Did the Meccans Worship Yahweh God?

Revisiting the Issue of the Ishmaelites and the worship of the true God

Sam Shamoun

It is asserted by Muslims that the Meccan Arabs are descendents of Ishmael. They also claim that Ishmael settled in Mecca where he, along with Abraham, built the Kabah and passed on the religion of the true God to his offspring. It is believed that throughout time the Ishmaelites perverted the worship of the true God, not by abandoning their belief in him, but by adding other gods in their worship, thus perverting the religion of the God of their father Ishmael.

Muhammad, we are told, was sent by God to restore the true and pure worship of God. One aspect of Muhammad’s mission was to bring the Meccan Arabs back to the true religion which had been instituted by Abraham and Ishmael.

We have already documented why we reject the claim that the Meccan Arabs are descendents of Ishmael. For those interested to read our reasons please consult the following:


In this article we would like to point out that the Holy Bible contradicts the Muslim assertion that the Ishmaelites were worshiping the true God Yahweh. We read in the 83rd chapter of the Psalms that the Ishmaelites did not worship Yahweh God:

"O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those WHO HATE YOU have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!’ For they conspire with one accord; AGAINST YOU they make a covenant - the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Asshur also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. Selah Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, ‘Let us take possession for ourselves of the pastures of God.’ O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane! Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth. Psalm 83:1-18

The Psalm is part of collection of Psalms which are attributed to Asaph. Asaph lived about 1000 BC, and was a leader of David’s Levitical choirs, and had descendants from his line who continued as singers for many centuries. Some think that Psalm 83 was composed in 1040 BC., others at 800 BC., others claim it dates from 600 BC., and still others that date it from 400 BC.

The implication this Psalm has on the Muslim claims is quite devastating. According to this Psalm the Ishmaelites, at least from the period between 1000-400 BC., were part of the nations who hated both the true God and his covenant people. The Psalmist asks God to bring utter destruction upon these nations so that they may come to the realization that Yahweh alone is the Most High God over the earth. This means that if the Muslim claims regarding the Meccan Arabs being descendents of Ishmael are correct, then the Allah of pre-Islamic Mecca was a false god. He couldn’t have been the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians.

In fact, there is evidence which points to Baal being the high god worshiped by the Meccans!

For instance, there seems to be a broad consensus that the high god of Mecca was Hubal:

"... The great god of Mecca was Hubal, an idol of carnelian." (Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad [New Press, NY, May 2000 ISBN: 1565847520], p. 16)

"... The Ka'ba which may have initially been a shrine of Hubal alone, housed several idols ..." (Rodinson, p. 40; underlined emphasis ours)

"... The presiding deity was Hubal, a large carnelian kept inside the temple; 360 other idols were arranged outside ..." (Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World [Oxford University Press, Second edition 2000], p. 15; underlined emphasis ours)

"... Although originally under the aegis of the pagan god Hubal, the Makkan haram which centered 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." (Ibid., p. 17)

"... the god of Makka, Hubal, represented by a statue of red carnelian, is thought to have been originally a totem of the Khuza'a, rulers of Makka before their displacement by the Quraysh ..." (Ibid. p. 28; underlined emphasis ours)

"... At the time of Muhammad, the Ka'abah was OFFICIALLY DEDICATED to the god Hubal, a deity who had been imported into Arabia from the Nabateans in what is now Jordan. But the pre-eminence of the shrine as well as the common belief in Mecca seems to suggest that it may have been dedicated originally to al-Llah, the High God of the Arabs ..." (Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet [Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0062508865; Reprint edition, October 1993], pp. 61-62; bold and capital emphasis ours)

"... Legend had it that Qusayy had travelled in Syria and brought the three goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat to the Hijaz and enthroned the Nabatean god Hubal in the Ka'abah ..." (Armstrong, p. 66; bold emphasis ours)

Pre-Islamic Arabia also had its stone deities. They were stone statues of shapeless volcanic or meteoric stones found in the deserts and believed to have been sent by astral deities. The most prominent deities were Hubal, the male god of the Ka'ba, and the three sister goddesses al-Lat, al-Manat, and al-Uzza; Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh, thought these three goddesses to be the daughters of Allah. Hubal was the chief god of the Ka'ba among 360 other deities. He was a man-like statue whose body was made of red precious stone and whose arms were of solid gold. (George W. Braswell, Jr., Islam Its Prophets, Peoples, Politics and Power [Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN; July, 1996], p. 44; bold emphasis ours)

Hubal. An idol, God of the moon. It was set up in the Kabah and became the principle idol of the pagan Meccans. (Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam [Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1989], p. 160; underline emphasis ours)

... the principle gods at Mecca were Hubal (god of the moon) and the female goddesses. (Ibid., p. 179)

Ibn Al-Kalbi in his Book of Idols notes:

The Quraysh were wont to venerate her above all other idols. For this reason Zayd ibn-'Amr ibn-Nufayl, who, during the Jahilyah days, had turned to the worship of God and renounced that of al-'Uzza and of the other idols, said:

"I have renounced both Allat and al-'Uzza,
For thus would the brave and the robust do.
No more do I worship al-'Uzza and her two daughters,
Or visit the two idols of the banu-Ghanm;
Nor do I journey to Hubal and adore it,

... The Quraysh had also several idols in and around the Ka'bah. The greatest of these was Hubal. It was, as I was told, of red agate, in the form of a man with the right hand broken off. It came into the possession of the Quraysh in this condition, and they, therefore, made for it a hand of gold. The first to set it up [for worship] was Khuzaymah ibn-Mudrikah ibn-al-Ya's' ibn-Mudar. Consequently it used to be called Khuzaymah's Hubal.

It stood inside the Ka'bah. In front of it were seven divination arrows (sing. qidh, pl. qidah or aqduh). On one of these arrows was written "pure" (sarih), and on another "consociated alien" (mulsag). Whenever the lineage of a new-born was doubted, they would offer a sacrifice to it [Hubal] and then shuffle the arrows and throw them. If the arrows showed the word "pure," the child would be declared legitimate and the tribe would accept him. If, however, the arrows showed the words "consociated alien," the child would be declared illegitimate and the tribe would reject him. The third arrow was for divination concerning the dead, while the fourth was for divination concerning marriage. The purpose of the three remaining arrows has not been explained. Whenever they disagreed concerning something, or purposed to embark upon a journey, or undertake some project, they would proceed to it [Hubal] and shuffle the divination arrows before it. Whatever result they obtained they would follow and do accordingly.

