If the story of Islam was told to me in a pub
3.1 Stupid Is As Stupid Does
Uzza: The battle for Medina is usually referred to as the Battle of the Ditch because of a trench that was dug in six days on the flat approaches to the city. This “ditch” completely stymied the Meccan forces. For two weeks an army of ten thousand which included a 300 horse cavalry unit waited for their befuddled commander Abu Sufyan to devise a strategy to overcome the obstacle and defeat an army estimated at 3,000. He waited for two weeks before a windstorm force his troops who were out in the open, to return to Mecca, never to threaten the city again.
Archie: Even if they could find 3,000 shovels for 3,000 men, which I doubt, they could not have, in six days, dug a ditch deep enough and wide enough that it could not be crossed with a little effort, or long enough that it could not be easily outflanked.
Uzza: That is the story that is told to every school children. It is part of our history.
Archie: And who wrote these stories where the Muslims are constantly fighting superior forces who are unable to withstand their attack or finish them off?
Uzza: You have to understand, until the Arabs as a nation under Islam became a force to be reckoned with and burst out of the Peninsula intent on making the world that of Allah, nobody paid any attention to commonplace skirmishes between tribes. These involved mostly posturing until the believers escalated them into violent confrontations.
Gerry: Surely the Prophet did not go unnoticed?
Uzza: At the time, Muhammad was just another doomsday prophet of which there was many roaming the Middle East. That is how Mecca thrived, by appealing to every religion under the sun, inviting them to place a relic or an icon in a cube like structure, the Ka'ba, to which pilgrims could come and pay homage. The desire to invite everyone to worship at the Ka'ba spawned the religious months during which travellers to Mecca were inviolate, until Muhammad broke with this civilizing tradition. The Ka'ba became such a hit that at the time of the Muslim takeover there were at least 360 icons and relics in it including a statue of the virgin Mary.
Gerry: I think the history of the world have been a lot less bloody if this civilizing influence of the Arabs before Islam had been allowed to spread.
Uzza: Yes, if Muhammad had not adopted the jealous god of the Jews and forced it on the Arabs.
Archie: So, the Arabs went from the most tolerant to the most intolerant of people?
Uzza: The Arabs of Renan were the most civilized people of the time, and that was reflected in their tolerance of the benign beliefs of others.
Archie: And profiting from them.
Uzza: Nothing wrong with that when everybody is happy with the arrangement, and they were coming in their tens of thousands every year, especially for the Hajj.
Bob: The Hajj was something people did before the Muslims?
Uzza: Technically, the first person to perform the Hajj was Adam.
Bob: Of Adam and Eve?
Uzza: Yes. God told Adam to go to this place in the desert, which He said was located directly below the most sacred place in Paradise, and to erect the structure we know today as the Ka'ba.
Bob: And where was Adam when Allah told him to do this?
Uzza: In a place we know today as Sri Lanka.
Archie: What the Hell was he doing in Sri Lanka?
Uzza: That is where he landed when Allah threw him and Eve out of Paradise.
Bob: So Eve was with him. They fell together. Makes sense.
Uzza: Yes, but Eve actually landed about 3,000 miles east on the shore of the Red Sea about 100 miles from Mecca, which of course did not exist at the time.
Archie: HOW DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE ANY SENSE? Assuming that the Koran is right and Paradise is about five miles up; two people falling from that height would not land 3,000 miles apart, let alone survive the fall?
[catching himself] What I am doing trying to make sense out of nonsense. Next thing you know they will be calling me an Islamic scholar.
Uzza: [starting to enjoy getting Archie's goat] I don't think anyone will ever mistake you for an Islamic scholar Archie. Maybe if you grew a beard? [getting a bit drunk] How about another drink, you Islamic scholar you? So who wants to hear the rest of the story of the Hajj and the Ka'ba?
Bob: I do.
Uzza: What about you Gerry?
Gerry: I'd love to hear it.
