now Ri’ãm,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “was one of the temples which they venerated and where they offered sacrifices and received oracles when they were polytheists. The two rabbis told Tubba‘ that it was merely a shayTãn which deceived them in this way and they asked to be allowed to deal with it. When the king agreed they commanded a black dog to come out of it and killed it-at least this is what the Yamanites say. Then they destroyed the temple and I am told that its ruins to this day show traces of the blood that was poured over it.”1 The blood must have been that of the pagans who courted death in defence of the temple.

Around the same lime, some nobles of Najran, another principality in Yemen, were converted to Christianity by a missionary named Faymiyûn. “At this time,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “the people of Najrãn followed the religion of the Arabs worshipping a great palm-tree. Every year they had a festival when they hung on the tree any fine garment they could find and women’s jewels. Then they sallied out and devoted the day to it.” Faymiyûn reported to the nobles that the palm-tree “could neither help nor hurt” and that “if he were to curse the tree in the name of God, He would destroy it, for He was God Alone without companion.” The nobles agreed. Faymiyûn “invoked God against the tree and God sent a wind against it which tore it from its roots and cast it on the ground.” The miracle helped the people of Najran to adopt the “law of Îsã b. Maryam” in which Faymiyûn “instructed them.”2 In plain language the story says that political power was used for forcing the people into the Christian fold and destroying their places of worship. Churches rose on the sites of sacred groves and pagan temples.

The Judaic regime in the neighbourhood of Najran, however, was militarily more powerful. As already related, the Himayrite king Dhû Nuwãs marched on Najran, slaughtered thousands of Christians, and forced the rest into the fold of Judaism. It is not recorded what this hero of Judaism did to the Christian churches which had come up. But one can be sure that they were demolished or converted into synagogues.

In turn, the victory of Judaism was short-lived. The Christian king of Abyssinia sent an army which overthrew the Judaic regime in Yemen and imposed Christianity on the whole province. Abraha, the Abyssinian governor, demolished the synagogues and erected churches on their sites. He built a grand cathedral at San‘ã’, the seat of his government, and informed his king that “I have erected a house and built a church so as to put an end to the circumambulation of the Ka’bah by pilgrims and visitors.”3 He was looking forward to destroying the pagan temple in Mecca.

The excuse for Christian egression was provided by an Arab from Mecca who “went forth until he came to the cathedral and defiled it” during the night. Abraha made enquiries. He “learned that the outrage had been committed by an Arab who came from the temple in Mecca where the Arabs went on pilgrimage, and that he had done this in anger at his threat to divert the Arabs’ pilgrimage to the cathedral, showing thereby that it was unworthy of reverence.” He felt “enraged and swore that he would go to the temple and destroy it.”4 A Christian army equipped with elephants marched on Mecca and encamped in the outskirts of the city which the Arabs were in no position to defend against a formidable foe. But an epidemic or some other disaster forced the invaders to beat a retreat.

The Arabs in Yemen had meanwhile invited help from Persia. “The films of Judaism and Christianity,” writes Margoliouth, “torn off the face of South Arabia, paganism it seems was restored: not indeed at Najran, where Christianity, remained, as in an island; but the rulers were pagans, and in league with the worst enemy of the Cross. Meanwhile the matters about which the sects were at variance were evoking interest in minds that had been alien from them.”5

Muhammad was born in the year in which the Christian invasion of Mecca took place. The pagan Arabs celebrated for long what they regarded as a victory of their Gods over the Christian godling. Years later, after he had floated the myth of Abraham as the latest builder of the Ka‘ba, Muhammad will pronounce that the defeat of the Christian army was brought about by the God of Abraham. But that was a big bluff prompted by the Jewish refusal to accept him as a prophet. “The connection of the Abraham-myth with the Ka’bah,” observes Margoliouth, “appears to have been the result of later speculation, and to have been fully developed only when a political need for it arose.”6 It was a case of ideological usurpation of the place before physical misappropriation occured.

It is difficult to say at what stage of his life Muhammad became a convinced monotheist. The evidence available suggests that his evolution towards this creed was a slow process. Dealing with the years after his marriage to Khadîjah and before he became a prophet, Margoliouth cites old Islamic sources and concludes that Muhammad was a polytheist for quite some time. “The names of some of the children show that their parents when they named them were idolaters. Nor is there anything to indicate that Mohammed was at this time of a monothestic or religious turn of mind. He with Khadijah performed some domestic rite in honour of one of the goddesses each night before retiring. At the wedding of his cousin, Abu Lahab’s daughter, he is represented as clamouring for sport… He confessed to having at one time sacrified a grey sheep to Al-‘Uzza-and probably did so more than once… A story which may be true shows us Mohammed with his stepson inviting the Meccan monotheist Zaid, son of ‘Amr, to eat with them-of meat offered to idols: the old man refused…”7

Islamic hagiography, however, tells us that the Prophet was an uncompromising monotheist and a determined iconoclast from the moment he was conceived in the womb of his mother.  “It is related that on the morning of conception the idols in all the inhabited quarters of the earth were overturned…”8 Mightier events took place on the night of his birth. A lake dried up, a river overflowed and the palace of the Persian monarch “so trembled that fourteen of its pinnacles fell to the ground.” More significantly “news arrived from Estakhan that the fire of the chief temple of Persia, which had burned for a thousand years, had become extinguished.”9 Nearer home, the Pagans in Mecca witnessed a scene which left them distressed. “Another event of the night of the nativity took place when the Qoraish were holding a festival in honour of one of their idols, in whose temple they had at that time assembled, and were engaged in eating and drinking. They found, however, that their god had fallen to the ground, and set him up again; but as he was, a short time afterwards, again found prostrate on his face, the idolaters were much dismayed and erected him again. When they had done so the third time, a voice was heard from the cavity of the idol saying:

All the regions of the earth, in the east and west,
Respond to the nativity, whom its light strikes;
And idolatry decreases, and the hearts of all
The kings of the earth tremble with fear.”10

As a baby, Muhammad was suckled by a desert woman, Halîma. One day she came to Mecca to see the ‘Ukãz fair, carrying Muhammad with her. An astrologer saw the baby and shouted, “Come here, O people of Hudayl, come here, O Arabs.” People gathered round him, Halîma among them. He pointed towards the baby and said, “He will slaughter people of your religion and smash your idols.” Halîma took fright and ran away with the baby.11

Muhammad was more than three years old when Halîma took him to Mecca with the intention of returning him to his family. But the child got lost when they arrived in the city. Halîma was searching frantically for him when she met an old man who heard her story and wanted to help. “The foolish man,” says the biographer, “went to Hobal, and after praising him as is the fashion of idolaters, he continued: ‘This woman of the Bani Sa‘ad says that she lost Muhammad the son of A’bd-ul-Muttalib; restore him to her if it so pleaseth thee’… As soon as that misguided individual had pronounced these words Hobal fell prostrate on his face, and from the cavity of his statute the words were heard: ‘What have I to do with Muhammad who will be the cause of our destruction?… Tell the idolaters that he is the great sacrifice; that is to say, he will kill all, except those who will be so fortunate as to follow him.’”12

Muhammad was a young boy when he was invited by his uncles and aunts to join a celebration in honour of Buãna, a God to whom the Quraysh were much devoted. He was reluctant but yielded under pressure from the family. But when he came back, he was terribly frightened and looked depressed. His aunts asked what had happened to him. He said, “Whenever I went near an idol, I saw a man, white and tall, calling out to me, ‘O Muhammad! get back, do not touch it.’”13 He never joined a pagan celebration again.

