Chapter Four
In the Name of Religion
Sita Ram Goel

We shall now take up the explanation provided by the theology of Islam derived from the Quran and the Hadis.

Ibn Ishaq, the first biographer of the Prophet, devotes many pages to a description of Arab polytheism at the time when Islam started taking shape.  Every Arab household, he tells us, had an idol of some God or Goddess.  He also gives the names of many idols which were housed in sanctuaries maintained by different tribes across the Arab peninsula.  The Ka‘ba at Mecca which housed 360 idols was only one of these sanctuaries, though it was the most prestigious.  One of the idols in the Ka’ba was named Allah.  Though it had some primacy over other idols, it was far from being an exclusive deity.  Besides, there were many sacred groves and places of pilgrimage visited by Arabs on special occasions.

At the same time, Ibn Ishaq informs us that Monotheism was becoming an attractive creed among some sections of the Arab elite.  It was the creed of the Roman, Iranian and Abyssinian empires which inspired awe and admiration among the Arabs at that time.  Many Jews and Christians were present, individually or in communities, in the more important Arab towns.  These People of the Book took great pride in their worship of the one and only God and looked down upon the Arabs who had had no Prophet, who possessed no Book and who worshipped stones and stocks.  They aroused a sense of inferiority in the minds of those Arabs who came in close contact with them but who were not equipped with an alternate theology that could defend their own Gods and Goddesses.  Such Arabs looked forward to the day when Arabia also would have a Prophet and a Book of its own.

Those who have compared the Bible and the Quran know how close the two are in spirit and language on the subject of idols and idol-worshippers.  Like Jehovah of the Bible, Allah also advances his claim to be the one and only God.  He denounces the mushriks (idolaters) as the doubly damned category of kafirs (unbelievers) when compared to the other category, the People of the Book.  The idols, proclaims Allah while abrogating the so-called Satanic Verses, are mere names invented by the ancestors of the Arabs.  They have neither eyes nor ears nor hands nor feet and can, therefore, neither help nor harm.  They cannot respond to prayers and will fail to save their worshippers from bell on the Day of Judgement.  They will themselves burn in the fire of hell together with those who worship them.  Meanwhile, they render their worshippers napak (abominable) in the eyes of Allah.

In the early days of Islam, Muslims were too weak to practice iconoclasm at Mecca.  They had to rest content with expressing their contempt for idols.  Food which had first been offered to idols was spurned.  Names which referred to some pagan God or Goddess were changed as soon as the bearers entered the fold of Islam.  But the clarion call had come.  “Herd them together,” said Allah, “those who commit transgression and those whom they worship, and start them on the road to hellfire” (Quran, 37.22-23). The Prophet saw Amr bin Lubayy “dragging his intestines in Fire.” Amr was a second century king, supposed to have brought idols from Syria and set them up in Arabia.

Medina where Muslims were stronger witnessed some acts of iconoclasm even before the Prophet migrated to that city.  Ibn Ishaq tells us how the idol of Amr Ibnul-Jamuh was stolen at night by a group of Muslims and thrown into a cesspit, again and again till Amr lost faith in it and became a Muslim.  At nearby Quba, Sahl broke up the idols of his tribe at night and took the pieces to a Muslim woman who used them as fuel.

The Prophet made iconoclasm a pious performance for all Muslims for all time to come when he practised it himself on the very day he conquered Mecca.  “When the Prophet,” writes Ibn Ishaq, “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 burnt with fire and broken up.” Citing some other sources, the Encyclopaedia of Islam says, “Muhammad when he entered Mecca as victor is stated to have struck them in the eyes with the end of his bow before he had them dragged down and destroyed by fire.” Pictorial representations of Ali standing on the shoulders of the Prophet and tearing down the idol of Hubal from top of a Ka‘ba wall, have been published by Shias.1

Soon after, expeditions were sent to other parts of Arabia for doing what had been done at Mecca.  Idols were smashed and temples destroyed or converted into mosques everywhere, Muslim poets vied with each other to record the events in rapturous verse.  Fazal bin al-Mulawwih sang:

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,
In darkness covering the face of idolatry.
And Kab bin Malik:
We foresook al-Lat, al-Uzza and Wudd
We stripped off their necklaces and earrings.
And al-Mustaughir Bin Rabia who was a warrior as well as a poet:
I smashed Ruda so completely that
I left it a black ruin in a hollow.

