Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ka’ba, the Qur’an and the Black God of Kemet: Part I

By Wesley Muhammad, PhD. 



1. Fruits of the Same Tree

Baba Rafiq Bilal (d. November 28, 2008) and Thomas Goodwin's 1987 publication, Egyptian Sacred Science in Islam: The Sacred Science of Ancient Egypt as revealed in Al-Islam,” was groundbreaking.  Professor Dr Wade Nobles, who wrote the forward to the book, called the work a “thoroughly supported bridge between Islam and the Ancient Kemetic understanding of the most Holy of Holies.” Egyptian Sacred Science in Islam was certainly a trailblazer not unlike Dr Yosef Ben Yochannan’s, The African Origin of the Major ‘Western’ Religions. According to Bilal and Goodwin’s research, “a serious study of the ancient religion of Egypt and the religion of al-Islam reveals the two to actually be different expressions of the same truths”.[1] The study of these two traditions convinced Bilal and Goodwin that:

“God Almighty presented essentially the same truths to the pre-historic Egyptians who built the fabulous civilization upon the principles of the Sacred Revelation, as He presented thousands of years later to Prophet Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah in the Holy Qur’an. Holy Qur’an is the purification and refinement of this ancient system of knowledge. The truth from God is one truth. In order to convey the body of knowledge which they received, the ancient Egyptians developed the most elaborate educational system in the history of man. Prophet Muhammad, the unlettered Prophet (the Umi Prophet) received and transmitted the same body of knowledge through revelation many thousands of years later…”

Bilal and Goodwin set out to document the nexus between the Qur’anic lexicon and historiography and Kemetic Sacred Science, arguing that:

“Within the pages of the Holy Qur’an, wrapped in the ancient Arabic language are preserved the following aspects of Egyptian history and sacred science (among others): 1: Concept of God, Nature and Knowledge [etc.]…”

I fully concur with Bilal and Goodwin. A close examination of the religious literature of ancient Egypt and Qur’anic/Islamic tradition confirms that the two traditions (Kemetic and Islamic) share a basic understanding of God. This concurrence of Kemetic and Islamic theology goes a long way in demonstrating that Ma’at and Islam are cognate traditions and spring from the same African Tree of Spirituality.    

2. The Ka’ba and the Black God of Kemet

Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop had already pointed out some of the parallels between Kemetic and Islamic traditions.[2] These were primarily ritual parallels: the Muslim ablution, the ritual prayers, the 30-day fast, the abstention from pork, all find precedent in ancient Egypt.[3] To this list may be added the seven-fold circumambulation around the sacred temple.[4]






But the theologies implied behind these rituals were equally similar. Diop hints at this fact:

“It is remarkable that many Arabic religious terms can be obtained by a simple combination of the three Egyptian ontological notions, Ba, Ra, Ka. As examples we can cite:

KABAR (a) = The action of raising the arms in prayer
RAKA         = The action of placing the forehead on the ground
KAABA      = The holy place of Mecca”[5]

Our focus here will be on the last point: Islam’s most sacred “house of God” and also its central religious symbol (i.e. the Black Stone or Al-Hajar Al-Aswad) housed therein are both called Ka’ba. In order to fully understand and appreciate this verbal assonance between Kemetic ontological notions and Islamic religious terminology and sacred architecture – and thus appreciate Diop’s insight - we must have a clear understanding of the relevant Kemetic concepts.

