By Timothy W. Dunkin
One of the most common assertions that we hear when a comparison between Islam and the Judaeo-Christian tradition is made is that both conventions essentially worship the same God. Allah, it is said, is merely another name for Jehovah, the God of the Bible. Such statements are often made by those who are attempting to bring these disparate religions together in the spirit of ecumenism. Likewise, the claim is also made by Muslims who seek to assuage Christian and Jewish opposition to Islam, often as a prelude to dawah, extending an "invitation" to accept Islam that usually comes at the end of Muslim attempts at proselytism. The superficial characteristic of monotheism is emphasized, while the vast differences between God and Allah are ignored. Vast differences there are indeed. As will be shown below, the characteristics of Allah and the God of the Bible are quite different. Further, the origin of Allah will be seen from WITHIN the pagan system of the ancient Near East, not as an outsider and opponent of that system who nevertheless was sometimes treated syncretistically by compromising followers (as was the case with Jehovah in the Hebrew scriptures), but instead as one who was integrally important to pagan beliefs during the long process that eventually led to his monotheization.
Differing Views of the Nature of the Deity
There are many differences between the attributes of God and Allah. First, there is the attribute of knowability, the idea that human beings may know God and enjoy a personal relationship with the Creator. God, as He is revealed in the Bible, allows Himself to be known and fellowshipped with on a personal basis by those who have trusted in Him through His Son Jesus Christ. John 17:3 says, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." The Bible presents God as a Being who intimately reveals Himself to man, and who encourages us to learn of Him and enter into ever closer fellowship with Him. The Bible presents a God who had a personal relationship with Abraham such that Abraham was called "The friend of God." The God of the Bible wants for mankind to come to Him, be cleansed of their sins, and enjoy this close personal fellowship. "Draw nigh unto God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded." (James 4:8)
Contrast this with the Islamic description of Allah as unknowable. Indeed, in Islam, it is considered blasphemous to "presume" that one can know Allah intimately or claim any sort of close, personal fellowship with him. This theological view developed early in Islam, and became an important feature of Islamic theology, being espoused by Muslim thinkers such as al-Ghazali. Shehadi summarizes the teachings of this Sufi theologian on this point,
"The end result of the knowledge of the `arifin [ed. note - a term denoting "the knowers"] is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him."
This view is also understood among modern Islamic scholarship, where the statement of al-Faruqi is representative,
"He [God] does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will. Remember one of the prophets asked God to reveal Himself and God told him, 'No, it is not possible for Me to reveal Myself to anyone'....This is God's will and that is all we have, and we have it in perfection in the Qur'an. But Islam does not equate the Qur'an with the nature or essence of God. It is the Word of God, the Commandment of God, the Will of God. But God does not reveal Himself to anyone. Christians talk about the revelation of God Himself - by God of God - but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam. God is transcendent, and once you talk about self-revelation you have hierophancy and immanence, and then the transcendence of God is compromised. You may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time."
Allah is considered by Muslims to be unknowable, transcendent, so exalted that he would never lower himself to treat with man on a personal level of friendship and fellowship. It is for this reason that Muslims consider Christian doctrines such as the incarnation and the vicarious atonement to be illogical and blasphemous - from the Muslim’s perspective, Allah would never take on the form or flesh of a human being, and certainly would never yield himself to die, however temporarily. Because the incarnation, vicarious atonement, personal salvation and other related doctrines in Christianity carry with them the necessity of immediate encounter with God by man, they are considered unacceptable in Islam, which teaches that such encounter would never occur, that they would be an insult to Allah. Youssef states this well when he says,
"When Muslims reject the concept of God-become-man, they also reject the concept of a relationship between God and man, which is the essence of Christian faith. Put simply, Islam delineates a concept of God that ultimately is irreconcilable with the Christian Gospel. Muslims do not believe that God would have an interest in a personal relationship of love and friendship with man, much less that he actually would enter into human history for the purpose of establishing, or rather re-establishing, such a relationship....According to Muslims, divinity and humanity are totally exclusive entities. They believe God really could not have entered into human life and that the relationship with God enjoyed by Christians is impossible. Fellowship with God, which is the religious experience of the Christian, is unimaginable to Muslims. They consider the Christian assertion that man was created in God's own image to be blasphemous."
However, this Muslim view of Allah’s transcendence and unknowability should be understood as being an ideal only, for in practice the Muslim treatment of Allah only imperfectly attributes transcendence to him. As stated above by al-Faruqi, you may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time. Yet, al-Faruqi’s statement is itself internally contradictory. Muslims seek to separate the revelation of Allah’s will, as found in the Qur’an, from the revelation of Allah himself. Akhtar attempts this separation as well,
“Muslims are not entitled to claim that 'Allah is Love' or 'Allah is Wisdom.' Only adjectival descriptions are attributed to the divine being, and these merely as they bear on the revelation of God’s will for man. The rest remains mysterious.”
What can be described about Allah is his will, not his being, nature or essence. Yet, this separation of Allah’s will from Allah’s nature seems quite artificial. By the revelation of his will, Allah must necessarily be revealing something about his nature, as well. The will of a deity originates from the nature and essence of that deity. Allah’s will must be a reflection of Allah’s essential nature, for if Allah wants such-and-such to be done or not done, this desire stems from an underlying reason rooted in his nature and being. The “adjectival descriptions” of which Akhtar speaks, in defining and describing the will of the divine being, become a description of the divine being himself. The very act of revelation, as seen in Islam through the artifice of the Qur’an, negates the complete transcendence of Allah, for it de facto entails self-revelation of some sort or another.
As this applies to Islam, it does indeed become apparent that the ideal of the perfect transcendence of Allah is not attained in Islam, no matter how much the traditional Islamic paradigm may desire for it to be so. Hierophancy, in fact, does enter heavily into the Muslim tradition, and indeed, forms the entire basis of the Muslim claim to finality. The Islamic teaching on the multitude of previous prophets, and the culmination, via the Qur’an, of Allah’s repeated revelation to man, is perfectly hierophantic. It involves Allah relaying his revelations to man through a series of intermediaries (the angel Jibril and Mohammed). This giving of revelation, then, demands a certain amount of immanence, of entry into the created world and interaction with it. Indeed, the Qur’an itself quite often depicts Allah as acting within the universe, in judgment, provision, and so forth.
Revelation to man by a deity necessitates some form of self-revelation, at least if that revelation is to be considered in any way comprehensible by man. The Qur’an claims for itself to be both easily understood (44:58) and clear in its rightness as a source of doctrine (98:3-5). As such, the quranic claims impart a measured amount of knowability to the will of Allah, and hence to the nature of Allah, from whom that will originates and of whom it is a reflection. However, the conflicting desire of Muslims that Allah be transcendent and unknowable, too highly exalted to ever be known and in any way understood by his creations, produces a certain double-mindedness on the part of Islamic theology.
As such, Islamic theology faces a certain tension, a conflict between the desire to maintain Allah’s complete transcendence and unknowability on the one hand, and on the other, the simple reality that if a deity is to relay any revelation to man of any sort, this will necessarily demand a certain level of immanence and interaction with the created world. It is at this point that orthodox Islamic theology makes a “leap of faith” not dissimilar from that which was advocated by Soren Kierkegaard (in many ways the founder of modern existential philosophy) who believed that the rational and the logical could not successfully be synthesized (in a dialectical sense) with faith, and therefore, to have faith one needed to set aside what reason told him, and simply “believe”. Muslims makes this leap because, having dispensed with the notion that God is a personal God who condescends to deal with man in a personal and real way, they still must accept that the Qur’an is an act of revelation, which whether they like it or not, is an act of self-revelation. Hence, the unknowable Allah has yet made known something about himself - the reconciliation of the contradiction is the “leap of faith” that sets aside reason, and accepts the Islamic proposition on blind faith. This can be seen in al-Ghazali’s statement above. The “knowers” are those who know they do not know anything about Allah. And yet, despite the attempt to play semantic games, to have the Qur’an and believe it is the revelation of the “will of Allah” is to have a book that implicitly tells you something about Allah’s nature and character. The “knower”, the good Muslim, the student of the Islamic system, must simply accept, without even having the benefit of an internally-consistent theological system. While al-Ghazali may have been a Sufi (who is yet considered largely orthodox by Sunnis), and hence inclined towards the mystical side of matters, the problem remains for all sects within the Islamic realm.
What must be understood about Islam is just how much of an existential and New Age philosophical system it really is. “New Age?”, one might ask, “What does Islam have to do with power crystals and Shirley MacLaine?” The answer is, “Nothing” - if we only look at external trappings. However, we can see in Islam the same underlying philosophical propositions that pervade the outlook of the Existentialists, New Age movement, and Eastern religious thought in general. We have previously seen the denial of personality and immanent concern that is attributed to Allah, and the Kierkegaardian-style “leap of faith“ that is needed to reconcile the rational with the non-rational in the Islamic system. The natural out-flowing of this denial of personality to Allah is the necessary denial of personality to Allah’s slaves. If we remove from the equation a personal God who made man in His own image, who has given to man his personal attributes expressly for the purpose of being able to rationally and realistically interact with the personal God, then the need for personality is removed from the created being. We end up with the same lack of need for and consequent de-emphasis of the individual, the unique personality, the distinctive and irreplaceable qualities of each person that mark him or her off from all others. Muslims cannot have a personal relationship with Allah, because that requires two personal beings interacting with one another. Instead, Muslims can only be Allah’s slaves, reduced to mere cogs in the machine of the Islamic system, with the Islamic ummah and the Islamic deen acting the part of the all-encompassing One found in Eastern thought and in the New Age movement. The individual is subsumed into the Whole.
Another aspect of this erasure of the personal God and His replacement with an impersonal deity is the elimination of any absolute, moral right or wrong. Existence becomes metaphysical, rather than moral. Man is what he is because that is his essential nature that has never changed, rather than because he has a special relationship to and with his Creator. This leads both to a fatalistic acceptance of life’s circumstances, as well as an attitude of moral relativism. Bad things happen in life not, as Christianity posits, because of the universally destructive principle of sin which was introduced into creation at the Fall by a free-will act of Adam, a principle that will also, as the Bible teaches, one day be expunged from the created world. Instead, whatever happens is so because that is how Allah wills it. This is not much different from the Hindu principle of the karmic cycle, in which every event and every life circumstance is mysteriously governed by the underlying action of the unknowable, universal All. In such a system, deeds are not “moral” based upon how they relate to some absolute standard of right and wrong against which such acts are to be measured. Instead, deeds are judged in a situational context, related to the Vedic principle of “duty” - any person, any animal, any plant, is “judged” on the basis of whether it fulfills the role assigned to it (for this particular life) by the karmic cycle. Hence, if you are a thief, it is “right” for you to steal, because that is the duty assigned you by your lot in life, and so forth. Morals and ethics become entirely situational.
Despite the popular misconception that Islam is a system of rigidly established rules and mores, the relation of the Islamic system to moral questions is actually quite situational. This comes partly as a result of the fact that the Qur’an, by itself, is in many cases inadequate to address questions that come up in life. One example of this would be the relation of the “inheritance laws” in Suwar 4:11-12 and 4:176. These statutes, setting up rules for how much of a man’s estate various of his relations are to receive upon his death, in many cases end up yielding mathematically impossible results when you begin to plug in various possible sets of inheriting relatives. In some cases, you can end up with 9/8 or 17/16 of a man’s estate being divided out! To get around this, as well as around other sundry problems with the quranic revelation, Islamic theology has traditionally relied upon the sunnat and the ahadith to “fill in the gaps“, so to speak. Hence, a book which is supposedly divine revelation from Allah only becomes comprehensible in certain parts when it received the modifying additions of these other sets of religious texts - texts that all sides agree were authored by men. As one can imagine, this has produced a good deal of confusion and contradiction over the centuries, with some theologians pointing to the Qur’an and saying it teaches one thing, and others pointing to the same place in the book and saying it teaches something totally the opposite - all on the authority of a hadith or a sunnah that has the backing of someone or another behind it from way back when. Hence, two Muslims can look to the same verse in the Qur’an, rely upon two different man-made authorities, and arrive at opposite conclusions based upon the relative moral or ethical or theological standards of their authority. The point, however, is that they can do this and neither one is wrong, since they both are basing their opinions upon an “accepted” traditional source. They may disagree with each other, even to the point of violence, but neither can ever really give more than his own or some other man’s opinion as to how or why the other is not right. Or, they can both accept, again by a leap of faith, that they are both right. Either way their approach, which is encouraged by the realities of the Islamic system as they pertain to Islam’s holy texts, is relativistic.
And it is this relativism that underlies the Islamic attitude towards “sin”. As will be seen in more depth below, Islam’s attitude towards sin is little different from that exercised by the ancient Semitic paganisms that existed all across the ancient Near East. It surprises many to find this out, but Islam does not teach that man has a sin nature, as Christianity does, which originally began as a result of the free-will choice to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. Islam believes that man is basically good, but that he errs because of weakness or ignorance. Hence, man’s sin is metaphysical and not moral. Christianity’s view of sin is that of it being a moral problem - man has a sin nature, but this sin nature entered in because of a choice to disobey God by violating a divinely-provided absolute moral standard. Islam’s view is metaphysical - man sins because that is just what sometimes happens, that is how he is, there was no point at which a moral line was crossed which resulted in man falling from grace and becoming (a change-indicating word) prone to sin. Hence, there is no consequent need in the Islamic system for man to be renewed to grace as there is in Christianity. In Islam, when a man sins, it is just because that is what he does, and if he wants to avoid the punishment for sin, he merely performs a ritual or asks for forgiveness - but there is no need for God to exercise Himself personally to bridge the gap between God and sinner. In turn, we find that in Islam, there is no truly absolute, concrete moral system established. Islamic morality is actually quite situational. In some circumstances (as will be shown later), it is quite acceptable for a Muslim to lie, to cheat, to steal, and even to kill, if these will be to the benefit of the Islamic system and the advancement of the ummah. These have nothing to do with the intricacies of any underlying, complex yet absolute moral code. Rather, they depend entirely on the situation, not underpinning principle. Even horrible acts, endeavoring as they do to advance the “greater good” of expanding the power and control of the Islamic system, end up being situationally “good” in much the same sense as the thief-born-to-be-a-thief in the Vedic system. The duty of Muslims is to see the rule of Allah’s deen established over the whole earth, so to do acts that would be viewed as “wrong” in a Judaeo-Christian context are accepted as being “necessary” to fulfill the assigned role of the Muslim.
As such, while it would certainly be simple-minded to state that Islam is synonymous with the New Age movement or with the Eastern religions, we must concede that we can see within it many of the same underlying principles and systems of thought - all of which are in sharp contrast with the Judaeo-Christian worldview traditionally found in the West, with its emphasis on a personal God and an unchanging, absolute moral system.
In contrast to what has been said above is the characteristic of the biblical God's personal nature. God, as revealed in the Bible, is a person, not a force. God has emotions, a will, an intellect, He reasons, He can be entreated, He speaks, and so on. As such, God deals with mankind on a personal basis, and this forms the backbone of the fellowship described above. The God of the Bible has chosen to reveal Himself to mankind and to involve Himself in the affairs of mankind in such a way, thus dealing personally with the creations whom He loved enough to send His Son to die for. The personality of God and the desire for fellowship with His creations who are separated from Him by sin, thusly combined, find their culmination in Christ's work on the cross. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1) Through Christ's death and resurrection, man is able to trust in His sacrifice and be saved to a relationship of peace and fellowship with God. God has willed that man should come to peace with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The personality of the God of the Bible is demonstrated in that distinctive doctrine of Christianity that Muslims despise the most - the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity entails a self-manifestation of God to man in a way that can be considered highly interactive. Man can know God through the various manifestations that God has chosen, by His own sovereign will, to employ in His dealings with His creations. He is the Father, the one from whom all provision, authority, and power flow. As the Son, He is the agentive Logos, the Word of God both preincarnate and made flesh, active in bringing tangible and knowable revelation of God to man through His own self, and interactive with His creations as a means of restoring human beings to a right relationship with God through His self-sacrifice and subsequent victory over death and sin by His resurrection. As the Spirit, He is the motive power that operates to bring all the acts of God to pass, from creation to regeneration to the final restoration, and who also has a very real and personal ministry of teaching and conviction in the hearts of God‘s children. The interaction of God with man is intimately bound up in his interaction with Himself, and the positional differentiation of the Persons of the Godhead serves the function of allowing a comprehensible self-revelation to the human beings with whom God desires a personal relationship.
