ANIMISM IN THE CREED AND THE USE OF THE ROSARY
ONE has only to read popular expositions of the Koran texts that refer to angels, jinn, iblis (the devil), kismet (fate), and the many traditions regarding the creation of the soul and its transmigration to realize that the world of Moslem thought and that of Animism are not distinct. Not only in popular Islam, its magic (high and low), its amulets, charms, talismans, magic squares, sacred trees, etc., but in the sacred literature of Islam we find pagan beliefs and practices perpetuated. The shortest of all monotheistic creeds, the Kalima, has itself become a species of magic and at least in three of the six articles of the expanded statement of orthodox belief we find animistic teaching and interpretation. "I believe in Allah and His angels, and His books, and His prophets, and the Resurrection and the Predestination of good and evil."
doctrine of God includes the magical use of His names and attributes. The doctrine
of angels includes not only demonology but jinn fear and worship as real
as in Paganism. The belief in revelation has in popular Islam almost degenerated
into bibliomancy and bibliolatry. Do the fellahin of Egypt not take their
oath on Al Bokhari? The prophets, especially Solomon and
Some of these practices based on the creed we will recur to later; here we limit our discussion to the use of the Koran, the creed formula and the rosary in ways that are condemned by the creed itself. "There is no god but Allah "- yet His Book, His names, His very attributes are used as amulets against demon and jinn or as fetish receive the reverence due to Himself alone. Every missionary knows that the Koran itself has the power of a fetish in popular Islam. Not only is the book eternal in its origin and use for mystic purposes, but only those who are ritually pure may touch it. Certain chapters are of special value against evil spirits. It is related in Tradition, e.g. that "whosoever reads the 105th chapter and the 94th chapter of the Koran at morning prayers will never suffer pain in his teeth"! This is one reason why these two chapters, i.e. of the "Elephant" and the one entitled "Have we not expanded," are almost universally used for the early prayers.
funerals they always read the chapter "Y.S."; and then, in fear of jinn and spirits,
the chapter of the Jinn. One has only to read this last chapter with the commentaries
on it to see' how large a place the doctrine occupies in popular Islam.
Just as Moslems to-day use special names of God and special chapters as "cure-alls"
so did the Jews of the Dispersion. The following verses in
1I:1-5 (The last letters only.) To confuse a persons mind (M. V. 25); as preservation against pollution (S. Z.lib); and for other purposes ("Cat. Anglo-Jew. Hist. Exh." No. 1874; Schwab).
21: To lighten child-birth (M. V.59).
24:2 On using a divining rod (M. V.80).
25:14 Against the crying of children (M. V.64).
32:31 Against danger on a journey (M. V.34).
49:18 To shorten one's way on a journey (M. V.23); in the lying-in room (M. V.80).
XI: 7 For protection against a fierce dog. (For greater security, the traveler is advised to carry a stout stick as well, which gave rise to the saying, "He has both a verse ('posuk') and a stick ('stecken ') with him" applied to one well fortified on every side.)
11:8 To lighten child-birth (M. V.59).
15:2 To shorten one's way (A'. V.24).
15:16 To shorten the way (M. V.23); to insure safety in a court of law (M. V. 32); against fear (M. V. 65).
17:16 Against bleeding (M. V.45).
22I:17 In the lying-in room (M. V.91).
33:23 Against witchcraft (M. V.41).
34:6 To shorten the way (M. V.23).
1:1 The same (M. V.23).
11:2 Against fire (M.V.10, 11; S.Z. 27).
11:12 Against the evil eye (M. V.41).
23:23 In lying-in rooms (M. V.91).
6:4-9 Against fever (M. V.50).
33:4 On taking children to school (S. Z. 30b).
A still larger number of verses were taken from the Psalms for similar purposes and used as amulets. Most common, however, was the use of the names of God and of angels.
