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Stoning Satan?

The pagan roots of the Muslim Hajj

Thousands of Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, on June 25 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil

Stoning Satan?
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This week, millions of Muslims completed one of the most important rituals in Islam: The Hajj. It is the pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest Islamic city, believed to be the birthplace of Muhammad.

This Hajj is one of the well-known five pillars of Islam—the obligatory rituals that each Muslim must fulfil to obtain Allah’s favor. All Muslims, if able, are required to perform the Hajj at least once in their lives. At the Hajj, they are required to perform a series of rituals for five to six days.

This year, the Hajj is reported to be the largest in Islamic history, with over 2.5 million Muslims from over 160 countries attending.

But what are the rituals Muslims perform to please Allah?

They are many, but they include the kissing of a black stone, walking seven times around the shrine known as the Kaaba, and then stoning Satan.

All pilgrims must begin their Hajj at the Kaaba, which is now part of the Great Mosque, also known as “The Sacred Mosque” in Mecca.

The Kaaba is sacred because Muslim traditions claim that Abraham built it and Muhammad blessed it. Today’s Kaaba looks like a majestic cubic structure, covered by a black silk cloth of highest quality. The covering alone costs over $4 million. In pre-Islamic time, this was an abandoned formless and roofless structure, full of rocks in the middle of a desert. But nothing inside the Kaaba is more important than a black stone, located in its eastern wall.

All pilgrims begin their Hajj by going in circles around the Kaaba, beginning and ending at the spot of the black stone. They can walk or run in circles, but the first mandatory ceremony they perform is to kiss or at least touch this black stone.

The black stone is only seen through a very small portal in the corner of the Kaaba. Muslims believe it to be the most sacred stone on earth, because Muhammad reportedly said, “The Black Stone descended from Paradise, and it was more white than milk, then it was blackened by the sins of the children of Adam.”

Few Muslims would question Muhammad’s statement. Who may dare to ask whether paradise in heaven has rocks? Can human sins really turn a white rock into black?

For billions of Muslims, this statement creates a sacredness around the stone and makes it holy.

Spiritual blindness can be pervasive, and millions every year seek Allah’s favor by running around objects, kissing others, and throwing pebbles.

But there is a stronger statement attributed to Muhammad, as it declares that the stone will intercede for Muslims in the Day of Judgement. Muhammad reportedly said, “By Allah! Allah will raise [the black stone] on the Day of Resurrection with two eyes by which it sees and a tongue that it speaks with, testifying to whoever touched it in truth.”

Few Muslims would question this tradition’s reliability. It alone makes millions of Muslims eager to connect with a stone, so that they receive its intercession.

But, practically, isn’t it really difficult for millions of Muslims to kiss or touch a stone located in a wall? What if someone has special needs or is sick? Muslim jurists solved it: A pilgrim could use something to touch the stone, then kiss that thing. Still, if a Muslim is entirely unable to touch or kiss the stone, he can simply point to the stone and say the Islamic phrase “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “Allah is greater.” This suffices in such cases.

The bottom line is that all Muslims must kiss, touch, or speak to the stone to validate their religious duty and receive the intercession of the stone on the Day of Judgement.

And then, there is stoning the devil.

After walking or running in circles around a cubic shrine and kissing or touching a black stone, Muslim pilgrims must denounce the devil by throwing rocks at him. This is an obligatory part of the Hajj, in which pilgrims throw pebbles at three statues in a form of pillars that symbolize Satan. Muslims believe that this ritual is a declaration of the rejection of Satan and his evil.

While millions of religious enthusiasts believe wholeheartedly in the validity of these rituals, many scholars link them to idol worship and pre-Islamic pagan rituals.

Spiritual blindness can be pervasive, and millions every year seek Allah’s favor by running around objects, kissing others, and throwing pebbles.

Only Jesus and his sacrifice can save humans. The Church of Christ must pray for Muslims around the World and take the gospel to them, locally and globally. Watching the Hajj reminds us of our gospel calling and its urgency.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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