Wolfhart Pannenberg presents a strong case for the purpose of God’s triune revelation of Himself by looking at the eternity and “temporal wholeness” of God inherent in the Trinitarian nature of God, and how it relates to the eternal life that God gives to those who trust in Him,
“The divine economy that manifests the activities of Father, Son and Spirit includes the temporal distinctions between creation, incarnation and the final consummation of the world. The unity of immanent and economic Trinity secures these distinctions to be significant within the eternal life of the immanent Trinity. Conversely, however, the same unity of the divine economy and the immanent life of the Trinity guarantees the wholeness in the "eventful actuality" of the divine economy. It does not get separated in the course of time, but it overcomes the separateness of our temporal experience and of our finite life in such a way as to let it participate in the wholeness of God's eternal life.”
In essence, Pannenberg is saying that God’s Trinitarian-ness is manifested to us both immanently (in God’s dealings within His creation) and economically (God dealings with Himself). The “economic Trinity” of the Father, Son, and Spirit’s interrelation focusing on their temporal relationships to each other (God‘s eternality outside of time as we know it), which was expounded upon earlier in his essay, entails God’s possession of whole and complete life and being in an eternal, extra-temporal sense. The unity of this economic aspect of the Trinity with His immanent aspect as manifested by God’s Trinitarian dealings with man, allows man to be able, by responding to God’s grace, to participate in that eternality and totality of life. This, necessarily, entails a close communion with God, for it is only through the activity of all three members of the Godhead that grace is extended and eternal life given to the repentant sinner. Pannenberg elsewhere summarizes the necessity of God’s uniplurality for His nature as a personal God,
“The biblical God is personal in his elective will and action and as he is revealed as Father by his Son Jesus Christ. And because as Father he is related to his Son for all eternity, he is personal in eternity in the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit. In them, the unspeakable divine mystery is eternally concrete. Therefore, one cannot have one God as personal without the trinitarian persons.”
Pearcey iterates this general view in a more down-to-earth fashion,
“Since September 11, we have heard it said again and again that Islam is just another Abrahamic faith--as though it were not really very different from Christianity. So it may come as a surprise to learn that the God of Islam is actually more akin to the nonpersonal Absolute of neo-Platonism and Hinduism than to the God of the Bible.
“Yet it is true, and the central reason is that Islam rejects the Trinity. Without that concept, it cannot hold a fully personal conception of God. Why not? Because many attributes of personality can be expressed only within a relationship--things like love, communication, empathy, and self-giving.
“Traditional Christian doctrine maintains a personal conception of God because it teaches that these interpersonal attributes were expressed from all eternity among the three Persons of the Trinity. A genuinely personal God requires distinct "Persons," because that alone makes it possible for love and communication to exist within the Godhead itself.”
In short, the very fact of the Trinitarian doctrine illuminates to us a personal God. Christ’s prayer for the churches in the Gospel of John speaks of the fact of God’s desire for man to share in that eternal life,
“These words spake Jesus and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:1-3)
The Son is given power by the Father (an interaction between two of the Persons of the Godhead) to give eternal life to those who have been given to Him by the Father. Christ is said to have “power over all flesh”, which is an important element in His giving of eternal life, and alludes to His capacity as God to restore complete wholeness to the saved sinner, wholeness which culminates in the eventual glorification and finalization of the salvation of the believer by Christ “who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (Philippians 3:21) This is a direct interaction of God with man that finishes the work of salvation and restoration that begins when a sinner believes on Christ and is justified before the Father by faith. The result of this process, which is nothing less than the everlasting, personal fellowship of the believer with God, is shown in Christ’s prayer,
“That they may all be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:21-23)
This oneness is not pantheistic or panentheistic. The Bible clearly shows that believers will retain their personal individuality throughout the eternity to come, just as the three Persons of the Trinity retain their distinct personhood. But, believers in the eternity to come will be one, just as the Father and Son are one - there will be such a unity of purpose and heart that their fellowship will approach the ontological unity of the Trinity, the sharing of the same essence and being of God by the three manifestations by which He chooses to reveal Himself. This unity is in God, made possible by the interactions of a loving and personal God who acts by His own internal counsel for the benefit of His creations.
The statement that “God loves us” only becomes relevant when we understand that God is a uniplural Being whose love towards us, and the love we are to show to each other, mirrors that which exists between the Persons of the Godhead. Francis Schaeffer put it this way,
“The validity and meaning of love rests upon the reality that love exists between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. When I say I love, instead of this being a nonsense word, it has meaning. It is rooted in what has always been in the personal relationship existing in the Trinity before the universe was created. Man’s love is not a product of chance that has no fulfillment in what has always been. Now, love is a thing not only of meaning but of beauty and wonder to be nourished with joy.”
To say, then, that an absolutely unitarian god such as Allah truly understands and is capable of love is to speak gibberish.
What should be further evident from this whole line of reasoning is that not only is the revelation of a deity through the giving of a written scripture a form of self-revelation, but so is the act of creation itself. The Bible indicates this in Romans 1:20,
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
Just as the handing down of Scripture contains inextricably a view of the nature and being of God, so does the creative act of God in fashioning, forming, ordering, establishing the fruits of His work. When we consider our common experience of the world around us, we see the Trinitarian nature of God revealed to us. We experience existence in three dimensions - height, width, and length - which to have any real meaning to us must all be present, intertwined, inseparable. We simply cannot truly comprehend an existence with only one or two of these dimensions. Even a piece of paper, drawings upon which we usually think of as two-dimensional, still exists in three dimensions, for even a single sheet has some thickness. Likewise, our whole comprehension of time rests upon the intertwined, inextricable interplay of past, present, and future, each of which lacks any sort of comprehensible meaning without the others. Our whole conception of the universe rests upon the interplay of space, time, and matter/energy (which are really the same thing, per Einstein’s equation E=mc2), all of which are necessary for us to have any meaningful understanding of our very existence. We commonly experience in the physical universe only three phases - solids, liquids, and gases (of which plasmas are only a special form). All matter exists in one of these three states by everyday experience, yet this matter can interchange, depending upon environmental conditions, between these states of being, yet it remains the same substance - the atoms in an iron bar remain iron, even when it melts, and even when it vaporizes.
Thus, the very created world around us testifies to the nature and essence of its Creator - a world in which trinity after inseparable trinity demonstrates that its maker is one God who yet exists as a tri-unity of His own manifestations who all exist as integral, contemporaneous, and completely contiguous members of the Godhead. Just as we cannot even conceive of, much less rationally experience, an existence of length and width without height, so also can it simply not be that God would exist as two of His persons without the third - it’s not a matter of a sum of parts, but rather of complete expression of being. As difficult as this may be for us to understand, the testimony of God’s nature to us in His creation all around us affirms the truth of His Trinitarian nature. And further, it is the Trinitarian nature of creation that even makes this creation sensible and comprehensible to us in the first place - without this trinitarianness, existence as we know it would not be possible. It is this trinitarianness that enables our life to exist, our senses and reason to function, and our personalities to interplay with each other and with God. Personal, comprehensible, reasonable existence would not exist were it not for the Trinity of the Godhead, through which God expresses His personality and personal dealings with His creations.
Again, this all contrasts sharply with the Allah of the Qur'an, who is a non-personal deity. He is a deity to whom Islam considers it blasphemous to attribute personhood. Allah is taught to be so transcendent that to try to understand him as a personal being is to lower him to the level of his creation and deny his godhood. Allah is presented in the Qur'an as being far-off and aloof, transcendent and impersonal, to be worshipped and feared, but never fellowshipped with or approached in a personal, familiar manner. Even when Allah is described as being "nearer to him than (his) jugular vein" (Surah 50:16), this is more a reference to Allah’s omnipresence than it is to his personal care or concern. It is a statement of impersonal immanence, not the personal immanence of the Biblical God.
As will be seen below, the Islamic Allah is the end result of a good deal of theological evolution from pagan pre-Islamic religious systems in the Middle East. The conception of Allah idealized by Islam is not far removed from that of the henotheistic “high gods” that existed in many ancient Near East religions. Among many peoples, it was common to have a pantheon of gods or demi-gods that pagan worshippers sought to interact with on a daily basis through the working of magical or propitiatory rituals - seeking blessing for crops, asking for rain, etc. In most of these systems, a “high god” existed, a being thought to more or less rule over the pantheon of lesser gods, to whom more explicit qualities of universality were attributed, but who in most cases was inaccessible to man. These high gods were far-off, aloof, disinterested in the general affairs of the world which may very well have emanated from them. The Muslim conception of Allah is in many ways similar to this in his impersonality and unknowability.
These differences can be shown in the disparity between the prayers of Christians and those of Muslims. Christians are told to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17) and can approach God at any time as His children, crying out to Him as a child would to a parent. Christians may cry "Abba [daddy], Father!" (cf. Romans 8:15) and know that their heavenly Father hears and cares about their needs and concerns. Muslims, on the other hand, are required to make ritual prayers five times in a day, prayers which are repetitious and memorized, perfectly designed for addressing and appeasing a transcendent force with no personal interest in its creatures. Additional prayers from a Muslim must still be addressed to an unknowable, impersonal being of whom there is no certain knowledge that he cares or takes notice.
A God of Love Versus a God of Hate
God, as revealed in the Bible, is a God of love who cares for and desires the best for His creations. He is merciful, full of grace and compassion, and seeks to restore a humanity alienated from him by sin. "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) We are told in the Bible that God does not desire the damnation of any soul, but wants all to come to Him through Christ for forgiveness of their sins and reception of eternal life. It is God "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (I Timothy 2:4). God, in his great mercy towards mankind, has provided to mankind an Advocate before His heavenly throne, Jesus Christ, who intercedes on behalf of the Christian before the Father, and who shed His blood to free lost and sinful men and women from the wrath of God against sin. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:1-2) These verses illustrate the position and activity of Christ as both Savior and Advocate. He is the propitiation for our sins, meaning that the shedding of His sinless blood in sacrifice for us satisfied the demands of God's wrath against sin, and that this act of grace was performed for the whole world, for every man, woman, and child who has lived and ever will live. Likewise, He is the Advocate, the one who stands before the throne of the Father and pleads His own righteousness on behalf of those who have trusted in Him as Savior, if we sin.
This contrasts with the quranic Allah, who hates sinners and has made no provision for their reconciliation to him. "..and Allah loveth not those that do wrong." (Surah 3:140) - "Contend not on behalf of such as betray their own souls; for Allah loveth not one given to perfidy and sin." (Surah 4:107) - "Those who reject Faith and do wrong,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them to any way- Except the way of Hell, to dwell therein for ever. And this to Allah is easy." (Surah 4:168-169) - "....And if they turn away, be assured that for some of their crime it is Allah's purpose to punish them. And truly most men are rebellious." (Surah 5:49) - "The Unbelievers will be addressed: "Greater was the aversion of Allah to you than (is) your aversion to yourselves, seeing that ye were called to the Faith and ye used to refuse." (Surah 40:10) As presented in the Qur'an, Allah is a vindictive deity who desires to afflict sinners, not save them. This understanding of Allah seems to be the orthodox Islamic position. Note the passage below:
"This is the covenant which you make with Allah as soon as you recite La ilaha illallah, and in doing so you make the whole world your witness. If you violate this covenant, your hand and feet, the minutest hair on your body and every particle of the earth and of the heaven before which you made that false declaration, will render evidence against you in the court of Allah where you will be in the dock in such a helpless condition that not a single defence witness will be available to you. No Advocate or Barrister will be there to plead your case...."
As demonstrated here, breaking the covenant made with Allah, which is the covenant to live and abide by Islamic law and practice, will result in being hauled before the court of Allah completely defenseless, with no hope of ever being either redeemed from your sin or of being saved from the wrath of Allah. Of course, the way in which this covenant is broken is by apostatizing from Islam, not by committing some other gross or negligent personal sin. Indeed, the main thrust of the quranic verses mentioned above seems to be the condemnation of those who "betray their own soul" and who were "called to the faith" and refused, essentially choosing to reject Islam.
Further, the Qur'an contains a great deal about the types of people who Allah hates, usually understood to be those who have rejected Islam, or who will not convert to it:
* Transgressors (2:190)
* Ungrateful and wicked creatures (2:276)
* Those who reject faith (3:32; 30:45)
* Those who do wrong (3:57, 140; 42:40)
* The arrogant, the vainglorious (4:36; 16:23; 31:18; 57:23)
* One given to perfidy and crime (4:107)
* Those who do mischief (5:64; 28:77)
* Those given to excess (5:87)
* Wasters (6:141; 7:31)
* Those who trespass beyond bounds (7:55)
* Treacherous (8:58)
* Ungrateful (22:38)
* Those who exult in riches (28:76)
This does not reconcile with the God of the Bible who, while hating sin and the performance of sin, also loves sinners and seeks to turn them from their wicked ways. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) This passage illustrates to us God's amazing love, His willingness to send His Son Jesus Christ to die in our place, to take the wrath against sin upon ourselves, even though we are all sinners. Further, God's attitude toward the damnation and punishment of sinners is shown in Ezekiel 18:23, "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways and live?" While Allah may hate all who are not righteous and even seek their damnation, God loves them and has made abundant provision for them to receive forgiveness and eternal life. Truly, human beings go to hell in spite of the undeserved grace that God seeks to give to them.
The reason for this difference in the perception of God between Christians and Muslims has to do with the perception of love. The former believe in a God who loved them enough to send His Son to die for them even while they were still sinners, the latter believe Allah hates any who do not conform to his demands. As noted earlier, love is a necessary part of a reconciled relationship. Yet, Islam rejects love from being an attribute of Allah's character. Self-sacrificial love is considered to be weakness in the Islamic mindset, and to say that God loves is tantamount to saying that God is weak and vulnerable. Youssef, himself a former Muslim, describes the mindset this way,
"The concept of love as one of God's attributes is conspicuously missing from Islam because in Islamic thought love is a sign of weakness. Far be it from Allah, the all-powerful, to be weak. To love is to be vulnerable, and far be it from Allah to be vulnerable. But love also produces genuine confidence and hope and teaches the beloved to love freely and generously in return. Islam has no concept of the strength of love or of the characteristic qualities of love as desirable. The Koran gives no knowledge of the perfect love of God in Jesus Christ, which casts out fear and which is strong enough to overcome death and inaugurate eternal life. Muslims cannot rest in the promise of a faithful God who assures that nothing will separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
"In Islam, God and man are wary of each other, in contrast to Christianity, in which God and man are in love with each other. This difference is of great importance because it lies at the heart of the tensions Muslims feel toward Christians. The same relationship that exists between God and humans in each of the two religions exists by extension between the humans. Christians are taught to love their neighbors as they have first experienced Christ's love. Muslims are taught - many exhortations to charity notwithstanding - to judge, condemn, and even eliminate their neighbors if they fail to measure up to a certain standard of faith and practice, because that is how they expect Allah to deal with them."
