Traditions that Create Separation

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In the coming days, approximately 2 million Muslims will be arriving in Mecca for the Haj, with over 100,000 pilgrims coming from each country of Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

What is the background and significance of Mecca for this Pilgrimage, and what was its origin? According to Muslim tradition, in 630AD Muhammad journeyed to his native Mecca from Medina and destroyed all the pagan idols in the Holy Sanctuary of Mecca, called the Kaaba. He then dedicated the place as a Holy Place to remember God, the creator of the Universe.

The time prior to this event was known as Jahiliyah, the Age of Ignorance. Muslim tradition presents this age in Mecca as idolatrous, full of immorality, the killing of unwanted female children, and murderous.

Many studies now question whether there was such an “Age of Ignorance” followed by this sudden change. (See Book The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam by G R Hawting) The Qur’an speaks of people of Mecca and Arabia who knew well the characters of the Bible. The Qur’an speaks of people who knew the God of Abraham, but who compromised their faith with associating other figures, such as Angels and Saints, with God. These same accusations of angel and saint worship were common of Christian groups in Arabia during that period. It is against this background that the Qur’an’s is increasingly understood.

In creating the Age of Ignorance so immoral, and leaving that behind so dramatically, later traditions achieved 2 things: Firstly, elevating the efforts of Muhammad, and secondly, separating the inter-connectedness of the followers of Muhammad with the Middle East followers of the Bible.  This is not to deny the destroying of idols in Mecca ever occurred. However there is a very different environment in Mecca to what tradition suggests.

As centuries past, the separation increased as this later tradition was understood as reality. The challenge today is to re-build the natural original bridges, restoring that connection between communities.



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