The account of one ancient historian named Abu-al- Essay
Mundhir Hishm ibn-Muhammad ibn-al-S’ib ibn-Bishr al-Kalbi, better known as ibn-al-Kalbi, gives report of around twenty idols that existed in the Middle-East in a book called, The Book of Idols. This book of idols shows the work of a Moslem historian who attempted to create a listing of all the idols worshiped by the Arab people before the coming of the Prophet Muhammad. The research of this historian, who lived in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., compiled a list that even included idols that were supposedly worshiped before the time of Noah and the great flood. Ibn-al-Kalbi was an Arab historian who focused much of his studies on researching the practice of idol worshiping in Arabia, before the m al-Fil . While ibn-al-Kalbi was a member of a distinguished family, he suffered much persecution because of his interest in the pre-Islamic religions of Arabia. It is said that “No historian was attacked more virulently than ibn-al-Kalbi, probably because he addressed himself to the study of those things which Islam was determined to abliterate, namely the pagan religions and practices of Arabia.”
In the times following the Prophet Muhammad there was a major attempt by the Moslem community to erase everything pertaining to the pagan days of Arabia. Hence, learned men were discouraged from pursuing studies that related to the so-called Jhilyah days. Consequently, any historians (akhbryn) who worked to record the past were without honor in the Muslim community, especially during the early days of Islam.
Although ibn-al-Kalbi was under continuous ridicule, and a constant attempt was made to discredit him, he continued his inquiry into such a taboo subject, and was actually one of the most prolific historical writers of early Islam, having written between one hundred and twenty-one to one hundred and fifty titles. Unfortunately none have survived, except the Jamharat al-Nasab .
The first idol mentioned was of Isf and N’ilah. These two were lovers, and Isf was courting N’ilah in the land of Yemen. They set out to preform their pilgrimage to Mecca, and upon arriving they entered the Ka’bah. In the privacy of the Sacred House, the two committed adultery in the sanctuary. They were then turned into stone. They were later taken out and placed in their respective places. Later on, the Khuz’ah and the Quraysh, as well as everyone who came on the pilgrimage to the Sacred House worshiped them. Following this type of model, “the first among the Children of Ishmael” as well as others, adopted their own idols in accordance to their traditions, when they left the religion of Ishmael.
Suw’ was the god adopted by the Hudhaylites. The idol was placed in Haht, in the vicinity of Yanbu’, one of the villages in Medina. The custodians of its temple were the banu-Lihyn. While there is no mention of Suw’ in and of the poems of the Hudhalites, it is mentioned in a poem of a man from Yemen.
The Kalib people adopted Wadd as their god. This being in the area near Dmat al-Jandal. Yaghth was the god adopted by the Madhhij as well as the people of Jurash. Said by one poet in Yemen:
“May Wadd keep thee and bless thee!
For to us it is unlawful
For women to dally and wanton;
Thus our faith hath resolved.”
And said by another;
“Yaghth led ut unto the Murd,
And we vanquished them before the morning.”
The Khaywn adopted Ya’q as their god. This idol was placed in their village called Khaywn. Which was a distance of two nights journey from Mecca. Nasr was the god adopted by the Himyar people and they worshiped it in a place called Balkha’ The Himyar also had another temple (bayt) in San’, and it was called Ri’m. There is no mention of these gods in poetry nor are there any record of any people being named after them, because the people of Yemen had converted over to Judaism and destroyed their temples.
These previous five idols were the ones worshiped by the people during the time of Noah.
Manh is thought to be the most ancient of all of these idols. Arabs used to name their children after Manh, using names such as Abd-Manh or Zayd-Manh. The temple of Manh was located on the seashore near al-Mushallal in Qudayd, between Medina and Mecca. All the people in and around Medina and Mecca used to come and worship Manh. The Aws and Khazraj, as well as the people of Yathrib had a pilgrimage that they went on, but before returning home they would got to the place where Manh stood, shave their heads and stay there for a while. As one Arab said;
“An oath, truthful and just, I swore
By Manh, at the sacred place of the Khazraj .”
In a time more recent than Manh the people adopted Allt as their goddess. Allt was a cubic rock in al-T’if, located beside where a certain Jew used to prepare his barley porridge (sawq). Allt stood in the place of the left-hand side minaret of the present-day mosque of al-Thaqif. Allt continued to be worshiped until the Thaqf converted to Islam. At that time an apostle of Mohammed sent al-Mughrah ibn-Shu’bah to destroy the idol and burn down the temple.
