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The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection$

Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Haddad

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195156492

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195156498.001.0001

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(p.147) Appendix A Evidence of Afterlife Concerns in Pre‐Islamic Arabia

(p.147) Appendix A Evidence of Afterlife Concerns in Pre‐Islamic Arabia

The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection
Oxford University Press

The extreme skepticism and even ridicule with which Meccans received the message of the Prophet Muḥammad that all bodies will be resurrected and ∇revivified seems a clear indication that eschatology as it has come to be understood in Islam was not part of the general belief system of the jāhilī Arabs.1 The Qur'ānic emphasis on a personal God as the ultimate authority over life, on the āyāt of God as assurances of His beneficent control and of the positive construction of the universe, and on an eschatological resurrection and subsequent judgment ran directly counter to much of the generally accepted world view of the contemporaries of the Prophet. (Even this assertion, however, has been partly brought into question by some scholars who feel that the variety of terms indicating such events as resurrection and the abodes of recompense in Arabic suggest that these ideas were not foreign to the people of the Prophet's day.2)

In addition to the evidence of the Qur'ān, of course, passages from pre‐Islamic poetry and inscriptions indicate an intense pessimism and even gloom in regard to death and the possibility of continuing existence. The following inscription found on two Ḥimyarite tombs seems characteristic of the atmosphere that to a great extent prevailed up to the coming of Islam:

  • The two Lords of Ḥimyar in yonder tombs are laid,
  • Their bodies in the earth have rott'd, their bones decayed;
  • By the hand of death they fell, by it were destroyed,
  • Death, that which on earth none can its sting avoid.
  • Lo, at the time of birth their bodies of dust were made.
  • And to dust return, when in the earth they're laid.3
(p.148) Such testimony, along with the clear emphasis on success and fortune in the context of this life, has led some Western observers to remark that these peoples had little concern for religion4 and that any conceptions of life after death were either absent or ill‐formed.5 From what has been brought to light concerning the beliefs and practices of the pre‐Islamic Arabs, however, such conclusions seem overgeneralized and not fully justified, although it is quite apparent that the message of the Qur'ān represented a radically new formulation of the possibility of eschatological events.

It is particularly important to recognize, of course, that for a variety of reasons our conclusions about the beliefs of the pre‐Islamic Arabs must remain mainly speculative. Despite continuing attempts of archeologists and historians, the actual data are scanty. Even when we seem to have fairly clear evidence about practices, it is a difficult and often presumptuous next step to infer from these data the prevailing conceptions that may have inspired them. In addition to archeological evidence from earlier periods of Arabian history, we have a wealth and variety of information conveyed through the jāhilī poetry. Again, however, to construct a consistent world view on the basis of this is to press for more than the material reasonably will bear. While archeological evidence is at least indicative of practices somewhere around the turn of the millenium or earlier, and poetry conveys some understanding of the Weltanschauung of the jāhilī period, it is not clear to what extent these sources of information meet or even overlap in time.

As is of course true with the study of many ancient peoples—the inhabitants of the Nile valley in pharaonic times, the Mesopotamians at Ur, the Incas of Northern Peru—a consideration of grave artifacts tells us somewhat more about the living culture of a society than about their hopes or fears of a future life. Nonetheless, certain objects found in what are obviously graves and burial places at least suggest some kind of prevailing conception of life beyond the limits of earthly existence. Scholars are on much surer ground with such speculations in the case of certain cultures than in others, of course, as in the understanding of the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, where archeological findings include such materials as the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead. For pre‐Islamic Arabia the evidence is far less conclusive. Several isolated archeological excavations have given us certain valuable clues, but we are far from being in a position to determine beyond mere speculation how these peoples viewed the life of the grave. That such a life was at least considered a strong possibility does seem a justifiable assumption. From the tombs and funerary stelae we know that they paid a good deal (p.149) of attention to burial of the dead, and that the deceased were provided with particular objects that had been of use to them during their lifetimes.

