Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the Identity of the pre-Islamic Allah at Mecca Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We resume our discussion concerning the identity of the pre-Islamic Allah worshiped by the pagans at Mecca.

The Problems Posed by the Islamic sources

As we saw in the previous section, evidence exists to show that the chief god of the Meccans, especially of Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe, was actually Hubal. The data we presented also indicates that the pagans took Hubal as the lord of the kabah, since they viewed this to be his very own sanctuary.

Now this creates problems for the Muslim assertion that Allah was the presiding deity of Mecca and that the kabah was actually his shrine.

The practice of the polytheists who were of a patriarchal bent was to build a sanctuary around a single male deity, specifically the one they viewed as the chief or greatest of all the gods. There is absolutely no example of a pre-Islamic shrine, whether a stone or building, built for two male deities at the same time. Rather, all the evidence shows that the houses that the polytheists built accommodated only one male deity along with his female consort.

This means that if, as Muslims believe, Allah and Hubal were two separate deities then they could not both be the chief god of Mecca and the lord of the kabah at the same time. After all, if the pagans did believe that Allah was the supreme god of their pantheon, as well as the god of the kabah, then they would not have forced him to share his shrine with another male deity.

Therefore, it seems reasonably certain that the pagans identified Hubal as Allah, which explains why the Islamic literature associates the Meccan shrine with both.

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; bold 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; bold emphasis ours)

If Hitti is correct regarding Allah being the Quraysh’s tribal deity (and Muslims would agree that he was) 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.

This explains why many scholars believe that the Meccans used the titles Hubal and Allah interchangeably in respect to the same deity:

“Verse 3 looks rather simple: So let them worship the lord of this House. The lord is evidently Allah, whereas the House is evidently the Kaba. But the fact that Allah should be referred to as the lord of the Kaba and not merely as Allah must have a special significance, which has to be clarified. It seems that the Quran deliberately mentions the House in order to allude to the origin of the position of Quraysh as ahl al-haram. For, it was the Kaba from which Quraysh derived their prestige among the Arabs. That the Ka'ba was the origin of the sacred position of Quraysh was, of course, well known to them. Moreover, it seems that already in pre-Islamic times, Quraysh attributed their sacred position to the benevolence of the deity of the Kaba, to whom they used to refer as Hubal and whose statue was situated inside the Kaba. The pre-Islamic talbiya of those who worshipped Hubal, i.e., Quraysh, read:

labbayka llahumma labbayka, innana laqah
harramtana 'ala asinnati l-rimah
yahsuduna l-nasu 'ala l-najah

Labbayka, Oh, Lord, labbayka, we are immune,
You have protected us from the edges of the lances,
People envy us for our success.

“From the Quranic point of view, the deity of the Ka'ba is, of course, Allah who was worshipped by the pre-Islamic Arabs as the High God, and the Ka'ba itself was known as baytu llahi, so that the titles Hubal and Allah may be regarded as interchangeable. Whatever the case may be, Quraysh are summoned in our sura to draw the inevitable conclusion from their own awareness of the fact that their protection and immunity had come from the deity of the Ka'ba. The conclusion is that they must turn this deity into their sole object of veneration. This means that they must give up shirk, i.e., abandon the worship of the lesser idols which were attached to the High God. The statues of these idols were placed next to the Ka'ba (but never inside), so that Quraysh are actually required to devote themselves exclusively to the worship of the rabb of the Ka'ba itself, the one and only origin of their immunity, welfare and prosperity. As Muqatil puts it: akhlisal-'ibadata lahu… –dedicate your worship exclusively to him. (Uri Rubin, The Ilaf of Quraysh: A Study of sura CVI, Source: Arabica, T. 31, Fasc. 2 (Jul., 1984), pp. 165-188; bold emphasis ours)


“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)

This further implies that the Islamic sources couldn’t simply get rid of the notion of the kabah belonging to Hubal, or erase the fact that he was the chief deity of the Meccans, since this part of their history was still embedded within the recollections of the Arabs. What they tried to do was disassociate the Muslim deity from Hubal.

However, in separating Hubal from Allah, Muhammad and his followers created major problems for their position, namely, the Meccan shrine accommodating two separate gods.