The Koran is not only the most excellent of all books, but the essential Word
of God contained therein is eternal and uncreated. It was originally written by
God himself on the Preserved Tablet, then brought down in sheets (suhuf)
to the lowest heaven on the night of Al Qadr where they were
preserved in a place called the House of Majesty (Beit-ul-'Izza). From
here they were brought to
"This book, once a world-reforming power, now serves but to be chanted by teachers and laymen according to definite rules. The rules are not difficult, but not a thought is ever given to the meaning of the words; the Quran is chanted simply because its recital is believed to be a meritorious work. This disregard of the sense of the words rises to such a pitch that even pandits who have studied the commentaries - not to speak of laymen - fail to notice when the verses they recite condemn as sinful things which both they and the listeners do every day, nay even during the very common ceremony itself.
"The inspired code of the universal conquerors of thirteen centuries ago has grown to be no more than a mere text-book of sacred music, in the practice of which a valuable portion of the youth of well-educated Muslims is wasted and which is recited on a number of ceremonial occasions in the life of every Mohammedan."4
In all Moslems lands on the occasions of birth, death or marriage the Koran is used as a charm. It is put near the head of the dying, and on the head of a new-born infant for good luck. The belief is universal in the Mohammedan world that Safar is pregnant with evil, and that one may feel very thankful when lie reaches the last Wednesday of this month without mishap. This day nowhere passes wholly without notice. "In Acheh," says Hurgronje, "it is called Rabn Abeh, 'the final Wednesday.' Many take a bath on this day, the dwellers on the coast in the sea, others in the river or at the well. It is considered desiraNe to use for this bath water consecrated by contact with certain verses of the Koran. To this end a teungku in the gampong gives to all who ask slips of paper on which he has written the seven verses of the Koran in which Allah addresses certain men with the word salarn (blessing or peace)."5
It is the common belief in East Arabia that the Koran if wrapped in a fresh sheep-skin will withstand the hottest fire and never a page be singed or burned. I was repeatedly challenged to this ordeal with the Gospel vs. the Koran during my early missionary days at Bahrein. That the sacred character of the work is not limited to the text, but extends to paper and ink is clear from the process of insulation in taking oath. In India a hog's bristle put on the ball of the thumb which then rests on the Koran allows the swearer to perjure himself without dangen So holy a book is used therefore to drive away demons. No evil spirit visits the room where it rests on the highest shelf - the place of honor.
This belief that the Koran can drive away devils is exactly paralleled by practices in China. De Groot writes ("The Religion of the Chinese," p.51): "I have said that classical works are among the best weapons in the war against specters. Even the simple presence of a copy, or a fragment, or a leaf of a dassic is a mighty preservative, and an excellent medicine for spectral disease. As early as the Han dynasty, instances are mentioned of men having protected themselves against danger and misfortune by reciting classical phrases. But also writings and sayings of any kind, provided they be of an orthodox stamp, destroy specters and their influences. Literary men, when alone in the dark, insure their safety by reciting their classics; should babies be restless because of the presence of specters, classical passages do excellent service as lullabies."
Again he speaks of the magical power of the almanac (De Groot, p.53): "No house in China may be without a copy of the almanac, or without at least its title-page in miniature, printed on purpose with one or two leaves affixed, as a charm, in accordance with the pars pro toto principle, and sold in shops for one 'coin or cash. These charms are deposited in beds, in corners and cupboards, and such like places, and worn on the body; and no bride passing from her paternal home into that of her bridegroom may omit the title-page among the exorcising objects with which her pocket is for that occasion filled."
Portions of the Koran are lithographed in colors and sold for the same purposes in Cairo, Bombay, Singapore and Madras. The fantastic combinations of Arabic script and the intagho of the design make the charm all the more potent. Men cannot decipher it, but demons can.
In the use of the Rosary (Subha) and its gradual spread throughout the
world of Islam we also find evidence of Animistic superstition. According to Dr.