From Southern Arabia we have evidence that the dead were put into the ground, sometimes in stone sarcophagi, with their graves marked by piles of stones or individual stelae. Where the area was particularly rocky, the tombs were actually cut into the sides of wadis, as in the Ḥadramaut6 or constructed like a suite of rooms designed to receive the dead. In a temple mausoleum at ‘Awwām, near Mārib, tombs were arranged on shelves around the walls, and at nearby Beiḥān the bodies were placed in small compartments leading off a central aisle.7 Inside these tombs have been discovered a wide variety of objects such as seals, gems, amulets, utensils, perfume jars and the like. From some of the inscriptions on Southern Arabian tombs referring to rain or to the flowing of water, the hypothesis has been made that a supply of water was considered advantageous, possibly for quenching the thirst of the dead.8 These suggestions are supported by wishes expressed in poetry that the graves of loved ones be supplied with rain (“May the clouds of dawn keep green thy grave with unfailing showers!”9), but it seems likely that this desire is more for the general growth of verdure around the grave than for the refreshment of the deceased themselves.10 Some stelae bear the image of the deceased; others have epitaphs such as nṣb, nfs, or ṣwr (respectively, stela, soul, and image) and bear the family name of the deceased along with a warning to would‐be predators.11

It is common knowledge that from early in the first millenium B.C.E. there was a flourishing culture in Southern Arabia, the land of the people of Sabā’ (Sheba). From the last independent kingdom of that culture, the Ḥimyarites, we are fortunate to have a rare collection of grave artifacts dating from around 150 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.12 The objects found in this Ḥimyarite gravesite are of stone and metal, usually alabaster or limestone and copper, typical of the artistic work of that period. The inscriptions are in the Ḥimyarite language and are often placed at the base of funerary images believed to be those of royalty and important personages. On the basis of what we know to have been attempts to represent the dead in a permanent image, it seems reasonable to conclude that in some sense the figures were intended to be images of the deceased, perhaps in an effort to counter the obviously imminent disintegration of the physical body.13 Although in the case of full‐body representations certain details such as joints, fingernails, and hair are carefully portrayed, there is no attempt to make the statues fully life‐like. In many instances the figure is nothing more than a large stone block with bas‐relief almond‐ or diamond‐shaped eyes, brows, a nose, and a suggested (p.150) mouth. It seems clear that the head was considered the most important part of the body, and great care seems to have been given in particular to the construction of the eyes and depiction of the hair. In some instances the funerary monument is nothing more than a piece of stone with a name engraved on the bottom and an animal head represented above. When the full body is portrayed, the feet are placed in such a manner that the figure is seen to be standing rather than walking, hands stretched out in front of him.14 Along with statues and statuettes the findings include incense burners, small altar‐like constructions, items of personal toiletry, and some jewelry with semiprecious stones.

Aside from evidence derived from modern archeological expeditions, we have little to guide us in determining the beliefs and practices of Arabia before the time of the Prophet. Of the few Muslim writers to devote themselves to an interest in this subject, one of the most widely‐recognized is the tenth‐century geographer and historian al‐Ḥamdānī, whose Iklīl, Book Eight, gives testimony to many of these Ḥimyarite findings. Describing the excavation of one of these tombs, a millenium before the work of western archeologists, he says: “After a long and tedious effort, we succeeded in opening it, to find in it (the corpse of) a woman decked with so many jewels that one could hardly believe that they could possibly have belonged to one woman. We also could discern the woman's beauty despite the distracting glare of the jewels.”15

Also recovered from Southwest Arabian burial sites is a series of interesting relief carvings giving us clearer insights into the daily life of the time.16 These include animal and domestic scenes such as a farmer plowing, a man at table with a woman behind him playing a stringed instrument, and a man on horseback driving a camel. The inscriptions, invoking the protection of the god ‘Athtar, indicate that these carvings were used specifically as grave markers. It is tempting, of course, to project the idea that such representations of everyday scenes from this life were intended to describe and/or guarantee the continuation of felicity in the next. Short of finding much more detailed and lengthy inscriptions or some sort of textual explanations, however, such speculations must remain unsubstantiated. That the objects preserved in the graves were precious to them seems indisputable; that they hoped in some way to make use of these objects after death is clearly less certain yet still a reasonable possibility.

