1:7. Guide us the straight path, the path of those You bestowed Your favor on, those who have not earned anger at them and not the strayers.
In the article entitled Language Barrier we have seen how even important events in Sira (the biography of the prophet) are problematic, for example, when the prophet was born and where he lived. There is no evidence of a pre-quranic town named Mecca and the evidence shows that the common noun "mecca" (destruction) in 48:24 was appropriated after the great reading was revealed. So naturally, the question arises, where did the prophet really live?
Before we try to answer this question, let me say that I don't believe that it is necessarily an important question in itself. Had the answer been important then we would have been given a precise map in the great reading to find it. However, a possible value to answering this question is dispelling some of the traditional myths that surround the prophet's biography. This in turn may help us in some way or another to more clearly understand some aspects of the great reading.
WHERE DID THE PROPHET REALLY LIVE?
In our quest to find the region where the prophet really lived, we will use a somewhat different approach to previous attempts. We will use an approach based on the orthography of the great reading. In the same way that one can recognize if a scribe is British or American from the style of a person's English hand writing, the use of certain vocabulary and the spelling of certain words, we will try to use orthography to identify where the great reading was originally descended. As we saw in the article "Language Barrier", Arabic was an informal common people language and not a prestigious religious or literary language of the elite. As a result, archeologists have found that up to the Islamic era and the appearance of the great reading, Arabic inscriptions were written in various scripts and there was no specific script associated with the language. Arabic writers simply used the script of prestige of the geographic area where it was written. The script of prestige was the script associated with the language of prestige in the area. In the pre-Islamic era, there were two main scripts used to write Old Arabic:
- The Nabataean Aramaic script. This is the script of the Nabataean Aramaic language.
- The Musnad script. This script is also called Ancient South Arabian script and it is the script associated with the Sabaic language.
While the Musnad script became extinct shortly after the Islamic era, the Nabataean script became the Arabic script that we are all familiar with today. The following map shows the location of Old Arabic inscriptions in the Nabataean script (in red) and Musnad script (in green).
In northern Arabia, southern Syria and southwestern Iraq, up to the fourth century AD, Aramaic was the language of prestige. Thus, we find that the important religious texts were in Aramaic. The distribution in the north of the Peninsula of Old Arabic texts suggests that speakers of the Old Arabic dialect were present throughout the areas where Aramaic had come to be the prestige language. It was therefore natural that when Old Arabic came to be written in these regions, the Nabataean Aramaic script was the chosen vehicle. However, unlike the Ancient South Arabian Musnad script, the late Nabataean script only had twenty-two letters to represent the twenty-eight phonemes of Arabic and thus was largely inadequate for the expression of Arabic. For example, the "B" and "T" are indistinguishable and so are the "Kh", "7a", and "J" and the "Z" and "R". Moreover, letters such as the "B", "Y", and "N" are indistinguishable in the initial and medial positions. Thus, dotting was sometimes used to resolve ambiguities. Despite those major inadequacies, the prestige of the Nabataean Aramaic script outweighed other considerations.
While the script of prestige in Northern Arabia was the Nabataean script, the script of prestige in Central Arabia and South Arabia was the Musnad script. Thus, in the Central Arabian town of Qaryat Al-Faw we find that Arabic inscriptions (see example below) were written using the Ancient South Arabian script. We also see the same phenomenon is the South at places such as Najran and Haram.
Arabic inscriptions found in Central Arabia such as the above use the Musnad script.
The prestigious script in central Arabia as demonstrated at Qaryat Al-Faw is Sabaic. So the orthography of the great reading negates a central Arabian origin. In central and south Arabia, the Sabaic script remained the prestige script until the Islamic era when it was displaced by the Nabataean Aramaic script of the great reading.
In the Roman affiliated Ghassanid provinces of northern Arabia, Greek increasingly became the prestige language of politics and religion starting around the mid fourth century CE and thus took over as the prestige religious script. This is confirmed by two pre-quranic leaves of parchment bearing a part of the Septuagint text of Psalm 78 (LXX, 77) with an Arabic explanation written in Greek script. On the other hand, in southwestern Iraq and the border areas of Northern Arabia, the Lakhmid provinces continued to use Nabataean Aramaic as the script of prestige for writing Arabic.