Some time later, his people were sacrificing to Buãna. A voice came out of the idol’s belly, “A strange thing has happened. We are being burnt in fire. Abeyance of wahy (revelation) has come to an end. A prophet has taken birth in Mecca. His name is Ahmad. He will migrate to Yathrib.”14

His uncle, Abû Tãlib, had taken Muhammad with a caravan going to Syria. The caravan halted near a monastery at Bostra where Bahira, a Christian monk, felt drawn towards Muhamad and made enquiries about him from the other Arabs. “When the people had finished eating,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “and gone away Bahira got up and said to him, ‘Boy, I ask you by al-Lãt and al-‘Uzza to answer my questions.’ Now Bahira said this only because he had heard his people swearing by these gods. They allege that the apostle of God said to him, ‘Do not ask me by al-Lãt and al-‘Uzzã, for by Allah nothing is more hateful for me than these two gods’”15

A similar event is reported to have happened in his youth when he was employed by Khadîjah and travelled to Egypt with her merchandise. The caravan came across another Christian monk named NasTTur who also fell for Mohammad. “NasTTur… descended from the roof of his hermitage, and said to the apostle of Allah: ‘I adjure thee by Lãt and U’zza to tell me what thy name is.’ His holy and prophetic lordship replied: ‘May thy mother be childless!  Begone from me; for the Arabs have not uttered any words more disagreeable to me than thine.’”16 At a latter stage in the same journey Muhammad had a dispute with a Jew on account of some business transaction. The Jew said; “I adjure you by Lãt and U’zza.” Muhammad replied: “Whenever I pass by Lãt and U’zza, I turn away my face from them.”17

Now, it is well-known that hagiography everywhere projects future events into the past. We have quoted from the hagiography of the Prophet not to decry it but to make the point that Islamic lore has always looked at Muhammad as a born iconoclast. This was not necessary because only his practices as a prophet provide the pious precedents. But hagiography hates to leave any loopholes, even if it has to invent events.

Hagiography yields place to history as we move into the period of Muhammad’s prophethood. While initiating ‘Alî b. Abû Tãlib into Islam, Muhammad said: “I call you to God, the One without associate, to worship him and to disavow al-Lãt and al-‘Uzza.” ‘Alî was surprised as he had never heard such a thing before, and offered to consult his father, Abû Tãlib. But Muhammad told him, “If you do not accept Islam, then conceal the matter.” Next morning, ‘Alî came and requested Muhammad to initiate him. He had made up his mind after a night’s reflection. Muhammad said to him, “Bear witness that there is no god but Allah alone without associate, and disavow al-Lãt and al-‘Uzzã.” ‘Alî became a Muslim but “concealed his Islam and did not let it be seen.”18 Islam at this time was a secret society.

Ibn Hanbal cites another tradition from ‘Ali about what the Prophet attempted while Islam was being kept concealed. ‘Alî said: “I and the Prophet walked till we came to the Ka‘ba. Then the Prophet of Allãh said to me, ‘Sit down.’ Then he stood on my shoulders and I arose. But when he saw that I could not support him, he came down, sat down and said, ‘Stand on my shoulders.’ Then I climbed on his shoulders and he stood up and it seemed to me as if I could have touched the sky, had I wished. Then I climbed on the roof of the Ka‘ba on which there was an image of copper and iron. Then I began to loosen it at its right and left side, in front and behind until it was in my power. Then the Prophet of Allãh called to me: ‘Throw it down.’ Then I threw it down so that it broke into pieces like a bottle. I then climbed down from the Ka‘ba and hurried away with the Prophet, till we hid ourselves in the houses for fear some one might meet us.”19 Shi‘ah theologians have transferred this adventure to the time when the Prophet reached Ka‘ba after the conquest of Mecca.20 But that is no more than a sectarian exercise. The language of the tradition connects the event to the time when Islam was still a secret society. Moreover, ‘Alî is shown as a boy rather than a stalwart which he had become by the time Mecca was conquered.

Another incident relates to the time after Islam had come out into the open. It was reported to Hamzah, the Prophet’s uncle, that Abû’l Hakãm, a Meccan chief whom the Muslims called Abû Jãhl, had insulted Muhammad. Hamzah was still a pagan and, therefore, cared for kinship ties. He went to Muhammad who was sitting in the precincts of the Ka‘ba, and said, “Thy uncle hast come to take vengeance on thy enemy.” Muhammad asked him to leave alone the man “who has no uncle, neither father nor mother, no man of business, nor wazir,” meaning himself. “But Hamzah swore by Lãt and U’zza saying, ‘I have come only to aid and protect thee.’” The Prophet felt annoyed at his uncle’s mention of the pagan Goddesses, and said, “I swear by that God who has sent me in truth, that if thou fightest long enough against infidels to be drowned in their blood, thou will only be removed further and further from the Lord of unity, until thou sayest, ‘I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the apostle of Allah.’”21

On the whole, however, the situation in Mecca was unfavourable to the Prophet. The pagans were in a strong position and he could not touch their idols or places of worship, howsoever keen he might have been to desecrate or destroy them. His attempt to invite another Abyssinian invasion of Mecca for taking over the Ka‘ba and turning it into a place of monotheistic worship, was also a failure. The Christian king was very kind to the Muslims whom Muhammad had sent to his court. His domestic situation, however, did not permit a foreign adventure. The Prophet’s attempt to raise Tã’if against Mecca also ended in failure. He found himself utterly helpless against the pagan stronghold. He could only curse the idolaters and invoke Allãh’s wrath against them.

It was in Medina that his followers started doing something concrete vis-a-vis the idols, after they had entered into a pact with him at al-‘Aqaba for moving his headquarters to their city. Ibn Ishãq reports, “When they came to Medina they openly professed Islam there. Now some of the shykhs still kept to their old idolatry, among whom was ‘Amr b. al-Jamûh… whose son Mu‘ãdh had been present at al-‘Aqaba and done homage to the apostle there. ‘Amr was one of the tribal nobles and leaders and had set up in his house a wooden idol called Manãt as the nobles used to do, making it a god to reverence and keeping it clean.  When the young men of B. Salama… and his own son Mu‘ãdh adopted Islam with the other men who had been at al-‘Aqaba they used to creep in at night to this idol of ‘Amr’s and carry it away and throw it on its face into a cesspit. When the morning came ‘Amr cried, ‘Woe to you! Who has been at our gods this night?’ Then he went in search of the idol and when he found it he washed it and cleaned it and perfumed it saying, ‘By God, if I knew who had done this I would treat him shamefully.’ When night came and he was fast asleep they did the same again and he restored the idol in the morning… This happened several times…”22

‘Alî found a Muslim stealing idols in the night and getting them burnt, when he stayed for a few days in Qubã’ after the Prophet had migrated from Mecca. Ibn Ishãq proceeds, “He used to say that in Qubã’ there was an unmarried Muslim woman and he noticed that a man used to come to her in the middle of the night and knock on her door; she would come out and he would give her something. He felt very suspicious of him and asked her what was the meaning of this nightly performance as she was a Muslim woman without a husband. She told him that he was Sahl b. Hunayf b. Wãhib who knew that she was all alone and he used to break up the idols of his tribe at night and bring her the pieces to use as fuel…”23

The Prophet had also stayed at Qubã’ in the course of his flight from Mecca. This was a place three miles outside Medina. A mosque was built here during the Prophet’s stay. It was the first mosque in the history of Islam. The details of die site on which it was built are not available in the sources. But we are told something about the second and the major mosque built by the Prophet in Medina, soon after his arrival in that city. The site was a garden which he purchased. According to a tradition from Anas b. Mãlik, “There were graves of the idolaters, dilapidated buildings and date trees [in the garden]. The Prophet gave the order and the graves of the idolaters were dug out, the dilapidated buildings levelled [with the ground], and the date trees cut down.”24 Most probably the site was a sacred grove and the building that stood there were places of pagan worship, neglected or abandoned due to the rising tide of monotheism in Medina. This much at least is certain that the Prophet showed contempt for the graves of the idolaters. Cutting down of date trees was also a sacrilege according to pagan ethics. In days to come, Muslims will show veneration for graves in which their own brothers in faith are buried.