Archie: Sure why not.
Uzza: You're gone love this Archie. When Adam was thrown out of Paradise he grabbed a stone.
Bob: I would have grabbed a parachute myself.
Uzza: A large stone which he dragged all the way to Mecca where Eve was waiting.
Gerry: That means it was a woman who was first to disturbed the sands of Mecca, that a woman founded Mecca.
Uzza: When you put it that way. But, it is the placement of the stone from Paradise that is associated with the founding of Mecca. It is as if Adam had planted Allah's flag when, after building the first Ka'ba, he made the stone its centerpiece and proceeded to circle the impressive cube seven time as the believers do today, counterclockwise as Muhammad demonstrated.
Gerry: In things big and small, the reversal of right and wrong you mentioned earlier, the Prophet was very much the contrarian wasn't he?
Uzza: Clockwise is how the pagans circled the Ka'ba. It was perhaps Muhammad's way of again putting Islam's imprint on a pagan tradition. This is of course if you are not convinced that he was simply demonstrating the way Adam first did it.
Bob: Is going in circles in opposite directions the only difference in the way the pagans and the believers do the Hajj?
Uzza: The Hajj before Islam was not the somber ritual you have today. It was more a song and dance festival where you did your own thing. Some even circulated the Ka'ba naked and nobody minded, until Muhammad put a stop to it. Allah described the pagan Hajj as "nothing but whistling and clapping." The pagan Hajj could also be considered the first to perform the Thanksgiving tradition of sparing the lives of animals. Muhammad said that Al-Khuzai, who his credited with starting the custom of setting animals free at the Hajj before Muhammad put a stop to that as well, would spend an eternity dragging his intestines in Hell's fire.
Bob: Was the Prophet always that crude and cruel?
Uzza: When it came to describing what Allah would do to those who did not do as they were told, yes!
Gerry: Did you do the Hajj?
Uzza: Yes, my father took me a few years ago. He wanted me to experience something he thought would be wonderful.
Gerry: And was it?
Uzza: Only if you like having your ass grabbed every time you bent down while going around in circles with a million other people.
Bob: You're kidding?
Uzza: It is next to impossible to segregate the sexes during the Hajj, therefore, women and girls must silently submit, less they be accused of arousing the males next to them, to the probing hands of men and boys who are not allowed to get as close to the opposite sex as during the Hajj until they are married and seek to understand with their hands what Islam has denied their eyes until their wedding night. I don't blame them. And it not only happens at the Hajj.
Gerry: But, you were with your father???
Uzza: Like I said, you're going around in circles squeezed in by a million or more people. He may have been close, but unless he looked up and sideways or backwards, which would have gotten him in serious trouble, he would not have seen the men crowding together to get at his daughter's behind.
Bob: What kind of trouble?
Uzza: Muhammad demonstrated how you did the Hajj as he demonstrated everything from how you prayed to how you ate, to how you clean yourself after answering the call of nature. Unless you did exactly as he demonstrated, especially anything that had to do with worshipping Allah, and I mean exactly, you risked serious injury even death. One day, an old man decided he could not complete the prayers as Muhammad was demonstrating. Later that day he was executed as an unbeliever.
Bob: Could you have complained to the authorities?
Uzza: And be accused of having seduced the men around me and thrown in jail. No way.
Gerry: Did you tell your father?
Uzza: Why, and spoil the Hajj for him.
Gerry: So, for your father, it was a good experience?
Uzza: My father was looking for a spiritual experience, and it wasn't. I don't know if it was the preachers shouting verses from the Koran as you made your way to different venues on stark concrete walkways, the unpicked garbage in large orange bags strewn about, the noise of animals being tortured to death or the visit to perhaps the largest shopping mall in the world only a few hundred yards from what is supposed to be the holiest place on earth, where someone stole his watch.
Bob: So the Hajj is much more than just a pilgrimage, it is a shopping destination?
Uzza: It is the Saudis combining the holy and the mercantile in Allah's Cause. Organizing the Hajj and the year-round lesser pilgrimages is an expensive proposition; not to mention funding the mosques and madrassas around the world that will generate the pilgrims and the money that will keep the thousands of Princes of the House of Saud in the lifestyle they are accustomed to when the oil runs out.
Bob: I didn't mean it when I said that the Hajj was also a shopping destination.
Uzza: Don't apologize. That was the impression my father was left with when he walked into the sumptuous five stories Abraj Al Bait shopping mall with its more than 1,000 stores overlooking the Ka'ba.
Bob: The pilgrimage has to be more than going around in circles, killing some animals, doing some shopping then going home?
Uzza: The Hajj is a five day affair. There is the Tawaf, what you called going around in circles seven times; then there is the back and forth seven times between two hills to commemorate Hagar's search for water after being left with Ismael to fend for themselves by Abraham in the vicinity of the Ka'ba; then there is the procession to Mount Arafat to stand in vigil where Muhammad delivered his last sermon; then there is the procession to Mina where we all throw pebbles at a pillar in a recreation of the three occasions when Muhammad threw stones at the devil, just like Abraham did to scare him off, and finally the Feast of Eid ul Adha which marks the end of the Hajj and commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ismael during which hundreds of thousands of animal are slaughtered in the ritual manner, not only at Mecca but around the world, as demonstrated by Muhammad. First you secure the animal in an upright position then cut its throat and watch it struggle as it bleeds to death; the awful noise it makes a testament to how painful this gratuitous cruelty can be.
Bob: Isn't that what happens in slaughterhouses?
Uzza: Only in slaughterhouses that prepare halal meats which has become a booming business. When you see in your supermarket a piece of meat labeled halal it is from an animal that has been literally tortured to death, not from an animal that has been stunned into unconsciousness before being bled.
Gerry: And the Koran demands this, that animals whose meat is meant to be eaten be tortured to death?
Uzza: No, the Koran only prohibits the eating of carrion and decrees that animals at the Hajj be killed while standing up. At one Hajj, Muhammad demonstrated the technique by personally slaughtering seven camel and two rams.
Bob: I could never kill an animal the way Muhammad demonstrated.
Uzza: You could if you had grown up in an environment where this was normal. Muslim children have been conditioned by celebrations such as the feasts that follow Ramadan and the Hajj to watch and learn, even enjoy the suffering of animals put to death in such a cruel manner.
Gerry: Next time I see halal meat at my supermarket I may just throw up.
Uzza: There is also a benefit to children watching and learning how to kill an animal the ritual way. I remember looking at pictures of ISIS recruits and noticing their composure as they stood behind their kneeling victims getting ready to slice their throats like they would do a sheep. They are totally unperturbed, they know how it's done. The agony their victims are about to experience will not bother them. Most recruits into regular armed forces need to be trained and conditioned to kill. Not so for most of those who join the ranks of holy warriors as was demonstrated by the mass killings done by the fresh faces of Islamic State.
Gerry: That explains the knife attacks that have become commonplace; the micro-terrorism that has proven more terrifying and effective than the macro variety.
Bob: Did you get to kiss the rock of Paradise like the Irish kiss the blarney stone?
Uzza: Tradition holds that the stone was once heavenly-white, not the black-as-Hell stone you see today. This, it is said, was caused by too much kissing of the stone of Paradise, That's it, no more kissing.
Gerry: If there are stones in Paradise, then Paradise in the Koran is not like the spiritual place of the New Testament where men and women are equal and happiness comes from basking in the light and the glory of the Lord and being free of physical wants and earthly desires?
Archie: If Paradise was a spiritual place you would not need those pillars to hold it it up, would you?
Uzza: Paradise in the Koran is like seven large oasis stacked one on top of the other with typical desert oasis vegetation and irrigated by underground rivers. On these humongous oases there are carpets and couches in lovely shades of green as far as the eye can see.