Renowned Islamicist Patricia Crone notices these problems in her book:

“Third, what deity did Quraysh represent? The Meccan shrine accommodated Hubal, and there are supposed to have been several minor divinities in its vicinity, their number becoming prodigious in some sources. But as has just been seen, Quraysh do not appear to have been guardians of Hubal, and it evidently was not idols such as Isaf and Na’ila that provided their raison d’etre. Who, then?…” (Patricia Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam [Gorgias Press LLC, 2004], p. 189; bold emphasis ours)


“The tradition clearly envisages them as guardians on behalf of Allah, the God of Abraham, and the future God of Islam…” (Ibid., p. 190)

Crone then raises some interesting questions:

"... But if Quraysh saw themselves as guardians on behalf of Abraham's God, all the while acknowledging the existence of other deities, their reaction to Muhammad becomes exceedingly hard to understand. When Muhammad attacked polytheism, Quraysh reacted with a vigorous defence of Allat, Manat, al-‘Uzza, and to some extent even Hubal, invoking them in battle against Muhammad and demanding belief in them from the converts whom they tried to make recant. In other words, they reacted by mobilizing all the deities in whom they had no vested interest against the very God they were supposed to represent. If they owed their superior position in Arabia to their association with Abraham's God, why was it the pagan deities they chose to defend? And if Abraham's God was the God of their fathers, why was it the pagan gods they chose to describe as ancestral? The tradition clearly has a problem on its hands in that it wishes to describe Quraysh as monotheists and polytheists alike: on the one hand they were repositories of the aboriginal monotheism that Muhammad was to revive; and on the other hand they were polytheist zealots against whom Muhammad had to fight. They cannot have been both in historical fact. If we accept that they resisted Muhammad more or less as described, the claim that they represented the God of Abraham MUST BE DISMISSED.” (Ibid., pp. 191-192; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Crone also brings up a few interesting points which militate against Allah and Hubal both sharing the same house if in fact they were separate deities, which is the Muslim contention.

“This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that they represented an indigenous deity known as Allah, and it is as guardians of such a deity that they are generally envisaged in the secondary literature. But this hypothesis is also problematic.

“Admittedly, up to a point it makes good sense. Allah is associated with a black stone, and some traditions hold that originally this stone was sacrificial. This suggests that it was the stone rather than the building around it which was bayt allah, the house of god, and this gives us a perfect parallel with the Old Testament bethel. The cult of the Arab god Dusares (Dhu Shara) also seems to have centered on a black sacrificial stone. According to Epiphanius, he was worshipped together with his mother, the virginal Kaabou, or in other words ka‘ib or ka‘ab, a girl with swelling breasts. A similar arrangement is met in Nabataean inscription from Petra that speaks of sacrificial stones (nysb’ = ansab) belonging to the ‘lord of this house’ (mr’ byt) and al-‘Uzza, another ka‘ib lady. If we assume that bayt and ka‘ba alike originally referred to the Meccan stone rather than the building around it, then the lord of the house WAS A PAGAN ALLAH worshipped in conjunction with a female consort such as al-‘Uzza and/or other ‘daughters of God.’ This would give us a genuinely pagan deity for Quraysh and at the same time explain their devotion to goddesses.

“But if Quraysh represented Allah, what was Hubal doing in their shrine? Indeed, what was the building doing? No sacrifices can be made over a stone immured in a wall, and a building accommodating Hubal makes no sense around a stone representing Allah. Naturally Quraysh were polytheists, but the deities of polytheist Arabia preferred to be housed separately. No pre-Islamic sanctuary, be it stone or building, is known to have accommodated more than one male god, as opposed to one male god and female consort. The Allah who is attested in an inscription of the late second century A.D., certainly was not forced to share his house with other deities. And the shrines of Islamic Arabia are similarly formed around the tomb of a single saint. If Allah was a pagan god like any other, Quraysh would not have allowed Hubal to share the sanctuary with him–not because they were proto-monotheists, but precisely because they were pagans.

“One would thus have to fall back on the view that Allah was not a god like any other. On the one hand, Allah might simply be another name for Hubal, as Wellhausen suggested: just as the Israelites knew Yahwe as Elohim, so the Arabs knew Hubal as Allah, meaning simply as ‘God.’ It would follow that the guardians of Hubal and Allah were identical; and since Quraysh were not guardians of Hubal, they would not be guardians of Allah, either. But as Wellhausen himself noted, Allah had long ceased to be a label that could be applied to any deity. Allah was the personal name of a specific deity, on a par with Allat, not merely a noun meaning ‘god’; and in the second century this deity had guardians of his own. When ‘Abd al-Muttalib is described as having prayed to Allah while consulting Hubal's arrows, it is simply that the sources baulk at depicting the Prophet's grandfather as a genuine pagan, not that Allah and Hubal were alternative names for the same god. If Hubal and Allah had been one and the same deity, Hubal ought to have survived as an epithet of Allah, which he did not. And moreover, there would not have been traditions in which people are asked to renounce the one for the other.” (Ibid., pp. 191-194; bold emphasis ours)


