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Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation

The Encyclopaedia Of Islam, New Edition, Edited By B. Lewis, V. L. Menage, Ch. Pellat And J. Schacht, 1971

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Islam: Truth or Myth? start page



The Encyclopaedia Of Islam, New Edition, Edited By B. Lewis, V. L. Menage, Ch. Pellat And J. Schacht, 1971

HUBAL page 536

Hubal, an Arabian god whose worship was fostered in Mecca by the Khuza'i 'Amr b. Luhayy [q.v.] in the first half of the 3rd century A.D. Represented at first by a baetyl, like most of the Arab deities, it was later personified, with human features, by a statue made of cornelian, with the right arm truncated (cf. Judges III, 15, XX, 16) and which the Kuraysh's are said to have replaced by a golden arm (al-Azraki, Akhbar Makka, ed. Wustenfeld, Leipzig 1858, 74). It was from a town with thermal springs (hamma) that it was apparently brought to the Hidjaz. Having come there to bathe in the waters and thereby being cured of a serious illness, `Ainr b. Luhayy, it is said, had taken back this statue with him. As to its place of origin, tradition hesitates between two towns. For al-Azraki (31, 58, 73), this town is Hit in Mesopotamia, a town situated oil file Euphrates, and oil the edge of the desert (al-Mas'udi, Murudi, iii, 328; Yakut, 997-8; and today still renowned for its springs of bitumen for others. it is Ma'ab, in the district of al-Balka', in, in Transjordania.

Having asked the local inhabitants what was the justification of their idols, `Amr b. Lullayy 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 (al-Azraki, 31). 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 (al-Azraki, III).

The earliest mention of the name Hubal occurs in a Nabataean inscription (CIS, ii, 198), in which it appears as an associate of Manawat. According to al-Azraki (73), its cult was the best organized in the Ka'ba: a hadjib guarded the idol; he received the offerings and sacrifices that were brought; he shook the arrows of divination before it. When a Meccan returned from travelling, he used to go to give thanks to the god before going to his own home. In the field of popular piety at least, it eclipsed the other deities in the Meccan pantheon, to such an extent that there has been some speculation whether the unanimity regarding this cult did not help to prepare the way for Allah.


ALLAH, page 406

God the Unique one, the Creator and Lord of the judgment, polarizes the thought of Islam; He is the sole reason for its existence.

Allah was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs; he was one of the Meccan deities, possibly the supreme deity and certainly a creator-god (cf. Kur'an, xiii, 16; xxix, 61, 63; xxxi, 25; xxxix, 38; xliii, 87). He was already known, by antonomasia, as the God, al-Ilah (the most likely etymology; another suggestion is the Aramaic Alaha). For Allah before Islam, as shown by archaeological sources and the Kur'an, see ILAH.

But the vague notion of supreme (not sole) divinity, which Allah seems to have connoted in Meccan religion, was to become both universal and transcendental; it was to be turned, by the Kur'anic preaching, into the affirmation of the Living God, the Exalted One.


A Muslim tradition tells us that sura xcvi was the first to "come down" to the Prophet Muhammad; so the mission entrusted to him was from the first the preaching of the Word of Allah ("Preach!", xcvi, 1 and 3). Allah, as is said to Muhammad in this first sura, is thy Lord (rabbuka, xcvi, x), Creator of man, the Very Generous, "Who teaches man that which he knew not" (xcvi, 3). The great Kur'anic leit-motiv, bismilldh al-Rahman al-Rahim, "in the name of God, the merciful Benefactor" cf. R. Blachere's translation), opens the announcement of the imparted message and is repeated at the head of each sura. It may be that it contains a reference to the Rahman of pre-Islamic south Arabia, and that Rahman should be taken as a divine proper name. The fact remains that the root RHM came to connote, in the course of the Islamic centuries, precisely the concept of benefaction, of clemency, of mercy, and that the expression rahmat Allah, "God's mercy", was to become, in the spiritual writers, as it were an evocation of the mysterious profundities of divinity in its relations with man.-Hence, from the begin-ning of Muhammad's preaching, the affirmation of God, Allah, as benefactor, creator, bountiful, im-parting instruction to men through a messenger, of whom He was, in a special way, the Lord.

(The Encyclopaedia Of Islam, New Edition, Edited By B. Lewis, V. L. Menage, Ch. Pellat And J. Schacht, 1971)



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