The available sources provide no evidence of the Prophet or his followers in Medina desecrating or destroying any pagan shrines or breaking idols, during the many expeditions they mounted on tribal settlements, far and near. It is unlikely that the biographers of the Prophet or other Muslim annalists suppressed the facts on this score, for acts of iconoclasm were a matter of pride for them and an essential element in their glorification of Islam. Most probably the Muslims did not get proper opportunities for this, their favourite pastime, because most of the expeditions were surprise raids aimed at plunder. It is also probable that the Prophet did not want to show his hand before the right time and thus provoke more than normal resistance to his acts of aggression. Or, perhaps, it was the Prophet's strategy to break the morale of the pagans by slaughter and rapine before he moved on to their places of worship. Whatever the reason, all available evidence suggests that the Prophet was busy throughout this period in amassing booty and ransom for financing his military machine.

The Muslim army that finally moved on Mecca in the year AH 8 (AD 630) was a formidable force by Arabian standards of that time. Abbas b. Mirdãs al-Sulamî, the Muslim, poet sang:

With us on the day Muhammad entered Mecca
Were a thousand marked men-the valley flowed with them.
They had helped the apostle and been present at his battles,
Their marks on the day of battle being to the fore.
In a strait place their feet were firm.
They split the enemies’ heads like colocynths.
Their hooves had travelled Najd beforehand
Till at last black Hijãz became subject to them.
God gave him the mastery of it.
The judgment of the sword and victorious fortune subdued it to us…25

Small wonder that Mecca surrendered without a fight. The pagan leader, Abû Sufyãn, had developed cold feet as soon as he saw the marshalled ranks, and gone over to Islam. Very soon, he will be breaking the idols for which he had fought for long. “Abû Sufyãn recited the following verses in which he excused himself for what had gone before:

By the life when I carried a banner
To give al-Lãt’s cavalry the victory over Muhammad
I was like the one going astray in the darkness of the night,
But now I am led on the right track…26

The conquest of Mecca by Muhammad was the most significant event in the history of Islam. The success of the enterprise settled the character of Islam for all time to come. The lessons drawn from the success constitute the core of Islamic theology as taught ever since in the sprawling seminaries. The principal lessons are two. The first is that Muslims should continue resorting to violence on any and every pretext till they triumph; setbacks are temporary. The second lesson is that Islam should refuse to coexist or compromise with every other religion and culture, and use the first favourable opportunity to wipe out the others completely so that it alone may prevail. Our present context is concerned with the second lesson.

The Temple of Ka‘ba

Soon after entering Mecca, the Prophet went to the Ka‘ba, took its key from ‘Uthmãn B. Tãlha, and entered it. Ibn Ishãq records, “There he found a dove made of wood. He broke it in his hands and threw it away.” Next he turned to the idols which were housed in and around the temple. They were 360 in number. “The apostle was standing by them with a stick in his hand, saying, ‘The truth has come and falsehood has passed away. Verily, falsehood is bound to pass away’ (Sûra. 17.82).27 Then he pointed at them with his stick and they collapsed on their backs one after the other. When the apostle prayed the noon prayer on the day of the conquest he ordered that all the idols which were round the Ka‘ba should be collected and burned with fire and broken up.  FaDãla b. al-Mulãwwih al-Laythî said commemorating the day of the conquest:

Had you seen Muhammad and his troops
The day the idols were smashed when he entered,
You would have seen God’s light become manifest
And darkness covering the face of idolatry.”28

“Biographical works are filled with the accounts of this proceeding, and that three hundred and sixty idols, the greatest whereof was Hobal, had been erected by the idolaters around the Ka‘bah. In some copies we read that Eblis had fixed the bases of all these idols underground with lead, but that nevertheless when the apostle of Allah touched them with the lance or stick he had in his hands, and uttered the words: ‘Truth had come, and falsehood has departed’, the idols fell on their faces at the mere touch of the staff… There is a tradition ascribed to A’bdullah B. A’bbas that whenever his lordship pointed on that day to the face of an idol, the same immediately fell on its back, and whenever he pointed to the back it fell on its face.”29 The Islamic lore has thus turned into a miracle what was actually a show of brute physical force. “Muhammad when he entered Mekka as victor is stated to have struck them in the eyes with his bow before he had them dragged down and destroyed by fire.”30 The burning of the idols gave rise to another story in Islamic lore. “Upon the conquest of Mecca the Prophet cut open some of these idols with his sword and black smoke is said to have issued forth from them, a sign of the psychic influence which had made these idols their dwelling place.”31 One wonders what else except smoke could have come out when objects made of stone and wood were burnt.  It is the privilege of Islamic lore to invest smoke with psychic power.

Hubal, the principal idol in the Ka‘ba. “was pulled down and used as a doorstep when the Prophet conquered Mecca and purified the Ka’bah.”32 This particular practice of the Prophet set up a pious precedent which was followed extensively when Islamic iconoclasm arrived in India. Many Hindu idols ended at the doorsteps of the principal mosques not only in Muslim capitals within India such as Ghazni, Kabul, Lahore, Multan, Nagore, Ajmer, Delhi, Jaunpur, Gaur, Daulatabad, Mandu, Ahmadabad, Gulbarga, Bidar, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Golkunda, Dhaka and Murshidabad, but also in far off places like Baghdad, Mecca and Medina, “The other stones which were worshipped as idols were actually used as cornerstones of the Ka‘ba and as such we must consider also the Maqãm Ibrahîm.”33 This too was a pious precedent which was followed extensively in India. A large number of mosques and other Muslim monuments in India have Hindu idols or their pieces embedded in their masonry.

There was only one idol which the Prophet not only spared but also consecrated with his kiss so that every Muslim who performs Hajj is expected to do the same. This was the black stone now described pompously as al-Hajar al-ASwad. The Muslims present on the occasion felt puzzled by the Prophet’s partiality for this particular stone. They were informed that the black stone had descended directly from heaven. According to a well-known tradition (hadîth) from Ibn ‘Abbãs, the Prophet told his people, “By Allãh, Allãh will lift it up on the Last Day. It will have two eyes with which it will see. It will have a tongue with which it will speak and stand witness for that man who had kissed it earnestly.”34 Other people’s idols are stones, while one’s own stone is God’s spokesman!  Many of his followers must have remained unimpressed by the mysterious pronouncement. A few years later, Caliph ‘Umar (AD 632-44), while kissing the black stone, is reported to have said, “I know that you are a stone which can neither help nor hurt. I would not have kissed you, had I not witnessed the Prophet of Allãh kissing you.”35

Idols were not the only “abominations” which the Prophet had to take care of in the Ka‘ba. Ibn Ishãq and other biographers of the Prophet report that the “Quraysh had put pictures in the Ka‘ba including two of Jesus son of Mary and Mary… The apostle ordered that the pictures would be erased except those of Jesus and Mary.”36 According to a tradition, as ‘Umar began to wash out the pictures with the water of the well known as Zamzam, “Muhammad placed his hand on the pictures of Jesus and Mary and said, ‘Wash out all except what is below my hands.’ He then withdrew his hand.”37 There is no reason to doubt that the walls of the Ka‘ba carried paintings. Pagans have always been as fond of presenting their pantheon and mythology through colour as through carving. But it is an invention that the paintings included those of Jesus and Mary. The pagans who had maintained the Ka‘ba and decorated its walls with paintings were not only not enamoured of the Christian god and his mother, they actually entertained abhorrence for them. Allãh himself says in the Qur’ãn that the disbelievers show disrespect for Îsã. Referring to ‘Umar’s act of effacing the paintings, Margoliouth observes, “Whom or what they represented we know only on Mohammed’s authority, which we are not inclined to trust…”38

Scholars have made several speculations regarding the Prophet’s attitude to the Ka‘ba. Basing themselves on legends found in the biographies of the Prophet, some say that he had reverence for the national sanctuary but regretted its misuse by the pagans. Some others say that when he changed the Qibla from the Temple in Jerusalem to the Ka‘ba in Mecca, he did so in order to conciliate Arab national sentiment. “We do not know the personal feelings of the youthful Muhammad towards the Ka‘ba and the Meccan cult, but they were presumably of a conventional nature. What the biography of the Prophet tells us about his Meccan period in this respect can lay no claim to historical value. The Meccan revelations tell us nothing about these relations during the important period in the life of the Prophet. In any case, he felt no enthusiam for the Meccan sanctuary.”39

In fact, there is a tradition that he wanted to destroy the Ka‘ba. ‘Ã’isha has reported him as saying to her that “if your people had not renounced ignorance promptly and become Musalmans, I would have demolished the Ka‘ba and rebuilt it with two doors.”40 The tradition seems to be authentic because it inspired demolition and rebuilding of the Ka‘ba on two subsequent occasions. “When A’bdullah Bin Zobeir heard this tradition he destroyed the building of the Qoraish whilst he held sway, and rebuilt the Ka‘bah according to the intentions of his lordship the last of the prophets. When, however, Hajjãj Bin Yusuf undertook by order of A’bd-ul-Malik Merwãn [AD 685-705] a campaign against A’bdullah Bin Zobeir and vanquished him, he destroyed the edifice built by the latter at the command of the same Khalifah and re-erected it as the Qoraish had built it during the lifetime of his holy and prophetic lordship. When Harûn-ur-Rashid became Khalifah he desired to annihilate the edifice of Merwzãn, and to rebuild the Ka‘bah according to the model of A’bdullah Bin Zobeir. On this subject he consulted the Imãm Mãlek, but the latter replied: ‘O commander of the faithful, let the Ka‘bah alone, let it not become the sport of kings.’ Accordingly Harûn renounced his intention.”41

What was this “building of the Qoreish” which Ibn Zubayr demolished and Hajjãj restored?  This much is clear from Muslim accounts that it was a pagan temple housing the idols of many Gods. These accounts, however, insist that in the ancient past it was a place of monotheistic worship consecrated by Abraham. There is only one Muslim account which preserves a pagan tradition. “According to al-Mas‘ûdî (Murûdj, iv, 47), certain people have regarded the Ka‘ba as a temple devoted to the sun, the moon and the five planets. The 360 idols placed round the Ka‘ba also point in the same direction. It can therefore hardly be denied that traces exist of an astral symbolism…”42 That the Ka‘ba was a centre of sun-worship is also confirmed by whatever memories of the pre-Islamic Hajj survive in Muslim accounts. “As soon as the sun was visible, the ifãDa to Minã used to begin in pre-Islamic times. Muhammad therefore ordained that this should begin before sunrise; here again we have the attempt to destroy a solar rite. In ancient times they are said to have sung during the ifãDa, ashrîq thabîr kaimã nughîr. The explanation of these words is uncertain; it is sometimes translated: ‘Enter into light of morning, Thabir, so that we may hasten.’”43

It is pointed out by apologists of Islam that the Prophet did not convert the pagan temple into a mosque and that he only “restored” it to what it used to be in Abraham’s time. We known that the Abraham story about the Ka‘ba is a fabrication floated after the Prophet had left Mecca and quarrelled with the Jews of Medina. And there was no specific architectural design for a mosque developed during the lifetime of the Prophet; any structure, in any shape could serve the purpose. For the rest, everything that needs be done for depriving a place of its pagan character and converting it into a place of Islamic worship, was done by the Prophet. The conversion of the temple at Mecca into a mosque was complete when Bilãl stood on the roof of the Ka‘ba and recited azãn.

Idols in Mecca

In Mecca proper, Isãf and Nã’ila were the only other important idols outside the Ka‘ba. They were the deities of as-Safa and al-Marwah. “On that occasion the lord of apostleship ordered A’li… to break to pieces Asãf and Nãylah… When these two idols were broken a rude black woman issued from one of them, when his holy and prophetic lordship said: ‘This is Nãylah. But she will never any more be worshipped in your country.’”44

At the same time, “The proclaimer authorised by the apostle of Allãh went throughout Mecca calling upon all those who believe in Allãh and the Last Day to leave no idol unbroken in their homes.”45

Having “purified” Mecca, the Prophet sent “expeditions to those idols which were in the neighbourhood and had them destroyed; these included al-‘Uzzã, Manãt, Suwã‘, Buãna and Dhu’l-Kaffayn.”46

The Temple of al-‘Uzzã

“Then the apostle sent Khãlid to al-‘Uzzã which was in Nakhla. It was a temple which the tribe of Quraysh and Kinãna and all MuDar used to venerate. Its guardians were B. Shaybãn of B. Sulaym, allies of B. Hãshim. When the Sulamî guardian heard of Khãlid’s coming he hung his sword on her, climbed the mountain on which she stood, and said:

O ‘Uzzã, make an annihilating attack of Khãlid,
Throw aside your veil and gird up your train.
O ‘Uzzã, if you do not kill this man Kãlid
Then bear a swift punishment or become a Christian.

When Khãlid arrived he destroyed her and returned to the apostle.”47 It is significant that the pagan priest saw no difference between becoming a Muslim and becoming a Christian.

The rest of the story is told in other sources. “He [the Prophet] asked him [Khãlid], ‘Did you see anything?’ Khãlid replied, ‘Nothing.’ He [the Prophet] said, ‘Go again, and smash her to pieces.’ Khãlid went back, demolished the building in which the idol was housed, and started smashing the idol itself. The [pagan] priest raised a cry, ‘O ‘Uzzã, manifest your might.’ All of a sudden a nude and dishevelled black woman came out of that idol. Khãlid cut her down with his sword and took possession of the jewels and ornaments she wore. He reported the proceedings to the Prophet who observed. ‘That was ‘Uzzã. She will be worshipped no more.”48 There is a tradition that when the expedition was sent to Nakhla for the destruction of al-‘Uzzã, the Prophet instructed Khãlîd, “In whatever settlement you do not hear the azãn or see no mosque, slaughter the people of that place.”49

The Temple of Suwã‘

“The apostle of Allãh sent ‘Amr b. al-‘Ãs towards [the temple of] Suwã‘, the idol of HuDayl, in order to destroy it. When ‘Amr arrived there, the priest [of the temple] asked him, ‘What do you want?’ ‘Amr replied, ‘The apostle of Allãh has commanded me to destroy this idol.’ He [the priest] said, ‘You cannot overpower him.’ ‘Amr asked, ‘Why?’ He [the priest] said, ‘He is well-protected.’ ‘Amr said. ‘You subscribe to falsehood even now?  May you perish!  Does he hear or see?’ ‘Amr approached the idol and smashed it. Then he ordered his companions to demolish the house which contained [the temple’s] treasure. That house yielded nothing.”50

The Temple of Al-Manãt

“The expedition to Manãt was sent under Sa‘d b. Zayd al-Ashahlî in the Ramzãn Of AH 8… It was the idol of Ghassãn, Aws and Khazraj in al-Mushallal… Sa‘d started with twenty cavalrymen and reached there at a time when the priest was in attendance. The priest asked them, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Destruction of Manãt.’ The priest exclaimed, ‘You, and want to do this!’ Sa‘d approached the idol. A black and nude and dishevelled woman came out and advanced towards him, cursing and beating her breast. The priest said, ‘O Manãt, manifest your might.’ Sa‘d started hitting her, and she was cut down. He had asked his companions to take care of the idol in the meanwhile. They smashed it. But the treasury yielded nothing,”51 Other sources attribute the destruction of the sanctuary of Manãt in Qudayd to ‘Alî bin Abû Tãlib, still others to Abû Sufyãn.52 One wonders whether more than one temple of Manãt was destroyed.

The Sacred Tree

Soon after the occupation of Mecca, the Prophet had to face a formidable alliance of pagan tribes that had assembled in the valley of Hunayn between Mecca and Tã’if. Ibn Ishãq records a tradition from Hãrith b. Mãlik: “We went forth with the apostle to the Hunayn fresh from paganism. The heathen Quraysh and other Arabs had a great green tree Dhãtu Anwãt to which they used to come every year and hang their weapons on it and sacrifice beside it and devote themselves to it for a day.” As the newly converted pagans saw that tree, they said to the Prophet, “Make us a tree to hang things on such as they have.” The Prophet chided them, comparing them to the people of Moses who wanted the latter to “make us a god even as they have gods.”53 It is not recorded whether the sacred tree was cut down at that time.  Perhaps the Prophet was in a hurry. But it is a safe bet that it was marked for destruction.