Goldziher: "It is generally admitted that the use of the rosary, which was imported
into Islam, was not adopted by the disciples of
this it seems certain that in that century the use of the subha as an instrument
of devotion was common only among the inferior classes and had no place among
the learned. when a rosary was found in the possession of a certain pious saint,
Abu-l-Kasim al-Junaid, who died in the Hegira, they attacked
him for using it, although he belonged to the best society. "I cannot give up,"
said he, "a thing that serves to bring me nearer to God." This tradition furnishes
us with rare facts since it shows us on the one hand that in the social sphere
the use of the rosary was common even among the higher classes; and on the other
hand that the strict disciples of
Even later on, when the use of the rosary had for long ceased to provoke discontent in the orthodox Moslems, the controversialists, whose principle was to attack all "innovations," still distrusted any exaggerations in the usage of this practice. But like a great many things that were not tolerated at the beginning under religious forms, the rosary introduced itself from private religious life to the very heart of the mosques.
"The appearance of the rosary," says Goldziher, to quote again from his paper, "and the way in which it had been adopted by the faithful of the Sunna, did not pass unperceived by the Hadith. I believe that the following story which we road in the book called 'Sunan,' written in the third century, has to do with the entrance of the rosary:
"''Al-Hakam b. al-Mubarak relates on the authority of 'Amr b. Jahja, who had heard it from his father, and who in his turn had heard from his father: we were sitting before the door of 'Abdallah b. Masud, before the morning prayer, for we were in the habit of going to the mosque in his company. One day we encountered Abu Musa al-Ash'ari . . and very soon Abu 'Abd al-Rahman came in his turn. Then Abu Musa said: "In former times, O Abu Rahman, I saw in the mosque things that I did not approve of; but now, thank God, I see nothing but good." "What do you mean by that?" said the other "If you live long enough," answered Abu Musa, "you will know. I have seen in the mosque, people who sat round in circles (kauman hilakan) awaiting the moment of Salat.
Each group was presided over by a man and they held in their hands small stones.
The president said to them: 'Repeat 100 Takbir!'6 and for one hundred times they recited the formula of the Takbir.
Then he used to tell them: 'Repeat 100 Tahul!''7 And they recited the formula of Tailil for one hundred times.
Then he told them also: 'Repeat 100 times the Tasbih! 8 And the persons who were in the group equally went through this exhortation also."
Then Abu 'Abd al-Rahman asked: "What did'st thou say when thou sawest these things?" "Nothing," answered Abu Musa, "because I first wanted to find out your view and your orders."
So we together repaired to the mosque and we soon came across one of these groups.
He stopped before them and said: "What do you here?" "We have here," they answered, "small stones which help us to count the Takbir, the Tahil and the Tasbih, which we recite."
answered them in these terms: "Sooner count your sins and nothing will be lost
of your good works. Woe to thee, O community of
By Allah, O Abu 'Abd al-Rahman," they cried, "we mean but to do right!"
And he answered them: "There are many who pretend to do right, but who cannot get at it, it is to them that the word of the Prophet applies: There are of those who read the Koran, but deny its teaching, and I swear it by God, I doubt whether the majority of these people are not among yourselves." '"
Other traditions show us the prophet protesting regarding some faithful women against their using these small stones when reciting the litanies just mentioned and recommending the use of the fingers when counting their prayers. "Let them count their prayers on their fingers (ja'kidna bil anamil); for an account will be taken of them."
All these insinuations found in traditions invented for the purpose, denote a disapprobation of the use of the rosary, at the moment of its appearance. The use of small stones in the litanies was, it seems, an original form of the subha, very much like the later use of the rosary. It is said of Abu Huraira that he recited the Tasbih in his house by the aid of small stones which he kept in a purse (jusabbih biha). Let us also mention the severe words of Abdallah, son of the Khalif Omar, which he addressed to a person who rattled his stones in his hands during prayer (juharrik al-Hasa Bijedihi), "Do not do that, for that is prompted by the devil."
Were not the litanies ever counted in this way before the rosary was introduced? One cannot be sure. Anyway, it seems very probable that the traditions against this custom date from the time when the rosary was introduced into Islam. The Tibetan Buddhists, long before the Christian Era, used strings of beads, generally 108 in number and made of jewels, sandal-wood, mussel-shells, and the like, according to the status of their owners. whether Islam adopted the rosary from India during the Moslem conquest is uncertain, but not improbable.
