Islam and the Ancient Mysteries (Part 3)


If research and reflection be pushed far enough it becomes clear that the universality and uniformity referred to are due to the fact that at one time, long back in the world’s past, there existed or was implanted in the minds of the whole human family… a Proto-Evangelium or Root-Doctrine in regard to the nature and destiny of the soul of man and its relation to the Deity. (p.203). 

W.L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry

Islam is in agreement with Freemasonry that humanity was initially guided by a sophisticated, single religion from which people deviated, and of which all known religions in the world derived and retain visages thereof. This is contrary to the evolutionary view on the origin of religion, which maintains that religions started off primitive and employed the use of myth and superstition to explain natural phenomena then later religious beliefs and rituals became more advanced and sophisticated over time. As many perennialists, anthropologists, and scholars of comparative religion will point out, there are many parallels between religious beliefs and practices across the world’s religions. Recurring themes such as the primal golden age of man, the fall of man, and the redemption of man appear in various religious traditions, using the literary tropes familiar to their local cultures. Thus, local expressions of the primordial religion differed based on locality and time. Below, I will discuss this original religion of mankind using the tools of the Qur’an and the Arabic language.

The Natural Religion

Wilmshurst notes that the etymology of the word religion in the English language comes from the Latin re-ligare, meaning “to bind back” (p.206) or “to rebind” or “tie back to.” This implies that the ancient concept of religion was one that connected people back to an original state. Muslims would call this original state the fitrah, the natural inclinations that God has implanted into every human being.

There is a scene from the Qur’an that describes God’s creation of Adam (عليه السلام) and the souls of all people to come. At the moment of our creation we took a pledge in which we acknowledged the existence of God and His right to be worshipped.

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” (Qur’an 7:172)

~Sahih International

Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) declared that: “Every child is born on the fitrah. It is his parents that makes him a Jew, Christian, or Zoroastrian. Similarly, an animal gives birth to offspring intact. Have you ever seen one born in pieces?” In this statement, we find that the spiritual tendencies are inborn, but the religious identity or expression of those tendencies are determined by the parents and by extension the environment. Moreover, the Prophet’s metaphor insinuates that the various religious identities are but fragments of a parent religion. Were the child to remain in this state, he would be adhering to the religion of his nature.

Islamic Terms for Religion

In Arabic, there are four main terms that can refer to religion. Each word has its unique etymology and particular usage in the Qur’an. Likewise, they have their particular interpretations based on the way they were understood throughout history.


Din (pronounced deen) is the most common Arabic word that is used for the concept of religion. It carries connotations of lowering, subduing, and exercising power. Some scholars of Islam and the Arabic language have defined it in the following ways:

  • Whatever a person adheres to.
  • A divine word deterring the lower self; resisting and preventing it from persisting on what was instilled in it.
  • Dominion and power.
  • To lower or subdue something. (Nuzha, p. 295-296)

In the famous hadith known as the Hadith of Jibril (عليه السلام) in which the Angel Gabriel or Jibril approached the Prophet Muhammad () and asked him questions about the religion he was teaching. At the conclusion, he states that din is essentially three things:

Islam is explained as the shahada (testament of faith), establishing regular prayer, paying charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making pilgrimage to the Ancient House in Mecca if one has the ability to do so.

Iman is explained as belief in the oneness of God, belief in His angels, His scriptures, following His messengers, belief in the Last Day, and God’s measure and decree (predestination).

Ihsan is explained as worshipping God as if you see Him, or if that cannot be achieved, then worshipping God with the knowledge that He sees you.

To Muslims, these are the three elements of a complete religion:

  1. islam, the outward religious laws and practices, which makes your environment peaceful, sound, or whole
  2. iman, which makes your thinking and beliefs certain and free from defects and contradictions
  3. ihsan, which refines your morals, to beautifies your character, and makes your soul pure again.


The Qur’anic term, ummah, is a word with a wide range of meanings. According to Lane’s Lexicon, it is derived from a word meaning to direct one’s aims toward among other things (p. 88). Other words in Arabic that share its origin are umm (mother), amaam (in front of), and  imam (leader). It is commonly used to refer to the global Muslim community and occasionally to Jewish and Christian communities. Abu’l Faraj Ibn Jawzi (Nuzha p. 142-143) gathered the following meanings for the word:

  • a class of individuals or groups
  • A time period
  • A spiritual leader
  • A religion
  • A physical stature

The following verse from the Qur’an uses the word ummah to mean religion within a particular time period. Here it refers to the primordial religion:

Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves. And Allah guided those who believed to the truth concerning that over which they had differed, by His permission. And Allah guides whom He wills to a straight path. (Qur’an 2:213)

~Sahih International


The word millah is another Qur’anic term used for religion. It is exclusively used to mean religious path or spiritual law. The word is mentioned several times in the Qur’an most often referring to religions of the past, particularly that of Abraham (عليه السلام), which is called hanif.