In Central Arabia, the region of the Ḥijāz north of Yemen, the tombs like the sanctuaries were often considered part of the sacred domain. Here, too, stelae were erected on the graves,17 which were usually also marked with a (p.151) pile of stones, and the tombs were supplied with various objects in current usage. It was apparently the custom to place cut hair on the tomb, connected most likely with specific practices of lamentation.18 Certain sacrifices were made on the tombs;19 a commonly‐cited practice is that of tying a she‐camel or a mare near the grave and allowing it to die of starvation. Various hypotheses have been suggested to explain this practice, among them the idea that the soul of the camel would be ridden by the dead person in his immediate existence beyond the grave. There are numerous references in Islamic literature to the image of individuals riding at the time of the resurrection on camels or other beasts,20 but it is surely unlikely that any such intention was in the minds of the pre‐Islamic Arabs.21

The sacrifices and offerings made in connection with the dead seem clearly to have been in the context of social responsibility. There is no evidence to suggest that the dead were regarded as having attained special powers that they could exercise over or on behalf of the living. The practice of caring for graves and providing offerings appears not to have been for purposes of propitiation but rather, as has been true in many cultures ancient and not so ancient, to perform a service in the name of the departed. In a highly structured tribal society, clearly defined familial and social responsibilities are the way of life. Services performed at the grave may well be seen as a way of continuing these responsibilities even after death.22

Speaking of the care paid to proper interment so that graves would not be violated, T. Nöldeke comments, “That all this may be done without any notion of benefiting the departed is sufficiently obvious from the usages of modern Europe. The belief which exists among many primitive races, that the dead are malevolent and seek to injure the living, is one of which no traces are to be found among the Arabs” (“Arabs”, p. 672). One finds, of course, occasional suggestions to the contrary. W. Robertson Smith feels that the various Arab funeral customs over the ages have been designed primarily to insure that the corpse is not a threat or danger to the living but in some way a source of blessing.23 Many cultures have held the idea that the spirit of the deceased is a restless ghost, wandering either with malevolent intent or in unhappy confusion around the places it used to inhabit.24 The concept of restlessness, however, may actually be out of keeping with the general world view of Arab society. Particularly for Bedouins, the wandering aspect integral to nomadic existence is in sharp opposition to the state of the individual at the time of death, when he becomes a sedentary [muqīm], a term used both for the grave and its occupant. This idea, developed in early Arab poetry, is supported by the observation that the nomad (p.152) quickly abandons his departed comrades, who are stilled by the fact of death, to resume his own activities until the end of his appointed time.25

The question of whether practices such as offerings and sacrifices actually constituted a cult of the dead or a form of ancestor worship has been the subject of some discussion. One view is that at least the dead heroes of the tribe were worshiped, along with images and certain natural phenomena.26 In Kitāb al‐aṣnām, considered to be one of the most important sources of information about the practices of ancient Arabia, a tradition says that the sons of Cain taught the Arabs how to make images of the dead so that they could be remembered. This use became perverted, however, says Kitāb al‐aṣnām, and as time passed these statues came to be worshipped as idols.27

That respect led to veneration, which in turn led to a kind of worship—i.e. that an ancestor remembered for his heroism came to be regarded as a local god—seems not unlikely in light of numberless such occurrences in a variety of other societies and also in consideration of the extreme importance put on the family relationship within Arab society. A Durkheimian analysis may be appropriate: the object of worship, the tribal ancestor, may have been identified with the collective of society itself. Such practices of ancestor worship, if indeed such a term is applicable, could be seen to have their natural continuation in popular Islam in the attribution to certain personages, i.e. the saints or walīs, of powers of intercession after death in the lives of those still on earth.28

What little we can surmise about specific beliefs concerning the soul of the departed depends mainly on scattered references to its continuing existence. It seems certain, in any case, that no real communication between the living and the dead was considered possible:

  • Before the door of each and all a slumber‐place is ready set:
  • Men wane and dwindle, and the graves in number grow from day to day;
  • And ever more and more out‐worn the traces fade of hearth and home,
  • And ever yonder for some dead is newly built a house of clay.
  • Yea, neighbours are they of the living: near and close their fellowship;
  • But if thy soul would seek their converse, thou must seek it far away.29
That aspect of the individual seen as continuing in or near the grave was referred to or described by the words ṣadā and hāma. The latter, a verb form, means “to be thirsty,” or in the form hāma ‘alá, “to hover around or about.” Ṣadā, a noun, has several interpretations interesting in this context.30 It can signify an echo and is used in such phrases as “his echo became dumb,” meaning “he died.” It can also refer to the part of the head or (p.153) brain considered to be the location of one's mental faculties, to an owl‐like bird that comes forth from the head of a slain victim (or a revivified bird‐form of the bones of the dead), or to thirst itself. Sometime it has also been used to refer to the remains of the dead person in the grave.

These various meanings help to explain the belief, widely held by the Arabs before and at the time of the Prophet, that the “soul” of the departed, associated with the head, became an owlish apparition said to fly from the head of the deceased and hover near the grave. Particularly in cases of murder or violent death it is not difficult to see how the screeching of a bird in a lonely grave site could have been taken to be the voice of the deceased seeking vengeance: “ . . . ill bird that shrieks in the gloom of the graves,” says the poet.31 This vengeance was often expressed by the phrase “give me drink, give me drink,” apparently referring to the desire of the deceased to drink the blood of his slayer (although it may well be related to the aforementioned idea that the dead were construed as being thirsty): “Oh God, if I die, and Thou give not to mine owl to drink / Oh Lailà, I die, no grave lies thirstier than my grave.”32

The Arabs have always maintained a clear line between the human species and the inhabitants of the spirit world, or jinn. In many aspects the latter have been thought to resemble humanity, but in fact they constitute one half of creation on the earth and human beings the other.33 Neither made of flesh and blood nor in any way transcendent as are the gods, they appear in many forms, eat and drink, and in a general way participate in the activities of this world. The Qur'ān, of course, makes it quite clear that the jinn were created of fire and humankind of clay, although both will be called to judgment at the day of resurrection. It is nonetheless true that certain legends from early Arabian history suggest that beliefs were sometimes held attesting to the relationship of spirits and humans. A. S. Tritton, for example, reports that the Kitāb al‐aghānī suggests that some of the Jews were considered to be related to the jinn, and that the Ḥayawān indicates that some tribes were descended from ancestors who were among the jinn.34

The word jinn itself is a collective noun (singular jinni), and the entire class of creatures has been subdivided and categorized into a variety of beings, of varying interests and abilities, including ghūl, ‘ifrīt, si‘lāt, rūḥ, shiqq, ‘āmir, and shayṭān.35 Possession by the jinn was considered to be a common phenomenon in the days of the Prophet, evidenced not least by repeated assertions in the Qur'ān that the utterances of Muḥammad were prophetic and not the ravings of one possessed. On the theoretical level, then, the jinn are not to be confused with the spirits of the deceased. That (p.154) the line occasionally gets somewhat blurred, however, is apparent from the many reports of folk beliefs, and it is reasonable to suppose that such may have been the case also in earlier days. In situations of violent death in Egypt, for example, the spirit is often felt to become an ‘ifrīt and to hover around its former habitation for a number of days. Both Sayyid ‘Uways, the Egyptian sociologist who has done detailed studies of afterlife beliefs, and the American University of Cairo anthropologist Sausan al‐Missīrī assured us that the superstition is widely held that the ‘ifrīt goes out at night begging people for a drink, an interesting parallel to the ancient Arab belief in the thirsty owl‐soul.36

