prevailed amongst the Arabs despite the conversion to Judaism and Christianity
of neighbouring nations. These two religions are admittedly monotheistic
in nature, and are positively opposed to Heathenism and polytheism. The
protracted adherence of the Arabs to their idolatry practices may be explained
by their attachment to the tribal system which regarded each tribe as a
separate entity with its own traditions and beliefs. The individual was
merged in the tribe representing the ideal for which he would be ready
to live and die. This subjectivistic attitude sprang from the fact that
every tribe worshipped a certain deity peculiar to itself and unrecognised
by others, and hence the plurality of idols.
Each tribe had its own idol to which sacrifices and offerings were made,
and whose worship involved certain rituals and ceremonials intended to
win the idol's blessing and favour. Hence the idol Manat that was worshipped
by the Aus and Khazrag; Ozza worshipped by Quraish; Lata worshipped by
Thaqif, and Hubal worshipped by Khoziman. There were in fact as many idols
as there were tribes, and it is said that the Kabah contained 360 idols
when Mecca fell to the advent of Islam.
The Arabs were not the only idolatrous people, since idol worship pervaded
other communities in their early history. That is why Judaism condemned
the erection of statues, lest they should again be worshipped by those
converted to monotheism. It was for this reason too, that Islam condemned
similar practices particularly during the early days of its mission.
The popular names designating different idols formerly worshipped in Arabia,
seem to suggest their foreign origin, and this, in a sense, may have been
the implication of the Quranic text:
"They are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which
Allah has revealed no warrant". (Verse 23 Surah Al Najm).
Idolatry may have come to the Arabs from Yemen and the Levant or through
other channels, and was taken up by the Arabs because it suited their emotional
and mental makeup at a time when they were a backward primitive community,
preferring the concrete to the abstract, and a tangible idol to the unseen
God. The idol was the form which their primitive mind could conceive as
God. Al Kalby (well known historian) relates that the idol Wud represented
the statue of a majestic man dressed in two uniforms, armed with a sword,
a bow on his shoulder, and in front of him a lance standard and a bag of
arrows Such, at least, was the picture of the idol as seen by the masses.
The more enlightened, however, approached the conceptual level, and supposed
the idols to be angels of God through whom mediation and supplication was
possible. This perhaps explains the hymn sung by those of Quraish while
practising their devotion : (( Al Lat and Al Ozza... and Manat... these
are the three super beings through whom we seek mediation )). They claimed
that these were God's daughters through whom mediation was possible. Hence
the scathing ridicule of this monstrous assumption in the Divine verse:
"Are yours the males and His the females? That indeed
were an unfair division" (Verse 22, Surah : Al Najm).
In a subsequent text God says
"Lo ! it is those who disbelieve in the Hereafter who name the angels with
the names of females. And they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but
a guess, and lo ! a guess can never take the place of the truth." (verse
28, Al Najm).
"and should they be questioned who created heaven and earth, their answer
is God" (Verse 25, Surah Luqman).
And further :
"Should they be questioned who created them. their answer would be God."
(verse 87, Surah Al Zukhruf).
In another direct expression
"We worship them only in so far as they serve our approach to God". (Verse
3, Surah : Al Zumur).
Idolatry is perhaps the phase through which must pass every community before
it comes to monotheism and the worship of one God. This phrase may be prolonged
or shortened according to the circumstances and influences moulding every
community in its social setting. A community like that of the Arabs, living
in a tractless desert almost in complete isolation, confined to tribal
traditions and practices, and glorifying its ancestry, must abide by idolatry
for generations, to the exclusion of higher religions. Further, it must
resist the call of monotheism for long, whether it originates in its homeland
or somewhere else.