The State of Prophet Muhammad’s (P) Religious Beliefs Before the Advent of Prophethood

Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi

Adapted from M. Mohar Ali’s “Sirat al-Nabi and the Orientalists: With Special Reference to the Writings of William Muir, D.S. Margoliuth and W. Montgomery Watt”, King Fahd Complex, Makkah (1997)

The missionaries have recently introduced several claims about the early state of the Prophet Muhammad’s (P) religious beliefs. Their aim is to show that:

    One thing that sticks out in Islam is that most of the rites and practices adopted into the religion are actually pagan customs that Muhammad claimed were sanctioned by God. In fact, we find that Muhammad before, during, and after his mission continued to perform rites that from a biblical perspective are nothing more than idolatry.

It is interesting to note that most of his arguments “from a biblical [SIC] perspective” are nothing new. They are arguments rehashed from orientalists in the last century who allege that the Prophet’s(P) religious attitude and practices prior to the coming of the Revelations were no different from his people. Most of these claims were spearheaded by D.S. Margoliuth1 and subsequent writers followed him, including this missionary whom we are addressing. While the motivations of Margoliuth and the missionary in making these allegations are not the same, the similarities of Margoliuth’s claims and the missionary article in question are based on several points, namely that:

  • He [the Prophet(P)] confessed to have at one time sacrificed an ewe to al-‘Uzza.
  • It was the monotheist Zaid bin ‘Amr who inspired the Prophet to dislike meat offered to other idols.
  • The Prophet(P) had retained several practices of pre-Islamic Arabia, of which the missionary takes it even further to claim that they were “repackaged it in a monotheistic context”.

M. Mohar Ali in his magnum opus Sirat al-Nabi and the Orientalists2 have responded to Margoliuth’s argument in detail under the sub-heading “CONCERNING THE STATE OF HIS [the Prophet Muhammad’s (P)] RELIGIOUS BELIEFS”. Hence our proceeding material will be based on this relevant chapter3 of M. Mohar Ali and serves as a rebuttal to both the Orientalist Margoliuth and the missionary article which is loosely based upon this work, insha’allah.

A. Concerning The Sacrifice of An Ewe to al-‘Uzza

With regard to the claim that the Prophet(P) had allegedly “confessed” to have sacrificed an ewe to al-‘Uzza, this is based on the argument of Margoliuth who had cited on the authority of J. Wellhausen’s Reste, 34.[4] This latter scholar in fact bases his assertion on a report which occurs in the work of Yaqut and also in that of Abu Mundhir (Ibn al-Kalbi) which the missionary cites as a second-hand quotation from F. E. Peters[5]. The report is quoted by Yaqut as follows:

“Abu al-Mundhir has said: “We heard that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, mentioned her [Al-‘Uzz?] once and said: I offered a grey sheep to Al-‘Uzza when I was following the religion of my people.”

Now, all the recognised authorities on the had?th literature treat this Ab? al-Mundhir as a notorious falsifier and fabricator of traditions and declare unanimously that he should not at all be trusted and relied upon in matters concerning the Prophet’s(P) character and questions of legal and theological rules. Thus Ibn Hibb?n, one of the early authorities on the had?th, characterizes Ab? al-Mundhir as an extreme Sh?’?te, very prolix in telling strange stories and reports of which there is no foundation in fact. Ibn Hibb?n further says that Ab? al-Mundhir’s mistakes and fabrications are so notorious that they do not require a description[6]. Similarly Ibn Hajar castigates Ab? al-Mundhir and quotes of Ahmad ibn Hanbal as saying that he (Ab? al-Mundhir) was a cheap story-teller and gossip-monger. Ibn Hajar also quotes Al-D?raqutn? as saying that Ab? al-Mundhir is always to be avoided.[7] Equally unfavourable is the opinion of Al-Dhahab?. He mentions that Ibn ‘As?kir characterized him as R?fid?.[8] These are by way of examples only. Ab? al-Mundhir himself confesses to his having on various occassions fabricated reports and provided false information.[9] Even by his own wording of the report under consideration it is a mere hearsay. Thus the report which the orientalists and the missionary himself relies on has been rejected as a fabricated and unreliable one long before the appearance of their writings. It stands condemned as a hearsay by the admission of Ibn al-Kalb? himself.

B. Concerning The Hanif Zayd ibn ‘Amr

Margoliuth had cited a tradition recorded in the Musnad[10] to further his claim that it was the monotheist Zayd ibn ‘Amr who is reported to have “inspired” the Prophet(P) to dislike the meat offered to the idols. In this tradition it is recorded that Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl once passed by the Prophet(P) and Zayd ibn Harithah. At that time Zayd ibn ‘Amr was asked to partake of a meal prepared for the former two but he declined to do so saying that he did not eat anything slaughtered on an altar (nusub). The narrator adds that thereafter the Prophet(P) was not seen eating anything slaughtered on the altar.