2.1.  Ancient Egyptian Ontology

Kemetic ontology recognized different aspects or modes (upwards of nine) of divine and human “being-ness,” usually identified by such terms as: khat, ab, ren, ka, ba, shut, akh, sahu. However, regarding the gods the emphasis was clearly on but three of these:

“Your ba is in the sky
Your body (khat) is in the netherworld
Your statue (=ka) is in the temple”

This recurrent tripartite theme has been elucidated by Egyptologist Jan Assmann.[6] The ba, theka, and the khat of the gods were often the focus of the theologians of Kemet. The Khat was the mortal body of the god, liable to decay and thus becoming a corpse and a mummy (sahu). Theka, on the other hand, was the immortal body of the god. It is a perfect replica of the khat or mortal body, without the mortality of it. In a famous depiction, the god Khnum who created humans on his potter’s wheel is shown creating the khat and its twin ka simultaneously.  Contrary to popular Western notions, the ka was not the immaterial “soul” or “spirit” of man/gods. It was as much a spiritual-material mode of being as the khat was, but it was a more transcendent mode of being. It is identified with the cult statue of the god in the temple, which itself was understood to be the divine body of the god on earth.



Khnum on his Potter's Wheel


The ba, often described as the “soul,” is better described as the Kemetic notion of vital force or the essence of the gods. According to Eberhard Otto, in humans the ba represented the embodiment of his/her vital forces and in the gods the embodiment of divine powers.[7]  It was this vital force/power that was ritualistically called down by the Egyptian priests to inhabit (!) and thus enliven the cult statute. As Prof Emily Teeter of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago explains:  
  
“The divine statue was provided as a physical form (ka) in which the ba could reside so that human beings could communicate with it…Once filled with and enlivened by the ba of the god, the cult statue became the ka, or physical form of the god.”[8] 

How does this relate to the Islamic Ka’ba (=Ka + Ba)? The Black Stone in pre-Islamic Arabia served the same purpose as the cult statue did in Kemet.

“A principal sacred object in Arabian religion was the stone. . . . Such stones were thought to be the residence of a god hence the term applied to them by Byzantine Christian writers of the fifth and sixth centuries: 'baetyl', from bet'el, 'the house of god'.”

Like the ka-statue of the Kemetic deities a baetyl was regarded as “the container of the god.”[9] And as Warwick Ball points out, this characteristically Arabian/Semitic tradition of the cultic stone finds its great expression today in the Ka’ba of Mecca:  

“Abstract representations of deity in the form of a square or cube was common throughout the (Pre-Hellenic) Semitic Near East…This was the baetyl, or stone cult object, the focal point of
so many temples not subject to Classicising influences…Indeed, the ancient Semitic idea of the sacred cube reaches culmination in the center of Semitic worship today: the Kaba…at Mecca.”[10]

Tremendous light was shed on the Arabian/Islamic Ka’ba and thus on its similarities with the Kemetic ka-statue by Prof Hildegard Lewy (d. 1969), Romanian Jew from Klausenburg and Semitics scholar and Assyriologist from Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. In her exceptionally important article “Origin And Significance of the Magen Dawid: A Comparative Study in the Ancient Religions of Jerusalem and Mecca,”[11] Lewy documented an ancient Semitic tradition – out of which the cults of Jerusalem and Mecca evolved – centered on a black stone that was considered to be both an embodiment of the primordial waters and a piece of the body of a deity, the divine body being made from those dark waters.  Lewy noted:

“the Black Stone…was thought to be…a part of the body of a great god…(I)n the form of a black meteorite a piece of the deity’s astral body was visible to the congregation at all times…”[12]

This stone, through which the deity was worshipped, was anciently housed in a cubed temple or shrine covered in black curtains. The ‘blackness’ of this pre-Islamic Arabian/Semitic deity and his cult inspired associations with the astral deity Saturn, the ‘Black Planet,”[13] whose temple was also made of black stone, draped with black curtains, and featured a black stone representing the deity or an anthropomorphic statue of the deity made from black stone. Both al-Masudi (d. 956) and al-Dimasq(d. 1327)578 report identifications of the Meccan Kaba with the cult of the black deity Saturn, as did the Dabistān –i Mazāhib.