The army of Islam suffered a severe setback in the first round of the Battle of Hunayn. The newly converted pagans were overjoyed. Abû Sufyãn, when he saw the Muslims in headlong flight, observed, “They will not stop till they reach the seashore.” A pagan who had been granted respite from conversion for a specified period asked, “Has not sorcery [Islam] come to an end today?”54

The Prophet himself was in great danger. The situation was saved by lack of tactical skill on the pagan side. They failed to pursue the demoralised Muslim army, and were defeated by the counter-attack which followed after the Muslims managed to regroup. The remnants of their defeated allies took refuge in the fortified town of Tã’if. A Muslim poetess sang:

Allah’s cavalry has beaten Al-Lãt’s cavalry,
And Allah best deserves to hold fast.55

Al-Lãt was the chief Goddess of the allied pagan tribes, and had a renowned sanctuary in Tã’if. So the army of Islam advanced towards this town.

Temple of Dhu’l Kaffayn

On the way the Prophet detached Tufayl b. ‘Amr al-Dausî and sent him to destroy the temple of Dhu’l Kaffayn. It was maintained by his own tribe of Daus. He was to rejoin the main army after accomplishing the assignment. “He moved fast towards his people, and destroyed Dhu’l Kaffayn. As he set fire to the idol, starting from its face, he said:

O Dhu’l Kaffayn! we are not of those that obey you,
Our birth goes back much prior to your own.
See, I have stuffed your heart with fire.

Four hundred men from his tribe followed him when he went back to the Prophet.”56

The army of Islam was full of confidence when it arrived outside Tã’if. The court poet of the Prophet, Ka‘b b. Mãlik sang:

Al-Lãt and Al-‘Uzzã and Wudd are forgotten,
And we plunder them of their necklaces and earings.
And Shaddãd b. ‘ÃriD al-Jushamî said:
Don’t help A’-Lãt for God is about to destroy her
How can one who cannot help herself he helped?57

But the boast proved empty and al-Lãt survived on this occasion. Tã’if proved a hard nut to crack. “When he found the gates closed and determined resistance offered, he endeavoured to frighten the Thakafites by a wholesale destruction of their property. This was how he had dealt with the Banu Nadir. But the Thakafites were no Jews.”58 The siege had to be raised, though newly acquired heavy war-engines were employed for battering the city walls.

Temples Around Tã’if

The only satisfaction the Prophet could derive was from what he got done in the environs. He “ordered his glorious companions to fell the date-trees and to destroy the vineyards of the neighbourhood,” which acts were considered serious crimes according to the ethics of pagan warfare. The Prophet had learnt the art of total war from the Judaic and Christian scriptures. He also indulged in his most favourite pastime. “It is related in some biographies that while the siege of Tãyf was being carried on, his holy and prophetic lordship appointed A’li Murtadza with a number of glorious companions to make excursions into the country, and to destroy every idol they could find… Thereon A’li, the Commander of the Faithful… destroyed all the idols of the Bani Hoãzãn and Bani Thaqyf which were in that region. The apostle was waiting for his return near the gate of the fort of Tãyf, and as soon as the prince of saints had terminated his business, he joined the august camp, was received by the seal of prophets with the exclamation of the Takbyr…”59 No count of temples destroyed is available in the sources. They must have been many. Islamic invaders of India followed the example whenever they besieged a town.

The Mosque of Opposition

“The apostle,” reports of Ibn Ishãq, “went on until he stopped in Dhû Awãn a town an hour’s light journey from Medina. The owners of the mosque of opposition had come to the apostle as he was preparing for Tabûk saying, ‘We have built a mosque for the sick and needy and for nights of bad weather, and we should like you to come to us and pray for us there.’ He said that he was on the point of travelling, and was preoccupied, or words to that effect, and that when he came back he would come to them and pray for them in it.

“When he stopped in Dhû Awãn news of the mosque came to him, and he summoned Mãlik b. al-Dukhshum… and Ma‘n b. ‘Adîy… and told them to go to the mosque of those evil men and destroy and burn it. They went quickly to B. Sãlim b. ‘Auf who were Mãlik’s clan, and Mãlik said to Ma‘n, ‘Wait for me until I can bring fire from my people.’ So he went in and took a palm-branch and lighted it, and then the two of them ran into the mosque where its people were and burned and destroyed it and the people ran away from it.”60

The sources offer no evidence that this mosque was built on land acquired illegitimately, as some apologists of Islam like Ashgar Ali Engineer have been saying in the context of the Rãmajanmabhûmi controversy. The only point which emerges is that it was built by Muslims who did not see eye to eye with Muhammad. Margoliouth observes: “Of the rights and wrongs of this affair nothing decided will ever be known: the revelation in which it is mentioned,61 and which contains a variety of oracles delivered in connection with the expedition to Tabuk, is in a tone of bitterness and vexation such as disappointment and opposition are likely to engender in a man of Mohammed’s temperament. The people of Medinah and their new Bedouin allies are charged with harbouring Hypocrites: and it also appears that the Koran was beginning to give rise to criticism from which the Prophet had suffered at Meccah. When a new revelation comes down, people at Medinah ask each other sarcastically whether their faith had been increased. Knots of people are found talking and laughing: inspite of the most earnest denials, the Prophet is of the opinion that the Koran has provided the materials for their amusement… Mere is also one verse in the tirade suggesting that some of the malcontents disliked the plan of living on plunder which was now characteristic of Islam, and wished a more honest system inaugurated…”62

Obviously, the mosque of opposition was built by people who were monotheists like Muhammad but who did not believe that the doctrine enjoined bloodshed and rapine which had become the Muslims’ daily practice. Small wonder that Allãh of the Qur’ãn who sanctioned mass slaughter and endless accumulation of plunder by the faithful, did not approve of such “toothless” monotheism. So he moaned, “Is he who founded his building upon duty to Allãh and his good pleasure better; or he who founded his building on the brink of a crumbling, overhanging precipice so that it toppled with him into the fire of hell?”63

Invitations to Islam

The occupation of Mecca had sky-rocketled the prestige of the Prophet. “In deciding their attitude to Islam,” writes Ibn Ishãq, “the Arabs were only waiting to see what happened to the clan of Quraysh and the apostle. For Quraysh were the leaders and guides of men, the people of the sacred temple, and the pure stock of Ishmael son of Abraham; and the leading Arabs did not contest this. It was Quraysh who had declared war on the apostle and opposed him; and when Mecca was occupied and Quraysh became subject to him and he subdued it to Islam, and the Arabs knew that they could not fight the apostle or display enmity towards him they entered into God’s religion ‘in batches’ as God said,64 coming to him from all directions.”65 Muhammad’s war-machine was sending waves of terror towards all tribes, which was a very effective message. There was a debate afoot everywhere whether to fight for the ancient religion and tribal honour, or submit to Muhammad and become Muslim. The Prophet’s intelligence network kept him informed of what was happening where. He was swift in exploiting the psychological crisis to his own advantage.

The groundwork had been done during the preceding two years. Ibn Sa‘d provides a list of tribal chiefs to whom the Prophet had sent invitations to Islam, starting soon after the Treaty of Hudaybiya with the Meccans in the year AH 6.66 The letters containing his messages were carried by special couriers selected from among his companions. The message varied according to the status and strength of the tribe concerned. Unfortunately, Ibn Sa‘d has lumped together the invitations without regard for chronological sequence. This much, however, can be inferred that their tone became sharper as the author of the messages marched from one victory to another, the acme being reached in the conquest of Mecca and the Battle of Hunayn.