Regarding the Christian use of the rosary we read: "The custom of repeatedly reciting the Our Father arose in the monastic life of Egypt at an early time, being recorded by Palladius and Sozomen. The Hail Mary or Ave Maria, on the other hand, first became a regular prayer in the second half of the eleventh century, though it was not until about the thirteenth century that it was generally adopted. The addition of the words of Elizabeth, 'blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus' (Luke 1: 42), and the Angelical Salutation, 'Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women' (Luke 1:28), is first mentioned about 1130; but Bishop Odo of Paris (1196-1208) requires the recitation of Hail Mary together with the Our Father and the Creed as a regular Christian custom.
The closing petition, 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,' developed gradually in the sixteenth century, and was regarded even by the council of Besancon (1571) as a superfluous but pious custom. These facts show that the traditions which ascribe the invention of the rosary to Benedict of Nursia, Bede, or Peter the Hermit, are untrustworthy, and the same statement holds of the Dominican tradition which makes Dominic receive a vision of the Virgin commanding him to introduce the use of the rosary. At the same time, the rosary was originally an essential Dominican mode of devotion; though first arising long after the death of the founder of the order; but while some influence may have been exercised by the acquaintance of oriental Christians with the Mohammedan Tasbih, all the characteristics of the recitation of Our Father, like the meditations connected with it, can only be explained by the operation of specifically Christian ideas." 9
The Rosary in Islam is at present used for three distinct purposes. It is used
in prayer and Zikr for counting pious ejaculations or petitions. It is
used for divining the will of God; and it is used in a magical way for healing.
The second practice. is called Istikhara. It is related of one of the wives
rosary must be grasped within the palms of both hands, which are then rubbed together;
then the Fatiha is solemnly repeated, after which tile user breathes upon
the rosary with his breath in order to put the magic power of the chapter into
the beads. Then he seizes a particular bead and counts toward the "pointer" bead
using the words, God,
use the rosary in this way the following things must be observed. The rosary must
be grasped within the palms of both hands, which are then rubbed together; then
the Fatiha is solemnly repeated, after which tile user breathes upon the
rosary with his breath in order to put the magic power of the chapter into the
beads. Then he seizes a particular bead and counts toward the "pointer" bead using
the words, God,
When we remember the high idealism with which Edwin Arnold has clothed the ninety-nine names of Allah in his book on the Moslem rosary entitled "Pearls of the Faith" we enter a word of protest against the use of such glorious names for magic and sorcery. In this connection we mention a ceremony practiced among the Mohammedans of India on special occasions, called in the Arabic Subha and usually performed on the itight succeeding a burial. The soul is then supposed to remain in the body, after which it departs to Hades, there to await its final doom. The ceremony is thus described: "At night, dervishes, somethnes as inany as fifty, assemble, and one brings a rosary of 1000 beads, each as large as a pigeon's egg.
beginning with the 67th chapter of the Koran, they say three times, 'God is one,
then recite the last chapter but one and the first, and then say three times,
'O God, favor the most excellent and most happy of thy creatures, our lord
After each thousand they sometimes rest and take coffee; then 100 times (I extol) the perfection of God with his praise.' Then thesame number of times: 'I beg forgiveness of God the Great'; after which fifty times: 'The perfection of the Lord the Eternal'; then 'The perfection of the Lord of Might'; etc. (Koran XXXVII last three verses). Then two or three recite two or three more verses. This done or asks his companions, 'Have ye transferred (the merit of what ye have recited to the soul of the deceased?' They reply, 'We have' and add, 'Peace be on the apostles.' This concludes the ceremony, which in the house of the rich, is repeated the second and third nights."
In Algeria the rosary is used by the Taleb in divinining whether the sick will die or not. The beads are counted of in threes, if this leaves one off number the beads must be recounted in twos, if ending evenly the patient will live, an odd one remains it means death. The rosary which is Considered a holy thing is never used in vulgar magic.
In Tunisia the fortune-teller marks a place on the rosary with a thread and counts off the beads while chanting certain words, sometimes the names of the father or mother of the sick person. The required information is found by the number of beads remaining over after the recitation; if three remain to the thread, it is sickness; if two it is health.