“On the other hand, Allah might have been a high God over and above all other deities. This is, in fact, how Wellhausen saw him, and he has been similarly represented by Watt. It is not how he appears in the inscriptional material, in which he is very much the god of a particular people; and the fact that he was known as Allah, ‘the god,’ is no indication of supremacy: Allat, ‘the goddess,’ was not a deity over and above al-‘Uzza or Manat. But he could, of course, have developed into such a god, as the Qur’anic evidence adduced by Wellhausen and Watt suggests. If we accept this view, however, we are up against the problem that he is unlikely to have had guardians of his own in this capacity. Viewed as a high god, Allah was too universal, too neutral, and too impartial to be the object of a particular cult, as Wellhausen noted; no sanctuary was devoted to him except insofar as he had come to be identified with ordinary deities. A high god in Arabia was apparently one who neither needed nor benefitted from cultic links with a specific group of devotees. (Wellhausen may of course be wrong: maybe a high god in Arabia did benefit from such links. But if so, we are back at the problem of why Allah was made to share these links with Hubal).

“If Quraysh were guardians on behalf of an Allah above all other deities, they must thus have started as guardians of someone else. But as has been seen, they do not appear to have been guardians of Hubal, and Hubal was not identified with Allah, nor did his cult assist that of Allah in any way. And if we postulate that they started as guardians of an ordinary Allah who subsequently developed into a supreme deity, we reinstate the problem of Hubal's presence in his shrine. The fact is that the Hubal-Allah sanctuary of Mecca is an oddity; can such a shrine have existed in historical fact? There would seem to be at least two sanctuaries behind the one depicted in the tradition, and Quraysh do not come across as guardians of either.” (Ibid., pp. 194-195; bold emphasis ours)

A Proposed Solution

There is a solution to all of this, one which Muslims may not like. The way to solve this dilemma is to admit the fact that the Arabs initially viewed the word Allah as a generic term which could be used for any deity who was believed to be the greatest.

Scholars pretty much agree that Allah was a name used by different Arab pagans for one of their local deities, specifically the chief or high god. They further recognize that Muhammad took the pagan Allah worshiped by his particular tribe and transformed him into the one true God worshiped by all monotheists, so that he ended up divorcing his god from any similarly named pagan deity. Muhammad (more precisely, the unclean spirit which inspired him) did this so as to get the Jews and Christians to join his religion as well:

“… 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)

“Historical evidence indicates that Allah was the name of an ancient Arabian high god in a pantheon of other gods and goddesses like those found in other ancient Middle Eastern cultures…” (Juan E. Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam [Facts On File Inc., 2009], p. 34; bold emphasis ours)

“ALLAH is a proper name among Muslims, corresponding in usage to Jehovah (Jahweh) among the Hebrews. Thus, it is not be regarded as a common name meaning “God” (or a “god”), and the Muslim must use another word or form if he wishes to indicate any other than his own peculiar deity. The source of this goes back to pre-Muslim times….

“The origin of this goes back to pre-Muslim times as Prof. Noldeke has shown… Muhammad found the Meccans believing in a supreme god whom they called Allah, thus already contracted. With Allah, however, they associated minor deities, some evidently tribal, others called daughters of Allah. MUHAMMAD'S REFORM WAS TO ASSERT THE SOLITARY EXISTENCE OF ALLAH. The first article of the Muslim creed, therefore–La ilaha illa-llahu,–means, only as addresses by him to the Meccans, ‘There exist no god except the one whom you already call ALLAH.

“Naturally, this precise historical origin is not clear to the Muslim exegetes and theologians. But that Allah is a proper name, applicable only to their peculiar God, they are certain, and they mostly recognize that its force as a proper name has arisen through contraction in form and limitation in usage.” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, M.A., D.D., with the assistance of John A. Selbie, M.A., D.D., and other scholars [Charles Scribner's Sons, New York; T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1908], Volume I. A-Art, p. 326; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“8 HUBAL.–Hubal was worshiped at Mecca; his idol stood in the Ka'ba, and he appears to have been, in reality, the god of the sanctuary. It is therefore particularly unfortunate that we have so little information respecting him. Wellhausen has plausibly suggested that Hubal is no other than Allah, 'the god' of the Meccans

“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 Muhammad did not find it necessary to introduce an altogether novel deity, but contented himself with ridding the heathen Allah of all his ‘companions,’ subjecting him to a kind of dogmatic purification and defining him in a somewhat clearer manner. 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.” (Ibid., pp. 663-664; bold emphasis ours)

