Islamic Mythology

Islamic mythology is the body of myths associated with Islam and the Quran. Islam is a religion that is more concerned with social order and law than with religious myths. The Oxford Companion to World Mythology identifies a number of traditional narratives as “Islamic myths“. These include a creation myth and a vision of afterlife, which Islam shares to some extent with the other Abrahamic religions, as well as the distinctively Islamic story of the Kaaba.

The traditional biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which plays a central role in Islamic teachings, is generally recognized as being largely historical in nature, and Islam depends less on mythology than Judaism and Christianity. However, the canonical narrative includes two key supernatural events: the divine revelation of the Quran and the Isra and Mi’raj — the night journey to Jerusalem followed by the ascension to the Seventh Heaven. In addition, Islamic scriptures contain a number of legendary narratives about biblical characters, which diverge from Jewish and Christian traditions in some details. See also: Religion and Mythology

REMINDER: Muslims believe that the Quran is Divine revelation therefore every words came from Allah (God). The stories, events, characters, and narratives in the Quran are God’s words. Calling them “myths” is insult to Islamic belief. “Believing in The Holy Quran” is one of the pillars of Islamic faith. Some commentaries of the Quran contains mythical exaggeration of the events and stories

Ḥadīth (“Traditions”) in Islam are the record of the words, actions, and the silent approval, of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Hadith were evaluated and gathered into large collections during the 8th and 9th centuries, generations after the death of Muhammad, after the end of the era of the “rightful” Rashidun Caliphate, over 1,000 km (620 mi) from where Muhammad lived. Some commentaries of the Hadith contains mythical exaggeration of the events and stories

Religion and mythology

Main article: Religion and mythology

The discussion of religion in terms of mythology is a controversial topic. The word “myth” is commonly used with connotations of falsehood, reflecting a legacy of the derogatory early Christian usage of the Greek word muthos in the sense of “fable, fiction, lie” to refer to classical mythology. However, the word is also used with other meanings in academic discourse. It may refer to “a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture” or to stories which a given culture regards as true (as opposed to fables, which it recognizes as fictitious). In the preface to The Oxford Companion to World Mythology Devid Leeming writes:

I have treated the sacred narratives of the “great religions”, including the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, as myths, not to deprecate those religions, but simply because to a believer in one religion the stories — especially the supernatural ones — of another religion tend to be seen as myth rather than history.

Biblical stories in the Quran

Main article: Biblical and Quranic narratives

The Quran incorporates many biblical narratives. Central figures, such as Moses (Musa), Abraham (Ibrahim), Joseph (Yūsuf), Mary (Maryam) and Jesus (Isa), reappear throughout the Quran. However, in contrast to the Bilbical narratives, the Quran only provides a summary of a certain story, scattered through the Quran and gets into the religio-moral point. More extensive details about stories incorporated by the Quran were taken from extra-Islamic sources (Isra’iliyyat). Alluding that such stories were of Jewish origin, in fact, Isra’iliyyats may also derive from other religions, such as Christianity or Zoroastrianism. Many of them were stored in Qisas Al-Anbiya (Tales of Prophets), but also integrated in Quranic exegesis (Tafsir). Although important in early Tafsir, later scholars discouraged the usage of Isra’iliyyats. Besides narrations from the canonical Bible, Islam further adapted Apocryphal- and Midrashic writings.

Islamic creation narrative

Creation of world

According to the Quran, the heavens and the earth were joined together as one “unit of creation”, after which they were “cloven asunder”. After the parting of both, they simultaneously came into their present shape after going through a phase when they were smoke-like. The Quran states that the process of creation took 6 ayam, In the Quran, the word yawm(often translated to “day”) is used loosely to mean era, for example Surah 70 verse 4: “The angels and spirit will ascend to Him during a day the extent of which is fifty thousand years”.

According to the mufassirs, Islam acknowledges three different types of creation:

  • Ex-nihilo in time: A position especially hold by most classical scholars: God existed alone in eternity, until God’s command “Be”, thereupon the world came into existence. This world is absolute distinct from God. Accordingly, the world was neither created out of His own essence nor did God created the world out of a primarial matter which preceded the creation, but created by His sheer command not bound on the laws of nature.
  • Theory of Emanation: Found especially among scholars such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina: Accordingly, the world was created out of nothing, but not in time. The world was eternal, but temporary in essence.
  • Creation out of primordial matter: Maintained by scholars such as Ibn Taimiyya: God fashioned the whole world out of primordial matters, the waters and the smoke.

