Allah is not the moon god

One of the favourite arguments of the Christian missionaries over many years had been that Allah of the Qur’an was in fact a pagan Arab “Moon-god” from pre-Islamic times. The seeds of this argument were sown by the work of the Danish scholar Ditlef Nielsen, who divided the Semitic deities into a triad of Father-Moon, Mother-Sun and Son-Venus (D. Nielsen, Die Altarabische Mondreligion Und Die Mosaische Ueberlieferung, 1904). Since 1991 Ditlef Nielsen’s views were given a new and unexpected twist by the Christian polemicist Robert Morey. In a series of pamphlets, books and radio programs, he claimed that “Allah” of the Qur’an was nothing but the pagan Arab “Moon-god”. To support his views, he presented evidences from the Near East which can be seen in ” The Moon God and Archeology” from his book The Islamic Invasion: Confronting The World’s Fastest-Growing Religion and it was subsequently reprinted with minor changes as a booklet called The Moon-God Allah In The Archeology Of The Middle East (R. Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting The World’s Fastest-Growing Religion, 1992, Harvest House Publishers, pp. 211-218).

1. One of the most prominent evidences of Morey for showing that Allah was a “Moon god” comes from Hazor (Hazor was a large Canaanite and Israelite city in Upper Galilee. It was identified by J. L. Porter in 1875 and this view was later endorsed by J. Garstang who conducted trials at the site in 1928. ). Morey says:

In the 1950’s a major temple to the Moon-god was excavated at Hazor in Palestine. Two idols of the moon god were found. Each was a stature of a man sitting upon a throne with a crescent moon carved on his chest . The accompanying inscriptions make it clear that these were idols of the Moon-god . Several smaller statues were also found which were identified by their inscriptions as the “daughters” of the Moon-god.

2. Morey’s claim that the moon worship was dominant in Arabia, especially in the south:

In 1944, G. Caton Thompson revealed in her book, The Tombs and Moon Temple of Hureidha, that she had uncovered a temple of the Moon-god in southern Arabia. The symbols of the crescent moon and no less than twenty-one inscriptions with the name Sin were found in this temple. An idol which may be the Moon-god himself was also discovered. This was later confirmed by other well-known archeologists (R. Morey, pp. 213-215)

Based on such “amazing discoveries” made in Southern Arabia by archaeologists such as G. Caton Thompson, Carleton S. Coon, Wendell Phillips, W.F. Albright, Richard Bower et al. Morey claime that ” the predominant religion in Arabia was Moon-god worship”.

3. Morey also plundered Coon to support his claim that Allah was a pagan Arab “Moon-god” of pre-Islamic times. According to Morey:

The Moon-god was called al-ilah, i.e. the god, which was shortened to Allah in pre-Islamic times. The pagan Arabs even used Allah in the names they gave to their children. For example, both Muhammad’s father and uncle had Allah as part of their names. The fact that they were given such names by their pagan parents proves that Allah was the title for the Moon-god even in Muhammad’s day (Morey, pp. 215-217). Prof. Coon goes on to say, “Similarly, under Mohammed’s tutelage, the relatively anonymous Ilah, became Al-Ilah, The God, or Allah, the Supreme Being (Morey, p. 217).

Remonstrance of Morey’s Position

1. Statues of Hazor is not the statue of any gods. The principal object of interest is the statue which Morey has labelled as a “Moon-god” . The statue, about 40 cm in height, depicts a man with an inverted crescent suspended from his necklace and holding a cup-like object in his right hand, while the other hand rests on his knees. The question now is what exactly this statue represents which Morey labelled as “Moon-god”?