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; xxix, 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.” (Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam, Volume I, p. 406; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“The god Il or Ilah was originally a phase of the Moon God, but early in Arabian history the name became a general term for god, and it was this name that the Hebrews used prominently in their personal names, such as Emanu-el, Israel, etc., rather than the Ba'al of the northern Semites proper, which was the Sun. Similarly, under Mohammed's tutelage, the relatively anonymous Ilah BECAME Al-Ilah, The God, or Allah, the Supreme Being.” (C. S. Coon, "Southern Arabia, A Problem For The Future", Papers Of The Peabody Museum Of American Archaeology And Ethnology, 1943, Volume 20, p. 195; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The customs of heathenism have left an indelible mark on Islam, notably in the rites of the pilgrimage (on which more will be said later), so that for this reason alone something ought to be said about the chief characteristics of Arabian paganism…

“The oldest name for God used in the Semitic word consists of but two letters, the consonant ‘l’ preceded by a smooth breathing, which was pronounced as ‘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 of the South Arabian Ilah, a title of the Moon god, but this is a matter of antiquarian interest. In Arabia Allah was known from Jewish and Christian sources as the one god, and there can be no doubt whatever that he was known to pagan Arabs of Mecca as the supreme being. Were this not so, the Qur'an would have been unintelligible to the Meccans; moreover it is clear from Nabataean and other inscriptions that Allah means ‘the god’.” (Alfred Guillaume, Islam [Penguin Books, London, 1956], pp. 6-7; bold emphasis ours)

Allah. 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. ("Allah" in E. Sykes, Everyman's Dictionary Of Non-Classical Mythology [J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., New York, 1961] p. 7; underline emphasis ours)

“Allah–The Arabic word for God. Probably derived from il ilah, ‘the god.’ Arabic Christians addressed God as Allah long before Muhammad was born. Allah was used by pre-Islamic pagans to designate A NOTABLE DEITY in their religious system. Muhammad repudiated these pagan and polytheistic meanings when he declared, ‘There is no god but Allah.’” (Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2006], p. 147; bold and capital emphasis ours)

I. Before Islam. That the Arabs, before the time of Muhammad, accepted and worshipped, after a fashion, a supreme god called Allah–“the ilah” or the god, if the form is of genuine Arabic source; if of Aramaic, from alaha, “the god”–seems absolutely certain. Whether he was an abstraction or a development from some individual god, such as Hubal, need not here be considered… But they also recognized and tended to worship more fervently and directly other strictly subordinate gods… It is certain that they regarded particular deities (mentioned in sura liii. 19-20 are al-‘Uzza, Manat or Manah, al-Lat [?]; some have interpreted vii. 180 as a reference to a perversion of Allah to Allat) as daughters of Allah (vi. 100; xvi. 57; xxxvii. 149; liii. 21); they also asserted that he had sons (vi. 100)… “There was no god save Allah”. This meant, for Muhammad and the Meccans, that of all the gods whom they worshipped, Allah was the only real deity. It took no account of the nature of God in the abstract, only of the personal position of Allah. “Allah,” therefore, was and is the proper name of God among Muslims. It corresponds to Yahwe among the Hebrews, not Elohim. No plural can be formed from it. To express “gods,” the Muslim must fall back on the plural of ilah, the common noun from which Allah is probably derived… But, though the name 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 Encyclopaedia of Islam, eds. H. A. R. Gibb & J. H. Kramers [Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY (N.D.)], pp. 33-34; bold emphasis ours)

Allah is the contraction of two Arabic words, il and ilah–‘the god.’ Allah was commonly used in pre-Islamic Arabia, sometimes associated with an individual's personal name. For example, Muhammad was the son of Abdullah, which means ‘the servant of Allah.’ The Kabah in Mecca was the shrine of Allah–acknowledged as A ‘HIGH GOD’ above many lesser gods; by the time of Muhammad, however, the worship of Allah had become thoroughly paganized. As we have seen, THIS PRE-ISLAMIC PAGAN ALLAH was believed to have engendered three ‘daughters’ who were worshiped as goddesses, along with the stone-god, the moon-god, the pigeon-god, and numerous other deities. Muhammad broke decisively with this polytheistic confusion. He called on people to believe in Allah, not as the greatest deity in the Meccan pantheon, but as the one and only God there is. Islam began, then, as a vigorous return to an uncompromising monotheism. (Ibid., pp. 70-71; 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; bold and capital 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)

The following liberal Muslim author also admits that Allah was initially the name used by the pagans for their sky god, and in time was elevated to the rank of the supreme god. He even goes so far as to acknowledge that Hubal was the central deity of the Meccans, despite the fact of erroneously assuming that Hubal and Allah were/are different gods!