Hanif is a word most often used in the Qur’an to refer to the religion of Abraham. Its root meaning is to incline or decline. The word hanaf describes the condition of talipes or club foot, in which the two feet of an individual curve upward so that they end up walking on the sides of their feet. Historically, the people of Arabia who inclined to monotheism, performed ritual circumcision, meditated in caves, and made pilgrimage to the Ka’ba in Mecca were known as Hanifs. It was said that these were the only rites they had retained from the religion of Abraham. Though there were Jews, Christians, and other monotheistic faiths present in the Arabian peninsula at the time the Hanifs were not members of those communities. Therefore the Hanifs did not adhere to any religious law or study of scripture.

The community and practices of the Hanifs was that of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) prior to his prophetic mission. From a historical point of view, we know much about the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), the Arab society prior to Islam, and the early Muslim community, but relatively little about the Hanifs. As it seems, the Hanifs held remnants of an ancient religion that pre-dated Judaism and Christianity, which is proclaimed to be their parent religion, as Abraham (عليه السلام) was both a genealogical and ideological ascendent of the practitioners of those faiths. Were we to establish a link between Islam and the Ancient Mysteries it would be through knowing who were the Hanifs.

Yet several questions remain about this faith group that adhered to none of the known faiths at that time:

What was the religion that Abraham taught? How did these teachings arrive to remote regions of the Arabian peninsula such as Becca and Yathrib? Can anything more be gleaned from their practices that sound similar to the practices of the Ancient Mysteries?

So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know. (Qur’an 30:30)

~Sahih International

Islam and the Ancient Mysteries (Part 2)

Based on George G. M. James’ theory, I wish to examine the historical connections and pedagogical parallels between Islam and the Ancient Mysteries. Here, I will to put forth my hypothesis for the historical transformation of the Ancient Mysteries into Islamic scholarship:

  • What Afrocentric, Masonic, and occult sources call the Ancient Mystery Schools represent the primordial religion of mankind from which all religions, major and traditional, are derived.
  • The Mystery Schools were the institutions that resulted from the knowledge brought by prophets (or enlightened individuals) in each epoch. They consisted of a class of people dedicated to preserving and building upon that knowledge.
  • The Mystery Schools had a particular set of objectives, curriculum, and ways of preserving their teachings that made their students and teachers recognizable to one another in various regions across the ancient world.
  • The Mystery Schools had faced decline due to the changes instituted by the Greeks, internal confusion and corruption, the rise of Hellenized Christianity, and later the linking of the Church to the political entity of the Roman Empire, as well as its hostile position to other interpretations (which were expressions of the Mysteries) all served to replace their dominance in the world.
  • Political conflicts, the destruction of the Mystery Schools, and the interruption of knowledge transmission led to religious confusion, forced migration, and factionalism.
  • Some of these migrants and religious factions ended up on the Arabian Peninsula, where they were free to maintain their religious practices and beliefs away from the persecution and conflicts of one of the prevailing empires of the time. Among these religious factions were those known in Islamic sources as the Hanifs, who upheld the teachings of the Ancient Mystery Schools.
  • The pluralism of the Arabian society along with the presence of the Hanifs made it fertile ground for the coming of the Prophet Muhammad to usher in a new age, confirm the truth in people’s practice and beliefs and correct the falsehoods therein, and re-establish the chain of transmission of prophetic knowledge in the world.
  • The disciples of the Prophet Muhammad “opened” many of the areas through conquest that were once hubs of the Ancient Mystery Schools, which allowed for the re-establishment of the schools under the prophetic transmission of Muhammad.
  • Many of the objectives, curricula, and teaching and learning methods coincided with those of the Ancient Mystery Schools.
  • As the Islamic schools developed in different regions, scholars sought out the written works of ancient civilizations and a movement to translate them into Arabic quickly spread. Islamic scholars read, used, and critiqued the works of the ancients and passed their knowledge on to the contemporary world.


