By Wesley Muhammad, PhD
The above picture is a 1st-2nd century AD panel relief depicting Buddhist monks performing the rite of pradakshina, the clockwise circumambulation of a stupa (mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics). The Buddhist monks no doubt inherited the rite from their Hindu ancestors, as pradakshina around the shrine of a deity in the innermost chamber of a temple was a Hindu tradition. The similarity to the Muslim tawaf or circumambulation around the Ka’aba in Mecca is unmistakable. How does one account for this similarity? Some have argued that the similarity is proof that ancient Arabia was influenced by Vedic culture, and that the Ka’ba was originally a Hindu temple. This pan-Vedic theory is mainly associated with Indian nationalist and Hinducentric author Purushottam Nagesh Oak, whose two volume book, World Vedic Heritage—A History of Histories tried to make the case that most of ancient world history was actually the achievement of Vedic Indians. Oak’s theory has been dismissed by scholars, and rightly so as it rests on remarkably shabby evidence. For example, Oak’s starting point for his “Ka’aba was a Hindu Temple” claim is an incriminating inscription found within the Ka’ba itself. We know of this alleged ‘inscription’ because it was included in an Arabic poem dated to 1850 BC. The problem is, however, we only know of this poem and its incriminating Ka’ba inscription from an anthology that was compiled in 1742 AD under the order of the Turkish Sultan Salim!
Oak’s “Vedic Arabia” theory has little to recommend it, and so the cause of the similarity between pradakshina and tawaf must be sought elsewhere. I suggest that the answer to this question was hit upon in an important but little known 1939 article by Baron Umar Rolf von Ehrenfels.
Baron Rolf von Ehrenfels, who died in 1980, was an Austrian scholar of social anthropology who lived in India from 1938 to 1969. He was professor at the University of Madras and co-founded Germany’s Heidelberg University’s South Asia Institute between 1961-71. In 1926 Ehrenfels converted to Islam and took the name Umar.
Some of von Ehrenfel’s anthropological work in India resulted in an article published in 1939 in the Muslim journal, Islamic Culture, entitled “The Pre-Aryan Cultures of India and the Ethnological Background of Islam.” von Ehrenfel’s concern in this article was documenting
“the relation of the pre-Aryan (Dravidian) cultures of India to the ethnological background of the Islamic culture-area.”
Von Ehrenfel noted:
“The Aryan immigration to India has generally been believed to have brought the first culture of a higher level into this country. Hench the Muslim conquest later following, religiously, culturally and racially different from the sources of Aryan civilization, was held to represent a cultural entity absolutely foreign to the genius loci of the Indian soil…”
On the contrary, argued von Ehrenfels: the religion, culture and ethnicity of the early Muslims were in fact kin to pre-Aryan Indic culture.
von Ehrenfels draws in part from the findings of archeologist John Marshall who discovered in the 1920s the ancient Indus Valley cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. Marshall had perceived that the Indus Valley Civilization was a very non-Aryan civilization which had its roots in the sixth millennium BC but flourished in the third millennium BC. Marshall concluded that Indus civilization was not only pre-Aryan and associated with the Dravidian peoples of the area, but also had close affinities to the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures and civilizations. Another important insight of Marshall’s and echoed by von Ehrenfels was this:
“A thorough study of this Indus-civilization led Marshall to the conviction that the majority of essential and characteristic qualities also in the present-day civilization of India, Indian art, Indian sociology and conception of life, originated in ancient times and among the pre-Aryan inhabitants of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa…”
This fact is generally acknowledged today. Vedic Hinduism has been metaphorically described as a man with an Aryan head but a Tamil body, i.e. a religious system whose bedrock or foundation is the religious culture of the pre-Aryan Dravidians with only an Aryan overlay. Drusilla Dunjee Houston, in her classic work, Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empires (1926), had already seen that:
“[Aryan Brahminism] claims to be founded upon the Vedas, the sacred books of India, taken over by the Brahmins. They were not the creators of the writings, though today they are the custodians, interpreters and priests. They only attained this place after a bloody struggle with the native races…As time went on Brahmins added to and corrupted the Vedas to confirm their excessive pretensions…Much of the grossness found in these writings cannot be attributed to the creators but to the interpolations of the [Aryan] Brahmins.”