At first Muhammad wrote his letters beginning with basmak al-Laham, “I begin in the name of Allãh,” after the custom of the Quraysh. A special revelation came and he was commanded to begin with bismallãh, “In the name of Allãh.” Another revelation amended the formula to bismallãh al-RaHmãn al-RaHîm, “In the name of Allãh, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” Finally, it was revealed to him that he should begin with bismallãh al-RaHîm al-WaHîd, “In the name of Allãh, the Compassionate, the One.”67

The general tenor of the messages sent was the same-dissociate from the idolaters which meant an order to destroy pagan temples and break idols; bear witness that Allãh is one without partners and Muhammad is his messenger; establish prayers which meant an order to build mosques; pay zakãt and other taxes to the central treasury at Medina; send to the Prophet one-fifth of the plunder obtained from raids on the polytheists; and keep the highways free from disturbance so that Muslim delegations can travel unmolested for converting people and collecting taxes. In exchange, the tribes were assured that they could keep their lands, their cattle, their wells, their gardens, their houses and such of their special customs as did not come in conflict with Islam. Defiance, they were warned, will entail slaughter of their men, capture of their women and children, and laying waste of their country. And punitive expeditions were sent to those tribal settlements which molested the Prophet’s messengers or otherwise refused to abide by his dictates.68 The fear was abroad that “the Prophet of Allãh may send a military force.”69 When Banî Tamîm refused to pay zakãt, they were attacked, and eleven of their women and thirty of their children were captured and dragged to Medina.”70

The Year of Deputations

“When the apostle had gained possession of Mecca,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “and had finished with Tabûk, and Thaqîf had surrendered and paid homage, deputations from the Arabs came to him from all directions.”71 Ibn Sa‘d lists as many as seventy-one deputations which waited on Muhammad in Medina, the last one being on behalf of the wolves.”72 It seems that the beasts also had taken fright and were prepared to become Muslims or the beasts felt that they, too, could confess the faith without suffering inconvenience.

Strangely enough, a deputation came to Muhammad from Tã’if soon after he had suffered a repulse outside that city. It seems that the morale of the people in this town has collapsed as they saw what was happening all around. The deputation met Muhammad even before he had reached Medina. It was led by ‘Urwa b. Mas‘ûd al-Thaqafî who was one of the leaders of resistance when Tã’if was besieged by the army of Islam. ‘Urwa requested Muhammad to make him a Muslim so that he could go back and invite his people to the true faith. He was baptised and sent back. But “when he went up to an upper room and showed his religion to them they shot arrows at him from all directions, and one hit him and killed him.”73

The debate in Tã’if, however, did not come to an end. One of their chiefs said, “We are in an impasse. You have seen how the affair of this man has progressed. All the Arabs have accepted Islam and you lack the power to fight them, so look to your ease… So after conferring together they dicided to send a man to the apostle as they had sent ‘Urwa…”74 The man approached for the job refused to go alone. Finally a deputation consisting of six chiefs reached Medina and met the Prophet.

The Temple of Al-Lãt

“Among the things they asked the apostle,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “was that they should be allowed to retain their idol Al-Lãt undestroyed for three years. The apostle refused, and they continued to ask him for a year or two, and he refused; finally they asked for a month after their return home, but he refused to agree to any set time. All that they wanted as they were trying to show was to be safe from their fanatics and women and children by leaving her, and they did not want to frighten their people by destroying her until they had accepted Islam.

The apostle refused this… They had also asked that he would excuse them from prayer and they should not have to break their idols with their own hands. The apostle said: ‘We excuse you from breaking your idols with your own hands, but as for prayer there is no good in a religion which has no prayers.’ They said that they would perform them though it was demeaning…

“When they had accomplished their task and had set out to return to their country the apostle sent with then Abû Sufyãn and al-Mughîra to destroy their idol. They travelled with the deputation and when they neared al-Tã’if, al-Mughîra wanted to send on Abû Sufyãn in advance. The latter refused and told him to go to his people while he stayed in the property of Dhû’l-Haram.75 When al-Mughîra entered he went up to the idol and struck it with a pick-axe. His people the B. Mu‘attib stood in front of him fearing that he would be shot or killed as ‘Urwa had been. The women of Thaqîf came out with their heads uncovered bewailing her and saying:

O weep for our protector
Poltroons would neglect her
Whose swords need a corrector.

Abû Sufyãn, as al-Mughîra smote her with the axe, said, ‘Alas for you, alas!’ When al-Mughîra had destroyed her and taken what was on her and her jewels he sent for Abû Sufyãn when her jewellery and gold and beads had been collected.

“Now Abû MulayH b. ‘Urwa and Qãrib b. al-Aswad had come to the apostle before the Thaqîf deputation when ‘Urwa was killed, desiring to separate themselves from Thaqîf and to have nothing to do with them… ‘Urwa asked the apostle to settle a debt his father had incurred from the property of the idol. The apostle agreed and Qãrib b. al-Aswad asked for the same privilege for his father… The apostle said, ‘But al-Aswad died a polytheist.’ He answered, ‘But you will be doing a favour to a Muslim a near relation,’ meaning himself… The apostle ordered Abû Sufyãn to satisfy the debts of ‘Urwa and al-Aswad from the property of the idol…”76

‘Urwa and al-Aswad show the stuff of which voluntary converts to Islam were made. Most of them were questionable characters.

Temples of B. Sa‘d B. Bakr

They sent their chief, Dimãm b. Tha‘laba, to the Prophet. Dimãm asked some questions and ended by becoming a Muslim. He went back to his people and said, “How evil are al-Lãt and al-‘Uzzã!” His people rebuked him, “Heavens above, Dimãm, beware of leprosy and elephantiasis and madness!” He replied, “Woe to you, they can neither hurt nor heal. God has sent an apostle and sent down to him a book, so seek deliverance thereby from your present state..."77 He then destroyed the idols “It was not yet evening that day that all men and women became Muslamans. They built mosques and recited azãns so that people came to prayers.”78

The Temple of B. Sulaym

Seven hundred people from B. Sulaym had waited on the Prophet while he was in Qudayd on his way to Mecca, which he occupied soon after. They went to him again after the conquest of Mecca, Battle of Hunayn and the siege of Tã’if. Their leader Ghãdî b. ‘Abû al-‘Uzzã was the keeper of their temple. The Prophet bestowed upon him the estate of Rehãtã which had a spring in it. He came back and composed the following couplets about the idol he had worshipped earlier:

How can that be, God, on whom
The foxes came and stated?
He is abominable without a doubt,
He on whom the foxes staled.

He attacked the idol and smashed it to pieces. When he waited upon the Prophet with this report, he was asked, “What is your name?” He said, “Ghãdî ‘Abd al-‘Uzzã.” The Prophet said, “You are Rãshid b. ‘Abd
Raba.”79 People whose names referred to pagan Gods were always given new names by the Prophet-names which referred to the god of Islam.

The Christian Church of Yamãma

A deputation of nineteen men from B. Hanîfa came to Medina. They were given rich food and instructed in Islam by the Prophet. Each of them was given five ounces of silver as a gift. When they got ready to go back, the Prophet gave them a vessel of water with which he had performed his ablutions. He said, “When you return to your country, destroy the church, wash the site with water, and build a mosque on it.” They did accordingly. The priest in charge of the church ran away. His days were over.”80

The Temples of Fils and RuDã’ in Tayy

“The Prophet sent ‘Alî b. Abî Tãlib towards the temple of Fils belonging to the tribe of Tayy, with an order to destroy it… He went with two hundred horsemen…”81

“‘Alî inflicted atrocities on them and took prisoners from among them. He obtained two swords from the temple; one of them was named Rasûb, the other Makhzam. It was well-known that these swords had been brought as an offering to the temple by Hãrith b. Abî Thamar. Among the prisoners was a sister of ‘Adi b. Hãtim…”82 Hãtim Tayy, the father of the girl, was a pagan chief renowned for his liberality. Islamic lore at present tells many stories about him without revealing that he was a pagan. The temple of Fils which was destroyed was on Mount Aja‘. Another deity of Tayy was RuDã’.83 His temple, too, met the same fate.

The Temple of ‘Amm Anas

A deputation consisting of ten men came to Medina from Khaulan in the year AH 10. They informed the Prophet that they were Muslims. The Prophet asked, “What about your idol of ‘Amm Anas?” They replied, “That is in a bad shape. We have exchanged him for Allãh whom you have brought. When we go back, we shall destroy him.” They were instructed in Islam and entertained lavishly. After a few days, the Prophet ordered that each of them be given twelve and a half ounces of silver as reward. They went back and destroyed the idol of ‘Amm Anas “even before they untied their luggage.”84

The Temple of ‘Uzra

A deputation of twelve men from B. ‘Uzra came to Medina and said to the Prophet, “We are worried about our people.” The Prophet instructed them in Islam and gave them gifts. He was told that the idol of ‘Uzra had spoken and confirmed his prophethood. He observed, “This seems to be a believing jinn.”85 Idols, too, it seems, could become believers. It is not recorded whether the idol was kept or removed.

The Temple of Al-Jahîna

‘Amr b. Marrah al-Jahnî relates, “We had an idol which we used to honour. I was its keeper. When I heard of the Prophet, I destroyed it. Then I went to Medina and became a Muslim. I composed the following verse:

I bear witness that Allãh is true,
I am the first to renounce stone idols.”86

The Temple of Farrãz

Dbab, a man from the tribe of Sa‘d al-Ashîra attacked the idol named Farrãz and smashed it to pieces. He went with a deputation to the Prophet and said:

I became a follower of the Prophet
When he brought (good) instructions.
I consigned Farrãz to a status of dishonour,
I attacked him and left him in a state
As if he never existed; this is the time of revolutions.87

The Temple of Dhu’l-KhalaSa

Jarîr b. ‘Abd-allãh al-Bahlî came to Medina with one hundred and fifty men. All of them professed Islam. The Prophet asked Jarîr about those whom he had left behind. Jarîr replied, “O apostle of Allãh!  Allãh has made Islam dominant among them. Azãn prevails from mosques and courtyards. They have destroyed the idols they used to worship.” The Prophet asked, “What happened to the idol of Dhu’l KhalaSa?” He was told, “He is as before. Allãh willing, we will be rid of him.” The Prophet sent them back. Jarîr returned before long and reported, “I have destroyed the idols and taken whatever it wore. I set fire to it and reduced it to such a state that whoever had honoured him will now hate him. No one stopped us from doing this.”88

“It is reported that after the burning and destruction of the idol-temple the inhabitants of Dhu’l-Khalasa attained the nobility of Islam. The treasury belonging to that temple contained much property and perfumes, all of which was brought to Medinah. When his holy and prophetic lordship heard what had taken place, and that the idol-temple had been demolished, he rejoiced greatly, inviting a benediction on Jaryr and his tribe…”89

“Some of the idols were made use of for other purposes, as for example the idol of Dhu’l-KhalaSa, a white piece of marble in which a crown was carved and which was worshipped at Tabãla, a place on the road from Mekka to Yaman, was in the time of Ibn al-Kalbî (about AH 200) used as a stepping-stone under the mosque at Tabãla…”90

The Temple of RuDã’

It was the temple of B. Rabî‘a, a branch of B. Tamîm. Al-Mustaughir b. Rabî‘a, a man of the same tribe, destroyed it.  He sang:

I smashed RuDã’ so completely that
I left it a black ruin in a hollow.91

Surveying the scene in the year of deputations, Margoliouth sums up, “The iconoclasm which had raged at Medinah at the time of the Prophet’s arrival spread far and wide, now it had been clearly proved that the old gods were incapable of defending themselves or of even taking revenge on those who broke them. Facts which had remained unheeded for generations suddenly began to suggest important inferences: one man observed that his god suffered himself to be desecrated by beasts, and declined henceforward to worship a deity on whom the foxes staled. The persons who hurry to place their incense on the altar of success are familiar figures in all ages: and many a comedy was enacted at these visits…”92


Thus the practices of the Prophet or his Sunnah vis-a-vis idols and idol-temples was added to prescriptions of the Qur’ãn in this respect, and the Islamic theology of iconoclasm stood completed. Ever since, iconoclasm has been a prominent as well a permanent part of the theology of Islam.

Allãh had denounced the idols and their worship as abominable. His prophet got the idols broken or burnt, and their temples destroyed.

The Prophet added a few nuances on his own. He got the sites and materials of pagan temples used in the construction of mosques that replaced them. In many cases, idols were placed on the footsteps of the mosques so that the faithful could trample upon them while entering and coming out of Allãh’s abodes. These acts, too, became pious precedents and were followed by Islamic invaders wherever they came across idols.

The Place of Sunnah in Islam

People who have not studied the theology of Islam as expounded in orthodox treatises, believe that Islam stands for obedience to the commandments of Allãh as revealed in the Qur’ãn. They do not know that Allãh is no more than mere window-dressing and that for all practical purposes the Prophet rules the roost.

Muhammad had made Allãh into his private preserve when he proclaimed that no one except him knew the will of Allãh first-hand, and that he alone will intercede on the Day of Judgment for deciding who will enter paradise and who will sink into hell. Going further, he made Allãh helplessly dependent on the Muslim millat when he prayed on the eve of the battle of Badr, “O God, if this band perishes today, Thou will be worshipped no more.”93 This became a refrain in every Muslim prayer offered on the eve of every battle fought in the history of Islam against the infidels. Allãma Iqbal was not innovating when he addressed Allãh in his Shikwah and asked, “Did anyone before us bother about you?” Shikwah or complaint is a long poem written by the “great poet of Islam” in the first decade of this century, and expresses the anguish of Islam vis-a-vis the rise of Christians in the West and Hindus in India.

Muslims have a popular saying in Persian language, “bã Khudã dîwãnã bãsh wa bã Muhammad hoshiyãr,” that is, one may become wild about Allãh but one should beware when it comes to Muhammad. Khudã is the Persian word for Allãh. Islam is, therefore, spelled out more correctly when it is called Muhammadanism. For, it is not Allãh but Muhammad who sits at the heart of Islam and controls its head as well.

The process of deifying the life-style of the Prophet had started in his own life-time. Margoliouth observes, “He inherited the devotion and adulation which had hitherto been bestowed on the idols; and though he never permitted the word worship to be used of the ceremonies of which he was the object, he ere long became hedged in with a state which differed little form that which surrounded a god…”94 The concept of the Sunnah, that is, the practices of the Prophet, had also developed towards the end of his days.95

The rightly-guided Caliphs who followed the Prophet regarded the Sunnah as a sure key to success. Quirks of history, which gave many victories to the Muslim arms in the first century AH, convinced the theologians of Islam that the Sunnah was divine in its inspiration. They became busy in collecting and collating every detail of the Prophet’s practices, from the act of coughing to that of waging holy wars and administrating what had become his exclusive kingdom. The Sunnah was soon placed on par with the Qur’ãn. “In the Qur’an,” they propounded, “Allah speaks through Muhammad; in the Sunnah, He acts through him. Thus Muhammad’s life is a visible expression of Allãh’s utterances in the Qur’ãn. God provides the divine principle, Muhammad the living pattem.”96

While the ulamã expounded the Sunnah to the sultãns, it was the sûfîs who practised it most meticulously. The very first sûfî illustrated what the Sunnah stood for. Farîdu’d-Dîn Attãr gives the story of Uwaysh Qarnî who lived in the days of the Prophet but had never met or seen him. ‘Umar and ‘Alî were on a visit to Kufa when they learnt that Qarnî lived in the valley of ‘Urfa, grazing cattle and eating dry bread. They went to see him. “The honourable Uwaysh said, ‘You are Companions of the Prophet. Could you tell me which one of his sacred teeth was martyred in the battle of Uhud? Why have you not broken all your teeth out of reverence for the Prophet?’ This said, he opened his mouth and showed that all his teeth were gone. He explained, ‘When I learnt that a tooth of the Prophet had been martyred, I broke one of mine. Then I thought that perhaps some other tooth of his had been martyred. So I broke all my teeth, one after another. It is only after that that I felt at peace’. Having heard him the two Companions got awestruck, and felt convinced that this was the correct conduct…”97

The Sunnah has been the prison-house in which the world of Islam has lived ever since. Every pious Muslim aspires to do things exactly as the Prophet did. Aping the Prophet in the matter of destroying other peoples places of worship, and building mosques with their materials is no exception. A Muslim who can do this pious deed but does not do it, disobeys the Prophet.

