Samuel Marinus Zwemer.

The influence of animism on Islam : an account of popular superstitions online

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THE INFLUENCE OP
ANIMISM ON ISLAM



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THE INFLUENCE OF
ANIMISM ON ISLAM

AN ACCOUNT OF POPULAR
SUPERSTITIONS



BY



SAMUEL M. ZWEMER, FR.GS.



»









THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1920

All rights reserved



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Copyright, 1920,
Bt THE MACMILLAN COMPANY



Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1930.



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THIS VOLUME CONTAINS

THE A. C. THOMPSON LECTURES FOR 1918-1919

DELIVERED ON THE

HARTFORD SEMINARY FOUNDATION

AND AT

PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

IN A COURSE OF LECTURES ON MISSIONS:
IT IS DEDICATED TO

THE STUDENTS AND FACULTIES OF THESE

INSTITUTIONS

IN APPRECIATION OF

THE INVITATION TO DELIVER THE LECTURES

AND IN PLEASANT RECOLLECTION OF

THEIR MANY COURTESIES



440159



PEEFACE

From the standpoint both of religion and culture Animism
has been described as " the tap-root which sinks deepest in
racial human experience and continues its cellular and
fibrous structure in the tree-trunk oi modern conviction."
All the great world religions show traces of animism in their
sub-soil and none but Christianity (even that not completely)
has uprooted the weed-growth of superstition. In this book
it is our purpose to show how Islam sprang up in Pagan soil
and retained many old Arabian beliefs in spite of its vigorous
monotheism. Wherever Mohammedanism went it intro-
duced old or adopted new superstitions. The result has been
that as background of the whole ritual and even in the creed
of popular Islam, Animism has conquered. The religion of
the common people from Tangier to Teheran is mixed with
hundreds of superstitions many of which have lost their or-
iginal significance but still bind mind and heart with con-
stant fear of demons, with witchcraft and sorcery and the call
to creature-worship. Just as popular Hinduism differs in
toto from the religion of the Vedas, popular Islam is alto-
gether different from the religion as recorded in its sacred
Book. Our purpose in the chapters which follow is to show
how this miry clay of animism mingles with the iron of
Semitic theism in the feet of the great image with head of
gold that rest on Asia and Africa. The rapid spread of
Islam in Africa and Malayia is, we believe, largely due to its
animistic character. The primitive religions had points of
contact with Islam that were mutually attractive. It stooped
to conquer them but fell in stooping. The reformation of

vii



viii PKEFACE

Islam, if sucli be possible, must begin here. The student of
Islam will never understand the common people unless he
knows their curious beliefs and half-heathen practices. The
missionary should not only know but sympathize. Avoiding
contempt or denunciation he will even find points of contact
in Animistic Islam that may lead discussion straight to the
Cross and the Atonement. In popular Islam we have to deal
with men and women groping after light and struggling in
the mire for a firm foothold on the Rock. This book may
help us to find their hand in the dark. As we read its pages
we must not forget that even in Egypt and India over ninety-
four per cent of the Moslem population is illiterate and there-
fore has no other religion than popular Islam.