Whether or not one wishes to argue linguistically for a belief among pre‐Islamic Arabs in the idea of resurrection, and the weight of opinion clearly discourages such an attempt, the evidence suggests that there was and had been for some time an understanding of the possibility of life continuing beyond the death of the physical body. Nonetheless, even if these suggestions should find conclusive support, it is still apparent that there was no full‐blown concept of life beyond the grave and that the advent of death was deeply dreaded. The evidence of poetry indicates that the early Arabs felt life is to be lived and to whatever extent possible enjoyed in this world, that the tomb is a place of general gloom and sadness. “O thou dear lost one!” cries the poet. “Not meet for thee is the place of shadow and loneliness.”37 (It is not unreasonable to suppose that this rather dismal conception of the life in the grave, while certainly not unique to this society, may well have influenced the later Islamic doctrine of the punishment of the grave.) Youth and virility were exalted and the passing into old age considered an unavoidable misfortune. In the following poem, actually written in the very early days of Islam, the author, in addressing his own soul at the moment of going into battle, expresses this vision of life:

  • I said to her [my soul] when she fled in amazement and breathless
  • Before the array of battle—Why dost thou tremble?
  • Yea, if but a day of Life thou shouldst beg with weeping
  • Beyond what thy Doom appoints, thou wouldst not gain it. . . .
  • The pathway of Death is set for all men to travel:
  • The Crier of Death proclaims through the Earth his empire,
  • Who does not die when young and sound dies old and weary,
  • Cut off in his length of days from all love and kindness;
  • And what for a man is left of delight in living,
  • Past use, flung away, a worthless and worn‐out chattel?38
(p.155) If it is possible to surmise any hopeful view of life after death in the South Arabian or Ḥimyarite times, there is little doubt that such had given way to the deep pessimism, informed by the notion of inexorable fate, that seems to have characterized the outlook of the jāhilī Arabs. To become a thirsty bird shrieking among the tombs is hardly a happy expectation, and all evidence suggests that the focus one's attention and hopes was to be on life in this world. As in many of the world's cultures, the expectation of immortality was not eschatological; the hope of living beyond death was seen to be achieved by remaining present in the memory of those of one's family and community. As the famous poet Ibn Qutayba recorded,
  • A man after death is a tale.
  • He vanishes, yet his traces [āthār] remain.
  • What he concealed during his sleep is canceled out,
  • And his secrets will be spread abroad.
  • The best condition for a man is when the reports of him after death are good.
  • His memory will endure after him,
  • Even though his house is empty of his being.39
Little wonder is it that the Prophet's message of the relation of dunyā and ākhira, of the universal judgment, and of the possibility of physical pleasures for all eternity in the presence of a merciful and compassionate deity fell on incredulous ears. (p.156)


(1.) See Chapter One above for Qur'ānic references to Meccan opposition, as well as brief discussion of the understanding of time and fate in pre‐Islamic thought.

(2.) Jawād ‘Alī, Tārīkh al‐‘Arab qabl al‐Islām (1956), V, 250–52, discusses, for example, the question of whether or not at least some of the jāhilī Arabs believed in resurrection [ba‘th] and ingathering [ḥashr] of bodies after death. Lamenting that we have no solid evidence on this score, he nonetheless states: “If it is true as reported that the people of the jāhilīya believed in the ba‘th and ḥashr, it is not farfetched to say that those who believed in it saw judgment similar to the judgment of man for his deeds here on earth. One takes note that qiyāma, ba‘th, ḥashr, janna and nār are true Arabic words. It would not be too much to say that the meaning of these in the jāhilīya is very close to their Islamic meaning.”

(3.) From N. Faris, The Antiquities of South Arabia (1938), p. 16, a translation of the eighth book of al‐Iklīl by Abū Muḥammad al‐Ḥasan ibn Aḥmad al‐Ḥamdānī.

(4.) See P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (1960), p. 96: “Judged by his poetry the pagan Bedouin of the Jāhilīyah age had little if any religion. To spiritual impulses he was lukewarm, even indifferent.”