It was before [Hubal] that 'Abd-al-Muttalib shuffled the divination arrows [in order to find out which of his ten children he should sacrifice in fulfilment of a vow he had sworn], and the arrows pointed to his son 'Abdullah, the father of the Prophet. Hubal was also the same idol which abu-Sufyan ibn-Harb addressed when he emerged victorious after the battle of Uhud, saying:

"Hubal, be thou exalted" (i.e. may thy religion triumph);

To which the Prophet replied:

"Allah is more exalted and more majestic."

(Source: http://answering-islam.org/Books/Al-Kalbi/uzza.htm)

The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2003) says that Hubal was the patron deity of Muhammad's particular tribe:

Hubal A pre-Islamic deity represented by an idol in Kaaba that was destroyed by Muhammad when he conquered Mecca in 630. Patron of the Quraysh, leading tribe of Mecca. (p. 117; underlined emphasis ours)

More on this below.

F.E. Peters, though not believing that Hubal is Allah, nonetheless writes:

"Among the gods worshiped by the Quraysh, the greatest was Hubal ...

Some additional details on this cleromantic deity, the most powerful of the pagan idols of Mecca, is supplied by the Meccan historian Azraqi ...

Amr ibn Luhayy brought with him (to Mecca) an idol called Hubal from the land of Hit in Mesopotamia. Hubal was one of the Quraysh's greatest idols so he set it up at the well inside the Kab'a and ordered the people to worship it. Thus a man coming back from a journey would visit it and circumambulate the House before going to his family, and would shave his hair before it ... (Peters, Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places [Princeton University Press, NJ, 1994], pp. 24-25)

Peters' footnote 59 states:

"Other sources say that it [Sam- the idol of Hubal] came from northern Jordan." (Ibid., p. 365)

The data also points in the direction of Hubal being the Arabic for the Hebrew Ha Baal, "the Baal." For instance, F.E. Peters’ statement above regarding Amr ibn Luhayy bringing Hubal from Mesopotamia provides evidence that the idol was a representation of Baal.

Islamicist Martin Ling, while commenting on the origin of paganism in Mecca, further supports this when he writes:

"Khuza 'ah thus shared the guilt of Jurhum. They were also to blame in other respects: a chieftain of theirs, on his way back from a journey to SYRIA, had asked the MOABITES to give him ONE OF THEIR IDOLS. They gave him HUBAL, which he brought back to the Sanctuary, setting it up within the Ka'bah itself; and it became THE CHIEF IDOL OF MECCA." (Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources [Inner Traditions International, LTD. One Park Street, Rochestor Vermont 05767, 1983], p. 5; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Commenting on 'Abd al-Muttalib's rediscovery of the well of Zamzam and its treasures, Lings writes:

"... So 'Abd al-Muttalib continued to dig without any actual move being made to stop him; and some of the people were already leaving the sanctuary when suddenly he struck the well's stone covering and uttered a cry of thanksgiving to God. The crowd reassembled and increased; and when he began to dig out the treasure which Jurhum had buried there, everyone claimed the right to share in it. 'Abd al-Muttalib agreed that lots should be cast for each object, as to whether it should be kept in the sanctuary or go to him personally or be divided amongst the tribe. This had become the recognised way of deciding an issue of doubt, and it was done by means of divining arrows inside the Ka'bah, in front of THE MOABITE IDOL HUBAL ..." (Lings, p. 11; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir noted:

Ibn Hisham states that a learned man told him that ‘Amr b. Luhayy once left Mecca for Syria on business and reached Ma’ab [Sam- possibly the Moabites] in the Balqa‘ region. There at that time lived the ‘Amaliq [Sam- possibly the Amalekites], the sons of ‘Imlaq or, as some say, ‘Imliq b. Lawadh b. Sam b. Nuh. ‘Amr witnessed them worshipping idols, so he asked them why. They replied that if they asked the idols for rain it came, or for victory they won it.

‘Amr then asked them to give him an idol he could take to Arab lands where it could be worshipped, and they gave him one named Hubal. This he brought to Mecca and set on a pedestal and ordered the people to worship and venerate it. (The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya), Volume I, translated by professor Trevor Le Gassick, reviewed by Dr. Ahmed Fareed [Garnet Publishing Limited, 8 Southern Court, south Street Reading RG1 4QS, UK; The Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, 1998], p. 42; bold emphasis ours)

Interestingly, Ibn Kathir shows that the god of Muhammad’s family was Hubal, and that his grandfather even prayed to Allah by facing Hubal’s idol!

Ibn Ishaq stated, "It is claimed that when ‘Abd al-Muttalib received such opposition from Quraysh over the digging of zamzam, he vowed that if ten sons were born to him who grew up and protected him, he would sacrifice one of them for God at the ka‘ba."

"Eventually he had ten sons grown up whom he knew would give him protection. Their names were al-Harith, al-Zubayr, Hajl, Dirar, al-Muqawwim, Abu Lahab, al-‘Abbas, Hamza, Abu Talib, and ‘Abd Allah. He assembled them and told them of his vow and asked them to honour his pledge to God, Almighty and All-glorious is He. They obeyed, and asked him what he wanted them to do. He asked each of them to take an arrow, write his name on it and return to him.

"They did so and went with them inside the ka‘ba to the site of their god Hubal, where there was the well in which offerings to the ka‘ba would be placed. There, near Hubal, were seven arrows which they would use for divining a judgement over some matter of consequence, a question of blood-money, kinship, or the like. They would come to Hubal to seek a resolution, accepting whatever they were ordered to do or to refrain from." (Ibid., pp. 125-126; bold emphasis ours)

The tradition goes on to say that the lot fell on ‘Abd Allah, Muhammad’s future father, meaning that he would have to be sacrificed. The Quraish convinced ‘Abd al-Muttalib to find a way of sparing his son, and convinced him to consult a woman diviner. The text continues:

So they left for Medina, where they found the diviner whose name was Sajah, as Yunus b. Bukayr reported from Ibn Ishaq, was at Khaybar. They rode off again and went to her and sought her advice, ‘Abd al-Muttalib telling her of the whole problem regarding him and his son. She told him: "Leave me today, until my attendant spirit comes and I can ask him."

They left her and ‘Abd al-Muttalib prayed to God. Next day they went back to her and she informed them that she had had a message. "How much is the blood-money you prescribe?" she asked. "Ten camels," they told her, that being then the case. "Then go back to your land and present your man as an offering and do the same ten camels. Then cast arrows to decide between him and them. If the divining arrow points to him then add to the number of camels until your god is satisfied; if it points to the camels, then sacrifice them in his place. That way you will please your god and save your man."