Both Marshal and von Ehrenfels emphasis another point critical to our discussion:
“…the probable similarities between the religions of the old Semitic (i.e. old Arabic)-, Egyptian-, and West-Asiatic (Sumerian/Babylonian)-cultures with the typically Indian Saktism, which can be proved to have been practiced in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa…Moreover Marshall finds even similarities between the racial types of the Semitic and other peoples of the Near East and the probably Dravidian inhabitants of Mohanjo-daro and Harappa…”
In other words, not only is there some religio-cultural and ethnic relation between the civilizations and peoples of the Indus Valley, Sumer, and Egypt, but there is also such a relation between these and the pre-Islamic Semitic Arabians. Von Ehrenfels thus notes:
“These discoveries, facts, and investigations, make it at least probable that close coherencies have been existing between the pre-Aryan cultures of India and the old Semitic ones in the Near East, as well as between the peoples who created and worked out the two civilizations (i.e. Indus and Semitic)…”
Ancient Semitic culture and civilization and ancient Indic (Dravidian) culture and civilization, suggests von Ehrenfels, had close affinities. This, he saw, has important implications for Islamic culture and civilization. He thus suggested that
“the pre-Aryan cultural forces…and the Islamic culture (are) heirs of the same cultural background…like two cousins of the same family who have since long forgotten that they are of common descent…”
This is profoundly important. Pre-Aryanized Islamic culture and pre-Aryan Indic culture have the same religio-cultural background. This certainly accounts for the similarities in Hindu and Islamic culture. von Ehrenfells concludes this remarkably insightful and foresightful article thusly:
“the Dravidian peoples…show certain cultural parallels to Arab civilization not only of the pre-Islamic period, but even of today…Islam and the Islamic religio-system…appears…to be (a) something absolutely not foreign to the genius loci of India and (b) a natural outcome of the pre-historic premises, still traceable in the cultural development of India.”
Islam: the natural outcome of pre-historic developments related to those in ancient India. Pre-Aryanized Islamic culture and pre-Aryan Indic culture are cousins: cultural cognates with a common descent.
Marshall’s and von Ehrenfells remarkable insight has the support of contemporary ethnology and modern genetic research. Sir Arthur Keith and Dr. Wilton Marion Krogan, in their discussion of “The Racial Characteristic of the Southern Arabs,” opined that
“the Arabian Peninsula was at one time occupied by a people intermediate to the Somalis on the one hand and to the Dravidian peoples of India on the other.”
Henry Field, in his Ancient and Modern Man in Southwestern Asia, argued as well:
“Dravidian and Arab have in them an inheritance from a common stock – an inheritance which has been retained more completely by the natives of India than by the people of Arabia.”
In other words, the original Arabs looked more like the Dravidians of today. Carlton Coon suggested the same:
“It’s easy enough to account for the southern Arabian Bedawi of the course type. He is obviously related to the Veddas of Ceylon, and to the most important element in the Dravidian-speaking population of India. His hair form, his facial features, his pigmentation, and his general size and proportions confirm this relationship.”
1 and 2: Semitic Bedawin, Hadramawt, Southern Arabia. 3: Masha’I tribesmen, Central Arabia
These early ethnological opinions have received strong genetic support recently. Partha P Majumder’s study, “Ethnic Populations of India as seen from an evolutionary perspective,” Journal of Bioscience 26 (2001): 541 and P.A. Underhill et al’s study, “The phylogeography of Y chromosome binary haplotypes and the origins of modern hu of man populations,” Annals of Human Genetics 65 (2001): 53-4, discuss genetic evidence which now indicates that India’s early population groups originated in West Asia or the so-called Middle East. An important article in the March 19, 2007 edition of Newsweek Magazine allows us to be more specific. Based on recent DNA and fossil evidence, the article “The First Migrations,” documents the different migratory routs and their time-frames which different human lineages took out of Africa and to the rest of the world.
According to this new confluence of DNA and fossil evidence, the article informs us, Out-of-Africa migrants entered the so-called ‘Middle East’ around 100k years ago. From Central Arabia these early homo sapiens later went north to the Tigris-Euphrates area, and then over into Persia and India, entering the latter from the north. In other words, the fossil and DNA evidence indicate that the homo sapiens populations of ancient Mesopotamia, Persia and India originated in Central Arabia!
Close-up of region depicting the migration of modern homo sapiens from Central Arabia to India.
This gives context to P. Molesworth Sykes et all observation that “one Dravidian race stretch(ed) from India to the Shatt-el-Arab.”
This all has profound implications for understanding Islam as a religio-cultural tradition. Islam’s original ethno-cultural context is the same as that of the builders of the Indus Valley civilization. The Semitic Arabs and the Indic Dravidians derived from a common ethnic stock. It is thus no surprise to find religio-cultural similarities between Indus Valley and Islamic Civilizations.
A similar and related context also helps us understand the similarities between Arabian-Islamic religio-cultural tradition and that of ancient Kemet. Grafton Elliot Smith, Australian anatomist and Egyptologist, was no doubt correct in his hypothesis:
“it seems probable that the substratum of the whole population of North Africa and Arabia from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf – if not further east – was originally one racial stock, which, long before the earliest predynastic period in Egypt, had become specialized in physical characteristics and in culture in the various parts of its wide domain, and developed into the Berber, the Egyptian, the Ethiopian Hamitic and the Arabs populations.”