Bob: What's with the carpets and couches?
Uzza: On these carpets and couches men will fornicate to their heart's content with female facsimiles, the so-called houris, and blushing maidens to whom they are quickly married to avoid committing the sin of adultery.
Bob: Inflatable dolls have come a long way. I am told that taking one to bed is like having sex with the real thing, so why kill yourself and a bunch of innocent people just to have sex with one in Paradise?
Uzza: Are you kidding! Man-made female replicas will never match what the Creator of us all can manufacture in Paradise.
Archie: What about the real women?
Uzza: If you mean the wives of the men doing all that fornicating, they will be confined to large pavilions, not unlike the harems of Muhammad's day, doomed to a sporadic bout of intimicy for an eternity; not unlike prisoners dependent on a conjugal visit from a cheating husband.
Archie: Do I detect some bitterness?
Uzza: Shut up!
Gerry: Your description of Paradise, its mirror image of what the desert Arabs considered a sanctuary, the same double standards as on earth, the same sins as on earth would fit with Lawrence's observation that the Arabs' imagination was vivid, but not creative.
Uzza: Muhammad's imagination, if you are insinuating that Paradise is how he imagined it, was not typical of the imagination of the Arabs of his time. Pre-Islamic Arabs built the jewel and engineering wonder that was Petra. It took creativity, immense creativity.
Bob: The Arabs did that. That is amazing.
Uzza: Yes, the Arabs did that! Even more amazing, my namesake, the goddess al-Uzza was worshipped by both the Arabs of Petra and those of Mecca.
Bob: What's with the "al"?
Uzza: It's simply means "the". It emphasizes the uniqueness of the one who bears the name. For example, you could spell Allah with a hyphen after the first "l" for it means the God.
Gerry: So Uzza is unique, just like you are unique.
Uzza: In more ways than one, you flatterer you. By naming me Uzza my parents were making a statement, they were breaking with tradition. It is a sin for Muslims to name their children after deities whose existence Allah has denied, which is every god and goddess that ever lived, and that includes al-Uzza.
Bob: That's sounds dangerous?
Uzza: When the Islamists come for me, my parents will already have been killed.
Gerry: That is terrible. And we let them in, as you said.
Uzza: Archie, more wine please for tomorrow we die.
Gerry: Don't say that.
Archie: What is amazing about the Arabs of Mecca worshipping the same goddess as the Arabs of Petra?
Uzza: It supports a theory that it was the well-travelled Nabataeans, the name of the Arab tribe which built Petra, who also founded Mecca.
Archie: So it wasn't Adam and Eve. [sarcastically] I don't believe it!
Bob: What about the stone?
Uzza: Most agree that the stone is the remnants of a meteorite.
Gerry: So the stone in the Ka'ba is really out of this world.
Uzza: Obviously, whether you believe it came from Paradise or outer-space. The Nabataeans, some have speculated, believed the stone which fell to earth came from the home of the gods and goddesses above the clouds; a sign that they, including the goddess al-Uzza, wanted a shrine built where it fell.
Gerry: And that is where they built the Ka'ba.
Uzza: And around the Ka'ba grew the city of Mecca. The Romans maintained, in the first century, a garrison at the port of Jeddah just about 50 miles from Mecca and catalogue much of the area without mentioning Mecca. This is further evidence that it was founded by the Nabataeans. You would have expected that a shrine built by Adam and Eve, and later rebuilt by Abraham after the Great Flood swept away the Ka'ba and its contents, would have already grown into a town worthy of mentioned by the Romans, who did take notice of Medina.
Bob: Abraham, from what I remember of the Bible, lived what has to be about a thousand miles from Mecca.
Uzza: That's about right, I think.
