Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Historic Roots of Islamic Shariah

Khalil Abdel Karim
Recently I started reading an Arabic book written by Khalil Abdel Karim titled The Historic Roots of Islamic Shariah and found it absolutely fascinating as it shows where a lot of rules and laws within Islam today have come from - no, not from Allah, not even from Muhammad himself.  The book (although an abridged version of the original) goes into detail of several Islamic traditions and shows that most of them came from pre-Islamic tribal cultures and religions predominant in the region as well as opinions of individuals around Muhammad.  Things like fasting during Ramadan, the importance of the Hera Cave, how much needs to be paid for blood money (100 camels if you're wondering - and it was the Prophet's grand father Abdul Mutalib who came up with it, just like cutting the hand of the thief both of which Muhammad adopted into Islam later on) forbidding alcohol and pork, the effects of envy (الحسد) and its cures, and many more.

So as I felt this book is important for a larger audience than the Arabic one only, I decided to begin translating it.  I divided the book into several sections where each section will be my daily allotment for translation and (if I stick to the plan) I should be able to finish it within 4 or so weeks.  One thing I found difficulty in is that Arabic literature tends to be very long winded and written in a way that would make it uncomfortable for an English reader.  I never really realized this until I started translating.  When reading a book in its original language, it all seems very normal, but when you try and convert that text into another language, it's not so much translating the words and sentences that's the most difficult part, but rather translating the whole book for a different audience!  However I wanted to stay true to the author's work as much as possible, but one thing I did add are descriptions in the footnotes.  The author took for granted the Arab audience will know several things without being told what they are, but obviously this doesn't apply to an English audience, and rather than intrude on the author's text, I just added footnotes where I felt required.

Obviously I'm not going to paste a huge section in a blog post, but I felt I could put the first page for people to enjoy.  It's a very brief outline so it's quite an easy read.  I'll probably post more sections here and there in the future.

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The Spiritual Traditions Inherited from the Hanifiah

The Hanifiah is a religious movement that spread across the Arabian Peninsula before Islam.  It was preached in Yathrib[1] by Abu Omar al Rahib (Abu Omar the Monk) and in Taief by Amiah bin al Sult.  As for Mecca it had many preachers amongst whom are Warraqa bin Nawfal, Zaid bin Amro bin Nafeel (Omar bin al Khattab’s uncle), Abdullah bin Jahsh, Ka’ab bin Luai bin Ghalib (the great grand father of the Prophet) and Abdul Mutalib (the Prophet’s grand father – who is considered by Dr. Saied Mahmoud al Qamni in his book al Hizb al Hashimi (The Hashemite Party) as the teacher of the Hanifiah and its leader) and they were all known as the Hunafa’ah. 

The Hunafa’ah were introduced by Dr. Abd ul Azeez Salim in his book Dirasaat fi Tareekh al Arab Qabl al Islam (Essays on the History of the Arabs before Islam) as a group of intellectual Arabs who refused both idol worship as well as Judaism and Christianity.  They proclaimed the oneness of god and had amongst their followers Zuhair bin Abi Salmah, Uthman bin al Harith and Assa’ad Abu Karb al Humairi.  Mr. Abbas Mahmoud brings more light onto this movement in his literature where he says that they knew that worshipping one god was the correct way over worshipping idols.  Their belief stems from the opinion that monotheism is the religion of Abraham.  Amongst their practises were the following.

  • The abandonment of idol worship and sacrificing of animals for polytheist gods and goddesses.  This also came with forbidding the consumption of meat that has been slaughtered in the name of idols.  Both these practices were adopted from Arabian Jews.
  • Forbidding usury – another practising adopted from Arabian Jews who permitted it to foreigners but banned its practise from amongst themselves.
  • Forbidding fornication (adopted from Jews), alcohol and the punishment of those who practise them.
  • Cutting the hand of the thief, a punishment ordained by Abd ul Mutalib the grand father of the Prophet.
  • Forbidding the consumption of carrion, blood and pork (Jewish practises).
  • Forbidding filicide due to the gender of the child[2] and making it obligatory for a parent to raise their children.  It was told by Ibn Sa’ad[3] in his book Tabakaat al Kubra that Saieed bin Zaid bin Amro bin Nafeel used to say to men who want to kill their daughters: “Don’t kill them and I will pay for their sustenance.”
  • Fasting (adopted from Arabian Jews)
  • Female circumcision (adopted from Arabian Jews)
  • Ritual washing to cleanse from impurity (adopted from Arabian Jews)
  • Faith in resurrection and judgment day
  • Retreat and worship within Hera Cave during the month of Ramadan as well as giving alms.

Islam has then adopted all of these practises and beliefs and in the words of Al Hafiz Abi al Faraj al Jawzi[4]: “Islam later agreed with them about these issues and preached them.”



[1] Yathrib is the original name of the city of Medinah before the prophet Muhammad migrated there.
[2] There have been recorded incidents in Islamic literature that pre-Islamic Arabia practised filicide where the first born child is a girl as that would be considered shameful amongst pre-Islamic Arab men.
[3] D. 844 AD
[4] D. 1200 AD