Creation of life

The Quran states that God created the world and the cosmos, made all the creatures that walk, swim, crawl, and fly on the face of the earth from water. He made the angels, and the sun, moon and the stars to dwell in the universe. He poured down the rain in torrents, and broke up the soil to bring forth the corn, the grapes and other vegetation; the olive and the palm, the fruit trees and the grass.

God molded clay, earth, sand, and water into a model of a human. He breathed life and power into it, and it evolved into life. And this first human was called Adam. God took Adam to live in a Paradise. God taught Adam the names of all the creatures, and then commanded all the angels to bow down before Adam. All of them bowed but Iblis refused to obey.

God placed Adam in a beautiful garden in Paradise, telling him that he could eat whatever it wanted except the fruit of a forbidden tree. Satan tempted Adam to disobey God, and eat the fruit. When Adam had disobeyed God, God cast Adam out of Paradise. Muslim scholars are divided whether the Paradise from which Adam was expelled is the paradise in the heavens awarded to the righteous at the day of judgement or a paradise on earth.

According to Quranic creation narrative, God informed the angels, that He was going to create a khalifa (vicegerent) on earth. The meaning of Khalifa hold different interpretations within Islamic interpretations:

  • Successor: Adam and his descendants replace another species, who formerly inhabited and ruled the earth. Accordingly, the jinn preceded humanity, but God decided to replace them, due to their malevolence. Whereupon God sent an army of angels to annihilate the rule of jinn. Iblis, the future devil plays a significant role in this story, either as the angel, who led his army into battle against the jinn, whereafter he declined to acknowledge the dignity of their successors, or as one of the few pious jinn, which were spared by the angels, but became an infidel, by opposing his successor.
  • Deputy: Adam and his descendants are thought of as the deputy of God. Therefore, humans are obligated to maintain the earth given by God and should spiritualize God’s attributes, to rule and govern it in accordance with God’s will. The heavenly Adam, who has learned the names of God, functions as the the prototype of Al-Insān al-Kāmil (Perfect human), which the still flawfull have to become.

Islam breaks somewhat with Judaism and Christianity in that Eve is not mentioned in the Quran and in explaining why Adam ate the forbidden fruit. In the Hebrew account in Genesis, a snake tempts them Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. While the Genesis creation narrative does not explicitly identify the snake with Satan, that Satan and the snake are the same being is claimed in the New Testament, in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2. In Genesis, Eve was tempted but Adam was not. In contrast, the Quran states explicitly that Shaitan (Satan) tempted Adam to eat the fruit. Unlike Christian traditions, which sees Satan as rebelling against God, Islamic tradition identifies Shaitan’s disobedience as a result of his superior nature out of fire, in contrast to the nature of humans, since angels in Islam do not rebel against God. God cast Iblis out of his paradise, and Iblis vowed to tempt Adams generations to corruption and to disobey God.

The Kaaba

Miniature from Rashid-al-Din Hamadani’s Jami al-Tawarikh, c. 1315, illustrating the story of Muhammad’s role in re-setting the Black Stone in 605. (Ilkhanate period)

According to Islamic mythology, God instructed Adam to construct a building (called the Kaaba) to be the earthly counterpart of the House of Heaven and that Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismail (Ishmael) later rebuilt it on its original foundations after was destroyed in the flood of Nuh (Noah). According to other opinions, Ibrahim and Ismail were the first to build it. As Ismail was searching for a stone to mark a corner with, he met with the angel Jibrail (Gabriel). Jibrail gave him the Black Stone. According to the hadith, the Black Stone is reported to have been milky white after being descended from Heaven but was rendered black due to the sins of the people, who had touched it. Muslims do not worship the Black Stone.

The Kaaba was originally intended as a symbolic house for the one monotheistic God. However, after Ibrahim’s death, people started to fill the Kaaba with pagan idols. When Muhammad conquered Mecca after his exile, he removed the idols from the Kaaba. The inside of the Kaaba is now empty. It now stands as an important pilgrimage site, which all Muslims are supposed to visit at least once if they are able (Hajj). Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day while facing in the Kaaba‘s direction (qibla).