So they went back to Mecca and, when they had agreed to do as she had said, ‘Abd al-Muttalib said prayers to God. Then they offered up ‘Abd Allah and the ten camels as sacrifice and cast the arrow. At that point the men of Quraysh told ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who was standing near Hubal praying to God, "It’s all over! Your God is pleased, O ‘Abd al-Muttalib"… (Ibid., p. 126-127; bold emphasis ours)

The foregoing makes it quite clear that the Allah to whom Muhammad’s grandfather vowed and worshiped was none other than Hubal. There is simply no escaping this.

In fact, one author goes so far as to suggest that Hubal may have actually been a name personifying a specific aspect of Allah:

One aspect of Allah may have been personified in the god Hubal, who was accorded pride of place among the idols of the Kaaba. The name is said to be derived from the Semitic Hu, meaning 'He' or 'He is' (see 3.1), with the suffix El, 'God.' He was perhaps an ancient variant of Allah, and his name used to be invoked as a war-cry by the Meccans. Hubal was venerated by the Nabataeans and certain other northern tribes, but is not named in the Koran. In his youth, Muhammad helped with the preparations being made for the ceremonial installation of Hubal in the Kaba. (Benjamin Walker, Foundations of Islam: The Making of a World Faith [Peter Owen Publishers, London & Chester Springs, 1998], p. 42)

The following citations from Philip K. Hitti puts this all together quite nicely:

Hubal (from Aram. For vapour, spirit), evidently the chief deity of al-ka'bah, was represented in human form. Beside him stood ritual arrows used for divination by the soothsayers (kahin, from Aramaic) who drew lots by means of them. The tradition in ibn-Hisham, which makes 'Amr ibn-Luhayy the importer of this idol from Moab or Mesopotamia, may have a kernel of truth in so far as it retains a memory of the Aramaic origin of the deity. (History of the Arabs from the Earliest Times to the Present, revised tenth edition, new preface by Walid Khalidi [Palgrave Macmillan, 2002; ISBN: 0-333-63142-0 paperback], p. 100; underlined emphasis ours)


Allah (allah, al-ilah, the god) was the principal, though not the only, deity of Makkah. The name is an ancient one. It occurs in two South Arabic inscriptions, one a Minean found at al-'Ula and the other Sabean, but abounds in the form HLH in the Lihyanite inscriptions of the fifth century B.C. Lihyan, which evidently got the god from Syria, was the first center of the worship of this deity in Arabia. The name occurs as Hallah in the Safa inscriptions five centuries before Islam and also in a pre-Islamic Christian Arabic inscription found in umm-al-Jimal, Syria, and ascribed to the sixth century. The name of Muhammad's father was 'Abd-Allah ('Abdullah, the slave or worshiper of Allah). The esteem in which Allah was held by the pre-Islamic Makkans as the creator and supreme provider and the one to be invoked in time of special peril may be inferred from such koranic passages as 31:24, 31; 6:137, 109; 10:23. Evidently he was the tribal deity of the Quraysh. (Ibid., pp. 100-101; underlined emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir noted that Muhammad's family worshiped Hubal, with the Oxford Dictionary of Islam stating that Hubal was the Quraysh's patron deity. If Hitti is correct regarding Allah being the Quraysh's' tribal deity then this provides additional proof that Allah was a name for Hubal. Note the following syllogism:

  1. Hubal was the chief deity of the Quraysh.
  2. Allah was the chief deity of the Quraysh.
  3. Therefore, Hubal was Allah in pre-Islamic times.

There is another indirect piece of evidence which links Allah to Baal. Franz Rosenthal, while commenting on the mass confusion which surrounded the Muslims regarding the precise meaning of as-samad (Cf. 112:2), posits a possible origin for the word. He says:

... There is enough room for suspicion to permit us having a look at some outside evidence.

There, we encounter a noteworthy phenomenon: the not infrequent religious connotation of the root smd.

In Ugaritic, smd appears as a stick or club that is wielded by Ba'l. In the Kilammu inscription, line 15, we find b'l smd, apparently, b'l as the owner of his divine club. In the Bible, the adherence of the Israelites to Baal of Peor is expressed by the nip'al of the root smd. The verb is translated by the Septuagint heteleuse (Numeri 25:3, 5; Ps. 106:28). The use of the verb doubtlessly reflects North Canaanite religious terminology.

From Arabic sources, we learn that an idol of 'Ad was allegedly called samud, which brings us rather close to the environment of Muhammad ...

In view of this material, the suggestion may be made that as-samad in the Qur'an is a survival of an ancient Northwest Semitic religious term, which may no longer have been understood by Muhammad himself, nor by the old poets (if the sawahid should be genuine). This suggestion would well account for the presence of the article with the word in the Qur'an, and it would especially well account for the hesitation of the commentators vis-a-vis so prominent a passage. Such hesitation is what we would expect if we are dealing with a pagan survival from the early period of the revelation. (What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, & Commentary, "Some Minor Problems in the Qur'an", edited with translation by Ibn Warraq [Prometheus Books, October, 2002, Hardcover; ISBN: 157392945X], part 5.2, pp. 336-337)

If Rosenthal is correct, then this is just additional support that Allah was the name of Hubal, and that Hubal was Arabic for Baal.

That the term Allah was used in pre-Islamic times for any pagan deity, suggesting that it is quite possible that Allah was applied to Hubal, is a view held by many scholars and writers:

"... The name used for God was 'Allah', which was already in use for one of the local gods (it is now also used by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians as the name of God) ..." (Albert Hourani, A History of Arab Peoples [Warner Books Edition, paperback 1992], p. 16; bold emphasis ours)

"Allah, the paramount deity of PAGAN Arabia, was the target of worship in varying degrees of intensity from the southernmost tip of Arabia to the Mediterranean. To the Babylonians he was "Il" (god); to the Canaanites, and later the Israelites, he was "El"; the South Arabians worshiped him as "Ilah," and the Bedouins as "al-Ilah" (the deity). With Muhammad he BECOMES Allah, God of the Worlds, of all believers, the one and only who admits of no associates or consorts in the worship of Him. Judaic and Christian concepts of God abetted the transformation of Allah FROM A PAGAN DEITY to the God of all monotheists. There is no reason, therefore, to accept the idea that "Allah" passed to the Muslims from Christians and Jews." (Caesar E. Farah, Ph.D., Islam [Barron's Educational Series, 2000, sixth edition paperback] p. 28; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Former Muslim turned atheist Ibn Warraq writes:

We have evidence that black stones were worshiped in various parts of the Arab world; for example, Clement of Alexandria, writing ca. 190, mentioned that "the Arabs worship stone," alluding to the black stone of Dusares at Petra. Maximus Tyrius writing in the second century says, "The Arabians pay homage to I know not what god, which they represent by a quadrangular stone": he alludes to the Kaaba that contains the Black Stone. Its great antiquity is also attested by the fact that ancient Persians claim that Mahabad and his successors left the Black Stone in the Kaaba, along with relics and images, and the stone was an emblem of Saturn ...

The Black Stone itself is evidently a meteorite and undoubtedly owes its reputation to the fact it fell from the "heavens." It is doubly ironic that Muslims venerate this piece of rock as that given to Ishmael by the angel Gabriel to build the Kaaba, as it is, to quote Margoliouth, "of doubtful genuineness, since the Black Stone was removed by the ... Qarmatians in the fourth [Muslim] century, and restored by them after many years; it may be doubted whether the stone which they returned was the same stone which they removed."

Hubal was worshipped at Mecca, and his idol in red cornelian was erected inside the Kaaba, above the dry well into which one threw votive offerings. It is very probable that Hubal had a human form. Hubal's position next to the Black Stone suggests there is some connection between the two. Wellhausen thinks that Hubal originally was the Black Stone that, as we have already remarked, is more ancient than the idol. Wellhausen also points out that God is called Lord of the Kaaba, and Lord of the territory of Mecca in the Koran. The Prophet rallied against the homage rendered at the Kaaba to the goddesses al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza, whom the pagan Arabs called the daughters of God, but Muhammad stopped short of attacking the cult of Hubal. From this Wellhausen concludes that Hubal is no other than Allah, the "god" of the Meccans. When the Meccans defeated the Prophet near Medina, their leader is said to have shouted, "Hurrah for Hubal."

Circumambulation of a sanctuary was a very common rite practiced in many localities. The pilgrim during his circuit frequently kissed or caressed the idol. Sir William Muir thinks that the seven circuits of the Kaaba "were probably emblematical of the revolutions of the planetary bodies." While Zwemer goes so far as to suggest that the seven circuits of the Kaaba, three times rapidly and four times slowly were "in imitation of the inner and outer planets."

It is unquestionable that the Arabs "at a comparatively late period worshiped the sun and other heavenly bodies." The constellation of the Pleiades, which was supposed to bestow rain, appears as a deity. There was the cult of the planet Venus which was revered as a great goddess under the name of al-Uzza.

We know from the frequency of theophorus names that the sun (Shams) was worshiped. Shams was the titular goddess of several tribes honored with a sanctuary and an idol. Snouck Hurgronje sees a solar rite in the ceremony of "wukut" ...

The goddess al-Lat is also sometimes identified with the solar divinity. The god Dharrih was probably the rising sun. The Muslim rites of running between Arafat and Muzdalifah, and Muzdalifah and Mina had to be accomplished after sunset and before sunrise. This was the deliberate change introduced by Muhammad to suppress this association with the pagan solar rite, whose significance we shall examine later. The worship of the moon is also attested to by proper names of people such as Hilal, a crescent, Qamar, a moon, and so on.

Houtsma has suggested that the stoning that took place in Mina was originally directed at the sun demon. This view is lent plausibility by the fact that the pagan pilgrimage originally coincided with the autumnal equinox. The sun demon is expelled, and his harsh rule comes to an end with the summer, which is followed by the worship, at Muzdalifah, of the thunder god who brings fertility ...

Islam owes the term "Allah" to the heathen Arabs. We have evidence that it entered into numerous personal names in Northern Arabia and among the Nabatians. It occurs among the Arabs of later times, in theophorus names and on its own. Wellhausen also cites pre-Islamic literature where Allah is mentioned as a great deity. We also have the testimony of the Koran itself where He is recognized as a giver of rain, a creator, and so on; the Meccans only crime was to worship other gods beside Him. EVENTUALLY Allah was only applied to the Supreme Deity. "In any case it is an extremely important fact that Muhammad 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 ... Had he not been accustomed from his youth to the idea of Allah as the Supreme God, in particular of Mecca, it may well be doubted whether he would ever have come forward as the preacher of Monotheism." (Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim [Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 1995], pp. 39-40, 42; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Gerhard Nehls writes:

Who was Hubal?

In Chapter 2 we had mentioned Hubal who was considered the god of the Ka'ba before the time of Muhammad. What does the name mean? It cannot be explained from the Arabic language (ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ISLAM by Gibb and Kramers). In his book "Specimen Historicae Arabum" the author (Pocock) suggests that the name might well have been derived from ha-Baal. The old Hebrew and Arabic written languages had no vowels, so this would have been one of many common changes (e.g. one can read Mohamed, Muhamad, Muhammed, Mahomet etc.).

Interesting is the name HUBAL (in Arabic and Hebrew script the vowels were not noted). This shows a very suspicious connection to the Hebrew HABAAL (= the Baal). As we all know this was an idol mentioned in the Bible (Num. 25:3, Hosea 9:10, Deut. 4:3, Josh. 22:17 and Ps. 106:28-29). Where was Baal worshipped? In Moab! It was the "god of fertility". Amr ibn Luhaiy brought Hubal from Moab to Arabia.

The name 'Allah' (from 'al-Ilah' - the god or 'al-Liah' = the one worshipped) was well used in pre-Islamic times. It was rather a title than a name and, was used for a diversity of deities. As we shall see later, an idol called Hubal was addressed as Allah. Muhammad's grandfather reportedly prayed to Hubal and addressed him as Allah. The deities al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat were called "the daughters of Allah" (Surah 53:19). "Allah was viewed, already before Muhammad, as the Lord of the Ka'ba, while, if not surely, but very probably, this sanctuary was devoted to Hubal, whose image was placed inside" (RESTE ARABISCHEN HEIDENTHUMS, p. 221 by J. Wellhausen). "While the rituals performed are still addressed to the respective deities, Allah is seen as the creator, the father and with that the superior Lord. But he is viewed to be too general, neutral and impersonal a Lord" (ibid p. 219). "Allah became the Islamic substitute for any idol" (ibid p. 85).