Islam and the Ancient Mysteries (Part 1)

Is there a relationship between Islam and the mystery schools of the ancient world? This sounds like a strange comparison for someone who is only familiar with Freemasonry or for someone only familiar with the teachings of Islam. Yet, a close, open-minded reading of Freemasonic texts combined with a strong background in Islamic teachings and history will reveal a number of similarities between what is called the “Ancient Mysteries” and Islam as we know it.

I became aware of this relationship in my high school years when I read a book entitled, Stolen Legacy: Greek Philosophy is Stolen Egyptian Philosophy, by George G. M. James, originally published in 1954. It stands as one of the pivotal works of African-centered studies of history. The author does not use the word Islam at all throughout the whole book, but he alludes to it in a section entitled, “How the African Continent gave its culture to the Western World,” where he states:

During the Persian, Greek and Roman invasions, large numbers of Egyptians fled not only to the desert and mountain regions, but also to adjacent lands in Africa, Arabia and Asia Minor, where they lived, and secretly developed the teachings which belonged to their mystery system. In the 8th century A.D. the Moors, i.e., natives of Mauritania in North Africa, invaded Spain and took with them, the Egyptian culture which they had preserved. Knowledge in the ancient days was centralized i.e., it belonged to a common parent and system, i.e., the Wisdom Teaching or Mysteries of Egypt, which the Greeks used to call Sophia. (p. 32)

This passage prompted me to study Islam more seriously and to look at it from this historical perspective. Over the years, I would make mental notes of information I came across in the Islamic canon alluding to the idea of the Ancient Mysteries. However, before I can discuss the Islamic sources and my interpretation of them, I must clarify exactly what the Ancient Mysteries are…

What were the Ancient Mysteries?

Also known as the Ancient Mystery Schools, this name is used by Freemasons, esotericists, and privy Afrocentrics to describe the catholic (i.e. universal) religion of the ancient world. More specifically, it refers to the initiatic organization that taught and preserved religious teachings, the physical sciences, legislation, and the liberal arts among other things. James gives a concise description of the Ancient Mystery Schools:

The ancient Egyptians had developed a very complex religious system, called the Mysteries, which was also the first system of salvation. As such, it regarded the human body as a prison house of the soul, which could be liberated from its bodily impediments, through the disciplines of the Arts and Sciences, and advanced from the level of a mortal to that of a God. This was the notion of the summum bonum or greatest good, to which all men must aspire, and it also became the basis of all ethical concepts. The Egyptian Mystery System was also a Secret Order, and membership was gained by initiation and a pledge to secrecy. The teaching was graded and delivered orally to the Neophyte; and under these circumstances of secrecy, the Egyptians developed secret systems of writing and teaching, and forbade their Initiates from writing what they had learnt. (p. 7)

Given my description and James’ statement above you might ask…

How can a universal religion be secret?

First, it should be remembered that these schools were called “mysteries” because the primordial religion of mankind had no name by which it was referred. True adherents to the religion recognized it in others by their moral rectitude, erudition in the arts and sciences, as well as their keen knowledge of the narratives and symbols that were shared between all the religious orders of that time.

Secondly, the notion of mystery and secrecy was used strategically. According to Albert Pike in his book, Morals and Dogma, secrecy was used to excite curiosity and to stir the emotions of those who might witness the passion plays of initiation. Likewise, they saw the spirit of mystery as coming from God Himself, Who reveals Himself to the human heart in a manner that is unspoken (p. 255).

Furthermore, the true interpretations of the symbols, myths, and allegories were maintained by a scholarly/priest class who were not at liberty to share them with people who were not prepared to receive them. This took spiritual purity, which was only gained through the long and painful process of initiation. Only through this process, could other scholars and priests know that an initiate was prepared, strong, and trustworthy enough to uphold the doctrine, teach it accurately, and shield it and himself from corruption.

Exclusivity in the scholarly/priest class maintained the chains of authorities within these schools and thus maintained the purity and accuracy of its doctrines and practices. As James alludes to later in his book, it was the Greeks who learned from the Egyptians who broke this oath and consequently posited incomplete knowledge, which led to inaccuracies and misunderstandings of the original doctrines and practices.


In future posts, I will demonstrate how Islam is tied to the Ancient Mysteries, historically and doctrinally. I will discuss some of the characteristics of the Mysteries, their decline in the ancient world, and their remnants in Arabia prior to Islam. Then I will take a brief look at early Islamic history to ask some important questions that might link the burgeoning Islamic civilization to the Ancient Mysteries as hinted to by James.