There are very few historical mosques, particularly Jãma‘ Masjids, in the world of Islam which do not stand on sites occupied earlier by other people’s places of worship. Many Christian churches yielded place to mosques all over West Asia, North Africa, Spain and South-eastern Europe, even though Christians were People of the Book whose places of worship were to be protected once they agreed to become zimmîs. Fire-temples of the Zoroastrians suffered the same fate all over what constituted the empire of Iran on the eve of the Muslim conquest. The greatest havoc, however, was wrought in the vast cradle of Hindu culture where hundreds of thousands of Buddhist Brahmanical, Jain and other Hindu temples disappeared or yielded place to mosques and other Muslim monuments.

Today there are no Hindu temples in the Central Asian republics of Russia, Sinkiang province of China, Makran and Seistan provinces of Iran, and the whole of Afghanistan, all of which were honeycombed with them before the advent of Islam. Whatever Hindu temples had come up during the Sikh and British rule in what are now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh, are fast disappearing. The same has been happening in the valley of Kashmir.

The Archaeological Survey of India, which included Pakistan and Bangladesh till 1947, has identified many mosques and other Muslim monuments which stand on the sites of Hindu temples and/or have temple materials embedded in their masonry. Many inscriptions in Arabic and Persian bear testimony that Hindu temples were destroyed for constructing mosques. Local traditions can point out many more mosques which have replaced Hindu temples. Cartloads of Hindu idols are known to have been brought and placed on the steps of the Jãmi‘ Masjids in several cities which were Muslim capitals at one time. Some of those idols may still be buried under the stairs of the same mosques. In short, the study of Islamic iconoclasm in this country, not to speak of the whole cradle of Hindu culture, has yet to make a meaningful start.

What we have proved beyond doubt is that destroying other people’s places of worship and converting them into Muslim monuments is not only sanctioned but also prescribed by the tenents of Islam, the same way as reciting the kalima, doing namãz, paying zakãt, keeping rozah, and going on hajj. Anyone who says that Islam does not permit this practice is either ignorant of the creed, or has been deceived by Islamic apologetics developed in recent time. If a Muslim scholar or politician makes this statement, he is talking tongue-in-cheek, and stands exposed as a knave.


1 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit, pp. 10- 11. The pagan Gods are supposed to be dead matter in the lore of the prophetic creeds. But, as we have seen and shall see, these Gods not only speak but also produce live beings, animal as well as human, whenever they are threatened with destruction.

2 Ibid., pp. 15-16.

3 The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit., p. 33.

4 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 22.

5 D.S. Margoliouth. op. cit., p. 37.

6 Ibid., p. 104.

7 Ibid., pp. 69-70.

8 The Rauzal-us-Safa, op. cit., P. 85.

9 Ibid., pp. 89-90.

10 Ibid., p. 92.

11 Translated from ‘Alãma Abdullãh al-Ahmdî’s Urdu version of Tabqãt-i-ibn Sa‘d, Part I: Akhbãr an-Nabî, Karachi, (n.d.), p. 233.

12 The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit., Vol. I, pt. II, p. 115.

13 Tabqãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op. cit., pp. 245-46.

14 Ibid., p. 250. Idols can speak when it concerns prophets.

15 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 80.

16 The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit., p. 127.

17 Ibid., p. 128.

18 Insert from Ibn Khallikãn in Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 115.

19 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. VII, p. 562.

20 See The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit, Vol. II, pt. II, pp. 599-600. Also Saiyid Safdar Hosain. The Early History of Islam, Lucknow 1933, Delhi Reprint 1985, Vol. I, pp. 193-94.

21 The Rauzat-us-Safa. op. cit., p. 179.

22 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., pp. 207.

23 Ibid., pp. 227-28.

24 Translated from the Urdu version of SaHîh Bukhãrî Sharîf, New Delhi, 1984, Vol. I, p. 240. See also the Urdu version of Sunn Nasãî Sharîf, New Delhi, 1986, Vol. I, p. 240, and Tãrîkh-i-Tabarî, Vol. I, Sîrat an-Nabî, Karachi (n.d), p. 145.

25 Ibn Hishãm’s notes in Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 775. “Marked men” means men carrying military colours or standards signifying various formations.

26 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 546.

27 The verse was cited whenever Muslim invaders destroyed Hindu temples.

28 Ibid., op. cit., p. 552.

29 The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit., Vol. II, pt. II, p. 599.

30 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. VII, p. 147.

31 Cyril Glasse op. cit., p. 179.

32 Ibid., p. 160.

33 First Encyclopaedia of Islam. op. cit., Vol. VII, pp. 147-48.

34 Translated from the Urdu version of Mishkãt Sharîf, Delhi (n.d.), Vol. I, P. 572.

35 Ibid., p. 574.

36 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 552.

37 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 587.

38 Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 387.

39 First Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. IV, p. 587

40 Translated from the Urdu version of Jãmi‘ Tirmizi, New Delhi, 1983, Vol. I, p. 330.

41 The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit., Vol. I, pt. II, p. 133.

42 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 591.

43 Ibid., Vol., III, p. 200. We shag deal with this subject further in Appendix 2.

44 The Rauzat us-Safa, op. cit., Vol. II, pt. II, P. 599.

45 Tabqãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op. cit., p. 478. See also Martin Ling, Muhammad, Rochester, (Vermont, USA), 1983, p. 301.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 565.

48 Tãrîkh-i-Tabarî, op. cit., pp. 404-05.

49 Tabãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op. cit, p. 488.

50 Ibid., p. 85.

51 Ibid., pp. 485-86.

52 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. V, pp. 231-32.

53 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., pp. 568-69.

54 Tãrîkh-i-Tabarî, op. cit., p. 413.

55 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 572.

56 Tabqãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op. cit., p. 496.

57 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit. p. 588.

58 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 404.

59 The Rauzal-us-Safa, op. cit, Vol. II, pt. II, pp. 630-31. Takbîr is the Muslim war-cry, Allãhu Akbar.

60 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 609.

61 Qur’ãn, Sûra 9. This is the last Sûra of Qur’ãn, speaking chronologically. It shows the frustration of Muhammad at the failure of his mission. Allãh says that most people who had converted to Islam were hypocrites, that is, pagans at heart.

62 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., pp. 424-45.

63 Qur’ãn, 9.109.

64 Ibid., Sûra 110.

65 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit, p. 628. Reference to Abraham and Ishmeal may be ignored as concoctions.

66 Tabãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op.cit, Part II, pp. 29-64.

67 Ibid., p. 35.

68 Ibid., p. 53.

69 Ibid., p. 62.

70 Ibid., p. 67.

71 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 627.

72 Tabqãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 64-136.

73 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit, p. 614.

74 Ibid., 615.

75 Al-Mughîra belonged to Tã’if and was an earlier convert.

76 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., pp. 615-17.

77 Ibid., p. 635.

78 Tabqãt-i-Ibn-Sa‘d, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 73.

79 Ibid., p. 81.

80 Ibid., p. 90-91.

81 Ibid., p. 97.

82 Tãrîkh-i-Tabarî, op. cit., p. 445.

83 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 624.

84 Tabqãt-i-Ibn Sa‘d, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 100.

85 Ibid., p. 107.

86 Ibid., p. 109.

87 Ibid., p. 118.

88 Ibid., pp. 123-24.

89 The Rauzat-us-Safa, op. cit., Vol.  II, pt. II, pp. 677-79.

90 First Encyclopaedia Islam, op. cit., Vol. VII, p. 147.

91 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 39.

92 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., pp. 431-32.

93 Sîrat Rasûl Allãh, op. cit., p. 300.

94 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 216.

95 Sirat Rasûl Allãh, op. cit., p. 645-46.

96 Ram Swarup, Understanding Islam through Hadis: Religious Faith or Fanaticism?, Voice of India, New Delhi, Second Reprint, 1987, p. vii.

97 Shaykh Farîdu’d-Dîn Attãr, Tadhkirãt al-Awliyã‘ translated into Urdu by Maulãna Zubayr Afzal Usmãnî, Delhi n.d., p. 16.

Back to Contents Page   Back to VOI Books   Back to Home