S. M. Zwemek.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I Islam and Animism 1

II Animism in the Creed and the Use of the

Rosary 21

III Animistic Elements in Moslem Prayer ... 43

IV Hair, Finger-Nails and the Hand .... 66
V The 'Aqiqa Sacrifice 87

VI The Familiar Spirit or Qarina 107

VII Jinn 125

VIII Pagan Practices in Connection with the Pil-
grimage 146

IX Magic and Sorcery 163

X Amulets, Charms and Knots 186

XI Tree, Stone and Serpent Worship .... 208

XII The Zar: Exorcism of Demons 227



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

The Center of the Moslem Faith Frontispiece

FACING
PAGE

Large Incense Bowls in Mosque at Hankow, China . . .26

Interior Court of the Mosque of Al Azhar, Cairo .... 50

The Torba and Amulets 54

Hand-shaped Amulets 82

Amulets and " Lucky " Rings used in Lower Egypt . . .118

Egyptian Geomancer 132

The City of Mecca 156

Talismans and Magical Squares from Egypt .... 204

Magic Bowl and Amulets 180

Ancient Amulets from the Egyptian Tombs 212

Women and children visiting a newly-made grave in the

Moslem Cemetery, Cairo 240



1






', -



THE INFLUENCE
OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM



CHAPTEK I



ISLAM AND ANIMISM



That Islam in its origin and popular character is a com-
posite faith, with Pagan, Jewish and Christian elements, is
known to all students of comparative religion. Rabbi
Geiger in his celebrated essay * has shown how much of the
warp and woof of the Koran was taken from Talmudic
Judaism and how the entire ritual is simply that of the
Pharisees translated into Arabic. Tisdall in his " Sources
of Islam " and other writers, especially Wellhausen, Gold-
ziher and Robertson Smith, have indicated the pagan ele-
ments that persist in the Moslem faith to this day and were
taken over by Mohammed himself from the old Arabian
idolatry. Christian teaching and life too had their influ-
ence on Mohammed and his doctrine, as is evident not onlv
in the acknowledged place of honor given to Jesus Christ,
the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and other New Tes-
tament characters, but in the spirit of universalism, of
conquest and above all in the mystic beliefs and ascetic
practices of later Islam.

" A three-fold cord is not easily broken. " The strength
of Islam is its composite character. It entrenches itself
everywhere and always in animistic and pagan supersti-
tion. It fights with all the fanatic devotion of Semitic

i"Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen " (Wies-
baden, 1833).



2 THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM



Judaism with its exaggerated nationalism. It claims at
once to include and supersede all that which Jesus Christ
was and did and taught. It is a religion of compromise, of
conservatism, and of conquest.

It is our purpose to show how strong is the pagan ele-
ment in Mohammedanism, how many doctrines and prac-
tices of popular Islam find their explanation only in a sur-
vival of the animism of Ancient Arabia or were incorporated
from many heathen sources in the spread of the faith ; doc-
trines and practices which Islam was never able to eliminate
or destroy. At the outset of our discussion it need not sur-
prise us that a belief in demons and the old Arabian super-
stitions persisted in spite of Islam. Five times daily the
Moslem muezzin calls out from the Mosque : " There is no
god but Allah." The people repeat this and reiterate it far
more than a hundred times during the day in their quarrels,
feasts, fasts, rejoicings, and common conversation. But in
my daily observations — and I have lived among them for
more than twenty-five years — I find they have fetishes and
superstitious customs which amount to as many gods as the
heathen who bow down to wood and stone. 2

2 In the use of the word " Animism " we refer to primitive pagan
practices and not to other uses of the term. William McDougall writes
in his " Body and Mind" (Methuen & Co. Ltd., 36 Essex St., W. C, p.
viii of Preface) : " Primitive Animism seems to have grown up by ex-
tension of this notion to the explanation of all the more striking phe-
nomena of nature. And the Animism of civilized men, which has been
and is the foundation of every religious system, except the more rigid
Pantheism, is historically continuous with the primitive doctrine.
But, while religion, superstition, and the hope of a life beyond the
grave have kept alive amongst us a variety of animistic beliefs, rang-
ing in degree of refinement and subtlety from primitive Animism to
that taught by Plato, Liebnitz, Lotze, William James, or Henri Berg-
son, modern science and philosophy have turned their backs upon An-
imism of every kind with constantly increasing decision ; and the ef-
forts of modern philosophy have been largely directed towards the
ex-cogitation of a view of man and of the world which shall hold fast
to the primacy and efficiency of mind or spirit, while rejecting the ani-



ISLAM AND ANIMISM 3

Now we find that Islam in Arabia itself and in the older
Moslem lands was not able to shake itself free from similar
beliefs and practices. To understand these aright in their
origin and character it is necessary first of all to know some-
thing of what we mean by Animism. Animism is the belief
that a great part if not all of the inanimate kingdom of nature
as well as all animated beings, are endowed with reason, in-
telligence and volition identical with man. Kennedy defines
it as " both a religion, a system of philosophy and a system
of medicine. As a religious system it denotes the worship
of spirits as distinguished from that of the gods " ; 3 and War-
neck says : "It would seem as if Animism were the primi-
tive form of heathenism, maintaining itself, as in China and
India to this hour, amid all the refinements of civilization.
The study of Greek and old German religions exhibits the
same animistic features. The essence of heathenism seems to
be not the denial of God, but complete estrangement from
Him. The existence of God is everywhere known, and a cer-
tain veneration given Him. But He is far away, and is
therefore all but ruled out of the religious life. His place is
taken by demons, who are feared and worshiped. " 4

mistic conception of human personality. My prolonged puzzling over
the psycho-physical problem has inclined me to believe that these at-
tempts cannot be successfully carried through, and that we must accept
without reserve Professor Tylor's dictum that Animism ' embodies the
very essence of spiritualistic, as opposed to materialistic, philosophy,
and that the deepest of all schisms is that which divides Animism from
Materialism."