Contrast this view of the lack of love in God's character with that expressed by God in the Bible,
"And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations." (Ezekiel 6:9)
The sin of God's people may lead to chastisement, but He does not seek their destruction. Instead, their sin breaks His heart (talk about vulnerability!), and He desires for them to return to Him. He does not want to destroy them, He wants to restore them as they repent of their sins against Him.
The lack of assuring knowledge of God's love for them is much of the reason why the spirit of Islam is so harsh and hateful towards those who are not submitted to its system. Because Allah does not love self-sacrificially - and he certainly does not love those who are not Muslims - neither does the orthodox, fundamentalist Muslim trying to live by the letter of the Qur'an. The Muslim cannot claim that Allah loves him or her. He or she has no true hope or assurance of salvation from all the efforts made in this life. The Muslim is instead left hanging in limbo, never quite knowing if he or she has "done enough" to please Allah at the Last Day. As Youssef further tells us about this,
"The harshness of Islam is the direct result of its uncertainty about salvation and eternity. Not only are people what they worship, but they become what they fear. The Muslim's fear of Allah's judgment and condemnation turns outward into the same kind of action toward others. Grace and forgiveness are rare attributes of God or man in Islam, which proves a common saying that 'Islam is as arid as the deserts of its birth.'"
As Youssef rightly perceives, we become what we worship.
Putting a Difference Between the Holy and Unholy
Lastly, but yet very importantly, we must note that the God of the Bible is a holy God. By this term is meant that God is completely and unalterably separated from sin. In fact, it is this complete holiness which lies at the very foundation of the necessity of the Christian Gospel. As the Bible tells us, "there is none as holy as the LORD..." (I Samuel 2:2) When the Bible says "none", it really does mean "none":
"For there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." (Romans 3:10-11)
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
These statements are directed to each of us, individually. All of us are sinners, by nature and by practice, and hence fall short of this glory of God, which is embodied by His holiness, His complete separation from sin. It is this holiness that keeps all of us, sinners that we are, from being able to naturally enter into God's presence, and which keeps us from being able to enter into heaven when we pass from this earth.
However, the Bible also tells us that God provided a way for us to be saved, for us to receive the gift of eternal life and eternal fellowship with Him, in a way that both upholds His holiness while simultaneously exercising His love for mankind, His creation. This is through Jesus Christ, very God yet very man, God incarnated in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet without sin, so that He could take our place under God's wrath against sin.
"But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Jesus Christ, who is God, was completely sinless, and He came to earth to take our place, to provide the sacrifice in our place that was needed to satisfy God's wrath against sin. Whereas man cannot ever satisfy God because of our sinfulness, Jesus who is sinless, was able to do so, and faith in His sacrifice and in His resurrection (whereby He also defeated death and hell, and provides eternal life to sinner) is the requirement for the extension of God's grace of salvation to the lost sinner. Further, true repentance is necessary for a sinner to receive grace. It is not enough for a person to merely come to Jesus and say "I'm sorry". There must be a true, heart-felt attitude of repentance, of a desire to not only be cleansed of sin, but also to turn away from it and put it away from your life. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out...." (Acts 3:19a). Hence, we see the resolution of the seeming paradox between God's love for man and desire for man's fellowship and the fact that man is separated from God because of our sin and is under God's wrath against sin.
In Islam, this is a paradox that never occurs, because sin is not something about which Allah is especially concerned. In Islam, Allah is not presented as "holy", in the sense in which Christianity conceives of the idea. The term is used, certainly, but not in the same way as was traditionally understood by the Hebrews concerning Jehovah for thousands of years before Islam, and which was carried into Christianity at its inception. According to Muslim theology, Allah has never provided a way for the sin problem of mankind to be dealt with so that man can be made clean in God's eyes. In fact, Islam does not even recognize that man is a sinner by nature. Instead, sin is considered to be a "mistake" which people make, and which Allah will forgive when asked (if one is already a Muslim). So yes, Islam does engender an element of seeking God's forgiveness for wrongdoing, just as Christianity does, but the differences are much more important than this superficial similarity. The Islamic teaching on getting right with Allah completely ignores true repentance. There is nothing said about seeking a complete change of life when a person gets right with God. There is nothing about making a conscious choice to avoid sin because that is what God wants and because we are to be holy as God is holy (cf. I Peter 1:15-16). According to Biblical teaching, repentance is summed up as such,
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
However, in Islam the primary sins which a person can commit and not receive easy forgiveness from Allah seem to be apostasy from Islam (as was seen above in Maududi's statement) and the refusal to convert to Islam. For these there is little remedy, and much attribution of moral reprobacy and "obvious" inferiority. Indeed, it seems that the teaching of Islam on sin is more designed to assure that people do not reject Islam as a politico-religious system than to encourage them to keep themselves from sin. The Islamic teachings on apostasy/disbelief versus other sins appears to be more concerned with advancing Islam as a human system than in turning people towards Allah in any meaningful way.
In Islam, a person commits a sin, and can have this sin forgiven merely by asking, but then can go out and commit the same sin over and over again, each time asking for forgiveness, and having it given. Lacking from this, however, is any notion of repentance, of seeking to put away sin permanently. This attitude is quite similar to the attitude toward repentance that is exhibited through the auricular confessional used in many Catholic systems. This is also why we see so much violence and corruption in the Muslim world.
"For these, there is hope that Allah will forgive: For Allah doth blot out (sins) and forgive again and again." (Surah 4:99)
Jehovah, as presented in the Bible, does bear long with man, and will forgive us our sins again and again, but the difference is that when a person has trusted Christ, the Spirit of God will work in them to make them more Christ-like, which includes sinning (and desiring to sin) less, and certainly not having a life which is characterized by sin.
"Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him." (I John 3:6)
In this verse, the word "sinneth" is translated from a Greek verb, the tense of which indicates an on-going state of affairs, as opposed to single instances. What this verse says is that a person who is truly saved, who truly abides with Christ, will not have a life characterized by on-going sin and a corresponding lack of repentance. This is, in fact, a way which is provided for Christians to be able to distinguish between true brethren and false brethren who are only saying that they are Christians.
The Islamic view does not take this into account. Saying "I'm sorry" is enough for Allah. There is no provision in Islam made for the removal of that person's sin, the washing away of the sin stain from the heart, as God has made through the blood of the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus. In fact, Allah is unholy because he does not need such a provision according to Islam. Allah is not separated from sin, and will allow unwashed sinners into his presence for all eternity, indicating that Allah really has no separation from sin that comes from pure holiness. Instead of a God-given provision for the removal of sin, Allah is satisfied merely with man's works and man's own "goodness".
"O Prophet! say to those who are captives in your hands: "If Allah findeth any good in your hearts, He will give you something better than what has been taken from you, and He will forgive you: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." (Surah 8:70)
In this passage above, it is taught that Allah will forgive captive prisoners of war who fall into Muslim hands, if these prisoners have good in their hearts, usually understood to be a willingness to accept Islam. Thus, it is taught that inherent goodness in men (or at least some men) will be enough to provoke Allah's forgiveness. Indeed, it may suggest that those who are inherently good will be the ones to convert to Islam (and vice versa). This teaching basically affirms the Muslim contention that man is inherently good, and that sin is not truly a barrier that separates man from God. The Islamic teaching is essentially man-centered, not God-centered.
This Islamic teaching that man can be good at heart contradicts what God says in Jeremiah 17:9,
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
Further, the Qur'an teaches that not all sin needs to be actively forgiven. Merely staying away from the major sins (called kabira, roughly thought of as Islam's equivalent to mortal sins) will automatically result in your "small" sins (saghira, Islam's venial sins) being overlooked by Allah:
"If you shun the great sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your small sins and cause you to enter an honorable place of entering." (Surah 4:31, Shakir translation)
Hence, as long as you do not murder (at least outside of jihad, one supposes) or rape or blaspheme, it is acceptable for you to lie a little bit or to maybe sneak an adulterous glance every now and then, so the logical conclusion of the teaching seems to be. What we see is that the combination of these teachings yields a sanctioning of sin in a person's life. After all, stay away from the major sins, and the minor ones are automatically forgiven. If you do commit a major sin, then merely asking for forgiveness (even if you do not have true repentance, and just want to get out of the supernatural punishment for your sin) gets you off scot-free.
Islam's teachings on sin, like those of every other world religious system aside from Bible Christianity, is engineered to appeal to worldly, sinful people through its teaching that human beings really are not that bad (and can be inherently good!), that God will look the other way for some sins, that sin is not a big deal that we have to go changing our way of life over, etc. It is designed, just as with much of the rest of Islamic theology, to appeal to carnal people and to tickle the ears of the unrepentant sinner.
Traces of Pre-Islamic Paganism in Attitude and Practice
Indeed, this Islamic attitude towards sin and forgiveness is typical of the pre-Islamic pagan attitudes which existed in the ancient Semitic world. In this sense, Allah is little different from the gods of the pagans before Islamic times. Smith notes concerning this attitude in pre-Islamic paganism,
"To reconcile the forgiving goodness of God with His absolute justice, is one of the highest problems of spiritual religion, which in Christianity is solved by the doctrine of the atonement. It is important to realize that in heathenism this problem never arose in the form in which the New Testament deals with it, not because the gods of the heathen were not conceived as good and gracious, but because they were not absolutely just. This lack of strict justice, however, is not to be taken as meaning that the gods were in their nature unjust, when measured by the existing standards of social righteousness; as a rule they were conceived as sympathising with right conduct, but not as rigidly enforcing it in every case. To us, who are accustomed to take an abstract view of the divine attributes, this is difficult to conceive, but it seemed perfectly natural when the divine sovereignty was conceived as a kingship precisely similar to human kingship."
This conception of deity contains an imperfectly just god because it is patterned off of the imperfect justice of a temporal, human ruler. Just as a human ruler may at times fail to act against a crime, for whatever reason, so might the gods. Indeed, the imperfect justice of the gods meant that no reconciliation may need to be made between the sinner and the god because the god might not punish the sinner for his evil deeds. Indeed, the justice, when applied, might be perverted towards favorites of the ruler or the god. That this is implied even in the Qur'an can be seen,
"Whether thou ask for their forgiveness, or not, (their sin is unforgivable): if thou ask seventy times for their forgiveness, Allah will not forgive them: because they have rejected Allah and His Messenger. And Allah guideth not those who are perversely rebellious." (Surah 9:80)
Whereas the God of the Bible is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (cf. II Peter 3:9), Allah guides not those who are "rebellious", instead seeking their damnation. If you have not been the recipient of Allah's apparently capricious favor, then there is no remedy for you.
Other aspects of pre-Islamic pagan religious systems were transferred into the Arab religion as it developed. The setting aside of haram, sanctuaries or sacred precincts devoted to a certain god or gods, was a common trait in all primitive Semitic religion. These were regions in which human cultivation or other agricultural activity were prohibited, because the area was sanctified to the god of the haram and could not be soiled by human labor. The haram often were associated with settled regions, and would generally be overseen by a hereditary priest who was not necessarily associated with the dominant tribe or tribes of the area. Despite their nomadic nature, the Bedouin tribes would frequent these areas for worship and other religious duties. Concerning Bedouin worship at these sanctuaries, Rodinson says,
“...Homage was paid to the divinity with offerings and the sacrifice of animals and perhaps, occasionally, of human beings. Certain sanctuaries were the object of pilgrimage (hajj) at which a variety of rituals were performed, consisting notably of ceremonial processions around the sacred object. Certain prohibitions had to be observed during these rituals, such as in many cases abstention from sexual relations.”
This sort of ritualism was carried over into Islam, at the haram in Mecca known as the Ka'bah. We can see the precursors of the Muslim hajj, the fasting of Ramadan (which includes sexual abstention during daylight hours), and the kissing of the sacred black stone at the Ka'bah in many of the reported details of early Arabian paganism. For instance, the Muslim hajj to the Ka'bah, involving the circumambulation of that structure, was a well-known pagan practice in pre-Islamic times, where it was recorded that Mohammed‘s own tribe would circle the Ka'bah and sing hymns to “the daughters of Allah“.
Another aspect of this ritualistic worship in the Ka'bah bears some attention. This is the veneration of the black stone of the Ka'bah, reputed in some Muslim traditions to have fallen from heaven, after which it served as the center about which Abraham built the original Ka'bah. The veneration of sacred stones or pillars was common to ancient Semitic religious systems. Henninger discusses this,
“One detail which already impressed the Greek authors was the role played by sacred stones....the material object is not venerated for itself but rather as the dwelling of either a person being (god, spirit) or a force.”
Dussaud agrees with this assessment, denying this veneration any overtly litholatric character, and instead recognizing that the worshippers were really directing their honor towards the deity who inhabited or could be contained within the stone16. Hitti stated that among the Nabataeans Dushara, the Nabataean high god, was worshipped through an obelisk of rough-hewn black stone17. He also reports that black, conical stones were venerated in the temple at Baalbek, originally dedicated to the weather god Hadad, in Syria in the later Roman period18. At Emesa, another city in northern Syria, a black meteorite associated with the solar deity Elagalabus was given reverence19.
One interesting thing to note in the Qur’an is the use of the phrase sala-l-lahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam. This Arabic phrase is also used by Muslims whenever they speak or write the name “Mohammed”, and is often abbreviated in transliterated Arabic texts as saw. The phrase is often mistranslated into English as “peace be upon him” (abbreviated pbuh). A literal translation from the Arabic, however, would be “the prayers of Allah be upon/for him with peace”. This is interesting, as well as a bit disconcerting to knowledgeable Muslims, because the obvious question becomes “to whom is Allah praying”? And this is certainly what the Arabic phrase implies, as the native Arabic-speaker Anis Shorrosh points out 20. Muslim apologists will argue that the Arabic word sala’h that appears in the invocation does not mean “prayer”, however this is flatly contradicted by Muslim-Arabic lexicographic sources. Ibn al-Atheer’s classic Arabic dictionary says the following about this word,
“'Al-Sala'h' and 'Al-Salawaat': used for a particular kind of worship. Its literal origin is supplication (prayer). Sometimes, 'Sala'h' is referred to by mentioning any one or more of its parts. It is also said that the literal origin of the word is 'to glorify' and the particular worship is called 'Sala'h', because it entails the glorification of the Lord.”
This understanding of the word is also demonstrated from a prominent Arabic source by Sam Shamoun, affiliated with Answering Islam, who points out that the term describes the making of prayer and supplication to someone. Shamoun observes from the highly respected Arabic tafsir source, Ibn Kathir, that the meaning of sala’h is quite specifically that of “supplication”, of “bowing and prostration”, especially in what appears to be a ritualistic sense, and he goes on to clearly demonstrate that no arguments can be made to suggest that the word has any other meaning other than of prayer. Hence, the one receiving sala’h is receiving prayer, worship, and glorification from the one giving it. The phrase, rightly understood, clearly implies that Allah is praying to another being. This other being, of course, should not be understood to be Mohammed. All the same, Allah is indicated to be praying to someone - so who is it? The answer is likely found in the religious and cultural milieu of the ancient Near East. It was not uncommon for some gods in ancient Near Eastern religion to be viewed as arbitrators or negotiators between men and other gods, either their equals (as a favor to the man) or to those who were their superiors (as a supplicant on behalf of the man). It is quite possible that the use of sala-l-lahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam in the Qur’an is a vestige of such a type of arbitration, a hold-over from earlier Arabian religion that found its way into the text as the development of Islam from primitive henotheism to absolute monotheism progressed.