Given the physical archeological evidence above and the fact that there was no specific script associated with Arabic, the great reading was simply written in the script of prestige of the region where it originated. At the late sixth century CE, the Nabataean Aramaic script was the script of prestige in the Northern Arabian Lakhmid provinces and border towns, just as the Musnad script was in central Arabia. So this completely negates that the great reading was originally written in a central Arabian town such as present-day Mecca otherwise it would have been written in the far more suitable Musnad script, which was the script of prestige for that region. This also completely negates that the great reading was originally revealed in a Roman town such as Jerusalem or the Ghassanids towns around it where Greek was the prestige script. The only logical conclusion based on the evidence is that the great reading must have originated in a north Arabian Lakhmid province where Nabataean Aramaic was the prestige script.
As an interesting side note, we see in the great reading Nabataean idols such as Manat spelled using the Nabataean spelling with a medial "waw" ("mnwt") as opposed to the Arabic spelling ("mnt"). This further supports that the great reading was revealed in an area where Nabataean Aramaic was the prestige script and hence the scribes adopted the foreign Nabataean spelling of the proper name that they are used to instead of the Old Arabic spelling, which matches the Arabic pronunciation.
By connecting the locations of Old Arabic inscriptions in the Nabataean script on the map (see figure below), we get an idea of the general area where the great reading could have been originally written. Given that by the late sixth century CE, the upper parts of that area, such as Avdat and Umm Aljimal would have been under strong Roman influence and Greek would have become the prestige language, this leaves us with towns in the lower part of that area as the most likely candidates for where the great reading originated. This would be somewhere between Hegra and Hira, including towns such as Domat-Al-Jandal, Tabuk, Tayma, etc. Unlike the isolated and insignificant town later named Mecca, all those towns were significant towns on major trade routes and had diverse multi-faith populations. Thus, any of them would fit much better the description given in the great reading as "umm al-qura" (an expression akin to "mother of settlements" or "the cradle of civilization").
Any of those towns in the Lakhmid provinces and border areas would also fit much better the clearly multi-faith environment where the great reading was revealed. Between the fourth and sixth century CE, Roman Christians have been persecuting other faiths such as Jews and even other Christian sects that they viewed as heretic such as Nestorians and Monophysites. As a result, those groups increasingly moved to the Lakhmid areas were they were tolerated and welcomed as a result of their opposition to the Romans. Thus, unlike Roman Christians, the Nasara are never described as being Trinitarians. In 5:72-73 we see that the term Nasara doesn't occur. The passage condemns as unappreciative/rejecters/"kuffar" Monophysites (5:72) and Roman Trinitarians (5:73). On the other hand, 9:30-33 describes the Nasara as "mushrikeen" (setting up partners) for claiming that Jesus is son of The God. The Nestorians fit this description because they rejected the Trinity and emphasized the humanity of Jesus. We know from archeological evidence that the Lakhmid areas were the main center for Nestorians.
Unlike the Roman provinces where intolerance towards other religions was rampant, it seems that paganism as well as a multitude of faiths were tolerated and continued to flourish under the Lakhmids. This plus the Christian and Jewish scholarship in the area provides the context of the multi-faith environment that the great reading was revealed in (see 22:17). The area where the prophet originally lived was likely a cosmopolitan north Arabian trading border town that maintained a somewhat neutral disposition and tolerant attitude for commercial reasons. This way, they could serve as a hub and trade with the Persians, the Romans, and any other political entity in the region. Business came first.
This cosmopolitan influence is clear and hence we can see loan words into the Arabic of the great reading that have been borrowed directly from Middle Persian. Some examples are:
"istabraq": brocade (76:21)
"kanz": treasure (9:35, 9:34, 11:12, 18:82, 25:8, 18:82, 26:58, 28:76)
"dirham": silver coin (12:20)
"jund": army/soldiers (36:28, 36:75, 38:11, 44:24, 67:20, 19:75, 37:173, 48:4, etc.)
Unlike the great reading, pre-quranic inscriptions in the Musnad script use the South Arabian word "jaysh" not "jund" for army/soldiers. Given that the Lakhmids had military alliances with the Persians, this is consistent with the great reading being revealed in a Lakhmid province or border town where Persian influence on the local Arabic dialect in the domain of military lingo would be stronger than central/south Arabian influence.
