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PART 3 of 4




By Berit Kjos
January 14, 2003

Tradition tells us that Muhammad was born in 570 AD. Growing up in Mecca , a vital trading post on "the ancient spice route between India and Syria ,"[1] the young Muhammad watched camel-riding traders and pilgrims worship at various pagan shrines. His own family served as custodians to the most impressive of them all: the Kaaba (Cube), which included among its many idols the Black Stone -- a treasured meteorite from the heavens.

After receiving his angelic revelations in 612 AD, the wealthy new prophet denounced the pagan idols of the Meccan trading center. To escape the wrath of its daily worshippers, he fled to Yathrib (later renamed Medina ) in 622 AD. His religious zeal and political shrewdness appealed to Arab nationalism and inspired an army of militant supporters. 

He returned to Mecca eight year later, leading an army of 10,000.  According to National Geographic,[2] " Mecca surrendered without a fight." Muhammad then ordered the Kaaba cleansed of all idols except the Black Stone, declared amnesty, and turned the former pagan shrine into a sacred sanctuary for Allah.

In spite of Muhammad's hatred for idolatry, most of his early followers would open their hearts and homes to countless idols and "other gods."  Even today, the masses in many Muslim lands find Allah too distant and demanding to meet their personal needs. Instead, they practice their own form of earth-based spirituality through Folk Islam. They turned to a pantheon of "helpful" powers -- spirits, fairies, dead saints, and ancestors -- for protection against spells, omens, "the evil eye," and other ills caused by harmful spirits. 

This multi-faceted belief system would be familiar to all who have read the collection of mystical tales in The Arabian Nights or watched the Disney version of Aladdin. Many stories were set in Baghdad , the Islamic capital after 762 A.D. Here the Caliphs (rulers) reigned during the Golden Age of Islam.  In these popular fantasies as in pagan myths around the world, the people practiced magic and prayed to "good" spirits in their daily quests for the favors needed to battle evil spirits -- the supposed source of illness, barrenness and other painful conditions in life.  

In much of the world, people have continued through the centuries to worship trees, stones, planets and angels. Muslims in most Islamic lands still communicate with spirits through dreams, visions, and divinations. They still appeal to occult forces using an assortment of amulets, charms, magic, astrology, sorcery, and witchcraft. To many, the waxing and waning moon -- honored on numerous Islamic flags -- plays a part in these rituals. Consider these descriptions by caring Christian missions:

1. Afghanistan:  The largest people group of Afghanistan are the Pashtun, the ethnic majority within the Taliban, a semi nomadic people.... "The majority of Pashtun are Sunni Muslims. Their loyalty to Islam is fierce, but Pashtun culture often seems to supercede Islamic orthodoxy. Pashtun women pray regularly, but are not allowed to go to the Mosque. Consequently, they have woven their beliefs with superstition and animistic practices. Fearful of curses and evil spirits, they often wear amulets and charms for protection and good luck."[3]  The Afghan Uzbeks... identify closely with Uzbeks living in Uzbekistan . They are predominantly Sunni Muslim and are heavily influenced by Shamanism.

2. Baggara ( Western Sudan and Eastern Chad , Africa ): "Many tribes of the Baggara believe heavily in the `evil eyeŽ and wish to protect their cattle from jealous onlookers, even within their own villages. The presence of witch doctors is the second piece of evidence which ties the beliefs of the Baggara to that of 'folk' Islam. Children who are ill will often have either a bracelet or necklace tied to a small leather pouch which contains Quranic verses. This is a classic example of how Islam has been combined with the African traditional religions. The Baggara pray toward Mecca five times a day...."[4]

3. Madurese (Nine million living on Java and the island of Madura ): "...there is much folk Islam which focuses on seeking protection in life through the magic of either appeasing or controlling good and bad spirits. They have a strong belief in spirits, the use of amulets, black and white magic and the worship of ancestors. [They] also have a reputation for being rough, hot-headed and easily offended. ... People are afraid of their tough character and use of black magic. Some Madurese still practice the custom of "carok," which involves grabbing an enemy from behind with a knife and cutting his carotid arteries or his stomach. Reasons for committing carok include adultery, disputes about goods or cattle and loss of dignity."[5]

Notice that "folk Islam" can be found across the spectrum of Islamic nations. Like moderate and militant groups of Muslims, its borders overlap the traditional divisions that followed the early disputes over Muhammad's successor. Most "people groups" that practice Folk Islam would also be labeled Sunni since "over 90% of Muslims worldwide are Sunni."[6] But, like the second largest division called Shi'ites [7], the Sunnis also feed the growing army of militants bent on Jihad.

"It is plain that the beliefs and practices of ordinary Muslims contradict many formal aspects of Islamic faith," wrote Bill Musk in The Unseen Face of Islam. "They ... permeate the everyday life of human beings from Morocco to Malaysia ."[8]

This tendency to blend beliefs is becoming universal. Today's quest for interfaith unity is fast changing churches around the world. As in Old Testament days, God's people are enticed by popular occult practices that promise spiritual empowerment. Some see nothing wrong with bringing trance-producing rituals and pagan worship into their schools and sanctuaries as pathways to peace. Others promote entertainment that encourages their youth to imagine and enjoy occult powers. God tells us to raise our children to love Him and see from His perspective, but many of our children are fed daily diets of occult suggestions through popular books, games, movies and multicultural curricula. Small wonder the church shows the same moral corruption as the rest of American culture. [See Statistics for the Changing Church] This Old Testament warning fits our times: 

 "When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who... practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out..." Deuteronomy 18:9-12



1 Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 21 (Chicago: William Benton, 1968), page 373.


2. National Geographic, July 1972, page 12.








6.  Karakoram (Lonely Planet, 1998), page 41.


7. Shi'ites (prevalent in Iran ) make up the second largest division within Islam. From the beginning, it looked to hereditary leaders called Imams, while Sunnis elected their leaders, called Caliphs. Less formal than either the Sunni or the Shi'ites are the Ismaili, who broke away in the 8th century after a later dispute over succession. Several million strong today, they have settled in Pakistan , India , East Africa , Iran and Syria . While they generally would fit among the moderate Muslim, they also are subject to the timeless attraction of traditional animism and universal pagan practices.


8. Bull Musk, The Unseen Face of Islam (Eastbourne, Great Britain: MARC, 1989), 223.

© 2003 Berit Kjos - All Rights Reserved

Four Faces Of Islam - Part 1
Four Faces Of Islam - Part 2


Berit Kjos is a widely respected researcher, writer and conference speaker. A frequent guest on national radio and television programs, Kjos has been interviewed on Point of View (Marlin Maddoux), The 700 Club, Bible Answer Man, Beverly LaHaye Live, Crosstalk and Family Radio Network. She has also been a guest on "Talk Back Live" (CNN) and other secular radio and TV networks.  Her last two books are A Twist of Faith and Brave New Schools. Kjos Ministries Web Site: