Great religions of the world had spread the light of faith, morality and learning in the ages past, but everyone of these had been rendered a disgrace to its name by the sixth century of the Christian era.
Crafty innovators, unscrupulous dissemblers and impious priests and preachers had, with the passage of time, so completely distorted the scriptures (1) and disfigured the teachings and commandments of their own religions that it was almost impossible to recall their original shape and content. Had the founder or the prophet of any one of them returned to earth, he would unquestionably have refused his own religion and denounced its followers as apostates and idolaters.
Judaism had, by then, been reduced to an amalgam of dead rituals and sacraments without any spark of life left in it. Also, being a religion upholding racial snobbery, it has never had any message for other nations or the good of the humanity at large.
It had not even remained firmly wedded to its belief in the unity of God (which had once been its distinguishing feature and had raised its adherents to a level higher than that of the followers of ancient polytheistic cults), as commended by the Prophet Abraham to his sons and grandson Jacob (Peace Be Upon Him). The Jews had, under the influence of their powerful neighbors and conquerors, adopted numerous idolatrous beliefs and practices as acknowledged by modern Jewish authorities:
"The thunderings of the Prophets against idolatry show, however, that the
cults of the deities were deeply rooted in the heart of the Israelites people,
and they do not appear to have been thoroughly suppressed until after the return
from the Babylonian exile."
Through mysticism and magic many polytheistic ideas and customs again found their way among the people, and the Talmud confirms the fact that idolatrous worship is seductive.(2) The Babylonian Gemara (3) (popular during the sixth century and often even preferred to Torah by the orthodox Jews) typically illustrates the crudeness of the sixth century Jews' intellectual and religious understanding. This is by virtue of its jocular and imprudent remarks about God and many an absurd and outrageous beliefs and ideas, which lack not only sensibility but also inconsistency with the Jewish faith in monotheism.(4)
Christianity had fallen prey, in its very infancy, to the misguided fervor of its overzealous evangelists, unwarranted interpretation of its tenets by ignorant church fathers and iconolatry of its gentile converts to Christianity. The doctrine of Trinity, which came to have the first claim to the Christian dogma by the close of the fourth century, has been thus described in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.
"It is difficult, in the second half of the 20th century to offer
a clear, objective, and straightforward account of the revelation, doctrinal
evolution, and theological elaboration of the mystery of the Trinity. Trinitarian
discussion, as envisioned by Roman Catholics as well as other sectors, presents
a somewhat unsteady silhouette.
Two things have happened. There is an arrangement on the part of the exegetes and Biblical theologians, including a constantly growing number of Roman Catholics that one should not speak of Trinitarianism in the New Testament without serious qualification. There is also the closely parallel agreement on the part of the historians of the Trinitarian dogma and systematic theologians that when one does speak of an unqualified Trinitarianism, one has moved from the period of Christian origins to, say, the last quadrant of the 4th century.
It was only then that what might be called the definitive Trinitarian dogma
'one God in three persons' became thoroughly assimilated into Christian life
and thought." (5)
Tracing the origin of pagan customs, rites, festivals and religious services of the pagans in Christianity, another historian of the Christian church gives a graphic account of the persistent endeavor of early Christians to ape the idolatrous nations. Rev. James Houston Baxter, Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the University of St. Andrews writes in The History of Christianity in the Light of Modern Knowledge:
"If paganism had been destroyed, it was less through annihilation
than through absorption. Almost all that was pagan was carried over to survive
under a Christian name. Deprived of demi-gods and heroes, men easily and half-consciously
invested a local martyr with their attributes and labeled the local statue
with his name, transferring to him the cult and mythology associated with the
Before the century was over, the martyr cult was universal, and a
beginning had been made of that imposition of a deified human being between
God and man which, on the one hand, had been the consequence of Arianism, and
was, on the other, the origin of so much that is typical of medieval piety
and practice. Pagan festivals were adopted and renamed: by 400, Christmas Day,
the ancient festival of the sun, was transformed into the birthday of Jesus." (6)
By the time sixth century reared its head, the antagonism between Christians of Syria, Iraq and Egypt on the question of human and divine natures of Christ had set them at one another's throat. The conflict had virtually turned every Christian seminary, church and home into a hostile camp, each condemning and berating the other and thirsting after its adversary's blood.
Men debated with fury upon shadows or shades of belief and staked their lives on the most immaterial issues, (7) as if these differences meant a confrontation between two antagonistic religions or nations. The Christians were, thus, neither inclined nor had time to settle matters in proper their perspective and smother the ever-increasing viciousness in the world for the salvation of humanity.
In Iran, from the earliest times, the Magi worshipped four elements (8) (of which fire was the chief object of devotion) in the oratories or fire temples for which they had evolved a whole mass of intricate rituals and commandments. In actual practice, the popular religion included nothing save the worship of fire and adoration of Huare-Kishaeta or the Shining Sun. Certain rituals performed in a place of worship were all that their religion demanded, for, after which they are free to live as they desired. There was nothing to distinguish a Magi from an unconscientious, perfidious fellow!(9)
ARTHUR CHRISTENSEN WRITES IN L'IRAN LES SASSANIDESM
"It was incumbent on the civil servants to offer prayers four times
a day to the sun besides fire and water. Separate hymns were prescribed for
rising and going to sleep, taking a bath, putting on the sacred cord, eating
and drinking, sniffing, hair dressing, cutting of the nails, excrement and
lighting the candle which were to be recited on each occasion with the greatest
It was the duty of the priests to compound, purify and tend
the sacred fire, which was never to be extinguished, nor water
was ever allowed to touch fire. No metal was allowed to rust,
for metals, too, were revered by their religion." (10)
All prayers were performed facing the sacred fire. The last
Iranian Emperor, Yazdagird III, once took an oath, saying: "I swear by the sun, which is the greatest of all gods".
He had ordered those who had renounced Christianity to reenter
their original faith and should publicly worship the sun in
order to prove their sincerity.(11) The principle of dualism,
the two rival spirits of good and evil, had been upheld by
the Iranians for such a long time that it had become a mark
and symbol of their national creed.
They believed that Ormuzd creates everything good, and Ahriman creates all that is bad. These two are perpetually at war and the one or the other gains the upper hand alternately. (12)The Zoroastrian legends described by the historians of religion bear remarkable resemblance to the hierarchy of gods and goddesses and the fabulousness of Hindu and Greek mythology. (13)
Buddhism, extending from India to Central Asia, had been converted into an idolatrous faith. Wherever the Buddhists went they took the idols (of the Buddha with them) and installed them there.(14) Although the entire religious and cultural life of the Buddhists is overshadowed by idolatry, the students of religion have grave doubts whether Buddha was a nihilist or a believed in the existence of God. They are surprised how this religion could at all sustain itself in the absence of any faith or conviction in the primal being.
In the sixth century A.D., Hinduism had shot ahead of every other religion in the number of gods and goddesses. During this period, 33 million gods were worshipped by the Hindus. The tendency to regard everything which could do harm or good as an object of personal devotion was at its height and this had given a great encouragement to stone sculpture with novel motifs of decorative ornamentation.(15)
Describing the religious condition of India during the reign of Harsha (606-648), a little before the time when Islam made its debut in Arabia, a Hindu historian, C. V. Vaidya, writes in his History of Mediaeval Hindu India.
"Both Hinduism and Buddhism were equally idolatrous at this time. If anything, Buddhism perhaps beat the former in its intense idolatry. That religion started, indeed, with the denial of God, but concluded by making Buddha himself as the Supreme God. Later developments of Buddhism conceptualized other gods like the Bodhisatvas and the idolatry of Buddhism, especially in the Mahayana school was firmly established. It flourished in and out of India so much that the word for an idol in the Arabic (16) has come to be Buddha itself."(17)
C. V. VAIDYA FURTHER SAYS
"No doubt idolatry was at this time rampant all over the world. From the Atlantic to the Pacific the world was immersed in idolatry; Christianity, Semitism, Hinduism and Buddhism vying, so to speak, one with another in their adoration of idols." (History
of Ancient India,Vol. I, p.101)
Another historian of Hinduism expresses the same opinion about the great passion for multiplicity of deities among the Hindus in the sixth century. He writes:
"The process of deification did not stop here. Lesser gods and goddesses were added in the ever-increasing numbers till there was a crowd of deities, many of them adopted from the more primitive peoples who were admitted to Hinduism with the gods whom they worshipped. The total number of deities is said to be 33 crores, i. e. 330 million, which, like the phrase 'Thy name is legion' , merely implies an innumerable host. In many parts of the country the minor gods receive as much or even more veneration than the major gods." (18)
The Arabs had been the followers of Abrahamic religion in the
olden times and had the distinction of having the first House
of God in their land. But the distance of time from the great
patriarchs and prophets of yore and their isolation in the
arid deserts of the peninsula had given rise to an abominable
idolatry. Such adoration closely approximated to the Hindu’s
zeal for idol-worship in the sixth century A. D.
In associating partners to God they were not behind any other polytheistic people. Having faith in the companionship of lesser gods with the Supreme Being in the direction and governance of the universe, they held the belief that their deities possessed the power to do them good or harm, or give them life or death. Idolatry in Arabia had reached its lowest ebb, where every region and every clan or rather every house had a separate deity of its own.(19)
Three hundred and sixty idols had been installed within the Ka'ba and its courtyard (20) - the house built by Abraham ('alaihi salaam) for the worship of the One and only God. The Arabs actually paid divine honors not merely to sculptured idols but venerated all types of stones and fetish---angels, jinn and stars were all their deities. They believed that the angels were daughters of God and the jinn His partners in divinity(21) and thus both enjoyed supernatural powers whose mollification was essential for their well-being.