"It is presupposed by Muhammad and admitted by his opponents, that Allah is the Lord of the Ka'ba. Is perhaps the Allah of Mecca Hubal? In other words, was Hubal called Allah in Mecca as Jahweh was called Elohim in Israel?", asks J. Wellhausen (ibid p. 75). This becomes even more likely when we realize that the polytheists of Arabia recognized Allah as creator (Surahs 23:84-89; 29:61), and swore by him (Surah 6:109). So the name Allah must at first have been a title. "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 (J. Wellhausen, p. 218)". (Source: http://answering-islam.org/Nehls/tt1/tt5.html; emphasis ours)

The next set of quotes lend support to Nehls’ claim regarding Allah being used as a title applicable to the particular deity worshiped by a specific tribe or group:

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. (Encyclopedia of Islam, 1960, p. 406; capital emphasis ours)

But though the name [Allah] was the same for the Meccans and for Muhammad, their conceptions of the NATURE of the bearer of the name must have DIFFERED WIDELY. (Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, 1965, p. 34; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Certain tribes of the Hejaz also invoked him, as is shown at the end of surah 29. However, the same surah illustrates that Allah, the God of Qur’anic preaching, has nothing in common with ANY SIMILARLY NAMED DIVINITY. (Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, p. 27; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Both the concept of a Supreme God and the Arabian term [Allah] have been shown to be familiar to the Arabs in Mohammed’s time. What Mohammed did was to give a NEW and fuller content to the concept, TO PURIFY IT FROM ELEMENTS OF POLYTHEISM WHICH CLUSTERED AROUND IT. (H.A.R. Gibb, Mohammedanism: An Historical Survey [Oxford University Press, London 1961], p. 54; capital emphasis ours)

(Note: The preceding citations were taken from Dr. Jamal Badawi’s debate with Dr. Robert Morey on November 9, 1996 titled "Is Allah of the Quran the one true and universal God?" (*) Astonishingly, Dr. Badawi tried to use these quotes to offset Morey’s claim that Allah was a pagan deity, despite the fact that these citations suggest otherwise!)

One writer goes so far as to apply Baal to the name Hubal. Speaking of the Kabah, Barnaby Rogerson writes:

Inside this holy of holies are stored all manner of sacred objects and images. These are said to include an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and a portrait of the Prophet Abraham. But the shrine is dominated by a representation of the war god Baal Hubal, who watches over the city's political destiny. At times of trouble the city elders can seek his advice by casting a quiver of divinatory arrows before idols and reading the future from the answers they give. (Rogerson, The Prophet Muhammad - A Biography [HiddenSpring, An Imprint of Pauline Press, Mahwah, NJ 2003], p. 15; underline emphasis ours)


The statue of the Syrian war god Hubal was hauled away, as were the divination arrows that the Quraysh had been wont to throw before the statue. (Ibid., p. 190; underline emphasis ours)

Noted Christian Apologist John Gilchrist states:

In the sixth century after Christ, Mecca (pronounced Makkah in Arabic) was hardly known to the outside world but it was the commercial and religious centre of Arabia. Although the Arabs were a divided people, broken up into various tribes who were constantly at war with each other, the fairs at the city served to attract many of them and whatever unity existed among them was generated and expressed through these annual get-togethers. The focal point of attention was the Ka'aba (Arabic for "cube"), a shrine in the centre of the city containing over three hundred idols, chief of whom was the god Hubal (a probable derivation from the ancient high-god Ba'al, so often spoken of as the chief object of worship of the pagan nations around Israel in the Bible). The various tribes came to Mecca to worship their gods and take part in the various poetical contests that were arranged at the fairs. The composition of poetry was a favourite literary pastime of the Arabs and many shu'ara (poets, singular: sha'ir) competed at these contests. (John Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, p. 11; online edition)

We next turn to the Holy Bible to show that the nations mentioned in Psalm 83, as well as in the Muslim sources, such as Edomites, Syrians, Amalekites, Moabites and the Midianites, all worshiped Baal:

"When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. And these women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; and then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor. And the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Arrest all the leaders of the people, and hang them up before the Lord in broad daylight, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.’ So Moses said to the judges of Israelites, ‘Each of you must execute those of his men who were joined to Baal-peor.’" Numbers 25:1-5 NET Bible

"The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him." Judges 3:7-10

"Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him." Judges 10:6

Aram is the Biblical name for what is otherwise known as Syria:

"He put garrisons in the Aramean kingdom of Damascus, and the Arameans became subject to him and brought tribute. The LORD gave David victory wherever he went... EDOM and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek. He also dedicated the plunder taken from Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah." 2 Samuel 8:6, 12

(In those days the LORD began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah) ... In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, Ahaz son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree. Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him. At that time, Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram by driving out the men of Judah. EDOMITES then moved into Elath and have lived there to this day. Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, ‘I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.’ And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death." 2 Kings 15:37, 16:1-9

"When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it. Now the house of David was told, ‘Aram has allied itself with Ephraim’; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. Then the LORD said to Isaiah, ‘Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. Say to him, "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood-because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it’; Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘It will not take place, it will not happen, for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’"’" Isaiah 7:1-9

These passages also show that Esau's descendents, the Edomites, settled in Aram. The Amalekites were also descendents of Esau who settled in Seir, another descendent of Esau:

"Esau's son Eliphaz also had a concubine named Timna, who bore him Amalek. These were grandsons of Esau's wife Adah ... These were the chiefs among Esau's descendants: The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: Chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korah, Gatam and Amalek. These were the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in Edom; they were grandsons of Adah ... These were the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these were their chiefs. These were the sons of Seir the Horite, who were living in the region: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer and Dishan. These sons of Seir in Edom were Horite chiefs." Genesis 36:12, 15-16, 19-21

"The men whose names were listed came in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. They attacked the Hamites in their dwellings and also the Meunites who were there and completely destroyed them, as is evident to this day. Then they settled in their place, because there was pasture for their flocks. And five hundred of these Simeonites, led by Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi, invaded the hill country of Seir. They killed the remaining Amalekites who had escaped, and they have lived there to this day." 1 Chronicles 4:41-43

What this essentially means is that these nations all worshiped the false god Baal.

And now to summarize the data:

  1. According to the Bible, the Ishmaelites were not worshiping Yahweh God.
  2. Their alliance with nations that worshiped Baal suggests that they were also worshiping the false god Baal.
  3. Both Muslim and non-Muslim sources state that Hubal was recognized as the chief presiding deity of the Kabah.
  4. Muhammad’s grandfather worshiped Hubal, and even prayed to Allah while facing Hubal’s idol.
  5. The Muslim sources claim that Hubal was brought to Mecca from Syria due to the influence of the Moabites and/or the Amalekites.
  6. These nations worshiped Baal which demonstrates that Hubal is actually the Arabic form of Hebrew Ha Baal or the Baal.