Mr. G. B. A. Gardener, of Cape Town, says: "The rosary is sometimes worn round the neck as a cure for sickness. Those most in use are made of sandal-wood, said to come from Mecca. For magical purposes the rosary is used by counting."
Miss G. Y. Holliday of Tabriz, Persia, gives the following information: "The rosary is used to decide what medicine should be taken, what physician should be called, whether his advice should be followed or not, etc. It is also used about all the affairs of life it is called taking the istikhara. In using it, the rosary is grasped by the first bead the hand happens on; from which they count to the Khalifa or the large bead which is the most prominent object, saying 'bad, good,' the last bead giving the decision."
In Java the rosary is used as follows for healing the sick, or for inducing sickness. With the rosary in the hand one reads any chapter from the Koran and up to the fifteenth verse, this verse always contains a word of talismanic power, and while this verse is being read the rosary is counted and the result follows.
In Egypt the rosary is widely used for
"In India," writes Mr. K. I. Khan of Poona, "the rosary is used to protect against the evil eye and other dangers, sometimes it is washed in water and the water given as medicine to the sick to drink."
When we consider how in all these puerile superstitions
Al Ghazali says: "When God Almighty let His hands pass over the back of Adam and gathered men into His two hands, He placed some of them in His right hand and the others in His left; then he opened both His hands before Adam, and Adam looked at them and saw them like imperceptible atoms.
Then God said: 'These are destined for Paradise and these are destined for hell-fire.'
He then asked them: 'Am I not not your Lord?' and they replied: 'Certainly, we testify that Thou art our Lord.'
God then asked Adam and the angels to be witnesses . . . after this God replaced them into the loins of Adam. They were at that time purely spiritual beings without bodies. He then caused them to die, but gathered them and kept them in a receptacle near His throne. When the germ of a new being is placed in the womb of the mother, it remains there till its body is sufficiently developed; the soul in the same is then dead, yet when God Almighty breathes into it the spirit, He restores to it its most precious part of which it had been deprived while preserved in the receptacle near the throne. This is the first death and a second life. Then God places man in this world till he has reached the term fixed for him."
In this teaching of the greatest Moslem theologian we have the gist of the teaching as found in the Koran and Tradition.
The Koran in many places gives a minute description of the process of death while
the Commentaries based on sayings of
Death takes place by means of a poisonous lance which is held by Izra'il the angel of death, who pierces the soul and detaches it from the body. (Cf. Surah 32 :11.) "As long as the soul slowly ascends from the heart through the throat, it is exposed to various temptations and doubts, but when it has been pierced by the lance and thus separated from the body, these cease. Izra'il is said to be frightful in appearance and of enormous size; his head in the highest heaven, his feet in the lowest part of the earth, and his face opposite the preserved Tablet. To a believer, however, he appears in a lovely shape, and his assistants as 'Angels of Mercy,' while to the unbelievers they are tormenting angels. The soul or spirit, according to the orthodox school, is said to be a subtle body, intimately united with the body of man, like the juice is united with the green branch of a tree. The Angel of Death also takes the life of jinn, of angels and even of animals."11
The teaching that the Angel of Death takes care of the souls of animals as well as of men's souls is clearly animistic.
Immediately after burial two large black Angels visit the dead in their graves. They are called Munkar and Nakir. The spirit of the believer, according to some authorities, is taken through the seven Heavens to the very presence of God and then returns to the grave to reenter the body and be examined. This seems to be the teaching of Ghazali (Durrat al Fakhira). The same authority classifies the inhabitants of the grave as follows, and says they are of four kinds: (1) Those who sleep on their backs till their corpses become dust, when they constantly rove about between earth and the lowest heaven; (2) those on whom God causes sleep to descend and who only wake up at the first blast of the trumpet; (3) those who remain in their graves only two or three months, then are carried away into Paradise; they perch on the trees qf Paradise in the shape of birds. The spirits of martyrs are in the crops of birds. (4) Prophets and saints who may choose their own habitation."
animistic idea in the teaching of
The spirit after death enters
Many curious traditions are current regarding the souls of the martyrs and their residence in the crops of green birds. One commentator says the birds are transparent, i.e. ethereal. Others say that it signifies figuratively the speed with which the souls of martyrs can travel about.
