Daum, Werner: Tithes for the God and the Origins of the Cult at Mecca. Continuity of Religious Practice in Arabia from the Pre-Islamic Period to the Present Day

Abstract. – The landscape of the Lower Yemen is dotted with white cupolas, walis (saints). Some of them go back to the pre-Islamic period. They always stand in a wadi bed, or at its edge, or at the deepest depression of a flood prone area, i.e., in a location that is not safe from the waters. The latter is also the case in Mecca: The story of the Ka‘ba is a story of inundations. In Yemen, these pre-Islamic sanctuaries are the centre of a tradition (cult) that could still be observed by us. Its parallels with pre-Islamic Mecca (where most of its elements, but not all, have disappeared) are obvious. The anthropological data from Yemen
can thus elucidate the history of the Ka‘ba and Islam. People pay tithes to the saint. The tithes are a religious duty. They are mainly used for the great annual festival cum pilgrimage, where
the saint (the pre-Islamic divinity) offers a lavish banquet to the pilgrims. The feast symbolises a sacred marriage and ensures rain and prosperity for the community. Elements of this cult (tithes, pilgrimage, marriage banquet) have been recorded in an early-3rd-century b.c. inscription, as well as by Pliny the Elder and in the Qur’ān. This article sets them in the full body of the cult, its agency, and its continuity over the millennia. [Yemen, Yemeni water sanctuaries, parallels with Mecca]