The foregoing seriously damages the Muslim claim regarding Allah in pre-Islamic times being the same God of Abraham. The assertion that the pre-Islamic Ishmaelites worshiped the same God cannot be maintained in light of the Psalm’s clear statement that they, along with a host of other pagan nations, hated and opposed Yahweh and his covenant people Israel. The evidence linking Allah with Hubal implies this as well. Hence, if the Muslim contention that the Meccan Arabs are Ishmaelites is correct, then the god of Mecca, the Allah of pre-Islamic Arabia, is actually the false god Baal.

What makes this more interesting is that one modern Muslim scholar acknowledges that Hubal was the name for the moon god:

Among the many deities that the Arabs worshiped in and around the Ka'bah were the god Hubal and the three goddesses Al-lat, al-'Uzza, and Manat. Hubal was originally a moon god, and perhaps also a rain god, as hubal means "vapor." Al-lat was perhaps a feminine form of Allah, whose name simply means the goddess...

While the Arabs professed Allah, an Arabic word meaning "the God," to be the supreme deity, they did not worship him, nor did he play an active role in their lives... (Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Islam: Faith and History [Oneworld Publications, Oxford England, 2004], p. 15; underline emphasis ours)

Ayoub's comments that the Arabs didn't worship Allah suggest that they viewed Allah as being too distant and disinterested in their daily affairs to be bothered with. Yet, one can also understand the Arabs' disinterest in Allah, in contrast to their worship of Hubal, to mean that Allah was a less important deity than Hubal. This would basically imply that Allah was not considered to be the supreme deity, contrary to Ayoub's claims. More importantly, if Allah was a name for Hubal then this means that Allah was indeed a title given to the moon deity in pre-Islamic times!

Whatever the scenario, the data leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that both the Ishmaelites and the Meccan Arabs did not worship Yahweh, falsifying the Quranic claim that Ishmael’s descendants worshiped the true God, albeit along with a host of other gods. It may have been the case that early in their history the Ishmaelites worshiped Yahweh, but later on they abandoned the true God for a false god.

Discussion of Evidence That Suggests Hubal is a god distinct from Allah

The following verse in the Quran seems to call into question Hubal being Allah.

Will ye cry unto Baal and forsake the Best of creators, Allah, your Lord and Lord of your forefathers? S. 37:125-126 Pickthall

Here, the author of the Quran distinguishes Allah from Baal which seems to imply that they are not one and the same entity. A couple of responses are in order. First, even though the text distinguishes Baal from Allah, it says nothing about HU-bal. In fact, the word Hubal never appears in the Quran. It seems that the author was unaware that Hubal and Baal were actually one and the same entity. The surrounding context seems to support this:

And lo! Elias was of those sent (to warn), When he said unto his folk: Will ye not ward off (evil)? Will ye cry unto Baal and forsake the Best of creators, Allah, your Lord and Lord of your forefathers? But they denied him, so they surely will be haled forth (to the doom) Save single-minded slaves of Allah. And we left for him among the later folk (the salutation): Peace be unto Elias! Lo! thus do We reward the good. Lo! he is one of our believing slaves. S. 37:123-132 Pickthall

Since this is referring to the time of Elijah, presumably during his showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (cf. 1 Kings 18), it may be that the author of the Quran didn't realize that the Baal of Elijah's day was none other than the Hubal worshiped at Mecca. Second, we are focusing on the identity of the pre-Islamic Allah, the Allah worshiped by the pagans prior to the advent of Islam. Hence, it is quite possible that through Muhammad’s influence Allah was transformed from a pagan high god to the true universal God worshiped by Jews and Christians. In other words, Muhammad tried to package Allah as a distinct Being from the false gods such as Hubal/Baal, purifying the pre-Islamic Allah from all pagan elements. See the above citations taken from Dr. Jamal Badawi which essentially say the same thing.

Muhammad did something similar with the term Rahman. The Meccans were taken aback by the use of this name and actually thought that Muhammad was speaking of a different deity from Allah:

Thus We have sent thee among a nation before which other nations have passed away, to recite to them that We have revealed to thee; and yet they disbelieve in the All-merciful. Say: ‘He is my Lord -- there is no god but He. In Him I have put my trust, and to Him I turn.’ S. 13:30 A.J. Arberry

When the unbelievers behold thee, they take thee only for mockery: ‘Ha, is this the one who makes mention of your gods?’ Yet they in the Remembrance of the All-merciful are unbelievers ... Say: ‘Who shall guard you by night and in the daytime from the All-merciful?’ Nay, but from the Remembrance of their Lord they are turning away. S. 21:36, 42 Arberry

who created the heavens and the earth, and what between them is, in six days, then sat Himself upon the Throne, the All-compassionate: ask any informed of Him! But when they are told, ‘Bow yourselves to the All-Merciful,’ they say, ‘And what is the All-Merciful? Shall we bow ourselves to what thou biddest us?’ And it increases them in aversion. S. 25:59-60 A.J. Arberry

Ibn Kathir notes:

Then Allah rebukes the idolators who prostrate to idols and rivals instead of Allah ...

<And when it is said to them: "Prostrate yourselves to Ar-Rahman!" They say: "And what is Ar-Rahman?">

meaning: we do not know Ar-Rahman. They did not like to call Allah by His name Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), as they objected on the day of (the treaty of) Hudaybiyyah, when the Prophet told the scribe ...

((Write: "In the name of Allah, Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), Ar-Rahim (the Most Merciful)."))

They said, "We do not know Ar-Rahman or Ar-Rahim. Write what you use to write: ‘Bismika Allahumma (in your name, O Allah).’" So Allah revealed the words ...

<Say: "Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman, by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names"> (17:110).

meaning, he is Allah and He is the Most Gracious. And in this Ayah, Allah said ...

<And when it is said to them: "Prostrate yourselves to Ar-Rahman!" They say: "And what is the Ar-Rahman?">

meaning: we do not know or approve of this Name. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 7 (Surat An-Nur to Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 50), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, London, Lahore; First Edition: August 2000], p. 192)

Regarding 17:110, Ibn Kathir writes:

Allah says ...

<Say> O Muhammad, to these idolators who deny that Allah possesses the attribute of mercy and refuse to call Him Ar-Rahman ...

<Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names.>

meaning, there is no difference between calling on Him as Allah or calling on Him as Ar-Rahman, because He has the Most Beautiful Names ...

