In the class I’m attending on the biography (seerah) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), clear parallels were drawn between the pre-Islamic era (the so-called “Days of Ignorance”) and our modern times.
One of the stories covered is that of ‘Amr ibn Luhayy – a chief of the Arab Jurhum tribe – who was the first man to bring an idol to the Kabah in Makkah. Initially, he brought it back to Makkah with him as a form of ‘spicing up’ the worship that already existed at the Kabah. He saw benefit in it – something which would bring people closer to God, commit them more to their religion (which was originally that of pure monotheism, but by then had been tainted). Unfortunately, the lunacy of idolatry caught on, and what started as a simple act of trying to benefit his people, ended up in mass indulgence in the greatest sin of all – shirk (that is, associating partners in the worship of Allah).
Idolatry soon became an industry, with people making a lot of money from it, and many of the people of the time becoming severely polluted in their religious beliefs. And as the generations passed, each new generation followed the practices of their forefathers – not questioning why they were doing it, but merely repeating the actions. Thus, the Arabs of the time were plunged into the Days of Ignorance – a time of sever calamity for the region.
As we know, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) later came to ‘cleanse’ the region – and the world – of these and all other false beliefs; re-introducing the world to the pure, monotheistic faith which has been the call of all Prophets, from the beginning of time: the first man, Adam, through all the others – including Noah, Moses, Abraham, and Jesus (peace be upon them all).
But the lessons that can be drawn from this story are extremely relevant in today’s world:
Human nature – the traps and errors humans fall into – remains the same; be it murder, fornication, lack of general moral conduct, or any other evil which we’ve been known to indulge in. What starts off as a simple act, which we don’t think as being ‘bad’ or ‘major’ – can have extremely negative, unintended consequences.
What starts off small can snowball: Satan is always ready to take advantage of our faults, inviting us further and further into sin and transgression; wanting us to be his companion in Hell – the place he’s been promised as his eternal abode.
The idols of those times were statues and figures – physical manifestations of things that the misguided people of the time thought would assist them in their worldly lives.
The ridiculousness of this belief is evident in a story of Umar, one of the greatest companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): on a journey before he came to Islam, he had left home without his idol. At his prayer time, he realised that he had forgotten the idol at home, and so he used the resources he had with him– dates – to mould and fashion the idol, so that he could pray to it. Later in the journey, he was hungry, and the dates – now fashioned into the shape of the idol – were all he had to eat. And so he ate this idol.
Imagine that! Worshipping a created thing, then later eating it!
It just goes to show how twisted things can become when humans blindly follow questionable practices, without knowing the reality of why their predecessors / fellow humans are doing it.
This is especially true of many cultural practices which have crept into religion in modern times.
The lesson in this is that we should do things based on knowledge – not merely be a blind follower.
We have so many resources available to us in this Information Age that we can easily access the History of whatever we want to know about.
What we bring into our lives:
Another important lesson from ‘Amr ibn Luhayy’s story is that we must be very careful about what we bring into our lives and daily practices.
When we introduce things which are not Divinely ordained (i.e. not part of the Quran or Sunnah – not part of true Islam), we are putting ourselves at risk of falling into very dangerous traps.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was granted a vision of ‘Amr ibn Luhayy’s destiny: that ‘Amr ibn Luhayy will be walking through Hell, dragging his intestines behind him.
That being part of his punishment for introducing this most major of sins to the Kabah, to the people of his community…an act which snowballed into the darkest period in that region’s history.
We may see something as minor, and not thing it’s ‘that bad’ – and therefore introduce it into our lives. But what happens when that thing gets out of control?
A general guideline to follow is that if the bad in a thing outweighs the good in it, then keep away from it.
For example, alcohol has some good in it – but the bad in it far outweighs the good; therefore Allah has prohibited it to us; and He only prohibits what is bad for us.
We have to be very careful when introducing things into our lives, so that we don’t bring unintended consequences into our lives and community.
Be aware of modern day idolatry:
Have any of you ever watched the music show “Idols”?
Have you heard famous people – be it in sport, music, movies, or whatever other field – being referred to as a person’s “idol”?
Have you heard people casually saying that they “worship” this or that person or thing?
These words may be thrown around lightly in today’s times, but they reveal what really is at play in reality: idolatry is alive and well in our world today. People worship themselves, other people, brands, objects.
Some supporters of the football club I follow, Manchester United, have even gone so far as to say that following their club is “a religion”. That attending the games are their ‘holy service’.
And with the commercialisation and popularity of the sport nowadays, it’s easy to see how football can consume a person’s life. And, of course, just like mobile and mini-idols were an industry then, merchandising is a massive industry now which deepens a person’s ‘dedication’ to their club. The most clear manifestation of ancient idolatry in this industry being mini figurines which can be bought in stores and online.
Brands – be it clothing, food, entertainment – are also idolised today. An obsession – to the point that a person believes they ‘can’t live without it’ and ‘need it’ – is a clear indication that they’ve become so invested in this object, this created thing, that it has become the object of their worship.
It is only when we open our eyes and see things as they really are, that we can be liberated from servitude to that thing.
And that’s something that we need to pray for – to ‘see things as they really are’ – because in today’s world, truth is presented as falsehood, and falsehood presented as truth.
It is only with the guidance of Allah that we can be saved from falling into such error that befell ‘Amr ibn Luhayy and other misguided predecessors.
May we seek knowledge and lessons from the past, and may we be guided by the Almighty to that which is right, and away from that which will cause us doom.
If there are any historical inaccuracies about the facts related in this post, please let me know.
This post is largely centred around notes taken from the Seerah class I attend, so credit must be given to the teacher and sources he uses for it. If you’re in Cape Town, I highly recommend you come along to the class, as it really is amazing. It not only teaches us History, but also reconciles the lessons of the past with today’s world. If you’re interested in the class, please post a request and I can let you know when and where the classes are held, insha-Allah.