Thus, Islam demonstrates several traces of pagan practices that were widespread across the ancient Near East before the Arab advent. The toleration and even incorporation of pagan practices and concepts into the worship and conception of Allah is markedly different from the God of the Bible. Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to reject and extirpate heathen practices from the nation. Indeed, many of the Old Testament laws that many Christians today think of as strange or overly legalistic (for instance, the prohibitions against marking or cutting the flesh, against the shaving of the head, etc.) were put in place because these were practices that went on in the pagan societies around Israel. God wanted to put a clear distinction between His holy people and their neighbors.
From this comparison of the attributes and attitudes of God and of Allah, we can and should conclude that the two are not one and the same. Allah is definitely not the God of the Bible.
Allah as the Pre-Islamic Arabian High God
If Allah is not merely Jehovah repackaged under a new name, then who is he? Who is this Allah to whom nearly a fifth of the world's population bows down and gives reverence? The answer is somewhat surprising to those unfamiliar with the pre-Islamic history of the Arabian peninsula and the Middle East.
Belief in Allah was widespread across the Arabian peninsula prior to the rise of Mohammed. However, the Allah worshipped in those days was not the monotheistic Allah who Muslims know today. Rather, Allah was just one of many gods, most often considered to be the highest or supreme god among many in a henotheistic system that developed in Arabia over the centuries prior to Islam.
“The name Allah, as the Quran itself is witness, was well known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Indeed, both it and its feminine form, Allat, are found not infrequently among the theophorous names in inscriptions from North Arabia.”
“Allah was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs; he was one of the Meccan deities.”
Watt states concerning the pre-Islamic Arabian religious situation,
“In recent years I have become increasingly convinced that for an adequate understanding of the career of Muhammad and that of Islam great importance must be attached to the existence in Mecca of belief in Allah as a ‘high god’. In a sense this is a form of paganism, but it is so different from paganism as commonly understood that it deserves separate treatment.”
However, when remarking that Allah was viewed as a "high god" in Arabia, this must not be understood to mean that he was the only god worshiped by the pre-Islamic Arabs. Watt elsewhere states,
"The use of the phrase “the Lord of this House” makes it likely that those Meccans who believed in Allah as a high god – and they may have been numerous – regarded the Ka’ba as his shrine, even though there were images of other gods in it. There are stories in the Sira of pagan Meccans praying to Allah while standing beside the image of Hubal."
Zwemer tells us,
“But history establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that even the pagan Arabs, before Mohammed’s time, knew their chief god by the name of Allah and even, in a sense, proclaimed his unity. In pre-Islamic literature, Christian or pagan, ilah is used for any god and Al-ilah (contracted to Allah), i.e. the god, was the name of the Supreme. Among the pagan Arabs this term denoted the chief god of their pantheon, the Kaaba, with its three hundred and sixty idols.”
While it is typical to think of "Allah" as a name, it originally was not. In fact, the term "Allah" was a title, a contraction of Arabic words meaning "the god", indicating the general sense in which "Allah" was used prior to the rise of Islam. MacDonald states about al-ilah, which appeared frequently in pre-Islamic poetry,
"By frequency of usage, al-ilah was contracted to allah, frequently attested to in pre-Islamic poetry (where this name cannot in every case have been substituted for another), and then became a proper name (ism 'alam).”
This is corroborated by Peters,
"The cult of the deity termed simply ‘the god’ (al-ilah) was known throughout Syria and Northern Arabia in the days before Islam -- Muhammed’s father was named ‘Abd Allah’ (Servant of Allah) -- and was obviously of central importance in Mecca, where the building called the Ka’bah was indisputably his house. Indeed, the Muslims’ ‘shahada’ attests to precisely that point: the Quraysh, the paramount tribe of Mecca, were being called on by Muhammed to repudiate the existence of all the other gods save this one. It seems equally certain that Allah was not merely a god in Mecca but was widely regarded as the ‘high god’, the chief and head of the Meccan pantheon, whether this was the result, as has been argued, of a natural progression toward henotheism, or of the growing influence of Jews and Christians in the Arabian peninsula....Thus Allah was neither an unknown nor unimportant deity to the Quraysh when Mohammed began preaching his worship at Mecca.”
Indeed, the fact that Allah was at one time a single god among many in the pagan Arabian pantheon is accepted by orthodox Islam, which refers to the pre-Islamic period as the Jahiliya, the "times of ignorance". However, Islam's traditional teaching about the times of ignorance differs from the facts established by investigation into the history and archaeology of the ancient Near East. Islam recognizes that these other gods were at one time worshipped alongside Allah (termed shirk, or associationism). However, Islamic dogma also holds that Allah is the same God who appears in the Bible, in other words, the original monotheistic being with whom mankind later associated false gods out of ignorance and rebellion. Yet, as will be shown below, there does not seem to have ever been a time when Allah (al-ilah) was conceived of as purely monotheistic prior to the rise of Islam, and further, al-ilah, as a title, was at various times applied to false gods whose origins are found in the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia, and from whom the path to the current Arabian conception of Allah can be traced.
The Ka'bah, known as beit allah, the "house of Allah", is believed to have been a center of pagan worship in the Hijaz region of Arabia for centuries prior to the appearance of Islam. Scholars recognize that it has served as a house of idolatrous worship for its entire traceable history. Gilchrist writes,
“There is no corroborative evidence whatsoever for the Qu’ran’s claim that the Ka’aba was initially a house of monotheistic worship. Instead there certainly is evidence as far back as history can trace the origins and worship of the Ka’aba that it was thoroughly pagan and idolatrous in content and emphasis.”
Van Ess further states,
"In pre-Islamic days, called the Days of Ignorance, the religious background of the Arabs was pagan, and basically animistic. Through wells, trees, stones, caves, springs, and other natural objects man could make contact with the deity. The heavenly bodies, so familiar to pastoral people, were revered; the moon, the shepherd's friend, was worshiped, though the sun, the Bedouin's terror, was placated. At Mekka, Allah was the chief of the gods and the special deity of the Quraish, the prophet’s tribe. Allah had three daughters: Al Uzzah (Venus) most revered of all and pleased with human sacrifice; Manah, the goddess of destiny, and Al Lat, the goddess of vegetable life. Hubal and more than three hundred others made up the pantheon. The central shrine at Mekka was the Qaabah, a cube-like stone structure which still stands though many times rebuilt. Imbedded in one corner is the black stone, probably a meteorite, the kissing of which is now an essential part of the pilgrimage."
Indeed, there were many "al-ilahs" existing throughout the Semitic world, down to the time of Islam's development. When the Arab Empire extended its control, first over Syria and Palestine, and later over Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the whole of the Arabian peninsula, it became necessary to fold the various religious beliefs among its new subjects into the bosom of the developing religion of Islam. For the pagan Arabian tribes, this included the assimilation of their various high gods with the "al-ilah" which had been established as the monotheistic god of Islam. Speaking of the various Arabian tribes, Wellhausen originally noted,
“At first Allah was the title used within each individual tribe to address its tribal deity instead of its proper name. All said 'Allah', but each one had its own deity in mind. The expression 'the god' (al-ilah), which became the only usage, became the bridge to the concept of an identical god which all tribes had in common."
As will be discussed in Chapter 5, while it is unlikely that Mohammed actually existed, at least in the role to which Islam assigned him in later centuries, there is a strong case to be made for the assimilation of the many pagan "al-ilahs" into Islam that is ascribed to Mohammed by these above. This Allah was the key which the early Muslims used to bring the pagan Arabians firmly into the fold. They introduced to these tribes a monotheistic version of the god al-ilah that they had already been worshipping for centuries, as the title for various gods differing by locality. As Nöldeke notes,
“In the Nabataean inscriptions we repeatedly find the name of a deity accompanied by the title Alaha, 'the god'. Hence, Wellhausen argues that the Arabs of a later age may also have applied the epithet Allah, 'the god', to a number of different deities, and that in this manner Allah, from being a mere appendage to the name of a great god, may gradually have become the proper name of the Supreme God. In any case it is an extremely important fact that Mohammed did not find it necessary to introduce an altogether novel deity, but contented himself with ridding the heathen Allah of his companions, subjecting him to a kind of dogmatic purification and defining him in a somewhat clearer manner.”
Allah became the bridge for the Muslims to link all the Arabian tribes together under their new religion, Islam. Allah was a generic expression for the idols of Arabia, used by each tribe for its own particular high god, and these became amalgamated into the al-ilah of the state-sponsored religious system of the new Arab Empire.
Where did the "al-ilahs" of the tribes come from, and what were the deities to which these titles referred? What sort of gods were these deities? To begin to trace the development of the deity now known as Allah, we must look to Mesopotamia.
Ilah and the Sumerian Origins of Allah
The quest for the historical Allah begins in Sumeria, over three millennia before Christ. The Sumerians worshipped a well-organized and highly developed pantheon of gods. The greatest of the Sumerian gods after the distant sky-god Anu (who had little to do with human affairs) was the active and vigorous atmospheric god Enlil. The name “Enlil” is a compounded Sumerian word meaning "lord of the storm/air" (en = lord, lil = storm, air). It is from this god Enlil that we see the beginning of Allah, for it is from this deity that we find the beginning of the lexical track which leads us to al-Ilah, that was mentioned above as the title ("the god") which grew to be "Allah" by elision.
Enlil was the principle god of the Sumerian pantheon, ruler of the atmosphere, bringer of winds and storms, and was also known by the epithet of "the great mountain", perhaps emphasizing his great strength or connection with the cosmic mountain, the seat of divine sovereignty35. This god was known among the Sumerians from earliest times, with his name appearing in engravings dating as far back as the Jemdat Nasr period, at the beginning of the Sumerian Bronze Age. As stated before, the name "Enlil" is a compound of "en" and "lil". This latter particle, "lil" is of interest in this discussion because it is the source of the word "il/ilu" which came to mean "god" in the branch of Semitic languages, starting with Akkadian, from which the Arabic word "ilah" ultimately derived.
In the Akkadian civilization, a Semitic group which occupied the northern part of Mesopotamia, and which was roughly contemporaneous with the Sumerians, Enlil was brought over and introduced to the Semitic world. In Akkad, the pronunciation of his name gradually changed to "Ellil" through assimilation of the n37. The Akkadian word for "god" was "il" or "ilu". It is likely that this meaning developed as a result of eliding the syllables in the name of this high god "Ellil", eventually giving "il". Because of "il"'s position at the head of the pantheon, it would be natural for the meaning of his name to expand beyond the idea of wind and storms to encompass a fuller understanding of his sovereign divinity. Thus, it is likely that the term later used to describe deity throughout Arabia originated from the Sumerian god Enlil as he passed down to later generations of Semites in Akkad and elsewhere. Indeed, an Old Babylonian copy of an Akkadian myth-hymn (but which Jacobsen says "speaks with the voice" of the 3rd millennium BC), specifically names Enlil "Ilu", showing the particularization of that term to this god.
One point of confusion that arises in the discussions surrounding the Mesopotamian Lil/Il is that many will confound this god-name with the western Semitic names El/Eloah, which appear both in the Bible as a name for God, as well as in various mythologies among the Canaanites and allied peoples as the name for the chief god of their pantheon. Guillaume presents a typical example of the assumed relation of El and Il,
"The oldest name for God used in the Semitic world consists of but two letters, the consonant 'l' preceded by a smooth breathing, which was pronounced 'Il' in ancient Babylonia, 'El' in ancient Israel."
There is not, however, necessarily reason to think that the western Semitic El descends from the Akkadian Il. As noted before, Lil is a Sumerian term denoting "wind" or "air", and this carried over into the Akkadian adaptation of the god-name. Scott informs us, however, that the origin of the term El, as it appears as a god-name across the breadth of Semitic languages, is unknown - the most frequently mentioned etymological suggestions for the original meaning of the term are "fear" or "power", but he agrees that even these are widely contested40. The mere similarity of the lexical root does not clinch a direct connection between El and Il. As Shahid informs us in another context,
"Arabic and other Semitic languages are full of homophonous but non-synonymous roots and lexemes...."
El may well present a similar sense to the Akkadian Il, while yet not being directly related or directly descended. The word/particle "il" may be related to the Akkadian verb elu (vocalized with a long "e"), which has various related meanings of "to raise, to ascend, to be high, to be exalted", and which itself may be connected with the Sumerian lil through the sense of the heights of the air or atmosphere. This verb would be cognate with the Hebrew verb calah, which has similar meanings to the Akkadian elu, and from which comes the epithet caliyan/celyon, "most high". This connection is plausible because in Akkadian, the pharyngeal fricative letter c is lost, while it would be present in cognates in Proto-Semitic, Ethiopic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Further, the proposed etymology for il/ilu given above accords well with the actual role and character of Enlil, from whom Il/Ilu came. Whereas in western Semitic religions, El was generally viewed as a distant, transcendent deity largely uninvolved with human affairs, Enlil was an active, vigorous sky and storm god. Conversely, Ringgren notes about El that "A large number of gods are sky gods, but there is no direct evidence that El was regarded as identical with the sky or any celestial object". The conceptions of deity between El and Enlil/Il/Ilu appear to be quite distinct from each other, as will be shown more fully below.
As such, there is not necessarily a direct, genetic connection between the Akkadian Il/Ilu (and thus, the Sumerian Lil from which came the Akkadian) and the West Semitic El/Eloah. Hence, we cannot necessarily say with confidence that El came from the Mesopotamian Il. We can, however, say this about the Arabian Il/Ilah, for which genetic link there is much attestation in the relevant literature.
The "il/lil" root appeared widely throughout Semitic Mesopotamia. It appears in the Semitic name for Babylon (which is a Greek term), "bab ilani", meaning "gate of the gods". Roberts, in his catalog of the names of gods and goddesses in Sumero-Akkad, demonstrated the great prevalence that the "il" root enjoyed among divine names all the way up to the Ur III period (2115-2000 BC)44. Muller shows that this name-form still existed in Mesopotamia as far forward as the Persian period, beginning with the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. He states,
"Allah [al-ilah, remember] himself was ancient - a thousand years before Mohammed the Persians wrote 'Allah is exalted' - but he was only one of many deities."
Thus, the god-name "il", often lengthened to "ilah" (remember, "al-ilah" = allah) in northern Arabian languages spoken by Arab tribes who had spread even into southern Mesopotamia by this time, was spreading from its Mesopotamian origins. Indeed, scholars have provided evidence that the origin of the Arabian use of god-names with "il/lil", and hence the origin of "al-ilah", is Mesopotamian. Winnett and Reed observed a number of appearances of "il/ilah" bearing names in northern Arabian epigraphic finds dated as far back as the 5th century BC. They noted Thamudian epigraphs from the area around al-Jawf which bore the god-name Ilat (such as Ham'ilat), the feminine counterpart to Il, and a number of inscriptions with both Il and Allah were found at the site. The feminine counterparts - Ilat and Allat - were also found, with Winnett and Reed attributing Ilat to being the original Arab name, only later appearing as Allat due to Syrian influences. At another site in North Arabia, al-Ula, they found a number of Lihyanite and Dedanite (early Arab groups) inscriptions containing names such as Mar'Allah and Adar'il concurrently48. Hence we see that the LIL/IL names were found in northern Arabia millennia after their appearance in Mesopotamia, with Arabian forms concurrent with the older Mesopotamian form.
Thus the term for deity based upon the "il" root became firmly established in Arabia, and many times was used as a personal name, rather than a titular epithet. That it did so to the detriment of the western Semitic term "El" used by the Hebrews, Aramaeans, Canaanites, and others in the Syria-Palestine region (familiar to us from Biblical names such Israel, Gabriel, etc.) is apparent from the earlier appearances of El in Northern Arabian artifacts which were gradually supplanted by Il,
"Among the Northern Arabs of early times, particularly in the region of Safa, the word El "God" was still very commonly used as a separate name of the Deity."