“IN THE ARID, desolate basin of Mecca, surrounded on all sides by the bare mountains of the Arabian desert, stands a small, nondescript sanctuary that the ancient Arabs refer to as the Ka‘ba: the Cube. The Ka‘ba is a squat, roofless edifice made of unmortared stones and sunk into a valley of sand. Its four walls–so low it is said that a young goat can leap over them–are swathed in strips of heavy cloth. At its base, two small doors are chiseled into the gray stone, allowing entry into the inner sanctum. It is here, inside the cramped interior of the sanctuary, that the gods of pre-Islamic Arabia reside: Hubal, the Syrian god of the moon; al-Uzza, the powerful goddess the Egyptians knew as Isis and the Greeks called Aphrodite; al-Kutba, the Nabataean god of writing and divination; Jesus, the incarnate god of the Christians, and his holy mother, Mary.” (Reza Aslan, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam [Random House, Inc., Later prt. Edition, 2005], 1. The Sanctuary in the Desert: Pre-Islamic Arabia, p. 3; bold emphasis ours)


“In contrast, paganism among the sedentary societies of Arabia had developed from its earlier and simpler manifestations into a complex form of neo-animism, providing a host of divine and semi-divine intermediaries, who stood between the creator god and his creation. This creator god was called Allah, which is not a proper name but a contraction of the word al-ilah, meaning simply ‘the god.’ Like his Greek counterpart, Zeus, Allah was ORIGINALLY an ancient rain/sky deity who was ELEVATED into the role of the supreme god of the pre-Islamic Arabs. Though a powerful deity to swear by, Allah's eminent status in the Arab pantheon rendered him, like most High Gods, beyond the supplication of ordinary people. Only in times of great peril would anyone bother consulting him. Otherwise, it was far more expedient to turn to the lesser, more accessible gods who acted as Allah's intercessors, the most powerful of whom were his three daughters, Allat (‘the goddess’), al-Uzza (‘the mighty’), and Manat (the goddess of fate, whose name is probably derived from the Hebrew word mana, meaning ‘portion’ or ‘share’). These divine mediators were not only represented in the Ka‘ba, they had their own individual shrines throughout the Arabian Peninsula: Allat in the city of Ta’if; al-Uzza in Nakhlah; and Manat in Qudayd. It was to them that the Arabs prayed when they needed rain, when their children were ill, when they entered into battle or embarked on a journey deep into the treacherous desert abodes of the Jinn–those intelligent, imperceptible, and salvable beings made of smokeless flame who are called ‘genies’ in the West and who function as the nymphs and fairies of Arabian mythology… Although called ‘King of the Gods’ and ‘the Lord of the House,’ Allah was not the central deity in the Ka‘ba. That honor belonged to Hubal, the Syrian god who had been brought to Mecca centuries before the rise of Islam.

“Despite Allah’s minimal role in the religious cult of pre-Islamic Arabia, his eminent position in the Arab pantheon is a clear indication of just how far paganism in the Arabian Peninsula had evolved from its simple animistic roots. Perhaps the most striking example of this development can be seen in the processional chant that tradition claims the pilgrims sang as they approached the Ka‘ba:

Here I am, O Allah, here I am.
You have no partner,
Except such a partner as you have.
You possess him and all that is his.

“This remarkable proclamation, with its obvious resemblance to the Muslim profession of faith – ‘There is no god but God’ – may reveal the earliest traces in pre-Islamic Arabia of what the German philologist Max Muller termed henotheism: the belief in a single High God, without necessarily rejecting the existence of other, subordinate gods. The earliest evidence of henotheism in Arabia can be traced back to a tribe called the Ami, who lived near modern-day Yemen in the second century B.C.E., and who worshiped a High God they called dhu-Samawi, ‘The Lord of the Heavens.’ While the details of the Amirs’ religion have been lost to history, most scholars are convinced that by the sixth century C.E., henotheism had become the standard belief of the vast majority of sedentary Arabs, who not only accepted Allah as their High God, but insisted that he was the same god as Yahweh, the god of the Jews.” (Ibid., pp. 6-8; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Thus, the term Allah initially started out as a generic noun applicable to the high god worshiped by the pagans. Muhammad comes along and turns Allah into the proper name of his peculiar deity, much like Yahweh happens to be the proper name of the true God revealed in the Holy Bible.

This now brings me to my final section. Please turn to Part 3 for the finale.