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Summary of question
When and by whom did idol worshipping start in Mecca?
When and by whom did idol worshipping start in Mecca?
Concise answer

After the tribe of Khuza’ah gained authority of the Kabah, the first person in charge was Amr ibn Lahiyy. His name was Harith ibn Amir. Amir changed the religion of Ibrahim (A.S.) and prompted people to worship statues. According to a narration, he went to Syria and witnessed a group worshipping idols who gave him an idol to place on the wall of the Kabah. He installed many idols on the Kabah and idol worshipping prevailed and pure monotheistic beliefs were discarded.

Detailed Answer

The Background of Idol Worshipping

Namrud ibn Kan’an bin Kush was an idol worshipping king who was the most atrocious and oppressive idol worshipper and the first idol worshipper from the Tahmores dynasty. He would carve the faces of those who would pass away in wood and worship their statue.[1]

In the book Tabaqhat Nasiri we read: “Namrud ibn Kan’an bin Kush ibn Ham bin Nun, was the first to commit tyranny after the storm (of Nuh) and wore a crown. He was the one who occupied the land of Babylon, differentiated between Arabs and non-Arabs, built an establishment for worshipping idols, worshipped idols, built idols with gold and silver, embellished them with jewelry, appointed Azar the idol maker as his treasurer and idol keeper, followed astrology and there is a great chance that those idols were made based on the form of the stars and were worshipped by them.”[2]

The Starting Point of Idol Worshipping in Mecca:

Imposing the great idol of Hubal from Syria upon the people of Mecca by the tyrant Amr ibn Lahiyy and forcing them to worship it:

The tribe of Jarhum in the Haram (Mecca) rebelled and this event coincided with the fall of the Sheba rule and the coming of Harithah ibn Tha’labath ibn Amr ibn Amir to Mecca. They wanted to reside in the same location that the tribe of Jarhum was residing in but Jarhum resisted and a battle was triggered, but Bani Harithah, being from Khuza’ah, prevailed and occupied the Kabah. Their leader at the time was Amr ibn Lahiyy who drove the rest of the people of Jarhum away from Mecca. Ibn Lahiyy was Rabi’ah ibn Harithah ibn Tha’labat ibn Amr Maziqiya ibn Amir. In a tradition the Prophet says (A.S.):“رایت عمرو بن لحی یجر قصبه یعنی احشاءه فی النار”, because he was the one who broke the tradition and innovated the Buhairah, Saa’ibah and Hami[3] and altered the religion of Prophet Ismail and spread idolatry.[4]

Some historians have narrated that: Amr ibn Lahiyy once traveled from Mecca to Syria. When he arrived at the land of Balqaa’ and the city of Ma’aab, he asked the Amaliqah people, who were the children of Amlaq (or Amleeq) bin Lawidh bin Saam bin Nuh, what they were worshipping. They replied: These are idols which we request rain from at times of drought, and they send us rain and whenever we need help they come to our help! Amr ibn Lahiyy said: Can you give an idol to introduce to the people of Arabia to worship as you do? The Amaliqah gave him the idol Hubal and Amr brought the idol to Mecca and forced everybody to worship it.[5]

Mas’oudi writes: “…and when Amr ibn Amir and his children departed from Marib, Bani Rabia’h parted ways and went to Tuhamah; they were called Khuzaa’ah due to their separation from the rest of the clan because the verb khaza’a means to separate…and the Khuzaa’ah took custodianship of the Ka’bah, the first of them being custodian was Amr ibn Lahiyy and Lahiyys’s name was Harithah ibn Amir. Amr changed the religion of Ibrahim and distorted it and prompted the people to worship idols. According to a report, he went to Syria and saw a group who would worship idols; they gave him an idol to install on the Kabah. The tribe of Khuzaa’h became powerful and Amr ibn Lahiyy was oppressing everybody. One of the monotheists from the tribe of Jarhum addressed Amr saying: “Oh Amr! Do not oppress the people of Mecca because this is a sacred and holy land. Ask about the fate of the people of ‘Aad and the Bani Amaleeq which had camels there. Ask where they ended up? This is how people are annihilated.” Amr ibn Lahiyy had placed many idols around the city of Mecca and idol-worshipping spread around Mecca and the pure religion of Ibrahim was largely discarded.

In line with the above Shahnat ibn Khulf Jarhumi says: “Oh Amr! You have set numerous gods around the Kabah when we would solely worship one lord. You have established a number of gods for the people; know that in the future God will choose another custodian of the Ka’bah to replace you.” It has been said that Amr ibn Lahiyy lived for 345 years and the authority of the Kabah was with the tribe of Khuzaa’ah.[6]

[1] Mujamal al-Tawarikh wa al-Qisas, pp. 189 and 190, (written in 520), researched by Malik al-Shu’araa’ Bahar, Tehran, Kalaleh Khavar.

[2] Tabaqat Nasiri Tarikhe Iran va Islam, Minhaj Siraj, vol. 1, pg. 138, researched by Habibi Abd al-Hayy, Tehran, Donyaye Ketab, first edition, 1984.

[3] Ma’idah:103 (Allah has not prescribed any such thing as Bahirah, Sa'ibah, Wasilah, or Ham [these terms point to four domestic animals that weren’t used during the Jahiliyyah era, because they thought it to be haram]; but those who are faithless fabricate lies against Allah, and most of them do not apply reason!).

[4] al-ʻIbar (History book of Ibn Khaldun), Farsi translation, Ayati, Abd al-Muhammad, vol. 1, pg. 379, The Cultural Studies and Research Institute, first edition, 1984, Farsi translation, text.

[5] Ibn Hisham, Zendeganiye Muhammad (s) Payambare Islam, Farsi translation, Rasooli, vol. 1, pg. 52, Sayyid Hashim, Tehran, Ketabchi Press, fifth edition, 1986, translation.

[6] Mas’oudi, Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husein, Muruj al-Dhahab wa Ma’adin al-Jawhar, vol. 1, pp. 418 and 419, translation, Payande, AbulQasem, Tehran, Scientific and Cultural Press, fifth edition, 1985.

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