Names containing The Il/Ilah formations came much later. Nöldeke notes the appearance of names like Wahb El, which appeared among Arabs of a later day as Wahbil. This suggests that El was used by the Arabs at one time as the name of God, but later was supplanted by Il/Ilah. This name spread further to South Arabia as we will see, where he again appeared as a high god in their pantheons, just as he was in early Mesopotamia.
This same differentiation between El and Il/Ilah is made by Negev, whose discussion of names of deity even among the much later Nabataeans presents a clearly seen distinction between Il/Ilah/Allah and El. Many Muslim apologists will attempt to associate the God of the Bible with Allah upon the basis of an argument that Allah is basically the same term as the Eloah of Biblical Hebrew (an intensive form of El) and the Alaha of Aramaic. However, what is forgotten is that Allah itself comes directly from "al ilah", so the "al" in "Allah" comes from the article, and is not a part of the Arabic term for "god" itself. This is not the case with Eloah and Alaha, neither of which contain an article, and which are self-contained terms meaning "god". Further, as has been shown above, the El related terms for deity in the Western Semitic areas are not directly related to the Il/Ilah of Mesopotamia and Arabia. Hence, no direct connection between El/Alaha can be made with Il/Ilah. Further, the fact that Christian Arabs today use the term “Allah“ when referring to the Biblical God is of little importance, for that term is simply the word denoting deity in the Arabic language, which Christian Arabs (naturally) use. Despite this commonality, the only connection between the two is that of general reference to a deity, not any specific connection, either personally or conceptually, between the Biblical El and the quranic Allah (whose evolutionary development from pre-Islamic paganism, as will be seen, places him far afield from the God of the Bible). El and Allah are two different beings, from the standpoint of both linguistic and conceptual divergence.
Enter the Moon God
We now turn to another line of development that led to the Allah of Islam - ancient Near Eastern lunar idolatry. As is often the case when intercourse between proximate cultures occurs, conceptions of deity and even the deities themselves can be exchanged, syncretized, and amalgamated. The case of the ancient Near Eastern moon gods, their spread throughout the Fertile Crescent, and their ultimate development in Arabia is no different.
Again, we must turn to Mesopotamia for a starting point. In Sumeria and Akkad, the god of the moon was Nanna, known also by the name Sin (a Semitic name probably derived from the Sumerian "Su-En", also an epithet for Nanna). Nanna was traditionally considered to be the son of Enlil. Nanna/Sin was one of the most important deities in ancient Mesopotamia, and was one of the gods that were widely and generally worshipped throughout the region.
“Yet others, though more especially worshipped in certain towns, were by virtue of their nature the objects of a general cults. Such were, for instance, the moon-god Nanna (called Sin by the Semites), the patron-god of Ur, and his son the sun-god Utu (Semitic Shamash), the patron-god of Sippar and Larsa.”
Ur, an ancient and prestigious Sumerian city, was especially devoted to the worship of the moon god. British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley excavated the great moon temple of Ur, which yielded depictions of the moon god with the crescent moon symbol. On the Stela of Ur-Nammu (late 3rd millennium BC), the moon god Nanna/Sin was placed at the head of the register of gods mentioned, indicating his place of importance. In the Enuma Elish, an important source for our knowledge of Sumerian cosmology, the moon was created before the sun, and in the Sumerian astral triad, the evening star and the sun are both the offspring of Nanna.
However, as commonly occurs with gods which were widely revered, the conception of Nanna/Su-En developed far beyond the primitive view of him as just a moon god. In Mesopotamian mythology, he took on a plethora of divine properties, as shown by the titles which he accrued. Lambert has noted that Nanna/Sin bore titles such as "the fruitful life" (referring to his furthering of the well-being of cattle), "the lord of the fates", "the splendor of heaven", and "the universal lord". Among many groups, Sin the moon god was often exalted to the position of highest god, and a number of properties were ascribed to him that were not connected with his position as lord of the moon. He was the unfathomably wise god, the guardian and leader of mankind, the judge of heaven and earth, the lord of destinies, and the originator of life. His power of illumination was shown in the epithets he received, such as "the lamp of heaven" and "the luminary of heaven and earth", but his power of illumination went beyond the mere physical - to the later Mesopotamians, he was viewed as the oracle of the gods, the provider of enlightenment and of the knowledge of the will of the gods. In many respects, the conception of Sin as the high god overtook the earlier dominance of Enlil. This makes sense, as his center of worship was at Ur, and Ur was the single most important city in the Sumero-Akkadian civilization for millennia, often dominating the region militarily, and nearly always revered for its religious and cultural preponderance among the city-states. It is not surprising that Ur's patron god would eventually take the place of Enlil as the most revered god, and would thus adopt the conceptions of deity and the status as ilu formerly enjoyed by his father Enlil. This transition seems to have taken place well within the development of Sumero-Akkadian civilization, and as such, the Il/Ilah discussed above is not surprisingly often equated with Sin and other moon gods in Arabia and the Semitic Near East, as will presently be shown.
One other interesting aspect of the moon god's sphere of influence is the development of fertility symbolism associated with his iconography in Mesopotamia. The crescent associated with the moon was connected with the horns of the bull - a widespread symbol of male fertility, and from that, male political power. Green says,
"The masculine gender of the moon in Mesopotamian cultures allows the establishment of a connection between the deity's dual functions in both the worlds of nature and human experience, for the moon god serves as a divine bridge between male fertility and male political power. The most frequent iconographic representation of the moon is the lunar crescent, which is linked to the sphere of masculine sexuality by its further transformation into the horns of the bull, a universal symbol of male generative power; it is the animal that is most frequently sacrificed to the Moon god. His Sumerian title of En-Su designates him as "Lord Wild Bull," whose horns are mirrored in the crescent of the moon."
This is important because, as we will see later, there is a connection between the moon god and atmospheric/fertility deities such as Baal and much later, Hubal, which was already seen in his evolution from Enlil. Sin - whose title En-Su, or Su-En, from which the name is contracted, represents the joining of atmospheric, astral, and fertility powers. This conjoining of attributes is traceable all the way down to the pre-Islamic Allah. Even into the Islamic era, the moon was still worshipped by the pagans at Harran by means of the sacrifice of bulls and through fasting for an entire month.
Devotion to the moon god was prevalent all over the Near East, and was intimately connected with the symbology of the crescent moon, which seems to have radiated outward from Mesopotamia throughout the region. The Canaanite city of Jericho was named after the Canaanite moon god Yarih, who can be directly traced to the Mesopotamian Sin by the fact that he was associated with a female consort, Nikkal, who is the same consort (also known as Ningal) assigned to Sin in the Mesopotamian myths. An excavation of a major temple to the moon god carried out at the Canaanite site of Hazor in Palestine in 1955-58 yielded an idol of the moon god, depicting a man-figure with a crescent moon carved into his chest, believed to be a representation of the moon deity himself. Also found at the site was a worship tablet depicting arms outstretched towards a crescent moon symbol. In ancient Syria and Canaan, the moon god was usually represented with the symbol of a crescent moon. In many places in the ancient Near East, his wife or consort was the sun-goddess, and their children were the stars. For instance, in a stelae of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus, Bath Nikkal ("daughter of Nikkal") is identified with the planet Venus through the sign of the morning star, and is linked to the moon god and to the sun via the lunar and solar symbols found with her sign. This corroborates with the Arabian depiction of Allah with his three daughters, one of whom was Al-Uzza who corresponds to Venus, the brightest “star” in the night sky. Depictions of the moon god from Egypt, Persia, Ugarit, and Ras Shamra (in northern Syria) all include the crescent moon symbology intimately connected with the moon god. Indeed, Arabia was as steeped in lunar idolatry as any place in the ancient Near East, perhaps more so. It was to Arabia that Nabonidus in the 6th century BC turned in his religious reforming efforts in which he sought to set the moon god at the head of the Neo-Babylonian pantheon (in place of Marduk). He was involved in building the great center of moon-worship in northern Arabia at Tayma.
One center of moon-worship, in particular, is of interest to us here - Harran. Harran was a city early devoted to and placed under the protection of the moon god Sin. In Harran as elsewhere, Sin evolved into a high god whose spheres of influence extended far beyond the original boundaries of his position as a lunar deity. What makes Harran somewhat unique in our study is that in the Islamic era, Harran’s devotion to the moon god was exploited (according to the traditions) by a group known as the Sabians, a sect that combined elements of astral religion with the transcendent aspects of the neo-Platonic theologies of Plotinus and Porphyry. It was in this syncretism that the highest form of transcendent astral religion was achieved before the rise of Islam. Even after its conquest by the Muslims in the 7th century, Harran remained an important center of neo-Platonic learning and theology. Its influence in the Caliphate was such that one important Islamic sect, the Isma’ilis, developed their heterodox theology largely from this Neo-Platonism found in Harran and other centers of study that had been conquered by the expanding Islamic empire. Allah in the Qur’an certainly does not exhibit some of the more peculiar theological traits found in the neo-Platonic conception of deity, such as creation through eternal and ongoing emanations coming out from himself. However, the possibility of influence by the transcendent view of deity held by the Harranians upon the developing theology of the early Arab religion that eventually became Islam must be entertained. This view of the remoteness of deity and its lack of personal concern for the created world, coupled with the very real astral element to their worship, suggests the Harranians may have had a stimulating effect on the transformation of Allah from henotheistic high god to transcendent, all-powerful (yet originally astral) supreme god in the emerging Islamic monotheism.
The worship of astral deities (those associated with the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies) was common-place in Arabia and the Near East. Green notes the moon god played an important part in the religion of both the Nabataeans and the Bedouin, Arab groups located in the northern part of the peninsula and in the deserts skirting Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamia. In discussing the commonality of this sort of worship in Semitic paganisms, Henninger records,
“According to D. Neilsen, the starting point of the religion of the Semitic nomads was marked by the astral triad, Sun-Moon-Venus, the moon being more important for the nomads, and the sun more important for the settled tribes.”
Neilsen is widely recognized to have overestimated the importance of astral triads in the religion of the nomadic Bedouin peoples of Arabia (but not necessarily of astral religion itself), though he was closer to the truth concerning the religion of settled Arabian peoples, especially in the South, but also in more northerly centers of settlement such as Mecca. Particular to Arabia, Coon elucidates on this phenomenon of astral preference,
"Among the northern Semites the sun was the most important, as the promoter of fertility in vegetation; in southern Arabia, where the sun is too hot for comfort, and scorches and withers, the night is the time for coolness, and, in the moonlight, the time for travel and work. Nomads travel much at night, and the moon with its phases gives them their yardstick for measuring time. Thus, whereas the sun was the important god to the northern Semites, the moon was supreme among the southern groups, including not only the southern Arabian peoples, but also the pre-Islamic Arabs proper, who lived farther north in the peninsula."
There is much evidence to connect Allah (an Il/Ilah derived deity) with the worship of the moon god in Arabia. The moon god, whether by the name of Sin or by some other, was worshipped in temples all across the peninsula. At Khirbet Tannur, a Nabataean stele was found that was dedicated to a god called Qos-Allah. Negev likewise notes epigraphic evidences from the Nabataean period for the personal theophorous name Qos'-allah - "Qos is allah". Qos, in turn, is identified with Qaush, a god worshipped by the Edomites who inhabited the region around Petra before being displaced and absorbed by the Nabataean tribes between the 4th-2nd centuries BC. Qaush has been recognized as a lunar deity from an Edomite seal found near Petra that was dedicated to him, and bore the typical crescent and star symbology of the ancient Near East moon gods. Among the Sabaeans of South Arabia, Allah appears to have derived from an earlier moon god. Sykes, in his description of Allah, says this,
"Islamic name for God. Is derived from Semitic El, and originally applied to the moon; he seems to have been preceded by Ilmaqah, the moon god."
While Sykes is incorrect in his derivation of the name from the west Semitic El (as noted above, the Arabian Il/Ilah names, while related to the west Semitic El/Alaha, are evolutionarily derived through the Mesopotamian Lil/Il/Ilu), he does note that in South Arabia (where Ilmaqah was the moon god and national high god of the Sabaeans), Allah derives from a god of the moon, and in fact the name was originally applied to the moon before it became the name for high/only god. In all likelihood, the conception of Allah as a high god, preceded by Ilmaqah the moon god, demonstrates yet again the development of the high god "ilah" from the earlier local high gods of the various Arabian people groups. This same sort of argument can be applied to Landau's statement concerning the Ka'bah in Mecca,
"Now there dwelt in Mecca a god called Allah. He was the provider, the most powerful of all the local deities, the one to whom every Meccan turned in time of need. But, for all his power, Allah was a remote god. At the time of Muhammad, however, he was on the ascendancy. He had replaced the moon god as lord of the Kaaba, although still relegated to an inferior position below the various tribal idols and three powerful goddesses: al-Manat, goddess of fate, al-Lat, mother of the gods, and al-Uzza, the planet Venus."
The moon god was called by various names, one of which was Ilah. Guillaume has noted that certain scholars believe that Ilah in pre-Islamic Arabia was a title of the moon god,
"The oldest name for God used in the Semitic world consists of but two letters, the consonant 'l' preceded by a smooth breathing, which was pronounced 'Il' in ancient Babylonia, 'El' in ancient Israel. The relation of this name, which in Babylonia and Assyria became a generic term simply meaning ‘god’, to the Arabian Ilah familiar to us in the form Allah, which is compounded of al, the definite article, and Ilah by eliding the vowel ‘i’, is not clear. Some scholars trace the name to the South Arabian Ilah, a title of the Moon god, but this is a matter of antiquarian interest...it is clear from Nabataean and other inscriptions that Allah meant ‘the god’."
He states that this identification is of "antiquarian interest", since this view of Ilah as a moon god existed prior to the development of the conception of Ilah as high god in these Arabian cultures. Gray, likewise, notes that Il was a South Arabian moon god71. Further, al-Ilaha, a sun goddess, was paired with Allah in several places in the Arabian peninsula, including in South Arabia, where it is said that 'lhtn (with the typically South Arabian suffixed article "n"),
"....may be considered and understood in association with the Sabaean deity 'lhn"
We know that 'lhtn correlates with the more northern Ilat/Allat, therefore 'lhn most likely corresponds to the Ilah/Allah who is often associated with Allat. Ilat/Allat as a sun goddess would then be paired with Ilah/Allah as a moon god, per the typical South Arabian astral arrangement. Further, a Hadramautic inscription on Delos was dedicated to Sin Dhu Ilim, roughly "Sin he of the gods", suggesting that in later periods, Sin was understood as a high god among Arabians. Further, Thompson uncovered a spectacular temple to the moon god in southern Arabia. In discussing her work, she revealed that the symbol of the crescent moon and 21 inscriptions made with the name “Sin” were found in this temple, along with a statue which she tentatively identified as the moon god. Her findings were later corroborated by other scholars. This finding is important in light of the fact that, as has been found in numerous inscriptions both at this Arabian site and elsewhere, while the name of the moon god was "Sin", his title was “al-ilah”, the same al-ilah which was glossed to form "Allah" over time in Arabia.