The black stone of the Meccan Kaba, Lewy has well argued, must be understood against the backdrop of the broader Semitic cult of stones. While the shrine or temple itself was feminized and therefore identified with a goddess, the stone inside the shrine is identified with the male god, Allāh. This point is explicitly made in a Muslim tradition according to which al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwām (d. 656), famous companion of the Prophet Muhammad, was digging in al-Hijr while rebuilding the Kaba and found a stone on which was written: innānī AllāDhū Bakka, “I am Allāh, Lord of Bekka (=Mecca).”[14]

We have every reason to believe that the cult of the Kaba had the same significance for the prophet Muhammad that it did for the ancient Arabians: it was the cult center of the Black God, Allāh. As Lewy well argues in her study of the cult of the Black God in Mecca and Jerusalem:

“the Black Stone…was thought to be…a part of the body of a great god…(I)n the form of a black meteorite a piece of the deity’s astral body was visible to the congregation at all times…It was…no break with the ancient religion of Mecca when Mohammed…set up the Hajar al-aswad  (Black Stone) in a place where it was accessible to the eyes and the lips of the worshipers…It is…pertinent to recall that, before designating…the Kaba as the qibla… Mohammed ordered his followers to turn their faces in prayer toward the sacred rock in Jerusalem. The significance of this command becomes apparent if it is kept in mind that the qibla is an outgrowth of the belief…that man can address his prayers only to a being visible to the eyes[15]…when praying…the worshipper turned his eyes either to the heavenly body itself or, in it absence, to the stone or statue representing it on earth. If, however, he was not present in the town where a sacred stone, assumed to be a part of the deity’s astral body, was visible to the congregation, he still turned his eyes in the direction of this sanctuary, it being supposed that, having visited and inspected the deity’s body on the occasion of the annual pilgrimage, he could visualize it and thus address his prayer to it even from a distant point or locality.”

While Muhammad, upon conquering Mecca, destroyed most of the 360 pre-Islamic idols that had been housed in the Ka’ba, he not only kept this pre-Islamic idol, i.e. the Black Stone, but he made it the center of Islamic ritual. Muhammad’s reported interaction with Al-Hajar al-Aswad or the Black Stone is equally suggestive. He is known to have circumambulated the Kaba on camelback while pointing to the Black Stone with a staff exclaiming, Allāhu Akbar (Allāh is the greatest).[16] He was observed touching the stone with a stick and then kissing the stick. According to ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar, son of the second caliph, Muhammad would touch the Black Stone, kiss it, and weep for a long time. He reportedly said to Umar: “O Umar, this is the place where one should shed tears.” It is not made clear why interacting with the Black Stone was a source of such sadness, but that the Prophet made some intimate, deeply emotional association between the stone and Allāh is quite evident from these reports. In this regard, a famous hadith of the Prophet is relevant:

“The Kaba (stone) is the Right Hand of Allāh and with it He shakes the hands of His servants as a man shakes the hand of His friend.”[17]

“Right Hand” here seems to be synecdoche (a part of something standing for the whole). In the history of religious symbolism the Hand symbolized a transmitter of spiritual and physical energy.[18] This is an apt description of the black body that the creator-god made for himself in order to be able to transmit his divine luminosity to earth without scorching it. As the Indian Islamic scholar Muhammad Hamidullah summed up the meaning of the Black Stone: “The right hand of the invisible God must be visible symbolically. And that is the al-Hajar al-Aswad, the Black Stone in the Ka'bah.”  

Diop’s insight is thus well-founded: Islam’s Ka’ba is the Kemetic ka and ba, the ka or divine body/cult statue in which resides the ba or divine essence of the god, Allah.  


Ma'atic Islam, or No Islam At All




Notes


[1] Rafiq Bilal and Thomas Goodwin, Egyptian Sacred Science in Islam: The Sacred Science of Ancient Egypt as revealed in Al-Islam (n.p.: n.p., 1987)147.

[2] Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991); The African Origin of Civilization (Westport: Lawrence Hill & Company, 1967); The Cultural Unity of Black Africa (1963/1989).  

[3] See also Emily Teeter, Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Serǵe Sauneron, The Priests of Ancient Egypt, New Edition (1957; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).