According to Yadin, this statue can represent a deity, a king, or a priest. He says that all the “three alternatives are possible”, but he “believes it is a statue of the deity itself” (Y. Yadin, Hazor: The Rediscovery Of A Great Citadel Of The Bible, 1975, p. 44). However, it appears that later he had modified his views. Writing in the Encyclopedia Of Archaeological Excavations In The Holy Land, Yadin describes the same statue as

Basalt statue of deity or king from the stelae temple..( Y. Yadin, “Hazor” in M. Avi-Yonah (Ed.), Encyclopedia Of Archaeological Excavations In The Holy Land, 1976, Volume 2, Oxford University Press: London, p. 476)

Subsequent scholarship has described the same statue either in uncertain or neutral terms. For example, Treasures Of The Holy Land: Ancient Art From The Israel Museum describes the statue of the seated figure as:

It depicts a man, possibly a priest, seated on a cubelike stool. He is beardless with a shaven head; his skirt ends below his knees in an accentuated hen; his feet are bare. He holds a cup in his right hand, while his left hand, clenched into a fist, rests on his left knee. An inverted crescent is suspended from his necklace (J. P. O’Neill (Ed.), Treasures Of The Holy Land: Ancient Art From The Israel Museum, 1986, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, p. 107.)

Clearly, there is a convergent of opinion among the scholars concerning this statue. It is not too hard to understand why this is the case. It seems illogical that a god should hold offering vessels in his hand; the god is usually the one who receives offerings. Therefore, the statue should, in all probability, depict a priest or a worshipper of a god, who himself is in a way considered present, either invisibly or in the upright stela of the sanctuary.

2. While discussing the pantheon of South Arabian gods that had been reducted to a triad (father moon, mother sun and the son-venus) by Nielsen, Jacques Ryckmans says:

Many mention of gods are pure appellations, which do not allow defining the nature, or even the sex, of the deities names. This explains why the ancient claim of D. Nielsen to reduce the whole pantheon to a basic triad Moon-father, Sun-mother (sun is feminine in Arabia), and Venus-son, has continued to exert negative influence, in spite of its having been widely contested: it remained tempting to explain an unidentified feminine epithet as relating to the Sun-goddess, etc (J. Ryckmans, “The Old South Arabian Religion”, in W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 Years Of Art And Civilization In Arabia Felix, 1987?, p. 107)

The crude logic of the proponents of Nielsen’s hypothesis is that since Shams (“Sun”) is feminine in epigraphic South Arabian, the other principal deity must be masculine and this was equated with the moon. The relationship between Father-Moon and Mother-Sun produced Son-Venus star, their child.

J. Ryckmans in The Anchor Bible Dictionary says:

Along with the main god ‘Attar, each of the major kingdoms venerated its own national god. In Saba this was the god named Almaqah (or Ilmuqah), whose principal temple was near Marib, the capital of Saba, a federal shrine of the Sabaean tribes. According to the widely contested old theory of the Danish scholar D. Nielsen, who reduced the whole South Arabian pantheon to a primitive triad: father Moon, mother Sun (sun is feminine in Arabic) and son Venus, Almaqah was until recently considered a moon god, but Garbini and Pirenne have shown that the bull’s head and the vine motif associated with him are solar and dionysiac attributes. He was therefore a sun god, the male counterpart of the sun goddess Šams, who was also venerated in Saba, but as a tutelary goddess of the royal dynasty (J. Ryckmans, “South Arabia, Religion Of”, in D. N. Freedman (Editor-in-Chief), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, Volume 6, p. 172)

In relation to the moon god named Sin as stated by G. Caton Thompson, the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia Of World Religions says: “In Hadramawt the national god Syn was also a sun god (“Arabian Religions” in W. Doniger (consulting editor), Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia Of World Religions, 1999, p. 70).

This completely refutes the “archaeological evidence” presented by Morey for his claim that “Allah” of the Qur’an was in fact a pagan Arab “Moon-god” of pre-Islamic times. Just may be in the future the Morey and the missionaries will revised it as “pagan Arab Sun god” of pre Islamic times.