Alfred Guillaume noted that, in much of Arabia, the sun was viewed as a female goddess and the moon as the male god76, which follows the Mesopotamian conception of the moon god as male, but alters the gender of the sun, which was also male in Sumero-Akkadian mythology. It has often been argued that ascribing to the Arabians the view of the moon as male and the sun as female is questionable due to the variance of this state of affairs from the male sun/female moon found in some Semitic mythological systems. However, Smith noted that it is common within Semitic mythologies to find female deities being adapted to take on the male gender. Finegan also points out that Allat, a northern Arabian moon-goddess, corresponded to the moon deity (male) in South Arabia, known under various names such as Sin, Almaqah, 'Amm, and Vadd. Also, Henninger noted that in both South Arabia and among the Beduoin, the planet Venus was originally viewed as a masculine deity, only later becoming feminine in aspect. Indeed, the gender of astral deities throughout the Semitic world is often changeable, and a process of "solarization" has been noted in some ancient Near Eastern mythological systems, whereby moon gods and sun goddesses switch genders, becoming moon goddesses and sun gods. Müller demonstrated the early solarization of several celestial goddesses in ancient Egyptian mythology. Dirven provides a likely late example of this phenomenon among the Palmyrenes, when she notes that Iarhibol (Yarhibol), a sun god associated with Bol (discussed below), could originally have been a moon god who later adopted solar characteristics, based upon an interpretation of his name as "new moon of Bol." Green points out that in Mesopotamian mythos, the moon could take on both genders, depending on which aspect of the lunar cycle was in view.
"Despite the clearly masculine character of the moon deity in myth, there seems to be evidence for a feminine aspect of the moon in Mesopotamia which manifests itself only in the full moon. Those cultures which traditionally have seen the moon as feminine in gender have connected its cycles with those of female fertility: the moon's appearance of growing fullness is a manifestation of woman's fecundity. If the crescent of the moon is the symbol of male virility and sexual power, the full moon may be seen to portray the gravidity of a woman about to give birth thus, within the moon's periodic nature there is a constant cycle of alternation between male and female. The moon is born and dies in its masculine form, but it is as female that it reaches its fullness."
Due to the patriarchal nature of Arabian societies, it is not surprising that the moon which they reverenced more than the sun, and viewed as the more powerful source of life, would take on male gender. The appearance of the crescent moon symbology in Arabian and west Semitic iconographies suggests that in these societies, the male aspect of the moon predominated, but no statement can be made that the moon in ancient Near Eastern mythologies only took on one gender. Further, it has become apparent in the light of more recent archaeological and epigraphic discoveries that the moon deity in Arabia was (most often) unquestionably male. Even Islamic sources recognize this, with the popular translator and commentator of the Qur'an, Yusuf Ali, noting about the pre-Islamic Arabian paganism,
"It will be noticed that the sun and the moon and the five planets got identified with a living deity, god or goddess, with the qualities of its own....Moon worship was equally popular in various forms....It may be noted that the moon was a male divinity in ancient India; it was also a male divinity in ancient Semitic religion, and the Arabic word for the moon (qamar) is of the masculine gender. On the other hand, the Arabic word for the sun (shama) is of the feminine gender. The pagan Arabs evidently looked upon the sun as a goddess and the moon as a god."
Bel, Baal, and Hubal
Let us now turn to another line of development for Allah, this one also originating in Mesopotamia. Among the epithets applied to Enlil in Akkad, one stands out in importance for future religious development in the ancient Near East: Bel. In Semitic Mesopotamia, Enlil was often known as "Bel", meaning "lord". MacKenzie noted that Enlil was known as "the older Bel" so as to distinguish him from the later Bel Merodach of Babylon. Frazer likewise identified Enlil/Illil with Bel. Like Allah in Arabia, Bel of Nippur originally had Allat as his consort, which further suggests the connection between Enlil/Ellil and Il/Ilah-derived deities, as well as the evolutionary relationship between Bel and Allah. In the process of time, this title was transferred to the Babylonian deity Marduk (Merodach), who was generally identified with Enlil, and to whom was ascribed a sovereignty and omnipotence indicative of monotheizing tendencies. At the same time, Marduk and Sin were also sometimes identified with each other in later myths - one of Sin's epithets was "Marduk who illuminates the night". Not surprisingly then, Marduk also was associated with astral religion, as Ringgren notes,
"In the ritual for the New Year Festival in Babylon Marduk is identified with a series of astral deities, and the prayer ends with the words" 'My lord is my god, my lord is my ruler, is there any lord apart from him'?"
Thus, we again see the familiar association of Mesopotamian henotheism, of the high god, with astral deities, which would include the moon god. Later, in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the worship of Bel spread to Palmyra, a caravan city in the Syrian desert. The population of Palmyra was mixed, with several distinct groups inhabiting the city and bringing their gods with them. Migrants from northern Mesopotamia and the surrounding regions brought the reverence for Bel with them. In Palmyra, Bel was a high god (termed a "cosmocrator", ruler of the universe) and was associated with two astral gods, Yarhibol, a solar deity and Aglibol, a lunar deity. Both of these gods carry names containing "Bol", which is identified as a pre-Hellenistic Syrian name for Bel (to which the name Bol was changed through the influence of the Bel-Marduk cult brought in by Mesopotamian immigrants). Teixidor notes that the cult of the triad of Bel, Yarhibol, and Aglibol arose in the first century AD as the result of both theological and political pressures that led to the association of these two astral deities with the Bel, who received a cosmic role. This association, unattested in the epigraphic evidence until a dedicatory inscription of 32 AD, is thought to have developed through a slow process of assimilation that involved the divine patrons of specific groups which populated Palmyra. As such, it can be surmised that Yarhibol and Aglibol, previously the patron gods of separate tribes or ethnic groups, may have been understood more than just as associates, but rather as subordinated personifications of the emergent supreme god Bel. This would tend to reinforce the henotheistic tendencies of Bel in later times, as well as the association of him with astral religion.
Closely related to the Mesopotamian Bel was a titular deity found in the Syro-Palestinian pagan systems - Baal. "Baal" is merely the west Semitic cognate of the Assyro-Babylonian "Bel", and among the western Semites the term was put to similar use, as much a title or epithet as a proper name. Indeed, the term "Baal" was often used to describe local high deities who were revered as high gods by local groups. For instance, we find Baal-Peor of the Moabites, Baal-Zebul of the Philistines, Baal-Shamin of the native Syrian Palmyrenes, and so forth. Evidence from the Al-Amarna documents and Ugaritic texts indicate that by the sixteenth or fifteenth centuries BC, Baal had taken on a broader scope than just as a title for local deities, and had grown to be understood as a god in his own right93. One interesting thing we should note about Baal is that in the Ras Shamra texts, an early witness to Baal, he was associated with three daughters, much as Allah would be later. One of these daughters of Allah - al-Uzza - is identified with the Arabic goddess Ruda by Lundin, who points out that the root behind that name, 'RD, can be linked with the Ugaritic Ars.ay, one of these daughters of Baal.
The local Baals were most likely understood to be localized manifestations of this Baal, perhaps as tutelary personifications particular to each individual city or region. These Baals usually took on the characteristics of atmospheric, vegetation, and fertility deities (see the discussion below of the equivalence of Baal with Hadad/Adad), but in later periods also were identified with astral spheres of influence. This astral character generally took on solar overtones, but could at times also be lunar. Smith notes that in Phoenician mythology, even after the gods had become more pronounced in their astral character, they still retained their more primitive functions as the givers of rain and other atmospheric phenomena. This broadly parallels the religious development in Mesopotamia from the original view of the storm and weather god Enlil as the highest god toward the exaltation of Sin, the moon god, into the role of high god, with a concurrent usurpation of much of Enlil's former provenance. Indeed, Roberts notes that in the Ugaritic mythologies, Dagan was analogous to Enlil (both being weather deities), while Ba'al (Dagan's son, also a weather and fertility god) was analogous to Sin/Nanna (Enlil's son, the moon god). Like the moon god, Baal was represented by the bull, a symbol of male sexuality and fertility. Further, the Baal title could be applied directly to the astral deities. For instance, Teixidor notes that in Harran, the city in Paddan-Aram devoted to the moon god which was discussed briefly earlier, Sin was known as the Baal of Harran. This frequent merging of astral with atmospheric and fertility functions in the gods will be revisited shortly.
Earlier, we saw that a god called Mar-Allah was recognized from inscriptional evidences in northern Arabia. We see a probable appearance of this deity again in inscriptions found at Sumatar Harabesi, a site located about 25 miles northeast of Harran. This site contains a number of inscriptions in Syriac that are dated to the mid-to-late 2nd century AD and were made by or on behalf of certain rulers "of the Arab". A number of dedications to Sin, coupled with the typical crescent moon symbology, are found here. As well, however, are a number of inscriptions dedicated to Mrlh'. In Green's discussion of these inscriptions, she reports that Drijvers transcribes the name as Marelahe, "The Lord of the gods", which is equivalent to the Mesopotamian "Bel-ilani", and that while the title itself can denote the chief god of any pantheon, here at Sumatar Harabesi, it was applied to Sin the moon god of Harran, who is the only god mentioned by name at the site. Segal, on the other hand, transcribes the name as Marilaha, "the Lord god", and suggested it as an epithet of Ba'alshamen, a name that had by this period come to designate any god who was seen as the possessor of the heavens (as was the case with Sin the moon god in the later Mesopotamian myths, as seen above). Either way, we see a clearly identified moon god referred to as a Bel or Baal, and Green sees these inscriptions as evidence for the continuation of Sin's role as bestower of political power.
In Arabia, Baal (Ba'l) was introduced into the settled agricultural centers, likely being borrowed from the Semitic groups north of Arabia at the same time that the arts of agriculture were introduced. On the peninsula, Baal was more widely known in later periods as Hubal (meaning "the lord"). There is some controversy over whether Hubal was a traditional deity in Arabia, or if he was introduced at some point in the 3rd century or immediately thereabouts, finding his way to the Ka'bah at Mecca, then a pre-Islamic pagan shrine. For instance, Zwemer states,
"Hobal [Hubal] was in the form of a man and came from Syria; he was the god of rain and had a high place of honour."
Some scholars view Hubal as a newcomer to the Ka'bah, based upon the tradition that Amr ibn Luhayy, a 3rd century Arab, brought the statue of Hubal to the Ka'bah from Syria.
"Having asked the local inhabitants what was the justification of their idols, `Amr b. Luhayy is said to have received the following reply: .. these are the lords (arbab) whom we have chosen, having [simultaneously] the form of the celestial temples (al-hayakil al-`ulwiyya) and that of Human beings. We ask them for victory over our enemies and they grant it to us; we ask them for rain, in time of drought, and they give it to us". In the Ka'ba, Hubal must have preserved this original character of a stellar deity; but his most characteristic role was that of a cleromantic divinity. Indeed, it was before the god that the sacred lots were cast. The statue stood inside the Ka'ba, above the sacred well which was thought to have been dug by Abraham to receive the offerings brought to the sanctuary. Another somewhat surprising fact indicates a connection with Abraham: in the mural paintings of the pre-islamic Ka'ba, Hubal, represented as an old man holding arrows, seems to have been assimilated with Abraham."
Hence, after his appearance in Mecca, Hubal would have retained his earlier astral traits. Additionally, he would have gained his well-known oracular function by which suppliants would draw lots using arrows so as to obtain answers for important questions put to the god. Peters states that while Hubal grew to be an important deity in Mecca, he never replaced Allah as the Lord of the Ka'bah, and bases his argument upon the fact that the Qur'an never raises a contention about Hubal being "lord of the house". This view, unfortunately, suffers from the traditional over-reliance upon late and redacted Muslim sources which are tainted with apologetic revision. As Coon has observed,
"Moslems are notoriously loath to preserve traditions of earlier paganism, and like to garble what pre-Islamic history they permit to survive in anachronistic terms."
Hence, it must be understood that much of what is said about the late arrival of Hubal to the Ka'bah, and the attempts to disconnect him from lordship over that House, is suspect because of the tendency of scholars in the earlier days of Islamic studies to rely upon Islamic sources themselves for information pertaining to the Jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic pagan period. Peters, mentioned above, makes his arguments with the dichotomy of Allah versus Hubal in mind. Yet, the possibility must be explored that Allah was Hubal, and that the initial understanding of Hubal as the local al-ilah falls right into line with the tendency, mentioned above, for the developing Arab monotheism to incorporate local high gods into the state sponsored high god. It was shown above that Allah "was preceded" by the moon god Ilmaqah in South Arabian, that Ilah was "originally a phase of the moon" and later became a term for the high god in Southern Arabia, and even that Allah "replaced" Hubal as the Lord of the Ka'bah. What if these are all vestiges of these various Arabian high gods becoming "al-ilah", the god, in developing henotheistic systems that eventually led to the monotheistic Allah of Islam?
With the advent of independent information obtained from direct archaeological and epigraphic studies, it is being more widely recognized that Hubal was not a late arrival to the Ka'bah, but was instead long resident there and was himself the Lord of the Ka'bah, probably arriving not long after the Christian era began. On the originality of Hubal at the Ka'bah, Rodinson writes,
"The Ka'ba at Mecca, which may have initially been a shrine of Hubal alone, housed several idols; a number of others, too, were gathered in the vicinity."
Ruthven states further,
"Although originally under the aegis of the pagan god Hubal, the Makkan haram which centred around the well of Zamzam, may have become associated with the ancestral figures of Ibrahim and Isma'il as the Arab traders, shedding their parochial backgrounds sought to locate themselves within the broader reference-frame of Judeo-Christianity."
According to Fahd, the earliest appearance of Hubal in the epigraphic record is in an inscription from Nabataea (a region in northwest Arabia, including present-day Jordan), in which he is associated with Manawat, which is cognate with the name of the daughter of Allah, Manat. Peters notes that some of his sources also indicate the origin of the Hubal idol (and presumably the cult which came to Mecca) to be from Jordan.
There is ample evidence to suggest that Hubal was the "Lord of the Ka'bah". Armstrong provides an interesting piece of information, though she still tends to be too reliant upon Islamic tradition instead of scientific facts,
"By the time he began to preach in Mecca, it seems to have been generally acknowledged that the Ka’aba was dedicated to al-Llah, the High God of the pagan Arabs, despite the presiding effigy of Hubal. By the beginning of the seventh century, al-Ilah had become more important than before in the religious life of many of the Arabs. Many primitive religions develop a belief in a High God, who is sometimes called the Sky God...But they also carried on worshipping the other gods, who remained deeply important to them."
The question which must logically be asked is whether this dedication of the Ka'bah to the high god al-Ilah perhaps was not "despite" the presiding effigy of Hubal, but rather because of it? As noted before, "Hubal" is really a title (considered by many to be of Aramaic origin and imported into the early Arabic dialects) which simply means "the lord", and as such, is no different from the usage of the Baal/Ba'l terminology found all over Syria, Palestine, and northern Arabia. This association of Hubal with Baal is noted by al-Saeh,
“As well as worshipping idols and spirits, found in animals, plants, rocks, and water, the ancient Arabs believed in several major gods and goddesses whom they considered to hold supreme power over all things. The most famous of these were Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, Manat, and Hubal. The first three were thought to be daughters of Allah (God) and their intercessions on behalf of their worshippers were therefore of great significance. Hubal was associated with the Semitic god Ba’al and with Adonis and Tammuz, the gods of spring, fertility, agriculture and plenty....Hubal’s idol used to stand by the holy well inside the Sacred House. It was made of red sapphire but had a broken arm until the tribe of Quraysh, who considered him one of their major gods, made him a replacement in solid gold.”
It seems very likely that this "al-Ilah" to which the Ka'bah was dedicated was known also by the titular name Hubal, especially as the presiding idol of that house was Hubal's, and it was before Hubal that decisions requiring oracular resolution were brought. Indeed, an excerpt from Ibn Ishaq (an early Muslim biographer of Mohammed, 704-767 AD), in a garbled and oblique manner, seems to suggest the validity of this view. He relates the following story about Mohammed's grandfather 'Abd'ul Muttalib,
"It is alleged, and God only knows the truth, that when 'Abdu'l-Muttalib encountered the opposition of Quraysh when he was digging Zamzam, he vowed that if he should have ten sons to grow up and protect him, he would sacrifice one of them to God at the Ka'ba. Afterwards when he had ten sons who could protect him he gathered them together and told them about his vow and called on them to keep faith with God. They agreed to obey him and asked what they were to do. He said that each one of them must get an arrow, write his name on it, and bring it to him; this they did and he took them before Hubal in the middle of the Ka'ba. (The statue of) Hubal stood by a well there. It was that well in which gifts made to the Ka'ba were stored.