In our treatment of Islam we do not deal with the psychology or
philosophy of Animism in this sense at all. Islam as well as Chris-
tianity believes thoroughly in the existence of the soul as well as the
body, and Moslem philosophy never became materialistic. The belief
in life after death and in the mortality of the soul is not disputed.
This book deals with the pagan interpretations of this doctrine and
with superstitions connected with a belief in demons, etc., more com-
monly known as Animism.

3 "Animism," by Eev. K. W. S. Kennedy, Westminster, 1914.

* Warneck — " Living Christ and Dying Heathenism," p. 7.



4 THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM

Even in Arabia the stern monotheism of the Wahabi Re-
formers was unable to eradicate the pagan superstitions of
Islam because thej are imbedded in the Koran and were
not altogether rejected by Mohammed himself, — much less
by his companions.

With regard to the pagan practices prevalent in early
Islam, Abu'l Fida calls attention to a number of religious
observances which were thus perpetuated under the new sys-
tem. " The Arabs of the times of ignorance," he says, " used
to do things which the religious law of Islam has adopted;
for they used not to wed their mothers or their daughters,
and among them it was deemed a most detestable thing to
marry two sisters, and they used to revile the man who mar-
ried his father's wife, and to call him Daizan. They used,
moreover, to make the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the House"
(the Ka'aba), "and visit the consecrated places, and wear
the Ihram " (the single garment worn to the present day
by a pilgrim when running round the Ka'bah), "and per-
form the Tawwaf, and run " (between the hills As Safa and
Al Marwa) " and make their stand at all the Stations and cast
the stones " (at the devil in the valley of Mina) ; " and they
were wont to intercalate a month every third year." He goes
on to mention many other similar examples in which the re-
ligion of Islam has enjoined as religious observances ancient
Arabian customs, for instance ceremonial washings after cer-
tain kinds of defilement, parting the hair, the ritual observed
in cleansing the teeth, paring the nails, and other such mat-
ters. 5

Mohammed also borrowed certain fables current among the
heathen Arabs, such as the tales of Ad and Thamud and some
others (Surah VII 63-77). Regarding such stories, Al
Kindi well says to his opponent : " And if thou mentionest
the tale of Ad and Thamud and the Camel and the Comrades
of the Elephant " (Surahs CV and XIV: 9) " and the like of

5 Cf. Tisdall, " The Sources of the Qur'an," pp. 44-45.



ISLAM AND ANIMISM 5

these tales, we say to thee, ' These are senseless stories and
the nonsensical fables of old women of the Arabs, who kept
reciting them night and day.' "

When we read the account of pre-Islamic worship at Mecca
we realize how many of the ancient customs persist in Islam.
The principal idols of Arabia were the following:

Hobal was in the form of a man and came from Syria ; he
was the god of rain and had a high place of honor.

Wadd was the god of the firmament. Special prayers for
rain and against eclipse were taught by Mohammed.

Suwah, in the form of a woman, was said to be from ante-
diluvian times.

Yaghuth had the shape of a lion.

Yaooh was in the form of a horse, and was worshiped in
Yemen. (Bronze images of this idol are found in ancient
tombs and are still used as amulets.)

Nasr was the eagle god.

El Uzza, identified by some scholars with Yenus, was
worshiped at times under the form of an acacia tree (cf.
Tree- worship by Moslems).

Allot was the chief idol of the tribe of Thakif at Taif who
tried to compromise with Mohammed to accept Islam if he
would not destroy their god for three years. The name ap-
pears to be the feminine of Allah.

Manat was a huge stone worshiped as an altar by several
tribes.

Duivar was the virgin's idol and young women used to go
around it in procession ; hence its name.