Makhul reported that one of the idolators heard the Prophet saying when he was prostrating: "O Most Gracious, O Most Merciful." The idolator said, he claims to pray to One, but he is praying to two! Then Allah revealed this Ayah. This was also narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas, and by Ibn Jarir. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 6 (Surat Al-Isra’, verse 39 To the end of Surat Al-Mu’minun), First edition, July 2000, pp. 104-105; underlined emphasis ours)

And regarding the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Ibn Kathir mentions:

<Write: In the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim.> Suhayl bin `Amr said, ‘As for Ar-Rahman, by Allah, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IT MEANS. So write: By Your Name, O Allah, as you used to write previously.’ The Muslims said, ‘By Allah, we will not write except: By the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim.’ The Prophet said, <Write: "In Your Name O Allah.''’ (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 9 (Surat Al-Jathiyah to the end of Surat Al-Munafiqun), First edition, September, 2000, p. 163; online edition; bold emphasis ours)

According to some sources Rahman was used as a name for a pagan deity:

Nöldeke thinks Mohammed was in doubt as to which name he would select for the supreme being and that he thought of adopting Er-Rahman, the merciful, as the proper name of God in place of Allah, because that was already used by the heathen. Rahmana was a favorite Hebrew name for God in the Talmudic period and in use among the Jews of Arabia.1 On the Christian monuments found by Dr. Edward Glaser in Yemen, Allah is also mentioned. The Sirwah inscription (A.D. 542) opens with the words: "In the power of the All-merciful and His Messiah and the Holy Ghost,"2 which shows that, at least in Yemen, Arabian Christians were not in error regarding the persons of the Trinity. One other term often used for Allah we will have occasion to study later. It is the word Es-Samad [the Eternal], and seems to come from the same root as Samood, the name of an idol of the tribe of 'Ad and mentioned in the poem of Yezid bin Sa'ad.3 Hobal, the Chief god of the Kaaba (and whom Dozy identifies with Baal),1 is, strange to say, not mentioned in the Koran. Perhaps he was at this period already identified by the Meccans with Allah. This would explain Mohammed's silence on the subject. (Samuel Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, pp. 27-28; underlined emphasis ours)

Other deities in the Arabian peninsula included al-Rahman and al-Hajar al-Aswad. Al-Rahman was the name of an ancient deity in southern Arabia. Muhammad used the name of this deity, which means "merciful," 169 times in the Qur'an. With the exception of Allah, it appears in the Qur'an more than any other descriptive term for Allah. (George Braswell, Islam, p. 44; underlined emphasis ours)

The name of an ancient deity in southern Arabia. Muhammad is said to have preferred this name to the name "Allah." He uses it 169 times in the Quran. With the exception of the name "Allah", the name "Al-Rahman" appears more times than any other name because Jews and Christians would have accepted it as an alternate name for Allah. Rahmana was a favorite Hebrew name for God in the Talmudic period and was frequently used by the Arabian Jews. Christians in Arabia also used the name "Rahman" to refer to the God of the Bible. A pre-Islamic inscription found in Yemen in AD 542 opens with the words: "In the power of the Al-Rahman and His Messiah and the Holy Spirit." In the Coptic Museum in Egypt, there are similar inscriptions. (Reach Out to the Muslim World, Vol. 6, No. 3&4 [Horizons International, Box 18478, Boulder, Co. 80308-1478; 1993], p. 8)

Other deities in the Arabian Peninsula included al-Rahman and Hajar-al-Aswad. Al-Rahman was the name of an ancient deity in southern Arabia. Muhammad used the name of this deity, which means "merciful," 169 times in the Qur’an. (Islam and Christianity - Part 4)

The word Rahman-an is especially significant because its northern equivalent, al-Rahman, became a later prominent attribute of Allah and one of His names in the Koran and in Islamic theology. Surah nineteen is dominated by al-Rahman. Though used in the inscription for the Christian God, yet the word is evidently borrowed from the name of the older South Arabian deities. Al-Rahim (the compassionate) also occurs as the name of a deity (RHM) in pre-Islamic and Sabean inscriptions. Another South Arabic inscription uses, kufr, association in the sense of polytheism. In the same inscription occurs the technical term denoting unbelief, KFR, as in North Arabic. (Hitti, History of Islam, p. 105)

The fact is that even 'Allah's' most frequently used title, ar-Rahman (the Merciful) was known in South Arabia well before the advent of Islam, and signified a moon-god, whom Muhammed even occasionally confused with or used as a substitute for 'Allah'.  The Koran mentions ar-Rahman occasionally, for example in sura 43:19, which most translators have renamed as God or Allah, since they, as Muhammed, found no difference between these two South Arabian moon-gods.

The name ar-Rahman had even been used by several Arabian prophets before Muhammed, and this deity seemed to have signified a similar, if not the same, position as Allah in Mecca. Therefore we cannot accept the unilateral acceptance of 'Allah' as the biblical High God, any more than the Persian high god Ahura Mazda or the Norse Odin. (The Nature of Islam: The Beginning)

According to the Koran, 'Allah' is one and no other god can be associated with him. This concept was most likely adopted from the South Arabian moon-god ar-Rahman (the Merciful), whose name was later adopted by Muslims as one of 'Allah's' titles. C. C. Torrey states:

The South Arabian inscriptions have brought to light a highly interesting parallel. In a number of them there is mention of the God, who is styled 'the Rahman' (Merciful). A monument in the British Museum... is especially remarkable. Here we find clearly indicated the doctrines of the divine forgiveness of sins, the acceptance of sacrifice, the contrast between this world and the next, and the evil of 'associating' other deities with the Rahman. (What is Islam? Part III.)

This may account for the confusion of some of Muhammad’s contemporaries in relation to the name Rahman being applied to Allah. The pagan Meccans may have been aware that Rahman referred to a different deity and because of this they were not accustomed to using it for Allah.

Just as one Muslim chronicler, Ibn Sa'd, noted:

... The Quraysh sent al-Nadr Ibn al-Harith Ibn 'Alqamah and 'Uqbah Ibn Abi Mu'ayt and others to the Jews of Yathrib and told them to ask them (Jews): We have come to you because a great affair has taken place amidst us. There is an humble orphan who makes a big claim, considering himself to be the messenger of al-Rahman, while we do not know any al-Rahman except the Rahman of al-Yamamah ... (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, english translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi- 110 002 India], Volume I, parts I & II, p. 189; bold emphasis ours)

Interestingly, these citations provide evidence that Muhammad assimilated different attributes and conceptions of the gods together to form his own conception of the Deity. The pagan Arabs made a similar accusation against him:

What! makes he the gods a single God? A strange thing is this, to be sure! And the chief persons of them break forth, saying: Go and steadily adhere to your gods; this is most surely a thing sought after. S. 38:5-6 Shakir

Hence, even if the Quranic mention of Baal turns out to be a reference to Hubal, this would only show that Muhammad disassociated Allah from Hubal by turning the former into the true universal God.