This tradition about a meeting between the Prophet(P) and Zayd ibn ‘Amr ibn Nufayl and the incident of the meal has come down to us through different chains of narrators in various versions with considerable additions and alterations.[11] This fact is in itself a clear proof that things have been mixed up in the course of transmission of the report. So far as the report in the Musnad is concerned a few points need to be noted specially. In the first place, among its narrators is Mas’?d? about whom it is generally held that he used to mix up matters and that therefore any report coming from him could not be cited as evidence. Also two other narrators, Nufayl ibn Hish?m and his father Hish?m (ibn Sa’?d) are not quite trustworthy. In another version Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Alqam is one of the narrators. He, too, is considered untrustworthy. Hence this particular version in the Musnad is considered “weak”. In fact the entire portion of the report from “Zayd met them” (famr bihma zayd) to the end of his reported remarks is a mixing up of what actually happened. This is evident also from the fact that Al-Bayhaq? gives the report through the same Mas’?d? in which this portion does not occur.

Secondly, even when taking the Musnad’s text as it is, it can in no way be shown that the Prophet had slaughtered the animal and prepared the meal. In fact none of the different versions gives such an impression. On the contrary the wordings as well as the tenor of the various versions show clearly that the meal was prepared by others and presented by them to the Prophet and his companion. And as regards the question of eating of the meal, the correct and reliable report given by Bukhari says that once Zayd ibn ‘Amr ibn Nufayl happened to meet the Prophet before his call to Prophethood, at Baldah (near Makka), when such a meal was presented to the Prophet. He refused to partake of it; so did Zayd ibn ‘Amr, adding: “I do not eat what you people slaughter on the altars, etc.”[12] Obviously this expression of Zayd’s, which was a sequel to the Prophet’s earlier refusal to partake of the meal and which Zayd made when he was in turn offered the meal, has been mixed up by some of the narrators and made to appear as though he was the person who first declined to eat of the meal.[13] That things have been mixed up in this narration is obvious when one notes that in one version of this report, the same group of narrators added to their report that the Prophet, while running between Saf? and Marwah strictly asked his adopted son Zayd ibn H?rithah to neither go near nor to touch the two idols, Is?f and N?’ilah, posted at those two places and which the Makkans would touch when making their ritual runs.

Thus a comparision and collation of the various versions of the report shows that neither did the Prophet slaughter the animal and prepare the meal nor did he partake of it…On the other hand one version of the report in Bukhari, which is unquestionably the more reliable, categorically states that the Prophet was the first person to decline the meal. Also, two other versions of the report from the same group of narrators emphasize, in addition, that the Prophet strictly avoided the idols placed at Saf? and Marwah while making runs between those places. It is also obvious from the different versions that the reported meeting between Zayd ibn ‘Amr and the Prophet took place not long before the latter’s call to Prophethood when his religious attitude, particularly his attitude towards idolatry, must have taken definite shape, especially as we know that he emphatically stated to his wife at an obvious early stage of their conjugal life that he had never worshipped Al-L?t and Al-‘Uzz?. Clearly at that junction of time to which the report under discussion relates the Prophet was in no need to be “inspired” for the first time by Zayd ibn ‘Amr and his like to detest the idols and to avoid meats dedicated to them.

C. On The Retention of Pre-Islamic Practises

Like Margoliuth, the missionary takes issue with the kissing of the Black Stone by indirectly implying that the Prophet had not much of physical repugnancy to idolatry since this practice was retained. The missionary takes this point even further by stating

Abraham would never have placed a black idol for his descendants to kiss, especailly [SIC] in light of the fact that one of his descendants received divine commands forbidding the honoring of any visible object…

In making this assumption the missionary (and Margoliuth included) makes a fundamental error with regard to the original nature of the Black Stone and the purpose of the practice of kissing/touching it. It has been acknowledged that the nature and purpose of the Black Stone is to mark the starting and finishing point of circumambulating (taw?f) the House and that this was done by Abraham(P) himself. According to Ibn al-‘Athir, the Prophet Ibr?h?m(P), while erecting the Ka`abah, obtained the stone from the nearby mountain of ‘Abu Qubays and placed itin one corner of the Ka`abah so that it might become the starting and finishing point of the taw?f.