Isaf and Naila were idols that stood near Mecca on the hills
of Saf a and Mirwa ; the visitation of these popular shrines is
now a part of the Moslem pilgrimage, i. e., they perpetuate
ancient idolatrous rites.

Habhab was a large stone on which camels were slaugh-
tered. In every Moslem land sacred-stones, sacred-trees, etc.,



6 THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM

abound; in most cases these were formerly shrines of pagan
(in some cases, of Christian) sanctity.

" Even in the higher religions," says Warneck, " and in the
heathenism that exists in Christendom, we find numerous
usages of animistic origin. Buddhism, Confucianism and
Mohammedanism have nowhere conquered this most tenacious
of all forms of religion ; they have not even entered into con-
flict with it; it is only overcome by faith in Jesus Christ."
Therefore these many superstitions can now no longer be
styled anti-Mohammedan, although they conflict in many re-
spects with the original doctrines of Islam. A religion is not
born full-grown any more than a man, and if on attaining a
ripe maturity it has cast off the form of its early youth past
recognition, we cannot deny it its right to this transforma-
tion, as it is part and parcel of the scheme of nature.

" A custom or idea does not necessarily stand condemned
according to the Moslem standard," writes Hurgronje, " even
though in our minds there can be no shadow of doubt of its
pagan origin. If, for example, Mohammedan teaching is
able to regard some popular custom as a permissible enchant-
ment against the devil or against jinns hostile to mankind,
or as an invocation of the mediation of a prophet or saint
with God, then it matters not that the existence of these ma-
lignant spirits is actually only known from pagan sources, nor
does any one pause to inquire whether the saint in question is
but a heathen god in a new dress, or an imaginary being whose
name but serves to legitimate the existing worship of some
object of popular reverence." 6 Some writers go so far as to
say that Animism lies at the root of all Moslem thinking and
all Moslem theology. " The Moslem," says Gottfried Simon,
" is naturally inclined to Animism ; his Animism does not run
counter to the ideal of his religion. Islam is the classic ex-
ample of the way in which the non-Christian religions do not

e " The Achenese," pp. 287-8.



ISLAM AND ANIMISM 7

succeed in conquering Animism. This weakness in face of
the supreme enemy of all religious and moral progress bears
a bitter penalty. Among the animistic peoples Islam is more
and more entangled in the meshes of Animism. The con-
queror is, in reality, the conquered. Islam sees the most
precious article of its creed, the belief in God, and the most
important of its religious acts, the profession of belief,
dragged in the mire of animistic thought; only in animistic
guise do they gain currency among the common people. In-
stead of Islam raising the people, it is itself degraded. Is-
lam, far from delivering heathendom from the toils of Ani-
mism, is itself deeply involved in them. Animism emerges
from its struggle for the soul of a people, modernized it is
true, but more powerful than ever, elegantly tricked out and
buttressed by theology. Often it is scarcely recognizable in
its refined Arabian dress, but it continues as before to sway
the people; it has received divine sanction."

Other writers express a still stronger opinion. " Moslem
ritual, instead of bringing a man to God," writes Dr. Adri-
ani, " serves as a drag net for Animism," and evidence con-
firms this from Celebes where the Mohammedan is more su-
perstitious even than the heathen. " Islam has exercised
quite a different influence upon the heathen from what we
should expect. It has not left him as he was, nor has it tem-
pered his Animism. Rather it has relaid the old animistic
foundations of the heathen's religion and run up a light, ar-
tistic superstructure upon it of Moslem customs." 7

While Moslems profess to believe in one God and repeat
His glorious incommunicable attributes in their daily wor-
ship, they everywhere permit this glorious doctrine to be
buried under a mass of pagan superstitions borrowed either
originally from the demon-worship of the Arabs, the Hindu

7 " The Progress and Arrest of Islam in Sumatra," Gottfried Simon,
pp. 157-9.