[4] See Heinrich Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie der alten Aegypter (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrich’sche Buchhandlung, 1891) 346; Hugo Greßmann, “Tod und Auferstehung des Osiris nach seiner Festbräuchen und Umzügen,” Der Alt Orient 23 (1923): 23.

[5] Diop, Cultural Unity of Black Africa, 89.

[6] The Search for God in Ancient Egypt (Cornell University Press, 2001).

[7]  E. Otto, "Die Anschauung vom B3 nach Coffin Texts Sp. 99-104," Miscellanea Gregoriana(1941), 151-60. For more recent discussions see Louis Vico Zabkar,  A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Texts (University of Chicago Press, 1968); R.B. Finnestad, “On transposingSoul and Body into a monistic conception of Being. An example from Ancient Egypt”, Religion 16 (1986): 359-373.

[8] Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 44.

[9] Healey, Religion of the Nabataeans, 157.

[10] Warwick Ball, Rome in the East: the transformation of an empire (Routledge, 2000) 379-380.

[11] Hildegard Lewy, “Origin And Significance of the Magen Dawid: A Comparative Study in the Ancient Religions of Jerusalem and Mecca,” ArOr 18 (1950): 330-365.


[12] Lewy, “Origin and Significance,” 345. 348, 349.

[13] The Babylonians called Saturn Mi “The Black”. See Robert Brown, The Great Dionysiak Myth (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1878) 329. According to the Dabistān –i Mazāhib or “Schools of Religions” Saturn’s temple was constructed out of black stone as was his statue that stood there. In addition, Saturn’s officiating ministers were all black complexioned persons, Ethiopians, etc. The Dabistán or School of Manners, trans. David Shea and Anthony Troyer (New York and London: M. Walter Dunne, 1901) 22.

[14] Al-Azraqi, Kitab Akhbar Makkaapud Die Chroniken der Stadt Mecca, ed. Ferdinand Wüstenfeld (Leipzig, 1858-61) 42-3; Tabari, Tafsir (Cairo ed.) III:61.

[15] We are here reminded of the famous “Hadīth of Jibrīl” in which Muhammad defines ihsan as “to worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you."

[16] Bukharī, SahihII, 697.

[17] Ibn Qutayba, Ta' wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (1972) 215 (=1995 ed; p. 198, 262); Al-Qurtubi,al-Asna fi Sharh Asma' Allah al-Husna, II:90-91.

[18] Jack Tressidder, Symbols and Their Meanings (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006) 22.

2 comments:

  1. I had a mental orgasm or a mental mind f%@k reading this exegesis.

    I think Khalid was the last person that I heard speak about these concepts and relationships minus the scholarship. You Dr. Wesley, provide the scholarship to back up the talk and walk the walk. This is an excellent aspect of Islam that all “serious” FOI should study.

    A summery for the dummies:

    Khat = the mortal body of the god, liable to decay and thus becoming a corpse and a mummy (sahu).

    ka = was the immortal body of the god. It is a perfect replica of the khat or mortal body, without the mortality of it i.e. it was understood to be the divine body of the god on earth. The divine statue was provided as a physical form (ka) in which the ba could reside so that human beings could communicate with it…Once filled with and enlivened by the ba of the god, the cult statue became the ka, or physical form of the god.

    Ba = often described as the “soul,” is better described as the Kemetic notion of vital force or the essence of the gods. In humans the ba represented the embodiment of his/her vital forces and in the gods the embodiment of divine powers. The ba is a vital force/power that was ritualistically called down by the Egyptian priests to inhabit (!) and thus enliven the cult statute.

    Islam’s Ka’ba is the Kemetic ka and ba, the ka or divine body/cult statue in which resides the ba or divine essence of the god, Allah.


    Thanks Dr Wesley for stepping up and helping the HMLF carry the torch light of Black Islam into the so called modern era. May Allah continue to bless you and your family!

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  2. I pray that DISSONANCE for those who look into this does not occur. Great scholarly work!!! I researched it myself as well as the sources you stated which took me deeper. Thank you brother!!!

    ReplyDelete