More recently the anthropological research of Dana Marniche has confirmed Smith’s suggestion.
“Ancient Arabia was occupied by a people far different in appearance than most modern-day occupants. These were a people who once occupied Egypt, who were affiliated with the East African stocks, and who now speak the ‘Hamitic’ or Semitic languages…
“In the days of Mohammed and the Roman colonization of Palestine, North Arabia and Africa, the term Arab was much more than a nationality. It specifically referred to peoples whose appearance, customs and language were the same as the nomadic peoples on the African side of the Red Sea…The evidence of linguistics, archaeology, physical remains and ethnohistory support the observations and descriptions we find in the histories of the Greeks and Romans and in later Iranian documents about nomadic Arabians of the early era. The Arabs were the direct progeny and kinsmen of the dark-brown, gracile and kinky haired ‘Ethiopic’ peoples that first spread over the desert areas of Nubia and Egypt…
“early Greeks and Romans did not usually distinguish ethnically between the people called the Saracens and the inhabitants of southern Arabia (the Yemen) which was called India Minor or Little India in those days, nor southern Arabians from the inhabitants of the Horn of Africa. What differences there were between them were more cultural and environmental than anything else. Strabo, around the 1st century B.C., Philostratus and other writers, speak of the area east of the Nile in Africa as ‘Arabia’ and the people are persistently and indiscriminately and sometimes simultaneously referred to as either Arabs, Indians or Ethiopians…it is clear from the ancient writings on the ‘Arabs’ that the peoples of the Arabian peninsula and the nonimmigrant, indigenous nomads of the Horn were considered ethnically one and the same and thought to have originated in areas near the cataracts of the Nile.”
Arabians-Indians-Ethiopians are all related peoples and their religio-cultures and civilizations are understandably similar.
On a concluding note, this realization that pre-Aryanized Islam and pre-Aryan Indic religio-culture are cousins or cognate traditions should inform our understanding of Islam as a religious tradition. Example:
The sacred script of the Indus Valley has not yet been fully deciphered, though progress has been made. Two signs that we think we know today are the signs for ‘man/human’ and for ‘god/deity.’
In the ancient Indic sacred script the sign for ‘god’ is a man/human with bull horns. This sacred script communicates the ancient truth of Man as God/God as Man and the Bull and his paramount Animal Attribute (symbol from the animal kingdom) (see my article, “The Black God and the Ancient Mysteries or, Why is Vishnu Dark Blue?” at http://drwesleywilliams.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Truth_of_God_I.20135453.pdf
Particularly relevant here is the suggestion by Dr. Walter A. Fairservis Jr., an authority on the Indus Valley script, that when a vertical dash sign is placed between the legs of the man/human figure, producing what looks light a penis between a male’s legs, the phonetic value is Al-a, similar to the Pro-Semitic Ala and later Arabic Allah.
Things that make you go, “Hmm.”
Pre-Aryanized Islam is as much an ‘African’ tradition as is pre-Aryan Indic tradition and pre-Invasion Kemetic tradition.
 Baron Omar Rolf Ehrenfels, “The Pre-Aryan Cultures of India and the Ethnological Background of Islam,” Islamic Culture 13 (1939): 176-188.
 Ehrenfels, “The Pre-Aryan Cultures ,”183.
 See his Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization, 3 vols. (London: Arthur Probsthain, 1931).
 Drusilla Dunjee Houston, Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empires, 246, 251, 247, 281.
 Ehrenfels, “The Pre-Aryan Cultures .”
 Sir Arthur Keith and Dr. Wilton Marion Krogan, “The Racial Characteristic of the Southern Arabs,” in Bertram Thomas, Arabia Felix, Across the ‘Empty Quarter’ of Arabia, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932), 320f.
 Henry Field, Ancient and Modern Man in Southwestern Asia (Coral Gables, Fl: University of Miami Press, 1956) 113-114.
 Carleton Stevens Coon, The Races of Europe (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1939): 429.
 P. Molesworth Sykes et all, “Anthropological Notes on Southern Persia,” Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 32 (1902): 343.
 G. Elliot Smith, “The People of Egypt,” The Cairo Scientific Journal 3 (1909): 51-63.
 Dana Reynolds (Marniche), “The African Heritage & Ethnohistory of the Moors,” in Ivan van Sertima, Golden Age of the Moor (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1992). 99, 100, 105-106.
 Walter A. Fairservis Jr., “The Script of the Indus Valley,” in Runoko Rashidi and Ivan Van Sertima, African Presence in Early Asia (New Jersey: Transaction Publications, 2009) 71, 76.