(5.) See Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, p. 166: “Such notions of a future life as were current in pre‐Islamic Arabia never rose beyond vague and barbarous superstition. . . . ”

(6.) One of the principal sources of our information on this area, which is east of Shabwa, is the extensive description provided by archeologist Gertrude Caton‐Thompson in The Tombs and Moon Temple of Hureidha (Hadhramaut) (1944). She says (p. 93) that the evidence gives an upper dating limit of somewhere around the fifth to fourth centuries B.C.E. but that determining a lower limit is impossible. Near an ancient temple dedicated to the moon god two cave tombs were extensively excavated. One of these had clearly been plundered many centuries earlier, but the remaining artifacts indicate, as did those of the earlier Ḥimyarite tombs, that the best the culture could provide was buried along with the dead.

(7.) W. E. N. Kensdale, “The Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Ancient South Arabians,” Philosophical Society, University College of Ibadan (1953), p. 5.

(8.) For details of these inscriptions see p. 323 of the excellent article by G. Ryckmans, “Les religions arabes preîslamiques” in Histoire général des religions, 4 (1947), 307–32. He indicates that in some instances a small cavity was carved on top of the tomb for receiving and storing rain and that sometimes a camel was sacrificed on the tomb for the purpose of providing food and water for the deceased.


(9.) C. J. Lyall, Translations of Ancient Arabian Poetry (1885), p. 55.

(10.) T. Nöldeke, “Arabs (Ancient)” in ERE, I, 672.

(11.) Ryckmans, “Les religions arabes,” p. 323.

(12.) These artifacts were found in the area beyond Aden between Ḥodeida and Ṣan‘ā’. For a full discussion of their artistic qualities see Léon Legrain, “Archeological Notes: In the Land of the Queen of Sheba,” American Journal of Archeology, 38 (1934), 329–37.

(13.) Legrain says positively that the images “represent the deceased person, and were intended for his ‘double,’ a support for his soul, after the inanimate body had been buried in the grave” (p. 332).

(14.) “It is the gesture of presentation or welcome,” says Legrain (p. 334).

(15.) Faris, Antiquities, p. 85 (VIII, 161 of al‐Iklīl).

(16.) For a more complete description and accompanying photographs see Jack Finegan, The Archeology of World Religions (1952), pp. 478–79 and plates.

(17.) Diana Kirkbride describes the remains of Nabatean tombs from the Wadi Rum and what she determines to be funerary stelae in “A Stone circle in the Deserts of Midian: Cryptic Carvings from the Wadi Rum,” The Illustrated London News, August 13, 1960, pp. 262–63. She discovered small figures carved on rocks placed in a large circle, in which were also some burial cairns. “Since these little figures give every indication of being individual portraits it is easier to envisage them as memorial stelae set up in a sanctuary than as a circle of idols such as we know existed in the Jaheliyeh . . . ” (p. 263).

(18.) Ryckmans clearly identifies this as an offering made to the dead, given along with other items such as water and wine, p. 323.

(19.) Nöldeke, “Arabs,” p. 672. Nöldeke mentions that the slaughter of animal sacrifices has been practiced to the present in various parts of Arabia. From Doughty's Arabia Deserta (1888), I, 240–41 we read: “I found also among these Bedouins, that with difficulty they imagine any future life; they pray and they fast as main duties in religion, looking (as the Semitic Patriarchs before them) for the present life's blessing. There is a sacrifice for the dead, which I have seen continued to the third generation. I have seen a sheykh come with devout remembrance, to slaughter and to pray at the heap where his father or his father's father lies buried: and I have seen such to kiss his hand, in passing any time by the place where the sire is sleeping, and breathe out, with almost womanly tenderness, words of blessing and prayer;—and this is surely comfort in one's dying, that he will be long‐time so kindly had in his children's mind.”

(20.) Cf. al‐Ghazālī's al‐Durra, MS p. 49, in which the dead are described as riding two, three, four, five, and ten on a camel. “The meaning,” says al‐Ghazālī, “is that God has mercy on those who are in Islam and creates for them out of their works a camel on which they ride.” Jawād ‘Alī, Tārīkh al‐‘arab, (p.233) V, 250–51, comments on the belief of some Muslims that if they sacrifice an animal at the time of death, it will allow them to ride instead of walk on the day of resurrection, suggesting that this is a residue of pre‐Islamic belief even though Islam does not condone it. He says somewhat improbably that the jāhilī custom of tying a camel or cow or sheep to the grave was related to the belief of some in a resurrection and judgment.

