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According to this question, the predominant religion in Arabia before Islam was some kind of polytheism. While according to Muhammad's Wikipedia page,

According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad himself was a Hanif ..

the page defined "hanifs" as "native pre-Islamic Arabs who professed a rigid monotheism", and said their historicity is disputed among scholars.

What was the historian's (not just Islamic tradition) view of Muhammad's pre-prophethood religion? According to the biography on Wikipedia, he only received revelation and start preaching Islam since age 40, and before that he was a somewhat average Arab, a merchant by profession.

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2 Answers 2

Muhammad was a member of the Quraish tribe, which controlled the Kaaba in Mecca. Prior to Islam, the Kaaba was an important pagan pilgrimage site. So that suggests at least what his cousins and extended family may have believed.

Today the Kaaba is the official direction of Muslim prayer and all mosques and prayer locations will have a qibla to orient the supplicant towards the Kaaba (in some Western countries, the qibla is sometimes shorthanded by non-Muslims as pointing "east"). But prior to being the Muslim center of the world, it was a pagan site for centuries.

The Quraish took control of the site generations before Muhammad, and profited from that position. The Quraish generally followed a polytheistic pantheon. The Quraish wiki article quotes The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity:

The Qurayshite pantheon was composed principally of idols that were in the Haram of Makka, that is, Hubal (the most important and oldest deity), Manaf, Isaf, and Na'ila.

The wiki article also summarizes Abdullah Saeed, The Qur'an: An Introduction as stating that the Quraish had a pantheon of one higher God with multiple lesser Gods.

Note that the Quraish also formed the early opposition to Muhammad. The earliest stages of the religion were a quarrel over possession of Mecca and the Kaaba, so naturally the more powerful elements of Quraish opposed Muhammad, who was not from the most powerful elements of the tribe. He fled to Medina but eventually defeated Mecca and pardoned his tribesmen, who became early Muslims.

I'm not sure how much that tells you about what historical Muhammad may have believed, but it gives you some sense of the broader social environment.

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Thanks for your answer! However, I am actually more interested to see his individual belief. The broader context of the various religions in Arabia at that time was already covered in the question I linked What was the religion of the Arabic people before conversion to Islam? –  Louis Rhys Apr 16 at 6:00
    
the wars of Muhammad SAWW with Quraish shows he was not socially like them: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Badr also Uhod and Trench wars. –  Battle of Karbala Apr 16 at 9:31
    
@LouisRhys - Yes, I saw that in your question. I can't provide evidence any more narrowly than that. Most of my historical knowledge of the subject was incident to understanding modern history and works, like Sykes-Picot and Qutb/Milestones. I can't offer anything more specific than the general environment he was raised in. I also learned a fair bit about the religion itself in a course or two, but I don't recall any discussion of Muhammad prior belief (it may have been covered and I failed to retain the knowledge). –  NL7 Apr 16 at 14:26
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@BattleofKarbala - Yes, as I pointed out, Muhammad engaged in conflict with the Quraish. But Muhammad was not a Muslim prior to his experience of being approached by God's angel and transcribing the Koran. So it's possible that as a child he was reared in the beliefs of his wider social grouping, or that he was taught a minority religion or no religion at all. The later conflict stems from Muhammad being Muslim, so doesn't necessarily tell us what he believed before he said God reached out to him. –  NL7 Apr 16 at 14:32

Hanif is not in fact a religion. Hanif is a description for a believer. any kind of believer having any divine religion like Christian or Muslim can be a Hnif believer.

This can be seen in Quran. when Quran calls the prophet Ibrahim a Hanif Muslim:

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah]. And he was not of the polytheists. http://tanzil.net/#3:67

In this verse the two words Hanif (حنیف) and Muslim (مسلم) are used for describing prophet Ibrahim a.s. this translator has translated the word Hanif to "one inclining toward truth".

According to Islamic sources although most of Arabs were polytheists but prophet Muhammad SAWW and his fathers (who are children's of prophet Ibrahim a.s. and Ismael a.s.) never have been polytheists and all have been monotheists. all the genealogy line from Ibrahim a.s. to Muhammad SAWW have been believers and monotheists.

Please note although Muhammad SAWW started preaching Islam at age 40 but this does not mean he himself did not know anything about Islam before it. he was practicing Islam from when he was child and never committed any sin all over his life and if he did not preach Islam publicly before 40 it was for political conditions of that time and if he preached Islam before the suitable conditions and before finding enough secret supporters he would be killed by polytheist state King and state and culture and people of that time and so never could preach Islam. when he started preaching he and his supporters were kept under sanctions and were enforced to live out of city without have any right to buy or sell anything and the polytheists tries to kill him many tiems and after having many fights and wars with polytheists who their boss was Abu Sufyan finally Muslims after many years could conquer Mecca the base of polytheists without war.

He himself said do not follow my ancestors before than Adnan (the 20th ancestor) and connect it to Ismaeel (the son of prophet Ibrahim) because what Arabs say about before Adnan is not correct.

Reference:

Ancestors of prophet SAWW

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The last paragraph of your answer sounds more inspired by belief than by facts. Do you have sources for it? –  Jeroen K Apr 14 at 11:29
    
Not to sound rude, but he specifically asked "for historian souces, not islamic tradition", and here he god SAWW and the like. –  Lohoris Apr 14 at 13:42
    
@Lohoris is not Quran the best authentic historical source of Islam? –  Battle of Karbala Apr 15 at 3:37
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@BattleofKarbala werther it is or not, I reiterate, he specifically asked for non-"islamic tradition" sources, so this does not answer the question. –  Lohoris Apr 15 at 8:08
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@BattleofKarbala as Lohoris and Jeroen pointed out, in this question I am looking for the historian's point of views as opposed to Islamic tradition. I understand the Quran is the main source of Islamic tradition, but I don't think it's generally treated as a history book. I guess Muslim historians are okay, if you have such source, as long as it is written objectively based on historical/scientific method, not merely drawn from scripture. –  Louis Rhys Apr 16 at 6:08

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