An important point and which is universally believed relates to the spirits of ordinary mortals. These remain near heir graves. This accounts for the universal custom in Islam of visiting the graves of their dead on Thursday night. In India we are told, "It is a general belief among the community of Mussulmans that when a Moslem gives up the ghost his soul haunts and lurks about the place where he breathed his last for full forty days from the date of his demise: that it (the soul) comes to visit the quarter it left, with the idea and conviction that its surviving relations and acquaintances may show pity to it by offering prayers and charity for its good and salvation in the migrated region of the heaven above; that in case it find~ its survivors doing good for its well-being, rest, happiness, and welfare in its changed career, it devoutly and heartily prays in return for their safety, pleasure and comfort on earth; and that in the reverse case, when it perceives its people doing naught for it or entrapped in vices opposed to the dictates of Islamic faith, it curses them and invokes on them heavenly displeasure for their negligence and foolish reckless pursuits devoid of all religious principles." 13
The special sanctity of the "night of the middle of Sha'ban," called in Arabic Lailat Nusf Sha'ban, is believed in by all Mohammedans. It is supposed that on that particular night Allah determines the fate of mortals during the forthcoming year The most popular idea is that there is a celestial tree of symbolic import, on which every human being has a leaf to represent him. This tree is shaken during the night preceding the 15th of Sha'ban, causing the leaves of all those who are to die during the coming year to fall.
In Arabia many watch through a part or the whole of this night and offer up a prayer, invoking Allah's mercy, and beseeching him to blot out from his eternal book the calamities and adversity destined for the suppliant.
"Throughout the whole of
the Indian Archipelago," says Hurgronje, "this month, Sha'ban, is especially dedicated
to the commemoration of the dead. This does not imply grief for their loss, but
rather care for their souls' repose, which is not inconsistent with merrymaking.
This solicitude for the welfare of
Not only in visiting the graves of the dead, but in the very method of burial Moslems are animists in practice whatever they may be in creed. "It is fear," says Warneck, speaking of the Animists in Malaysia, "that leads them to place food on the dead man's grave; to bring him his tools and coin, that his shadow may use them in the other world and be content. The inhabitants of many islands sacrifice some one, preferably a slave, at the grave in order that they themselves may be spared. The impelling motive is always fear, not grief nor pity. To prevent the soul of the dead from returning to the living, thorns are laid upon the corpse, which is firmly bound, its thumbs and toes tied together, ashes put in its eyes, an egg placed in its armpits, all with the view of making it incapable of movement." 14
According to a Moslem tradition also, it is the universal practice to tie the toes of the dead together before burial but then to loosen them when the body has been lowered into the grave. The construction of the grave itself with its characteristic lahdi in all Moslem lands, can only be explained by beliefs which are animistic. Coffins are never used for burial, but a niche, lahdi, is made on one side of the open grave.
The contents of any book on the subject of Eschatology are an index to this world of Moslem-animistic thought. The terrors of the grave are real in popular Islam, and such books have a larger sale than any other religious literature.
Here follows for example the table of contents of El Hamzawi's "Masharik-u1-Anwar" on this subject. In every chapter there are points of contact with animism and signs of old pagan belief and practices perpetuated:
1. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DEAD BEFORE BURIAL.
2. WHAT HAPPENS IN THE GRAVE.
3. ON VISITING THlE GRAVE
4. SIGNS OF THE HOUR AND THE END OF THE AGE.
5. THE RESURRECTION.
6. THE PLACE OF JUDGEMENT.
7. ON THE THINGS THAT CONCERN HEAVEN AND HELL AND THE VENGEANCE OF GOD.
In this survey of the present use of the creed and the clear teaching based on some of its six articles, the conclusion is irresistible that the monotheism of Islam has degenerated in popular belief to a much larger degree than is generally appreciated. It is idle to talk of pure monotheism when dealing with popular Islam.