(21.) Cf. Lyall, Translations, p. xxx.

(22.) See J. Henniger, “La religion bédouine préislamique,” L‘antica società beduina, ed. F. Gabrieli (1959), p. 130.

(23.) The Religion of the Semites (1972), p. 370.

(24.) J. G. Frazier, “On Certain Burial Customs as Illustrative of the Primitive Theory of the Soul,” J. Anthrop. Inst. 15 (1886), 65, indicates that the practice of adding a stone to the pile on top of a grave is an attempt to keep the restless soul of the occupant of the grave confined to his place, particularly if that soul be of a murderer or his victim.

(25.) See M. M. Bravmann, The Spiritual Background of Early Islam (1972), pp. 288, 292.

(26.) Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, “Religion of the pre‐Islamic Arabs,” Iqbal, 16i (1967), 79.

(27.) Kirkbride, “A Stone Circle,” p. 263.

(28.) Henniger, “La religion bédouine,” pp. 130–31. See Appendix C for a discussion of the intercessory functions of walīs.

(29.) Lyall, Translations, p. 53.

(30.) For a full analysis of these meanings with references see E. W. Lane, An Arabic‐English Lexicon (1863–93), Bk. I, pt. iv, p. 1670.

(31.) Lyall, Translations, p. 76. Ragnar Eklund, Life Between Death and Resurrection, pp. 18–20, discusses the possible carry‐over into Islam of this bird idea, indicating that classical scholars have generally understood the hāma of Bedouin poetry to have been the predecessor of the bird form into which the martyrs of Islam are said to go immediately at death. Eklund points out, however, that the differences between these two images is considerable and notes that the Prophet himself denied the existence of the hāma, while the birds as the souls of martyrs are mentioned frequently in the traditions.

(32.) Lyall, p. 67: “The poet conceives himself as slain by love for Laila, and his ghost as thirsting for her as his slayer, and requiring to be appeased by her blood.” ‘Alī in Tarīkh al‐‘arab expresses the opinion that while revenge is an obvious element in the screech‐owl phenomenon, it was generally held that all deceased took the form of a bird: “Death according to the jāhilīya is the spirit leaving the body for some reason, leading to its disintegration. The spirit leaves through the nose or the mouth, and that is natural death. However if death is caused by a wound, the spirit becomes a bird and flutters over the grave and continues thus until the dead man is revenged. And it keeps saying ‘give me to drink.’ It could be that this is the reason why they put (p.234) some animal next to the grave. If one studies the reports [akhbār] a bit more it appears that it is not only the spirit of the murdered one that turns into a bird, but that of everyone. As to how long they stay, what they do and where they go, there is very little information” (V, 279–80).

(33.) J. Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidentums (1897), p. 148.

(34.) “Spirits and Demons in Arabia,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1934), pp. 720–21. Cf. W. Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 88.

(35.) Tritton, “Spirits and Demons,” pp. 715–27, talks about the various classes and activities of jinn from pre‐Islamic times as discussed in a variety of Muslim sources. The question of the relation of the jinn to the angels is complex; concerning it the Qur'ān commentators and others have given a variety of opinions. For an analysis of these opinions see the Ph.D. dissertation of Peter J. Awn, “Iblīs in Sufī Psychology” (Harvard University, 1978).

(36.) From a series of private interviews, April–May, 1976, Cairo. Cf. W. S. Blackman, “Some Beliefs among the Egyptian Peasants with Regard to ‘afarit,” Folklore, 35 1924, 176–84, in which she discusses the relationship of these spirits to the jinn.

(37.) Lyall, Translations, p. 54.

(38.) Lyall, p. 17.

(39.) Thurayyā Malḥas, al‐Qiyam al‐ruḥīya fī al‐shi‘r al‐‘arabī (1964), p. 159.