“Now beside Hubal there were seven arrows, each of them containing some words. One was marked 'bloodwit'. When they disputed about who should pay the bloodwit they cast lots with the seven arrows and the one on whom the lot fell had to pay the money. Another was marked 'yes', and another 'no', and they acted accordingly on the matter on which the oracle had been invoked. Another was marked 'of you'; another mulsaq, another 'not of you'; and the last was marked 'water'. If they wanted to dig for water, they cast lots containing this arrow and wherever it came forth they set to work. If they wanted to circumcise a body, or make a marriage, or bury a body, or doubted someone's genealogy, they took him to Hubal with a hundred dirhams and a slaughter camel and gave them to the man who cast the lots; then they brought near the man with whom they were concerned, saying, 'O our god this is A the son of B with whom we intend to do so and so; so show the right course concerning him'. Then they would say to the man who cast the arrows 'Cast!' and if there came out 'of you' then he was a true member of their tribe; and if there came out 'not of you' then he was an ally; and if there came out mulsaq he had no blood relation to them and was not an ally. Where 'yes' came out in other matter, they acted accordingly; and if the answer was 'no', they deferred the matter for a year until they could bring it up again. They used to conduct their affairs according to the decision of the arrows.
“'Abdu'l-Muttalib said to the man with the arrows, 'Cast the lots for my sons with these arrows', and he told him of the vow which he had made. Each man gave him the arrow on which his name was written. Now 'Abdullah was his father's youngest son, he and al-Zubayr and Abu Talib were born to Fatima d.'Amr b.'A'idh b.'Abd b.'Imran b. Makhzum b.Yaqaza b. Murra b. Ka'b b.Lu'ayy b.Ghalib b.Fihr (113). It is alleged that 'Abdullah was 'Abdu'l-Muttalib's favorite son, and his father thought that if the arrow missed him he would be spared. (He was the father of the apostle of God). When the man took the arrows to cast lots with them, 'Abdu'l-Muttalib stood by Hubal praying to Allah. Then the man cast lots and 'Abdullah's arrow came out. His father led him by the hand and took a large knife; then he brought him up to Isaf and Na'ila (T. two idols of Quraysh at which they slaughtered their sacrifices) to sacrifice him; but Quraysh came out of their assemblies and asked what he was intending to do. When he said that he was going to sacrifice him, they and his sons said 'By God! you shall never sacrifice him until you offer the greatest expiatory sacrifice for him. If you do a thing like this there will be no stopping men from coming to sacrifice their sons, and what will become of the people then?' Then said al-Mughira b. 'Abdullah b. 'Amr b. Makhzum b. Yaqaza, 'Abdullah's mother being from his tribe, 'By God, you shall never sacrifice him until you offer the greatest expiatory sacrifice for him. Though his ransom be all our property we will redeem him'. Quraysh and his sons said that he must not do it, but take him to the Hijaz for there was a sorcerer who had a familiar spirit, and he must consult her. Then he would have liberty of action. If she told him to sacrifice him, he would be no worse off; and if she gave him a favorable response, he could accept it. So they went off as far as Medina and found that she was in Khaybar, so they allege. So they rode on until they got to her, and when 'Abdu'l-Muttalib acquainted her with the facts she told them to go away until her familiar spirit visited her and she could ask him. When they had left her 'Abdu'l-Muttalib prayed to Allah, and when they visited her the next day she said, 'Word has come to me. How much is the blood money among you?' they told her that it was ten camels, as indeed it was. He told them to go back to their country and take the young man and ten camels. Then cast lots for them and for him; if the lots falls against your man, add more camels, until you lord is satisfied. If the lots falls against the camels then sacrifice them in his stead, for your lord will be satisfied and your client escape death. So they returned to Mecca, and when they had agreed to carry out their instructions, 'Abdu'l-Muttalib was praying to Allah. Then they brought near 'Abdullah and ten camels while 'Abdu'l-Muttalib stood by Hubal praying to Allah. Then they cast lots and the arrow fell against 'Abdullah. They added ten more camels and the lot fell against 'Abdullah, and so they went on adding ten at a time, until there were one hundred camels, when finally the lot fell against them. Quraysh and those who were present said, 'At last your lord is satisfied 'Abdu'l-Muttalib'. 'No, by God', he answered (so they say), 'not until I cast lots three times'. This they did and each time the arrow fell against the camels. They were duly slaughtered and left there and no man was kept back or hindered (from eating them).”
Thus we can see that this man was essentially praying to the idol of Hubal, while praying to Allah. As Hubal was the "Lord of the Ka'bah" and the tutelary deity of Mecca, it is instructive to note that after the rise of the Arab Empire, Allah seems to have maintained his place as the Lord of that “House”, even if under a different name and with an innovative conception of deity. Indeed, the Ka'bah was often known by the name beit Allah, "house of Allah", even though it was presided over by Hubal.
Interestingly, we should note the early interest among the Muslims in (re-)establishing the original religion of Abraham, at least as they conceived it. Arabic lore, extending into the period before Islam, held that Abraham himself had built the Ka'bah, dug its well, and established its worship. In the centuries before the rise of the Arab Empire, there were many Arabs who, while accepting neither Christianity nor Judaism, did conceive of the idea of establishing a pure monotheism to replace the paganism of their day. Many of these groups could have been called "Abrahamic", as they desired to renew the deen, the religion, of Abraham. This Abrahamism emphasized its link to Abraham as its putative founder, and its followers were described by the Christian historian Sozomenus, writing circa 450 AD, as Ishmaelite monotheists who followed a loose analog of Judaism. Indeed, Pines notes evidence for Abrahamists as early as the time of Tertullian (~200 AD), who disputed with a group of them. The Abrahamists were one of many groups of hanifiyya, emergent monotheists who preceded Islam in Arabia. The monotheism of these groups engendered the belief in a high god who was without partners. It is likely that these hanifiyya, who were more or less independent of Judaism and Christianity, were the next natural step in the progression from pure paganism to the henotheistic belief in a "high god" to monotheism. As a result, it is likely that their views were arrived at by elevating one of their native gods at the expense of the others, and accepting him as the "only" god. That this seems to have been the case, at least with those who revered the Ka'bah as the "house of Allah" (including, of course, local groups of Abrahamists), seems evident in the association with Abraham of the oracular method of divination through Hubal. Rubin notes that the ritual of casting arrows before Hubal was itself Abrahamic (referring to the pre-Islamic religious system, not to the Biblical Abraham), and that when Mohammed conquered Mecca, he ordered the removal of a painting of Abraham holding arrows from within the Ka'bah. The deen of Abraham, at least as it appeared to the Arabs both pagan and hanif, involved reverence for both the Ka'bah and its lord, and this suggests that the god which they were monotheizing was probably Hubal.
This understanding of the "lord of the Ka'bah" as a high god again points to the familiar pattern of henotheism that can be found all across the Semitic world. Wellhausen considered Hubal to be an ancient name for Allah. In this is meant the sense that he believed Allah to be an abstraction which originated in the many local gods (one of whom was Hubal), and gave rise to a common word for the high god. This view has been judged as inadequate by many later scholars118. I would note, however, that much of the later impetus against Wellhausen's initial view stems from the over-reliance of scholars upon Islamic sources for information concerning the period of Jahiliyya, the pagan period prior to Islam. It would seem natural that Islamic traditions, produced two centuries or more after the fact, would present an artificially sanitized view of the pre-Islamic period. As noted previously, this was common in early Muslim works for polemical purposes. We have seen earlier that it was common for cultures in the ancient Near East to hold up a high god, and to attribute to him various spheres of influence, depending on the prior nature of the henotheized deity. This would seem to support the arguments made above and by Wellhausen that the high god of the Arabs was not one original deity, but rather became such by the synthesis of the various local high gods of Arabia and the regions conquered by the Arabs.
As has been alluded, Hubal seems to have also had a variety of characteristic spheres which he dominated. Zwemer above identified Hubal as a god of rain, which correlates well with the typical station of Baal among the Arabs' northerly neighbors. Hubal also, however, had several marked astral stations among the Arabs. Hommel tells us that in southern Arabia, Hubal was to be identified with the planet Venus, understood by these groups to be male. In northern Arabia, including the region of Mecca, Hubal was understood to be a lunar god,
“First of all, as regards the religion of the South Arabians, as we find it in their inscriptions, it is a strongly marked star-worship, in which the cult of the moon-god, conceived as masculine, takes complete precedence of that of the sun, which is conceived as feminine. This is shown in the clearest fashion by the stereotyped series of gods (Minaean: ‘Athar, Wadd, Nakruh, Shams; Hadramawtic: ‘Athar, Sîn, Hol, Shams; Qatabanian: ‘Athar, ‘Amm, Anbai, Shams; Sabaean: ‘Athar, Hawbas, Al-maku-hu, Shams); here we find throughout, a. ‘Athar (the planet Venus conceived as masculine...as symbol of the sky) the god of the heavens mentioned first, b. Wadd or as the case may be, Sîn, ‘Amm or Hawbas the real chief god i.e. the moon; c. Nakruh (the planet Saturn or Mars), or Hol, Anbai (messenger of the gods, Nebo) or Almaku-hu, his (the moon’s) servant or messenger, and finally, d. Shams, the daughter of the moon-god to whom women may have appealed by preference and who therefore stands at the end of the whole enumeration. Besides these, a certain part was played by a great Mother-goddesses, the mother and consort of the moon-god conceived as a personified lunar station, the Minaean Athirat, who was called Harimtu among the Sabaeans and who was in all probability universally known as Ilat (e.g. as a component part in names of persons, also in the shortened form Lat). We may also mention various lesser ‘Athar deities (confined later to the part played by Venus as morning or evening star), and among the West Sabaeans Ta’lab, a god of the bow who also bears merely the epithet Dhû Samawî ‘lord of the heavens’, and to whom especially camels (ibil) are sacred (hence in Midian but probably in South Arabia Habul or Hubal etc.). It is a particularly favourite mode of thought to conceive the two chief aspects of the moon (waxing and waning moon) as twin deities, in which connection sometimes the one and sometimes the other phase is specially favoured according to the locality....In North West Arabia from Mekka onwards to Petra and further onwards to the Syrian desert (Palmyra) and the Hawran, the same ideas prevailed, partly even appearing under the old names partly with new designations. Here we have especially to do with the cults of Mekka and of the whole Hidjaz shortly before Muhammad (al-Lat and Hubal, in certain cases also al-Lat, and Wudd, in addition al-‘Uzza, a feminine form of...Aziz-Lat, the goddess of death Manat, a god Ruda and others) and at an earlier period the still more important cult of the Nabataeans. Among the latter also we find the moon divided into twin deities: Dhu Shara (‘He of the mountain’) and his Kharisha (the sun), the former especially in Petra, and Habul (or Hubal) and his consort Manawat...."
Other scholars have also noted the place of Hubal as the moon god. Concerning Hubal Glassé writes,
"An idol, the god of the Moon..."
Occhigrosso further illustrates,
"Before Muhammad appeared, the Kaaba was surrounded by 360 idols, and every Arab house had its god. Arabs also believed in jinn (subtle beings), and some vague divinity with many offspring. Among the major deities of the pre-Islamic era were al-Lat ("the Goddess"), worshiped in the shape of a square stone; al-Uzzah ("the Mighty"), a goddess identified with the morning star and worshiped as a thigh-bone-shaped slab of granite between al-Taif and Mecca; Manat, the goddess of destiny, worshiped as a black stone on the road between Mecca and Medina; and the moon god, Hubal, whose worship was connected with the Black Stone of the Kaaba."
Once again, we see that the high god of this locality was thus a moon deity, and yet also strongly connected with the realm of atmospheric phenomena and fertility through his being a bringer of rains and storms. The astral aspects of the Ka'bah, over which Hubal ruled, have been noted by scholars. Occhigrosso notes that the black stone in the Ka'bah was said by the pre-Islamic Arabs to have come from the moon. The fact that the number of idols in the pre-Islamic Ka'bah is repeatedly said to be 360 is viewed by some as having astronomical overtones related to the worship of the heavenly bodies,
"The earliest Muslim sources suggest that the pre-Islamic cult of the Ka'ba had some astronomical significance. The historian Mas'udi (896-956) stated that certain people had regarded the Ka'ba as a temple dedicated to the Sun, Moon and the five visible planets (making up the mythical figure of seven, the number of circumambulations required for each tawaf). The story that there were exactly 360 idols placed round the temple also points to an astronomical significance. Among the votive gifts said to have been offered to the idols were golden suns and moons."
This connection of the Islamic religion with a site sacred to the moon god is not unique to the Ka'bah. Speaking of the ancient temple to the moon god Sin located at Harran (who, as we saw above, was the "Baal of Harran"), Green says this,
"It is most likely that it was on the site of his great temple that the Muslim rulers of the city constructed the Great Mosque."
Dushara - Proto-Islamic Arabian High God
Let us now turn to yet another pre-Islamic Arab god with close associations, both conceptual and through lineage, to the deities previously mentioned as precursors to Allah. This deity is Dushara, a god worshipped primarily in Nabataea and nearby regions in northern Arabia. Dushara, whose name appears in many cases to be an epithet, rather than a proper name, was worshipped as the supreme god among the Nabataeans, but may have been known by several other names. Indeed, Healey notes that scholars are still trying to find the true name of the supreme god to whom this epithet applied. The name/title Dushara is commonly understood to mean "he of the mountain", indicating a local geographic extent as a mountain-god (but which also recalls the place of Enlil as a lord of mountains, seen above). In this vein, Browning identifies the name as Dhu-esh-Shera, “He (Lord) of Shera (Seir)”, thus placing Dushara as a local deity based around Mount Seir, in Edom. However, it cannot be ruled out that the second part of his name describes a general characteristic of the god instead. One of the most prominent meanings suggested is that of vegetation. Healey also suggests that Dushara may have had astral characteristics as well, which was supported above by the statement of Hommel to the effect that Dhu Shara was one of two moon deities found among the Nabataeans, along with Hubal. Healey also notes that there is a close relationship, perhaps a non-spousal pairing, between Dushara and Hubal, as indicated by certain Nabataean funerary inscriptions. Though Healey himself notes a secondary solar role for this deity rather than a lunar, it is possible that both characters were combined in this god. Hitti also points out Dushara's solar role, discusses the worship of Dushara through the box-like ka'bah mentioned previously, and notes that Dushara was associated with Allat, viewed in northern Arabia as a moon goddess. The name itself is traced by some even further back than the Nabataeans, to the Mesopotamian divine name "Du-shar-ra" found in cuneiform records from Mesopotamia. It has been suggested that this name entered into West Semitic mythology from Assyro-Babylonia.
Among the Nabataeans and other Northern Arab tribes, Dushara was often known simply as 'lh', "the god", par excellence. For the Nabataeans, this accorded to Dushara the role of high god, as Healey states,
"On this basis Dushara (or the god behind the title....) was regarded as the god par excellence and this would in part explain why the name of Dushara appears rather rarely in theophoric personal names, while derivatives of 'lh', 'the god' ('lhy, etc.) appear quite often. 'The god' in the Nabataean context meant 'the one and only significant god, also known as Dushara'."