Bob: So how did he get from here to there to rebuild a cabin in the middle of nowhere? His two thousand mile round-trip by camel could not have gone unnoticed by those left behind and those who would not have let the old guy go on such a journey all by himself.
Uzza: The first time he was not by himself, he was with Hagar and their son Ismael.
Archie: You mean he did this trip more than once?
Uzza: At least twice, once to drop off Hagar and their son Ismael after Sarah finally bore her husband a son, and demanded he get rid of Hagar her Egyptian servant and Ismael.
Gerry: I thought Isaac was Abraham's first son by his first wife, Sarah.
Uzza: Islam considers Hagar a legitimate wife of Abraham therefore Ismael his first-born son. The Koran is clear on the concept; Isaac was a gift from God to Abraham because of his willingness to sacrifice Ismael on a small hill next to the Ka'ba.
Gerry: So, who is right, the Bible which says that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac and the Koran which says it was Ismael on hills at least a thousand miles apart?
Uzza: The Koran was also sent to correct errors in the Bible, so the Koran has to be right.
Archie: What else is new!
Bob: If the stone from Paradise was swept away, why do Islamists still believe that the stone they worship today is the same one that Adam brought from Paradise?
Uzza: The angel Gabriel found it and gave it to Abraham so that he could return it to its honored place in the Ka'ba he rebuilt.
Archie: That is one handy angel to have around isn't. Maybe he was kind enough to loan Abraham his flying horse for at least the return trips to Mecca when he would not have to carry the three of them, which may have exceeded his takeoff weight.
Uzza: Funny you should say that. Scholars have speculated that Gabriel did just that.
Archie: I was joking.
Uzza: Scholars don't joke about such things.
Archie: Are you saying I'm a scholar now?
Uzza: No, but you may want to pretend to be one if the police hear you talking that way about scriptures.
Gerry: If you have the means and the wherewithal you have to perform the Hajj at least once in you lifetime. If you don't, Allah will not let you into His Paradise. You will have to spend eternity in Hell.
Gerry: I've read that two million is about the maximum number of Hajj pilgrims Mecca can accommodate because of the limitations of a finite space and the set-in-cement example of the Prophet. One reason it imposes country quotas. At this rate it would take more than 750 years to accommodate all the Muslims alive today. How could Allah have mandated a ritual that you must perform or spend an eternity on fire in His Hell that the vast majority of believers cannot fulfill even if they wanted to?
Archie: Makes you wonder about the big guy's ability to see the future doesn't it?
Gerry: Was He setting up the believers for a fall or did His ability to see the future have a blindspot?
Uzza: His angels did accuse Allah of wanting to "spread mischief in the land" when he sent Adam to earth. But, I don't think it was His intention to put so many believers in the impossible situation you described. A situation that is bound to get worse if no solution is found with believers joining Islam in record numbers, if only to be on the winning side. Muhammad insinuated that the end of the world would occur during his lifetime or shortly thereafter when there was plenty of room for everyone at the Hajj. This may have had something to do with it. I don't know. Perhaps they could do what Muhammad considered doing after seeing the Ka'ba in the sky, the Bait-ul-Ma'mur, which is directly above in Paradise and which the angels enter by one door and leave by another. Much more efficient.
Archie: The angels have their own Hajj?
Uzza: Yes, as weird as that sounds.
Bob: What about aliens?
Uzza, Archie, Gerry [taken aback] WHAT!
Bob: What if there is intelligent life out there and they too chose to submit either voluntarily or by force to the Will of Allah. If the Hajj cannot accommodate the people of earth how will it accommodate aliens?
Archie: Haven't you been listening, there is no there there. It is all an illusion. The only there there is Paradise a few miles up, and like on earth it is filled with mindless automatons who spend much of their existence in awe of the great illusionist. Not only is there no intelligent life out there, there is not that much here either when you think about it.
Gerry: Uzza, ignore that stuff about aliens, but consider everything else. Do you honestly believe what you have just told us about the stone from Paradise and the sanctity of the rituals associated with it which the vast majority of believers will not be able to perform through no fault of their own and be condemned to an eternity on fire?