8 THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM

gods, or the animistic practices of Malaysia and Central
Africa. Regarding the thirty million Moslems of the Dutch
East Indies Wilkinson well says : " The average Malay
may be said to look upon God as upon a great king or gov-
ernor, mighty, of course, and just, but too remote a power to
trouble himself about a villager's petty affairs ; whereas the
spirits of the district are comparable to the local police, who
may be corrupt and prone to error, but who take a most ab-
sorbing personal interest in their radius of influence, and
whose ill-will has to be avoided at all costs. "

At first consideration one would imagine that the stern
monotheism of Islam — the very intolerance of Semitic be-
lief in Allah — would prevent compromise with polytheism.
The facts are, however, to the contrary. " Belief in spirits
of all sorts is neither peculiar to Acheh nor in conflict with
the teaching of Islam," says Dr. Snouck Hurgronje. " Ac-
tual worship of these beings in the form of prayer might seri-
ously imperil monotheism, but such worship is a rare ex-
ception in Acheh. The spirits most believed in are hostile to
mankind and are combated by exorcism; the manner in
which this is done in Acheh, as in Arabia and other Moham-
medan countries is at variance in many respects with the
orthodox teaching. Where, however, the Achenese calls in
the help of these spirits or of other methods of enchantment
in order to cause ill-fortune to his fellow-man, he does so with
the full knowledge that he is committing a sin." The mis-
sionary, Gottfried Simon, goes even further when he says :
" The pioneer preaching of the Mohammedan idea of God
finds a hearing all the more easily because it does not essen-
tially rise above the level of Animistic ideas ; for the Moham-
medan does not bring the heathen something absolutely new
with his doctrine of God ; his idea of God correlates itself to
existing conceptions. Animism is really the cult of spirits
and the souls of the departed. Yet spirit worship has not



ISLAM AND ANIMISM 9

been able to entirely obliterate the idea of God." 8 He goes
on to show that among all the tribes of Sumatra, the images
which are incorrectly called idols are either pictures to scare
away evil spirits by their ugliness, or soul-carriers, that is to
say, pictures into which soul-stuff has been introduced by
some kind of manipulation ; they therefore either introduce
soul-stuff into the house (soul-stuff = life power, life-fluid,
hence a material conception) and with it a blessing, or by an
increase of soul-stuff they ensure protection against diseases
and spirits. The first group might perhaps best be called
amulets, or when they are worshiped and given food, fet-
ishes; and the second group talismans.

In Skeat's " Malay Magic " 9 it is shown that just as in
the language of the Malays one can pick out Arabic words
from the main body of native vocabulary, so in their popular
religious customs Mohammedan ideas overlie a mass of orig-
inal pagan notions. " The Malays of the Peninsula are
Sunni Muhammadans of the school of Shafi'i, and nothing,
theoretically speaking, could be more correct and orthodox
(from the point of view of Islam) than the belief which they
profess. " But the beliefs which they actually hold are an-
other matter altogether, and it must be admitted that the
Mohammedan veneer which covers their ancient superstitions
is very often of the thinnest description. The inconsistency
in which this involves them is not, however, as a rule realized
by themselves. Beginning their invocations with the ortho-
dox preface : ' In the name of God, the merciful, the com-
passionate/ and ending them with an appeal to the Creed:
' There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of
God/ they are conscious of no impropriety in addressing the
intervening matter to a string of Hindu Divinities, Demons,

s " The Progress and Arrest of Islam in Sumatra/' Gottfried Simon,
London, pp. 48-51.
9 Skeat's " Malay Magic," p. xiii.



10 THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM

Ghosts and Nature Spirits, with a few Angels and Prophets
thrown in, as the occasion may seem to require."

The very wide extent of Animism is often not realized.
This belief is the living, working creed of over half the human
race. All South, Central and West African tribes are Ani-
mists, except where Animism has been dispossessed by Chris-
tianity. The Mohammedanism of Africa is largely mingled
with it. It is the faith of Madagascar. North and South
American Indians knew no other creed when Columbus
landed, and the uncivilized remnant still profess it. The
islanders of the Pacific and the aborigines of Australia are
Animists. In Borneo and the Malay Archipelago it is
strong, although a good deal affected by Hinduism. Even in
China and Japan its adherents are numbered by millions.
In Burma it has been stated that the nominal Buddhism of
the country is in reality only a thin veneer over the real
religion, which is Animism. In India, while the Census Re-
ports record only eight and a half million as Animists, yet
there are probably more than ten times that number whose
Hinduism displays little else, and even the Mohammedans in


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