Chapter 4: Pre-Islamic Sacrifices
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As mentioned earlier,1 there are not many written sources available that describe pre-Islamic sacrifices and deities in the Arabian region. Where Islam showed an interest in this topic, it would appear that two ideas governed what was written: a sincere willingness to understand the earlier religious rituals, and an apologetic interest in convincing new believers that Islam was the most natural, the strongest and the best religion. But despite a certain intention to promote Islam, the Islamic texts and narratives that have come down to us do contain authentic information about the pre-Islamic period. There are several significant reasons why I wish to combine information about practices in both pre-Islam and Islam. Firstly, the few written sources that survive about pre-Islam are attributable to Islamic authors; they were written in Islamic times, and, at least partly, in an Islamic style and language. Secondly, the reports about pre-Islamic idols and sacrifices are not purely Islamic but are inherited from a culture with Jewish, Christian and Arabic roots. Thus, the language that came to characterise the “new” Islamic world reflects these cultures. Pre-Islamic idols and sacrifices were often associated with pilgrimages and markets, of various kinds,2 just as subsequently the Islamic ḥajj and ʿumra were to become a frame around Islamic ritual. Thus, the texts I examine present reports from pilgrimages and sacrificial rituals. These two themes are not always easy to separate, since some...
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