Uzza: As I said before, it does not matter what I believe, it is what Islamists believe.
Archie: That would mean that anyone who performs the Hajj is an Islamist.
Uzza: MY FATHER PERFORMED THE HAJJ AND HE WAS NO ISLAMIST!
Gerry: Uzza, calm down. From what you have told us about your father, he doesn't sound like the type who would believe stories about how a stone from Paradise became the icon at the center of Islam most sacred shrine venerated by all who believe.
Uzza: The stone from Paradise is not an icon, only unbelievers venerate icons; and the stories about Adam falling to earth can be surmised from Allah telling him to "go down from here" and Abraham's visits to Mecca and what he did there you will find details in the Koran from which a much comprehensive story can be told.
Archie: By whom?
Uzza: For the complete story believers are very much indebted to a man who spent a lifetime studying the Koran and the saying of Muhammad before writing a sixty thousand page history of the world, the Kitab Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l Muluk, The Book of History of Prophets And Kings, from Creation to the 9th century, his century. Al-Tabari is considered the father of Islamic History, and after Muhammad, one of the wisest men who ever lived.
Archie: So the story about Adam and the stone of Paradise and all the bowing and the circling, the running back and forth like a mad person between two hills and throwing stones at a pillar as if it was the devil are not mentioned in the Koran?
Uzza: The circling, yes.
Archie: This fellow Tabari may be a wise man but an even wiser man said that "stupid is as stupid does."
Uzza: My father was not a stupid man. And how are the rituals of the Hajj any more stupid than those of the Catholics, for example, who pretend to eat a piece of God as part of their worship?
Archie: He is not a fool who recognizes that he has been played for a fool, and Catholics have been deserting that church of years now. They've wised up.
Bob: I don't remember Forest Gump saying that thing about fools not being fools?
Archie: He didn't, I did.
Uzza: Catholics have not deserted their church because of some silly ritual but because of the nonsense it preaches. Like that sex is for procreation only, meaning that if you are an infertile couple you should not have sex. They have deserted their church because their children were being raped by men prohibited from marrying. They say Islam is obsessed with having sex and that this is a bad thing; but a religion which is obsessed with not having it is worse.
Gerry: I would agree with you if Islam did not use sex as an incentive to commit mass murder.
Uzza: You're thinking about the houris aren't you?
Gerry: If they are the virgins promised to the murderers of men, women and children, the so-called martyrs, yes.
Archie: You know what strikes me about this discussion about rituals in praise of inscrutable gods; that we are all pagans. Except me of course, for I don't believe in any of this crap. A caveman woke up one day and realized he was alone and mortal and couldn't deal with it and invented gods and the afterlife. He was the first pagan. Mindless rituals is how pagans from the very beginning worshipped their newly minted figment of their imagination. Modern religions would like you to think they are different. They are not. They simply, to survive the discovery that the moon and sun and whatever were not gods after all, embraced a new nonsense, the metaphysical while sticking with the same shtick of the pagans of old to maintain an aura of authenticity.
Gerry: A new, what you call nonsense, that is much harder to disprove. What you have just said Archie is actually quite profound. And I'm impressed that the words metaphysical, inscrutable, authenticity are even part of your vocabulary.
Archie: Big deal. Do you want to hear something even more profound. Something Mark Twain said about faith, that it is believing in something you know to be untrue.
Bob: What does that mean?
Archie: It means that cavemen who could not have known any better were probably smarter than today's pagans.
Bob: Enough about pagans. So what happened after the Meccans went home?
Gerry: Good idea, let's change the subject. Are you okay with that Uzza?
Uzza: I guess so. But leave my father out of it. I find it very tiresome.
Archie: We're not changing the subject; that is how this discussion all started.
Gerry: Archie, give it a rest, will you.