Interestingly, one writer actually believes that some Muslims who were still attached to their gods took their names and turned them into specific attributes of Allah:

Some of these honorifics bear a close linguistic relationship with the names of pagan deities, and to account for this the Muslims maintained that the pagans perversely named their idols after the titles used from earliest times for the one true God (Sale, 1886, p. 127). Thus Allat was derived from Allah; Manat from Mannan, 'Bountiful; Jibt from Jabbar, 'Preserver'; and so on.

On the other hand, it might be suggested that the early Muslims, many of whom still retained a reverence for their idol gods, my well have sought to perpetuate the names of their deities by concealing them in the so-called 'most excellent names' bestowed upon Allah. By this strange conversion the names of the many heathen deities could have survived within the pale of Islam.

Thus Wadd, the moon-god, was assimilated and survived in al-Wadud, 'the Loving'; Munim, worshiped in north Arabia, survives as al-Mani, 'the Withholder'; Salm, a deity of Tayma, in al-Salaam, 'the Peace'; Kaus or Kayis, regarded as the consort of Manat, is retained in al-Kawi, 'the Strong'; Aziz of north Arabia is preserved unchanged as al-Aziz, 'the Mighty'. The pre-Islamic designations of God, al-Rahman, 'the Merciful', and al-Rahim, 'the Compassionate', remain conspicuous in Islam. (Walker, Foundations of Islam, p. 43)

Thus, ar-Rahman wasn't the only title used for a pagan deity which was then applied to Allah; several of the other attributes of Allah may well have been at one time names of pagan gods which were transferred over to Islam's deity as well! Walker's interpretation is certainly more probable than the anachronistic explanation of the Muslims that is reported by Sale. This demonstrates the plausibility of Muhammad having taken the title given to Hubal, specifically the name Allah, and transforming it into the proper name of the one true universal God, thereby forever disassociating the name from Hubal.

Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Surah 37:125 tells us nothing about the identity of Allah in pre-Islamic times.

The following citation also seems to cast doubt on Hubal being Allah:

Narrated Al-Bara:

We faced the pagans on that day (of the battle of Uhud) and the Prophet placed a batch of archers (at a special place) and appointed 'Abdullah (bin Jubair) as their commander and said, "Do not leave this place; and if you should see us conquering the enemy, do not leave this place, and if you should see them conquering us, do not (come to) help us," So, when we faced the enemy, they took to their heel till I saw their women running towards the mountain, lifting up their clothes from their legs, revealing their leg-bangles. The Muslims started saying, "The booty, the booty!" 'Abdullah bin Jubair said, "The Prophet had taken a firm promise from me not to leave this place." But his companions refused (to stay). So when they refused (to stay there), (Allah) confused them so that they could not know where to go, and they suffered seventy casualties. Abu Sufyan ascended a high place and said, "Is Muhammad present amongst the people?" The Prophet said, "Do not answer him." Abu Sufyan said, "Is the son of Abu Quhafa present among the people?" The Prophet said, "Do not answer him." Abu Sufyan said, "Is the son of Al-Khattab amongst the people?" He then added, "All these people have been killed, for, were they alive, they would have replied." On that, 'Umar could not help saying, "You are a liar, O enemy of Allah! Allah has kept what will make you unhappy." Abu Sufyan said, "Superior may be Hubal!" On that the Prophet said (to his companions), "Reply to him." They asked, "What may we say?" He said, "Say: Allah is More Elevated and More Majestic!" Abu Sufyan said, "We have (the idol) Al-'Uzza, whereas you have no 'Uzza!" The Prophet said (to his companions), "Reply to him." They said, "What may we say?" The Prophet said, "Say: Allah is our Helper and you have no helper." Abu Sufyan said, "(This) day compensates for our loss at Badr and (in) the battle (the victory) is always undecided and shared in turns by the belligerents. You will see some of your dead men mutilated, but neither did I urge this action, nor am I sorry for it." Narrated Jabir: Some people took wine in the morning of the day of Uhud and were then killed as martyrs. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 375)

Unlike the verse in the Quran, this one does mention Hubal by name and suggests that he was distinct from Allah. Again, Muhammad transforming Allah from a pagan deity into the sole universal God, a transformation which was different from any similarly named deity, can account for why Sufyan viewed Hubal as a different god altogether.

Furthermore, this tradition actually poses problems for the Muslims since it implies that the pagans such as Abu Sufyan did not view Allah as the supreme god, but one of many rival gods. Sufyan attributes his victory over Muhammad and his god to Hubal and Uzza, suggesting that at least in his mind these gods were equal, if not superior, to Allah. Sufyan obviously felt that Allah could be challenged and defeated, which means that these pagans didn’t see Allah as the unrivaled and supreme Deity as both the Quran and Islamic traditions claim.

If this is so, then the Muslim assertion that Allah was not just one of many pagan deities worshiped by the Meccans is doubtful. The Pagans did view Allah as another deity.

In conclusion, we need to emphasize that these facts remain. The OT explicitly denies the Muslim assertion that the pre-Islamic Ishmaelites knew and worshiped the true God and that their only problem was that they associated other gods with him. The data conclusively shows that as the centuries unfolded the Ishmaelites forsook the God of their ancestors Abraham and Jacob, Yahweh Elohim, for the worship of some false god. The false god whom they worshiped as the true God was quite possibly Baal. The data also shows that Hubal was the high god worshiped at Mecca, which supports the view that he was the Allah of pre-Islamic times.

We started out with a quotation from the Psalms identifying the Ishmaelites as enemies of God. Even though the thesis of this paper was argued on the basis of the assumption that the Meccans are Ishmaelites the conclusion does not depend on this assumption. Most of the quotations we have cited to support our argument do not mention Ishmaelites at all.

The Biblical and historical evidence shows that the Moabites worshiped Baal. The pre-Islamic and Muslim sources show (a) that the Meccans took over the idol Hubal from the Moabites and (b) that Allah and Hubal are actually identical. Thus, whether the Meccans are Ishmaelites or not, the evidence is still strong and sufficient to conclude that Muhammad's Allah is actually Hubal, i.e. the Baal of the Moabites and thus not the God of the Bible. Muhammad incorporated the characteristics and names of various other gods into his new monotheistic message about Allah, but he apparently started the construction of Allah with Hubal, the chief god of the Meccans.

Further readings

Ba’al, Hubal, and Allah
Did the Meccans Believe in Allah as the Most High?
Ar-Rahman of the Quran: A Pagan Deity or the God of the Bible?

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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