As we saw above, based on the orthographic evidence from the great reading itself and physical archeological evidence, the great reading must have originated in a north Arabian Lakhmid province or border town and not in a central Arabian area such as the area later known as Mecca. So if Mecca was not the town where the great reading was originally descended and the prophet lived, why did it take on this myth?
To understand what really happened, we need to know that the examples that The God gives us in the great reading are directly relevant to our lives. In all the examples, the majority of people reverted to paganism and their misguided ways after they had received guidance. We know from the great reading that the people of the prophet venerated idols called Allat, Aluzza and Manat (53:19-20) and this is confirmed by archeological evidence. We also need to know that there is nothing in the great reading that even remotely suggests that paganism was eradicated in Arabia and the fact that paganism continued to flourish under the Arab kingdom is confirmed by the evidence from manuscripts of independent non-Islamic sources.
With this in mind, let's observe what is going on in present day Mecca. If you go to Mecca, you will see that people are spinning seven times around a stone cube dressed in a black garment ("kiswah"). The focal point of the stone cube is what the pilgrims call the "Black Stone". It is set in the southeast corner of the stone cube precisely facing the winter sunrise. You will see the pilgrims compete to kiss the Black Stone. If you stop any of the pilgrims and ask them why they are performing the above rituals, they will answer that by performing the above rituals, their sins will be forgiven and they will return as if they are newborns.
The precise alignment of the Black Stone with the winter sunrise is not coincidental. Allat, the main idol of the prophet's people, was a fertility goddess and this is confirmed by archeological evidence from Nabataean sites. As typical of such fertility goddesses their symbols and rituals are related to the sun. In this case, the direction of the winter sunrise marks the location where the sun is "reborn". Now if you take a closer look, you will see that the enclosure of the Black Stone is in the shape of a dilated female vulva and the Black Stone is in the shape of the crown of the head of the newborn baby deity as it is coming out of the vulva.
Come closer yet and you will see that people are kissing the head of the newborn baby deity. Kissing the head is an ancient Arab tradition for asking for forgiveness. So kissing the top of the head of the newborn idol as traditionally done to ask for forgiveness, results in the pagan's sins being wiped out as if he or she was a newborn.
Hang around for a while and you will observe that people spin seven times around the Black Stone. A pre-quranic manuscript written by Epiphanius in the fourth century CE describes the ritual of spinning seven times as part of the birth festivals of the Nabataean idols Allat and Dhushara around the winter solstice. The number seven was considered sacred in Arab and pagan symbolism in general because of the five sacred planets plus the sun and the moon that the ancients venerated. To this day many people in the Arab world celebrate what is termed in Arabic Subu', which is a traditional festival that takes place on the seventh day after the birth of a newborn and on the seventh day after a pilgrims' return. Like the pagan pilgrimage that we observed and Epiphanius described, as part of the Subu' birth celebrations, people traditionally go around the house seven times while carrying the newborn baby.
Observe the pilgrims some more and you will see some of them running between two hills. Ask one of them why they do it and he or she will answer that this ritual is symbolic for looking for water for a newborn child. In all the above empirical observations, one can immediately see the strong connection between ideology, rituals and symbols that form concerted pagan celebrations of a fertility goddess giving birth. Those pagan rituals and symbols were simply appropriated into the new popular religion.
As a goddess of fertility, this would make Allat equivalent to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. This would also make her equivalent to the Roman goddess Venus, the Semitic goddess Astarte/Ashtoreth, the Mesopotamian Ishtar, the Vedic goddess Kali, the Anatolian Cybele, and Frigga in the Norse mythos. Such fertility mother goddess was worshipped all over the ancient world under various names. Interestingly, black stones like the one in Mecca are commonly associated with such goddesses. For example, the following picture shows a black stone that was venerated at the Temple of Aphrodite, near Paphos, Cyprus.
Black stone of Aphrodite
Black phallic stones were also widely associated with the cult of Cybele, the ancient Anatolian fertility goddess; and similar egg-shaped black stones are, to this day, revered in Indian temples to the Hindu fertility goddess Kali, who is also known as Black Mother.