3. Coon’s claim that “Il or Ilah was originally a phase of the Moon God” comes from the claim that the patron deities of ancient South Arabia such as Wadd, ‘Amm, Sayīn and Ilmaqah were all Moon-gods. A claim similar to that of Coon which says Allah was “originally applied to the moon” can also be seen in Everyman’s Dictionary Of Non-Classical Mythology. Concerning “Allah” it says:

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, 1961, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd: London, E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc.: New York, p. 7)

The dictionaries of Qatabanian and Sabaean dialects compiled from the “amazing discoveries” of the inscriptions in Southern Arabia do not support Coon’s view that il or ilāh was “originally a phase of the Moon god” nor gives credence to the allegation that Allah was “originally applied to the moon”. The word “il” in Shabean or “el” in hebrew and “ilah” for Arab is always related to God. Similar views are also expressed by D. B. Macdonald in the Encyclopaedia of Islam. He says that ilāh simply means deity. Concerning ilāh he says:

.. for the Christians and (so far the poetry ascribed to them is authentic) the monotheists, al-ilāh evidently means God; for the poets it means merely “the one who is worshipped”, so al-ilāh indicates: “the god already mentioned”… By frequency of usage, al-ilāh was contracted to Allāh, frequently attested in pre-Islamic poetry (where his name cannot in every case have been substituted for another), and then became a proper name (ism ‘alam)…

From the discussion, it is clear that in Qatabanian and Sabaean il or ilāh was neither “originally a phase of the Moon god” nor “originally applied to the moon”. It simply means god/God. Furthermore, ilh in the Qatabanian and Sabaean dialects is similar to the Arabic ilāh and the Hebrew elōah.

Another aspect concerning Morey’s approach left out of Coon’s statement what would disprove his most important argument against the God of Islam. Morey is adept at repeating that Allah is not the God of the Bible but the Moon-god of pre-Islamic Arabia. It would have been inconvenient for him to repeat what Coon had said that “it was this name that the Hebrews used prominently in their personal names, such as Emanu-el, Isra-el, etc.” Going by Morey’s “logic” the Hebrew name Emanu-el which Morey considers a name for Jesus would now mean that “Moon-god is with us”.

Still another, al-ilāh is not the same as il or ilāh. The words are spelt very differently. Coon says that “Ilah became Al-Ilah” in Muhammad’s teachings. Obviously, then, al-ilāh was not the Moon-god according to Coon but only according to Morey Who is Allah then? So far we have dismantled the errorneous of Morey’s position that Allah is the moon god.

Who is Allah then?

“Allah” is the Arabic word which denotes the One True God, the One Who created the heavens and the earth. Now this word is very unique in the Arabic language because it has no plural of number and no gender. So, in English the word “god” can becomes “gods” or “goddess”. If you say “goddess”, then you imply that “god” is masculine. Well, Allah is neither male nor female. And most importantly, Allah is One. (If you were to read the Qur’an you would come across verses which say “We created…” That “We” is a plural of respect, not number. Just like speaking Spanish or Italian you address elders in the plural for respect.)

Another important point is that Christians who speak Arabic refer to God as Allah and Rabb (Lord) just as Muslims do. Do they? Well, some examples will be cited here:

1. Genesis 1:1 (English Bible-King James version): “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth . . . “

    Genesis 1:1 (Arabic transliteration): “Fee al-badi’ khalaqa Allahu as-Samaawaat wa al-Ard . . . ”

2. John 3:16 (English Bible-King James version): “For God so loved the world, that….”

    John 3:16 (Arabic transliteration) : “Li-annhu haakadha ahabba Allahu al-‘Aalama hataa badhala . . . “

Please check another bible verses in Arabic Bible, it will be clear that the word God is translated into Allah. Never would the word Allah associated to gods, even in the preislamic times. The name was previously used by pagan meccan as a reference to the creator deity, possibly the supreme deity. The gods that found surrounding Ka’aba is just a medium to reach Allah in the thought of pagan Arabs, as describe in the Quran: “We worship them only that they may bring us near to Allah” (az-Zumar 39:3).

The Qur’an is clear that Allah, Alone, is to be worshipped:

41:36 And if (at any time) an incitement to discord is made to thee by the Evil One seek refuge in Allah. He is the One Who hears and knows all things.

41:37 Among His Signs are the Night and the Day and the sun and moon. ADORE NOT THE SUN AND THE MOON BUT ADORE ALLAH WHO CREATED THEM if it is Him   ye wish to serve.

41: 38 But if they (Unbelievers) are arrogant (no matter): for in the presence of thy Lord are those who celebrate His praises by night and by day. And they never flag (nor feel themselves above it).

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