Spiritual creatures

Islamic drawing of an angel blowing a horn, probably Israfil

In the Quran, fire (nar) makes up the basic substance for spiritual entities, in contrast to humans created from clay (tin). Islamic traditions state more precisely, how different spiritual creatures were created. Islamic mythology commonly acknowledges three different types of spiritual entities:

  • Angels, created from light (nur) or fire (nar): the heavenly hosts, and servants of God. Eminent among them are the four Archangels (Jabra’il, Mika’il, Azra’il and Israfil), Kiraman Katibin, who record a person’s good and bad deeds, Maalik, who guards the Hellfire, Munkar and Nakir, two angels questioning the dead and Harut and Marut, two angels instructed to test mankind by teaching of knowledge of magic.
  • Jinn, created from a mixture of fire and air or smokeless fire (marigin min nar): morally ambivalent creatures, can convert to Islam and are subject to salvation or damnation. Jann is usually perceived as an ancestor of the jinn.
  • Shayatin, created from smoke or fire (Samūm): comparable to Christian demons or devils, usually regarded as the offspring of Iblis, who is the head of shayatin. They tempt humans (and jinn) into sin. In Islamic folklore, Ifrit and Marid are usually two powerful classes of shayatin.

Other prominent creatures within Islamic mythological traditions are Khidr, Buraq, Houris and Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog). Later, spiritual entities from other cultures were identified with whose of the Quran and assimilated to Islamic lore, such as Peri of Persian-Ghoul of Arabian- and İye of Turkic origin.

Places

Map of the world according to Zakariya al-Qazwini. The world carried by a fish, a bull and an angel.

According to popular ideas derived from cultural beliefs during the Classical Islam period, the earth is flat, surrounded by water, which is veiled in darkness, with Mount Qaf at the edge of the visible world. The world is carried by different creatures: an angel, a bull and a fish. Zakariya al-Qazwini identified the bull and the fish with the biblical monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan. Both heaven and hell coexist with the temporary world. The seven layers of hell are identified with the seven earths. Sijjin is one of the lowest layers of hell, while Illiyin the highest layer of heaven. Hell is portrayed with the imageries of seas of fire, dungeons, throny shrubs, the tree of Zaqqum, but also immense cold at bottom, inhabited by scorpions, serpents, zabaniyya and shayatin. The imageries heavens are described with different colors, seas of light, the tree of heaven, inhabited by angels and houris, as a Garden with sprawling meadows and flowing rivers. The inhabitants can rest on couches bedecked with silk and visit the other deads if they wish.

  • Barzakh – barrier between the deceased and the living.
  • Garden of Eden – A Paradise where Adam and Eve lived before their Fall
  • Jahannam – Hell; the abode of the wicked
  • Jannah – Heaven; the abode of the righteous; contains the Garden of Paradise
  • Kaaba – the sacred building that Muslims visit while on the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). In Islamic mythology, Abraham (Abraham) and Ishmael built the Kaaba at God’s command, to serve as the earthly counterpart of Jannah(Heaven). Adam built the original earthly Kaaba, but Abraham and his son had to rebuild it.

Events

  • Creation – a six-stages creative act by God
    • Fall of man – the loss of Paradise that resulted from eating the forbidden fruit; like Judaism, and Orthodox Christianity, but unlike Western Christianity, Islam does not hold that the Fall made man inherently sinful.
    • Deluge and Noah’s (Nuh’s) Ark- worldwide flood-event with a water vessel containing the remains of humanity and a set of all animals
  • Qiyamah – the Day of Resurrection (and of the reward and punishment of the good and the wicked); a fundamental element of Islamic eschatology that incorporates much from the Jewish and Christian traditions

In Salafi thought

With the advent of Salafi reformism, starting during the Age of Enlightenment onwards, Muslim thinkers and scholars sought out for a more practical model to restore Muslim community accompanied by the threat of western colonization, downplaying the mystic, cosmic and mythological aspects attributed to Muhammad, while simultaneously emphasizing him and his sunnah’s social and political role.

Many adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood reject most of traditional Islamic mythological narratives. Sayyid Qutb broke the connection between Khidr and the Quran, by eliminating his identification with God’s servant mentioned in Surah 18 in his tafsir. Accordingly, whose who follow him, would not longer perceive Khidr as figure related to Islamic faith. The teachings of Sulaiman Ashqar disapprove many records about the traditional material regarding angels, including Classical scholars, who used them, what leads to a marginalization of Islamic thought of angels, including names and stories regarding their origin.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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