“Growing Islam,” concludes the Encyclopaedia of Islam, “was from the very beginning intent upon the destruction of all traces of pagan idolatry and was so successful that the anti-quarians of the second and third century of the Hadira could glean only very scanty details.  Some of the idols were made use of for other purposes, as for example, the idol Dhul-Kalasa… which was worshipped at Tabala, a place on the road from Mekka to Yaman in the time of Ibn al-Kalbi (about 200 A.D.), was used as a stepping stone under the door of the mosque at Tabala.  Other stones which had been worshipped as idols were actually used as corner-stones of the Ka‘ba.”

Muslim historians tell us on the authority of the Prophet that idolaters of Arabia had set up idols in places which were meant to be mosques when they were established for the first time by Abraham.  The mosque of Ka‘ba, we are told, had been built by Abraham at the very centre of the earth.2  Those who dismiss Rama as mythological gossip and deny him a place of birth at Ayodhya may well enquire whether Abraham was a historical person who actually presided over the building of the Ka‘ba.

It is, however, recorded history that the armies of Islam did everywhere what had been done in Arabia, as they advanced into Iran, Khorasan, Transoxiana, Seistan, Afghanistan and India.  Hundreds of thousands of Fire Temples of the Zoroastrians, Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples disappeared or yielded place to mosques, ziarats and dargahs.  Modern archaeology, has reconstructed what happened along the trail of Islamic invasion of all these ancient lands.

Maulana Minhaj-us-Siraj, the thirteenth century historian, sums up the theology of Islam vis-a-vis idols and idol-temples when he comes to Mahmud of Ghazni in his Tabqat-i-Nasiri. “He was endowed,” he writes, “with great virtues and vast abilities; and the same predominant star was in the ascendant at his birth as appeared at the dawn of Islam itself.  When Sultan Mahmud ascended the throne of sovereignty his illustrious deeds became manifest unto all mankind within the pale of Islam when he converted so many thousands of idol-temples into masjids and captured many of the cities of Hindustan… He led an army to Naharwala of Gujarat, and brought away Manat, the idol from Somnath, and had it broken into four parts, one of which was cast before the centre of the great masjid at Ghaznin, the second before the gateway of the Sultan’s palace, and the third and fourth were sent to Makkah and Madinah respectively.” Mahmud’s coins struck at Lahore in the seventh year of his reign describe him as the “right hand of the Caliph” and “the breaker of idols.”

This is the simple and straightforward explanation of why Islamic invaders desecrated the idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, destroyed Hindu temples and converted them into mosques.  It covers all facts, completely and consistently, and leaves no loopholes.

Indian Express, May 21, 1989


1 When Muhammad entered the Ka‘ba after his conquest of Mecca by overwhelming force, he declared, “Truth has come and falsehood has vanished” (Sahih Muslim, 4397).  Ram Swarup comments, “It takes more than an invading army or crusaders or a demolition squad with sledge-hammers to establish the domain of Truth… Similarly, it is not that easy to get over ‘falsehood’… True spiritual demolition involves the demolition of desire-gods and ego-gods, the demolition of the false gods that reside in conceited theologies, in pretentious revelations and fond belief…” (Understanding Islam Through Hadis, Voice of India, Second Reprint, 1987, Pp. 115-16.)

2 The Prophet of Islam gave not only a new, ‘religion’ to his country-men but also a new history of Arabia, the same as the prophets of Secularism have been doing in India since the days of Pandit Nehru’s dominance.

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