Over at Atlas Shrugs yesterday I wrote about some things I’ve come across in researching for my next book:
I have been in contact with a European researcher who has told me about some extraordinary possibilities regarding the origins of the rituals that Muslims perform during the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Mecca is central to Islamic worship, as all Muslims must face Mecca while praying, and are obligated to make the hajj once in their lifetimes if they are able to do so. Muslims call the Kaaba “albayt alharaam” (Qur’an 5:97). It is considered the inviolable institution of obedience to Allah’s Sharia, the pure mosque: “Al-masjid al-haraam” (see Qur’an 2:196, 5:97, 9:19, 48:25).
Yet only one verse of the Qur’an seems to refer to Mecca by name: “And He it is Who hath withheld men’s hands from you, and hath withheld your hands from them, in the valley of Mecca, after He had made you victors over them. Allah is Seer of what ye do” (48:24). And we know that the Ka”aba predates Islam, as Muhammad is said to have entered it, cleansed it of its pagan idols, and transformed it into a Muslim shrine. Muslims believe that Abraham and Ishmael built it: “And as Abraham raised the foundations from the house with Ishmael: “˜Our Lord accept this from us, You are the Hearer, the Knowledgeable– (Qur’an 2:227).
What is the real story? What was the Kaaba originally? Where do the hajj rituals come from?
At first glance, they manifest an impressive similarity to Hindu rituals: bowing and prostrating, shaving the hair, wearing a white robe, circumambulating around a square cosmological symbol (Mandala), counting holy names (dhikr) with a rosary (the tasbih or masbaha, sibha, sousha), kissing a stone, revering sacred water — all the distinctive Meccan rituals have Hindu counterparts.
The Muslim historian Firishta writes, “Before the advent of Islam, the Brahmans of India were always going on pilgrimage to the Ka”aba, for the worship of the idols there.”
And historically, Arabia has many connections with the Indus Valley. The presence of India in the region, up to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, is well documented. Some have speculated that even the Arabic language as such has many Sanskrit roots. The very word “Arab” may derive from ara-vat or arva, meaning a horse in Sanskrit. The “land of the horses” gives us Aravasthan, from which may come Arabia.
There are records of Arabo-Indian trade with Egypt as far back as 2743 B.C. There were, for instance, land routes through Basra or along the sea that appear to have gone through Arabia. Klaus K. Klostermaier states that “for several centuries a lively commerce developed between the ancient Mediterranean world and India, particularly the ports on the Western coast. The most famous of these ports was Sopara, not far from modern Bombay, which was recently, renamed Mumbai. Present day Cranganore in Kerala, identified with the ancient Muziris, claims to have had trade contacts with Ancient Egypt under Queen Hatsheput, who sent five ships to obtain spices, as well as with ancient Israel during King Solomon’s reign. Apparently, the contact did not break off after Egypt was conquered by Greece and later by Rome.”
Even now, ruins of a shrine to Shiva have been discovered on Socotra, an island belonging to Yemen. Hindu Yemenites are still there, and they are not Indian emigrants. In a very recent statement, Maulana Nabiullah Khan of Jamaat-e-Islamia complains: “We were surprised to discover that there are some Hindus in Yemen. These ancient Yemeni Hindus are not Indians. In my opinion, these Hindus are descendants of traders from India in ancient times. I was also surprised to learn that they have a Shiva temple in Yemen. Qazi was very unhappy over this. When he talked to the Yemen leaders, he broached this subject. But the Yemeni leaders refused Qazi’s suggestion of forced conversion of these people to Islam.”
Muhammad’s first biographer, Ibn Ishaq, provides evidence that the Hindu presence in Arabia on the eve of Islam was fairly strong. When Yemen was invaded by the Abyssinians, Sayf b. DhÃ» Yazan, a chief of the dominant Himayrite clan of Arabs, went to Chosroes (KhusrÃ»), the king of Persia, for help. “He said: “˜O King, ravens have taken possession of our country.” Chosroes asked, “˜What ravens, Abyssinians or Sindhians?” “˜Abyssinians,” he replied.” “Ravens” meant black people, who were identified with Indians and Abyssinians in the minds of Arabs and Persians at that time.
Later, a deputation from the Banu al-Harith waited on Muhammad. “When they came to the apostle he asked who the people who looked like Indians were, and he was told that they were the B. al-HÃ£rith b. Ka”b.” Muhammad, it seems, was quite familiar with Indians — or at least his eighth-century biographer was.
There is also a good deal of evidence, by the way, that muhammad was not a name, but a title usually given to victorious warlords, just as Mahatmat (great soul) was not the name of Gandhi, but his title. Sanskrit etymology offers an elucidation of this: Muhammad comes from Mahan Madah: “a person of great inspiration.” But it can also be understood in a hostile sense, implying “a person of a proud and haughty temperament.”
The “kaaba” is usually translated as a dice or a cube, as derived from the Greek “kubos.” It is less commonly linked to the Sanskrit word Gabha (Garbha + Graha), which means Sanctum. Even in the Tamul (or Tamil) language, which is part of the most ancient Dravidian civilization of the Indus Valley, a similar word exists: Kabaali, one of Shiva’s names. Shiva temples in South India are still called Kabaalishwaran.