Interestingly, according to Greek mythology Aphrodite's beauty is kept in a black cube. Allat has a particularly strong association with Aphrodite because Aphrodite is the Hellenized Allat. In post-quranic times we hear from Roman Christian sources about Aphrodite being worshipped by Arab pagans as late as the 8th century, long after the death of the prophet. So paganism was not eradicated in Arabia as traditions contend but remained and reemerged.
Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite is also home to the highly venerated Hala Sultan Tekke shrine (many consider it the third holiest shrine of Islam). Like the shrine in Mecca, it too has a black rock, said to have fallen as a meteorite as part of the tritholon over the shrine. The shrine is also to a woman named Umm Haram, the alleged foster mother of the prophet.
Another interesting common thread that runs through several of those idols is that they all had association with Friday. For example, Ashtoreth is connected to Friday. So is Venus, where the Romans named Friday after her as "dies veneris". The very name Friday is derived from the Norse goddess, Frigga. When the Germanic tribes invaded England they imposed their goddess upon the day meant to honor Venus. The day was called Frigedaeg, which gradually became "Friday". I don't think that it is a coincidence that Friday also became the "holy day" for sectarians who venerate Allat/Aphrodite and her black cube and Black Stone.
Also another interesting commonality is that such fertility goddesses were often veiled. Like the fertility goddess Cybele's veil, which covered her whole body, Allat's stone cube was also veiled with a black "dress". This practice of veiling the stone cube of the female goddess (and females in general) with a black dress continues to this day.
There is nothing particularly unique or amazing about what I am saying. All prior nations have reverted to paganism to one degree or another shortly after the death of their prophet. We can see this, for example, in Christianity's appropriation of pagan symbols and festivals such as Christmas. This is human nature. To think that we are somehow unlike other humans is nothing more than arrogant denial. This is in line with what the great reading tells us:
12:106. And the majority of them do not have faith in The God except while they are idolaters.
If we believe in 12:106, then we must know that the majority of people who have faith in The God are idolaters who associate idols such as Allat with The God as we saw above. If those idolaters who are the majority wanted to maintain their illogical and indefensible pagan symbols and rituals while avoiding logical criticism, then what better way than to claim that the prophet himself did like they do and that their pagan symbols are mentioned in the great reading? By hijacking the common noun "maka(t)"/destruction in the great reading (48:24) an insignificant town with a small pagan temple became the rallying center of paganism. Sometime in the late Umayyad - early Abbasid era is when this location seems to have gained importance and the reintroduction of Allat's beloved pagan symbols and rituals under the guise of the new religion was completed.
How were billions of men and women who profess to trust in The God and the great reading tricked into serving Allat by adoring her stone symbols and performing her rituals? In a twist of irony, as many of those men and women aged and estimated that death is near, they hastened to go to Allat believing that kissing her newborn's stone head or even just waving at it and spinning seven times around her stone cube would make them sinless. They believed that by doing those mindless rituals and honoring those inert objects they were doing something good. They thought that they would die in peace and go to heaven. Alas, in reality they were committing unforgivable idolatry and buying their way to unavoidable hell. Those people are not nameless and faceless. They are most of our forefathers, our grandparents, our parents, our loved ones, us and probably our children. How did it come to this? Indeed, this is the question we need to try to answer next from the great reading so that perhaps we can protect them from a fire whose fuel is people and stones, if The God willed. To be continued...
2:2. This is the book no doubt in it, a guidance for the forethoughtful.
This article reflects my personal interpretation of the verses of the reading as of January 5, 2006. I will try to improve my understanding of the great reading and the universe, except if The God wills and perhaps my Lord guides me to what is nearer in rationality. Please verify all information within for yourself as commanded in 17:36, and remember that simply "none" is the forethoughtful answer to 45:6. If The God willed, the outcome of this article will be beneficial.
 MCA Macdonald, "Reflections on the linguistic map of pre-Islamic Arabia." Arabian arch. epig. 2000: 11: 28–79.
 The fragment was first published in Violet B. Ein zweisprachiges Psalmfragment aus Damascus and was recently restudied by M.C.A. Macdonald who has demonstrated that it dates to the pre-Islamic period.
 For example, see: Hoyland, R., Seeing Islam as others saw it, The Darwin Press: Princeton, NJ, 2001: 105-106, 485-486.
By Ayman (firstname.lastname@example.org)