There appears to have been the same tendency to both develop him into a high god, and to associate both lunar and fertility/atmospheric spheres together into his character, which parallels this same phenomenon as it occurred all across the ancient Near East. Indeed, among this Arabian tribe, Dushara was associated with a consort, Allat, placing him firmly within the Arabian Allah-Allat milieu. Healey questions the view that Allat was the consort of Dushara however, instead suggesting that she may have been viewed as his mother, and that she and another goddess, al-Uzza (also found in the Islamic descriptions as a “daughter of Allah”) were originally the same deity, later diverging to separate deities at some time prior to the rise of Islam. Further, references to other deities previously associated with Allah, such as Manat and al-Uzza, and also Baal, had been found among the Nabataean remains. Dushara is mentioned alongside Hubal and Manawat (Manat) in a Nabataean inscription found in Edom. In several Nabataean inscriptions, Dushara is closely associated with Manotu, and it is significant that the inscription series was found in the vicinity of the Nabataean center of Hegra, which is in Northern Arabia, much closer to the Hijaz than is Petra, and thus geographically adjacent to the classically Arabian milieu. Also notable is that Dushara was worshipped through a typical Semitic litholatric block, described by the Byzantine historian Suidas (from his antique sources) as a cubic black stone, a view also supported by Glueck.
Hadad/Rimmon and the Islamic Rahman
Another aspect of this overall conjoining of astral, atmospheric, and fertility spheres is to be found with the deity known in Sumeria as Ishkur, and in the Semitic world as Adad or Hadad. This deity also was a storm, thunder, and weather god, and at various points in time was worshipped as the high or highest god in some pantheons, especially among the Aramaeans. Adad appears in many cases to have been synonymous with Baal (another storm god), being also called Hadd at various points and associated in parallel with Hadad at one point in the Ras Shamra texts. Kapelrud notes from texts from Ras Shamra that Ba'l as a name was applied to and eventually was used virtually in place of the name Hadad/Haddu. Adad was understood in Babylonian texts not simply to be a fearsome god of storms, but also as the "lord of abundance, the controller of the floodgates of the earth" (because of his role as a weather god). There naturally would seem to be a strong conceptual connection between the weather/storm sphere of a god's influence, and his capacity for producing fertility and agricultural abundance, especially in many places in Syria and Palestine which rely primarily upon rainfall for the sustenance of farming and flocks.
Corroboration for the joining of astral and vegetation/fertility spheres in Hadad/Adad is found in Arabian evidences from North Arabia and the Transjordan region. Later iconographic evidence from the Nabataean temple site at Khirbet Tannur is identified by Knauf as denoting Dushara-Zeus-Hadad, and there is ample evidence from Nabataean inscriptions to indicate the integration of the Nabataean high god, Dushara, with Zeus, the high god of the Hellenistic Greeks who were present in the region from the time of Alexander’s conquests onward. Gleuck identified the main deity of the temple at Tannur as Zeus-Hadad (so-called because of the combination of Hellenistic and Semitic characteristics) on the basis of the “eagle” iconography associated with the images of the main deity in the complex, suggesting this god to be an atmospheric deity, though as has been previously noted, this deity was Dushara. Healey, following Starckey, instead identifies this deity as Qos based upon the fact that Qos is the only god mentioned in the inscriptional evidence from the site. This connection is also made, however, on the basis of the lightning/storm iconography associated with the god in this temple, which suggests an association with Zeus-Hadad. Either way, whether this god was Qos or Dushara, the evidences from Tannur clearly connect him with the atmospheric god Hadad (associated in Hellenistic times with Zeus). Qos, as was seen earlier, very clearly had lunar attributes (and was directly coupled with Allah), and Dushara was also associated with astral idolatry as well. The evidence for the conjoining of astral and fertility spheres given by Tannur is strengthened through the appearance of a grain (and dolphin!) goddess, thought by Gleuck to be Atargatis, with the main god of that temple.
Another point of evidence for the joining of astral and weather traits is in the South Arabian god known as Almaqah/Ilmaqah, who was suggested above as a South Arabian antecedent to the more generally known Allah. Ringgren notes that Baal, also called Hadd, sits enthroned upon his mountain, and that the iconography of Baal included his being surrounded by seven lightning flashes, among other details. Elsewhere, we see that the symbol often associated with Adad is a fork-shaped flash of lightning, emphasizing his role as a storm and weather god. Almaqah, the national god of the South Arabian Sabaeans, is also widely recognized as a moon god. Almaqah, however, also demonstrates iconographic evidences which suggest a storm/weather role. The Sabaeans symbolized this god using a cluster of lightning flashes and a weapon that looks like a slightly-bent capital S152, which is quite similar to the symbology used with Adad and Teshub (an analogous Hurrian storm god).
Just as Sin and other moon gods were often associated with Shamash (the sun) and Ishtar (representing Venus, and also a fertility goddess), so was Adad/Hadad, known also by the epithet Rimmon (meaning "pomegranate"). This suggests a link between Sin and Adad/Rimmon, probably another example of assimilation rather than a direct attribution of lunar province to Adad. Both were high gods worshipped in Mesopotamia and elsewhere in the northern and western Semitic areas, and thus it is natural that both would essentially become the same deity, even if not specified as such, in the minds of their followers. Hence, this could suggest an association of the Rimmon/Hadad deity with lunar idolatry, a tendency which has been shown above for several weather and/or fertility gods.
But what of the potential connection between Rimmon and Rahman (which is presented as an epithet for Allah at several points in the Qur'an)? Some Muslim apologists will attempt to deny the association of Rahman with Rimmon/Rammanu. It is argued that Rahman (from the rhm root, having the meaning “compassionate“) cannot be related to Rimmon or Rammanu (from the rmn root, meaning “pomegranate”). They will argue that because the Semitic triconsonantal roots are different, there cannot be a connection between Rahman and the ancient Syro-Babylonian storm god Rimmon/Rammanu. However, this argument does not take into account the fact that languages can change over time, diverging and converging, and that phonemes may evolve, causing words and roots to change over time. This can be seen in the comparison of the Arabic and Hebrew roots meaning “compassion”. In Arabic, the root is rhm, with the h indicating the letter h’aa, which has a sound approximated by a heavy, open “h” sound made from the soft palate at the back of the throat. In Hebrew, the root is rchm, where ch denotes the letter cheth, which has a sound approximated by the “ch” in the Scots pronunciation of “loch”. Same root, yet a somewhat different phoneme. Further, the apologetic argument ignores the fact that similar words can have divergent and/or multiple meanings across different cultures and time periods.
In the linguistic case of Rimmon and Rahman, it is important to first note that Rimmon/Rammanu was also known by the name “Ragimu” among Mesopotamian Semitic groups. This is enlightening because both the “g” and “h“ are sounds with very similar articulation. Both of these phonemes are velar sounds, produced by pushing air over the velum, or the soft palate that sits right in front of the uvula. The primary difference between these sounds is that the “g” is a stop (meaning that the flow of air is stopped after the initial sound is made), while the “h“ is a fricative sound produced by forcing air through a narrow opening between the tip of the tongue and the velum, and hence can be extended. The shift from "g" to "h" would be the result of a process in Semitic phonetic development called "spirantization", in which a stop consonant changes into a fricative consonant. The point to this linguistic digression is that it is certainly very possible (and perhaps even likely from a phonetic standpoint) for the “g” in Ragimu to have developed into the “h“ of Rahman in the course of the development of the set of Arabian languages from their Mesopotamian Semitic precursors. After all, we see that Ragimu is related to Rammanu, probably developing through a process of epenthesis (a process in which a phoneme is inserted into the middle of a word to clarify or simplify pronunciation), so the theory proposed above is certainly not at all unlikely. The dropping of the final “n” in the course of the development from rmn --> rgm --> rhm is easily explained by noting that nasal sounds (such as “n”) tend to drop out from the end of words which find common use or have a systematic history of development, a form of apocope (a process where word final phonemes are dropped). This is seen in English, whereby many words ending in “ing” (the “ng” is a single nasal sound) tend to either lose that final “ng” completely, or else become the softer “n” sound, in everyday or hurried speech. Thus, the Muslim arguments against the identification of the very ancient Rimmon/Rammanu with the much later Rahman are not necessarily valid.
Scholars have noted that the rhm root, usually said to mean "compassionate", may have an earlier and/or alternative meaning. Ringgren notes that the epithet rhm can stress youthfulness, as well as the powers of life and generation, traditional roles of Ancient Near East fertility deities. He connects it with the Hebrew rechem, a cognate word meaning "womb". It is likely that the later attachment of the ideas of mercy and compassion to rhm sprang forth from these earlier fertility aspects. It is entirely logical to postulate that a god who was responsible for bringing in the rains and causing the earth to bring forth fertility (as was the function of Rimmon/Rammanu and the implication of his name meaning “pomegranate”) would evolve into a god whose name was associated with compassion. One of the most compassionate things a god in the arid Near East could do was bring in the rains with some regularity. The connection of this epithet with Allah is natural, then, and the appearance of Allah as a rain-bringer in pre-Islamic Arab myth is well-known.
Indeed, this sort of connection between the rain/storm god Rimmon/Adad and the compassionate god Rahman is made in the literature,
"...If this were Umm-ar-Rahma, we would not hesitate for a moment to choose the first solution; but the antiquated or archaic reading of Umm-Ruhm, specified by the authors, causes us to see in Ruhm a vestige of the old Semitic religion. Indeed, its Semitic root r'/h/hm puts us face to face with one of the oldest Semitic names of the god Adad, expressing what characterizes it primarily, namely the rain which makes "soft" and "tender" the ground, the vegetation and, by analogy, the hearts of humans, and also the thunder, source of rain, which symbolizes it. From the double significance of the root there occurs the two series of names which are given to him, on the one hand, Ramman, Rihamun, Ramimu and Ragimu, expressing roaring thunder and the howling of the bull which symbolizes this aspect of it; on the other hand, Rh/hm, Rhman (Akk. remenu), which expresses the grace and the mercy of Ba'l of the sky. But, in this last sense, this epithet applied to other gods."
Fahd notes the dual development of Rahman and Rimmon from this common Semitic root, even stating that Rahman is the Akkadian "remenu". Fahd goes further, showing that the rhm root was a specific epithet applied to a number of ancient Near East gods,
"The use of the root rhm in Arab paganism, to qualify the divinity, is attested, in addition to the testimony of Ibn Durayd, by another no less important, provided by the Palmyrene epigraphy, where a god RHM is named at the side of Allat. In addition, within Thamudic onomastics, a theophore, Raham'il, confirms the existence of this use in Northern Arabia. These weak indications for the name were to enjoy in Islam a very great expansion, in particular in the two forms of Abd ar-Rahman and Abd ar-Rahim, and are the echoes of an ancient usage, going back to Assyro-Babylonia, one of the principal hearths of Semitic paganism, where the epithet 'merciful' or the invocation 'have mercy upon me' was joined to the names of principle gods, such as Marduk, Ishtar, Sin, Shamash, Adad, and Assur. In the isolated state, Ri-mi-nu-u became an epithet of Marduk."
Again, the equation of rhm with rmn is taken for granted. Rahman was applied to many deities, including both Adad the storm god, Sin the moon god, and Marduk, another name for Bel (identified by Fahd further above as Ba'l). Indeed, the god-name Ri.ha.mun appears on ancient god lists from ancient Assyro-Babylonia, attesting the antiquity of rhm far before the appearance of this god in Arabian mythology. In one of these appearances, the name is accompanied by a descriptor meaning "he who holds the nose/bridle for Utu". Utu was an archaic Sumerian name (though apparently still being used in Babylonia at the time) for the sun-god Shamash. The description seems to indicate Ri.ha.mun as being in an inferior position, holding the horse of his master Utu/Shamash. This same combination of Rahim with the sun god is noted much later in Palmyra, where Rahim appears as an associated acolyte of Shamash, along with Allat as the third member of the triad. One other point of interest is that Fahd noted that the "howling of the bull" was associated with this fertility god Rimmon/Rahman, just as the bull symbology was seen with other deities with fertility functions, such as the moon god and Baal.
By the Roman period, the transition had been made of rhm from fertility/compassion deity to a more abstracted idealization of mercy and compassion. Rahim was a god of mercy in the Palmyrene, Dura-Europan, and Safaitic pantheons, and Rahman was a god of compassion in the South Arabian pantheon of this period. Rahman in the South gradually was raised to the position of being an epithet for the unique god appearing in the nascent South Arabian monotheism, and would seem to be a strong candidate for the entrance of this deity into the developing Islamic belief system after the Arabs had cemented their hold on the Arabian peninsula and needed a cohesive religious system to unify their conquests. Healey has postulated that the traditional South Arabian epithet rhmn (with the suffixed South Arabian articular n) appearing in the monotheizing cult of the Merciful One in South Arabia could easily have arisen from earlier pagan usage, as he notes that the worship of the Merciful One was widespread throughout Syria in the first century AD in a non-Christian and non-Jewish context, instead tracing to Mesopotamian cultural influences. The appearance of the same sort of cult in South Arabia (as well as elsewhere in Arabia, including the Nabataeans), suggests the natural development of this view of rhmn applied to emergent native monotheism. It would further then seem natural that this Rahman would be adopted into the theology of Islam as a way of bringing his worshipers in Southern Arabia into the fold of the developing monotheistic state religion. Indeed, both Rahman and Rahim appears as epithetic names for Allah in the Qur'an in numerous places.
What Does It All Mean?
Essentially, we must understand and accept that Allah of the Islamic religion is not the same as the God of the Bible. Allah can be traced backwards through ancient Near Eastern religious history as the latest development in a series of astral and atmospheric deities in the ancient Semitic world, all the way back to very ancient Mesopotamia, the original seat of both civilization, and also idolatry. Muslims, when they worship Allah, are not worshipping the true Creator God, but are rather worshipping a false god, one whose worship is condemned in the Bible:
“...And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either, the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded.” (Deuteronomy 17:3)
"And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them all that burned offering unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.” (II Kings 23:5)
For the Muslim who wished to deny or ignore this evidence, the question is posed: Why does Islam have such a fixation with the crescent moon symbol, a symbol which is intimately and widely associated with the worship of the moon god throughout history, under whatever name, in Sumer, Akkad, Syria, Persia, Canaan, Egypt, and Arabia? Though some Muslim apologists will argue that the crescent moon symbology entered Islam very late as a result of Turkish influence in the 15th century, this is simply not the case. The physical evidence for the crescent moon as a religious symbol in Islam goes back to 75 AH (696 AD), where it is used as a symbol on Islamic coins. Why do many mosques and other Islamic religious buildings have depictions of the crescent moon on their spires and pinnacles? Why do the flags of twelve Muslim nations (Algeria, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Comoros, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) go so far as to include this crescent moon symbol? Why is the knowledge of the timing of the hilal, the crescent moon, so important for starting the Muslim holy month of fasting, Ramadan? All the evidence points to the fact of the moon symbol being important to the early Arabs among whom the religion of Islam gradually developed, and that this pre-Islamic pagan symbol was imported into Islam, along with the rest of the ancient trappings.
For the Muslim to be free of idolatry means, ultimately, that he or she must turn from Islam, with its worship of this created god, and turn to the True Creator God of the Bible, who has said that He will not share His glory with other “gods” (Isaiah 42:8).
In short, the notion that Allah is the same as the God of the Bible, and that Allah is just the fullest revelation of God who had previously been revealed in the Torah and the Bible, must be rejected. As Caesar Farah has said in his book about Islam,
"There is no reason, therefore, to accept the idea that Allah passed to the Muslims from the Christians and Jews".
The God of the Bible is not the same as the Allah worshipped in Islam. Instead, the roots of Islam's deity are found in Middle Eastern mythology, and as such represent the latest manifestation of idolatry in that region, and wherever Islam has spread.
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