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?