Following the Abrahamic tradition the pre-Islamic inhabitants of Makkah and other Arabs used to start their circumbulation of the House from the point of the Black Stone and kiss it. However there is nothing to suggest that the Black Stone was worshipped along with the various idols that surrounded the Ka`abah. Nor is there any hint that they considered the Black Stone to have had any divine attribute or possessing any form of power, much less regarding it as a form of worship or a rite connected with the worship of idols. Hence the suggestion that the retention of the practice is a remnant of idolatry is simply a misinterpretation of its origin and nature. The same could be said of the practices in the hajj and umra’ such as the taw?f and sa’ie. It is certainly not the result of “[t]he number of circumambulation seemingly corresponded to the number of planets which the pagans venerated as deities” as the missionary fantasizes, but it is the continuation of the Abrahamic tradition in Islam. The retention of pre-Islamic practices in Islam are seen as the reaffirmation of the Abrahamic practices and a return to its original pristine purpose, and not as a capitulation to prevailing pagan Arab innovations. See also Do Muslims Worship The Black Stone of the Ka’abah? for a concise answer to the claim that the kissing of the Stone is an idolatrous practice.


From the above information that we have provided, it is clear that there is no way one can assume, as the missionary does at the beginning of his paper, that

….Muhammad before, during, and after his mission continued to perform rites that from a biblical perspective are nothing more than idolatry.

The missionaries will generally go to the extreme of exhibiting a proneness on their part to treat as genuine anything that appears to refect discreditably on the Prophet(P), with total disregard for its isnad. The paper that was written by the missionary claiming that the Prophet(P) had embraced idolatry by relying on weak or rejected narrations is symptomatic of this attitude. It has been shown previously that the “pagan customs” which the missionary chides Islam for dates back to the days of Abraham(P) and the whole Arab nation had regarded it as such. Further, it is even by the admission of the missionary himself that “he [the Prophet Muhammad(P)] entered the Kaba and destroyed every icon or sculptured idol”. Such a blatant contradiction of the purpose of his article with this open admission of his makes us wonder whether the missionary is actually “concerned” for the so-called “idolatry” reminiscent in Islamic practices today, or is he simply (mis)using the had?th literature for the sole aim of disparaging Muslims and the Religion that they adhere to. This is further evident when we read what William Muir has to say on the subject:

We may freely concede that it [Islam] banished forever many of the darker elements of superstition for ages shrouding the [Arabian] Peninsula. Idolatry vanished before the battle-cry of Islam; the doctrine of the Unity and infinite Perfections of God, and a special all-pervading Providence, became a living principle in the hearts and lives of the followers of Mohammad, even as in his own…Nor are social virtues wanting. Brotherly love inculcated towards all within the circle of the faith; infanticide proscribed; orphans to be protected, and slaves treated with considerations; intoxicating drinks prohibited, so that Mohammadanism [Islam] may boast of a degree of temperance unknown to any other creed.[14]

The answer is certainly obvious to all except for those mired in their welling hatred for Islam and what it stands for. And only God knows best!

For further reading: Refutation of Arthur Jeffery’s “Was Muhammad A Prophet From His Infancy?”


[4] i.e. J. Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidentums, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1897

[5] As cited by the missionary from F. E. Peters, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, p. 127

[6] Ibn Hibban, Kitab al-Majrahin Min al-Muhaddithin wa al-Du’afi wa al-Matrikan, Vol. I-III (ed. Muhammad Ibrahim Zayd), Aleppo, 1396, III, 91.

[7] Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan, VI, Beirut, third impression, 1406/1986, p. 196 (no. 700)

[8] Al-Dhahaba, Mizan al-I’tidal (ed. ‘Ali Muhammad al-Bukhari) VI, Dar al-Ma’rifah, Beirut, pp. 304-305. See also Al-Mughni Fi al-Du’afi’ al-Kabir (ed. Nar al-Din ‘Asir), II, n.d., p. 711, no. 6756.

[9] Ibn al-Kalbi, Kitab al-Asnam, p. 21

[10] Musnad, I, 198-190 (Margoliuth, op. cit., 70)

[11] See for instance, besides the Musnad, Bukh?r?, nos 3826 and 5499; Al-Tabar?n?, Al-Mu’jam al-Kab?r, Vol. I., second impression, n.d., p. 151 and Vol V, pp. 86-87; Al-Bayhaq?, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah etc., Vol. II, Beirut, 1985, pp. 120-128, 144; Al-Dhahab?, Siyar A’l?m al-Nubal?, Vol. I, Beirut, 1986, pp. 220-222; Al-Haytham?, Majma’ al-Zawa’id etc., Vol. IX, Beirut, 1986, pp. 420-421. It has been recorded also by Nasa’i in his section on manaqib.

[12] Bukhari, no. 3826.

[13] See for comments on this report Fath al-Bar?, VII, third impression, pp. 176-178 and IX., pp. 630-631

[14] William Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p. 521


  1. D.S. Margoliuth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (3rd ed., 1893) []
  2. M. Mohar Ali, Sirat Al-Nabi and the Orientalists: With Special Reference to the Writings of William Muir, D.S. Margoliuth and W. Montgomery Watt, Vol 1A (1997) []
  3. ibid., pp. 195-203 []

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