Muslims and moon-gods

You’d think that all religions that confess to the existence of only one God must believe in the same One. If there is only One it must by definition be the same One, even if you disagree about the finer points of theology. However, among some fundamentalist Christians it has become customary to deny that Muslims believe in the same God as Christians. Their theory centers around the idea that Allah was originally the designation for an Arabic pagan moon-god. Ever wondered where the Islamic crescent symbol came from? Add the pre-islamic pagan origins of ka’ aba and the hajj, facts even recognised by Muslims, and there’s your theory: Islam equals paganism! I am not surprised Muslims take offense.

In a religious sense identifying Allah with a pagan moon-god is preposterous. Ask any Muslim what he believes in, and the answer will ultimately and invariably be: ‘the God of Abraham’. That happens to be the very same God Christians believe in. The qur’an even explicitly forbids worshipping the moon: Do not prostrate to the sun or the moon; but prostrate to Allah Who created them (Q 41:37, Pickthal). Historically it might make sense though. Just about as much sense as pointing out that יהוה was a local west Semitic god, probably of wind and thunder, who was worshipped in Canaan together with his Asherah -his consort- by both Canaanites and Israelites. His animal or mount became a cow or calf, probably though association with the main Semitic god El. Because יהוה was not to be depicted, his mount was. Only through the unique development -under prophetic guidance- of the religion of the Israelites did this deity eventually become the sole and only God. It was Israels prophets that eventually succeeded in banning Ashera poles and the practice of depicting יהוה-s riding animal. Hence the story of the golden calf. This God became the sole God of Samaritans and Jews and through them of Christians.

The archaeological, epigraphical and documentary evidence for this theory is a lot stronger than the evidence for Allah as a moon-god, which is quite shaky really, as some Muslim apologists point out. Still, even when historically correct, from a religious perspective it would be a silly idea to claim that Samaritans, Jews and Christians actually believe in a pagan thunder-god. If the latter is unacceptable, the former should be too. And why would Christians be so intent to separate the Muslims from the five monotheistic religions? Even if it is not intended as sowing hate, it still seems very non-productive. It may be a solution, but to what problem? What religions believe stands separate from the historical road they took to discover that. The past development of a creed says very little about the beliefs of those that confess said creed in the present.

On the other hand, I wonder if Muslims would be willing to sacrifice part of their creed in order to challenge fundamentalist Christians. יהוה as a local god fits into a larger historical theory about the religious development of Israel. The Israelites were a local Canaanite people that lived in the highlands and did not eat pork. This is the only archaeological trace with which we can distinguish these people from the Canaanites, who preferred the fertile lowlands. The Israelites came from nowhere: not from the east, not from Egypt. Not a single archaeological trace indicates the exodus ever happened. It’s a theory that leaves no room for Abraham and Moses as actual historical persons. It’s a theory that is very well documented, but contradicts the Jewish, christian and Muslim creed, or at least: a literal interpretation of it.

Judaism and Christianity have survived modern scholarly ideas like this. It is not difficult to find Jews or Christians today in whose eyes the stories of Abraham and Moses are not true, but they still ‘really happened’. It has not shattered their faith. It seems difficult to find Muslims who have done the same, even though Islam seems to be a religion that is perfectly capable of absorbing and incorporating sound historical theories like the one above. It is often said that Islam lacks ‘modernity’, whatever that may be. Could reliance on historical -and literal- accuracy be that lack?


9 Responses to “Muslims and moon-gods”

  1. I love your post, thanks for your efforts.

  2. I wanted to add that I hope your “Islam equals Paganism” comment is sarcasm. 🙂 If you read comprehensive Islamic texts on the history behind these symbols and practices from pre-Islamic Arabia until after, it’s quite conclusive (at least to Islamic scholarship) that the Kabba was first a monotheistic place of worship and became a pagan one. Not the other way around.

  3. shirhashirim Says:

    That was sarcasm allright! Even if it were true that some religious practices smell of paganism (they can always be found in any religion), it is preposterous -and insulting- to claim Islam is pagan.

    I do know that muslims believe the ka’aba was built by Abraham, but I consider that to be a seventh century innovation. Only Islamic tradition claims this, but Islamic tradition -much like Jewish and Christian tradition- was never intended to write history (or law). It was only interpreted that way in the formative centuries of Islam. There is nothing besides Islamic tradition that would indicate it ever was a monotheistic shrine before the advent of islam. Then again, Abraham is a literary character, not a historical person, and literary figures do not leave real buildings.

    Having said all that -and this was the point of my post- even though this contradicts orthodox muslim beliefs, I think no muslim needs to loose a night’s sleep over it. Islam still stands -just like Judaism and Christianity- when Abraham never existed and the ka’aba started its life as a pagan shrine.

  4. Putting secular hat on…..Abraham withstanding….it’s not the Muslim belief that the Kabba as we know it existed millennium ago, but it’s that pilgrimage to Mecca did and a temple/mosque existed. Some even deduce that the only thing original there is the actual black stone which was used as a marker.

  5. shirhashirim Says:

    Which is probably correct. If the black stone is indeed a meteorite -as is often said- it seems more than logical that it resulted in some kind of sanctuary.
    I always get confused about the word ‘ka’aba’. Does it indicate the black stone, the cubic structure, the haram or the entire building of the mosque? As far as I know it refers to the cubic structure.

  6. Kaaba, literally means cube in Arabic. It indicates the actual physical building that of course is a cube. So yes, you are correct.

  7. I like to think that Abraham did exist, and the stories are based upon a real historical figure.

    I like to think that Achilles and Hector did exist, and that the Iliad turned real men into mythological figures.

    Hector was the perfect man, a warrior-prince honoring his duty to protect his family and his town. His failure is not what I dwell upon, but his arising to the task unto death.

    My own instructor in the Iliad taught that book as someting of a Greek Bible or Qur’an. We felt as if it transmitted a code of conduct to youth.

    Lycurgus gave laws to Sparta. So simple and pure, the laws told us how to live and required little decision-making.

    Solon was the lawgiver to Athens, but I have not found where to read his laws.


  8. […] nederzetting vast? Christelijke polemisten willen nog wel eens beweren dat Allah eigenlijk een oude Arabische maangod is en dat Hij dus niet mag worden gelijkgesteld aan de God van de joden en christenen. Die tactiek […]

  9. […] Richard Kroes is een blog begonnen, en maakt de kachel aan met christelijke apologeten, en nog eens. En verder: Tall adh-Dhahab; geneuzel, maar het was tenslotte Kerstmis. […]

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