Al-‘Uzza, a goddess more recent than either Allt or Manh, that was first introduced by Zlim ibn-As’ad. Her idol was located in the calley in Nakhlat al-Sha’myah, called Hurd, alongside al-Ghumayr to the right of the road from Mecca to al-Irq, above Dht-‘Irq and nine miles from al-Bustn. Al-‘Uzza is believed to be the greatest idol of the Quraysh. They used to journey to her, offer gifts unto her, and seek favors through sacrifice. After circumambulate the Ka’bah the Quraysh would;
“By Allt and al-‘Uzza,
And Manh, the third idol besides.
Verily they are the most exalted females
Whose intercession is to be sought.”
Worship of this goddess continued until the prophet Mohammed ridiculed the idols, and forbade her worship.
It is said that the Arabs were very fond of worshiping idols. Some had a temple in which they worshiped. Others adopted an idol to which they centered their worship. A person who was unable to build a temple or adopt an idol would erect a stone in front of the Sacred House or any other temple, and then circumambulate it in the same manner they would circumambulate the Sacred House. These stones were called baetyls (ansb), and stones resembeling a living form were called idols (asnm) and images (awthn). The act of circumambulating was called circumrotation (dawr).
Dhu-al-Khalasah was one of these idols. This idol was a piece of carved white quartz, with a crown upon its head. It was located in Tablah, at a two nights journey from either Mecca or San’. This idol was the property of those Arabs living in an around Tablah. These people first were converted to Christianity, and later to Islam. When Islam became the dominant religion, Muhammad sent people to destroy this idol and in the process killed hundreds of its custodians. Dhu-al-Kalasah is now part of the gate at the mosque at Tablah.
Along the coast of Judah, Mlik and Milkn had an idol named Sa’d. This idol consisted of a long rock. Legend has it that a man once came to Sa’d with his camels, to obtain a blessing. When he neared the rock his camels scattered in every direction because the stone was covered with blood. The man became furious, and through rocks at the idol saying, “Accursed god! Thou hast caused my camels to shy.” The man then returned home saying,
“We came to Sa’d in hope he would unite our ranks,
But he broke them up. We will have none of him.
Is he not but a rock in a barren land,
Deaf to both evil and to good?”
Dhu-al-Kaffayn was an idol worshiped by banu-Munhib ibn-Daws. When the banu-Munhib ibn-Daws converted to Islam, Muhammad sent a man by the name of Al-Tufayl ibn-‘Amr al-Dawsi to destroy it. After setting fire to the idol Al-Tufayl said,
“O dhu-al-Kaffayn, I am not one of thy servants.
Our birth is nobler than thine.
I have stuffed thy head with fire and burnt thy shrine.”
The banu-al-Hrith ibn-Yashkur ibn-Mubashshir of the Azd tribe had an idol named Dhu-al-Shara. This was an idol of the chif god of the Nabataeans. One Ghatrf once said, while refering to it;
“We would descend upon the region surrounding Dhu-al-Shara,
And our might army would, then, smite the foe.”
Al-Qals was a temple built by Abrahah al-Ashram in San’. It was built of marble and the best of gilded wood. After completing this construction Abrahah sent a letter to the king of Abyssinia saying, “I have built to you a church, the like of which no one has ever built. I shall not let the Arabs alone until I divert their pilgrimage away from the house to which they go and turn its course to this church.” After this news reached those in authority, two men were sent to defecate within the church. Abraha became angry and went with an army with elephants and attacked a nearby shrine, the banu-Asad, the shrine to dhu-al-Kahlasah, and this stopped the worshiping of dhu-al-Kahlasah, until the advent of Islam when it was destroyed.
The Tayyi’ had an idol called al-Fals. This idol was a red rock in the form of a man, that protruded from the mountain Aja’. The worship continued until Adi renounced the worship of al-Fals, as well as that of the other idols, and he became a Christian. He remained a Christian until the coming of Islam, when he became a Muslim. Al-Fals continued to be worshiped by some until the time of Muhammad when he sent ‘Ali ibn-abi-Talib to destroy it.
Concluding the information of the idol al-Fals brings this listing of idols inside The Book of Idols to an end. This list of idols, while it may seem insignificant to an American in the twentieth century, does provide information that is useful for people wanting to know more about idol worship in ancient Israel. I hope reading this report on ancient idol worship, it helps readers to be able to learn more about the not-so perfect past religions have had in the Middle-East.
Ibn al Kalbi, Hisham. The Book of Idols. Ed. And trans. Nabih Amin Faris. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1952.