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Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia

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Title: Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia  
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Subject: Arabian mythology, Arab culture
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Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia

Arabian mythology is the set of ancient, pre-Islamic beliefs held by the Arab people. Prior to Islam, the Kaaba of Mecca was covered in symbols representing the myriad demons, djinn, demigods, or simply tribal gods and other assorted deities which represented the polytheistic culture of pre-Islamic Arabia. Among those deities were: Allah which, for the Meccans, was a reference to a creator god who had three goddesses as daughters; and Hubal. It has been inferred from this plurality that this mythology flourished in an exceptionally broad context.[1] Many of the physical descriptions of the pre-Islamic gods are traced to idols, especially near the Kaaba, which is believed to have contained up to 360 of them.[1]


  • Gods 1
    • Allah and associated goddesses 1.1
    • Other notable gods 1.2
  • Supernatural beings 2
    • Spirits 2.1
    • Monsters 2.2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6


Allah and associated goddesses

In pre-Islamic Arabia, Allah was used by Meccans as a reference to a creator god, possibly a supreme deity.[2][3] Allah was considered the creator of the world and the giver of rain, but in contrast to Islam, Allah was not considered the sole divinity. The notion of the term may have been vague in the Meccan religion.[2] Allah was associated with companions, whom pre-Islamic Arabs considered as subordinate deities. Meccans held that a kind of kinship existed between Allah and the jinn.[4] Allah was thought to have had sons[5] and the local deities al-ʿUzzā, Manāt and al-Lāt were his daughters.[6] The Meccans possibly associated angels with Allah.[7][8] Allah was invoked in times of distress.[8][9] Muhammad's father's name was ʿAbd-Allāh meaning "the slave of Allāh".[8]

The three daughters of Allah and chief goddesses of Meccan Arabian mythology were Al-lāt, Al-‘Uzzá, and Manāt. Each is associated with certain domains and had shrines with idols located near Taif[10] which have been destroyed.[11] Allāt (Arabic: اللات‎) or Al-lāt is the goddess associated with the underworld.[12] Al-‘Uzzá (Arabic: العزى‎) "The Mightiest One" or "The Strong" was an Arabian fertility goddess. She was called upon for protection and victory before war.[13] Manāt (Arabic: مناة‎) was the goddess of fate; the Book of Idols describes her as the most ancient of all these idols. An idol of Manāt was erected on the seashore in the vicinity of al-Mushallal in Qudayd, between Medina and Mecca. The Aws and the Khazraj, as well as the inhabitants of Medina and Mecca and their vicinities, venerated Manāt and performed sacrifices before her idol, including offering their children. Pilgrimages of some Arabs, including the Aws, Khazraj, Yathrib and others, were not considered completed until they visited Manāt and shaved their heads.[14]

Other notable gods

  • Hubal (Arabic: هبل‎) was one of the most notable gods. An idol of Hubal, said to have been near the Kaaba, is described as shaped like a human with the right hand severed and replaced with a golden hand.[15]
  • Manaf (Arabic: مناف‎) was a god related to women and menstruation.[10]
  • Wadd (Arabic: ود‎) was a god of love and friendship. Snakes were believed to be sacred to Wadd.[10]
  • Amm (Arabic: أم‎) was a moon god worshipped in ancient Qataban. He was revered as in association with the weather, especially lightning.
  • Ta'lab (Arabic: تألب‎) was a god worshipped in southern Arabia, particularly in Sheba and also a moon god. His oracle was consulted for advice.
  • Dhu'l-Halasa (Arabic: ذو الحلاس‎) was an oracular god of south Arabia. He was venerated in the form of a white stone.
  • Al-Qaum (Arabic: القوم‎) was the Nabataean god of war and the night, and also guardian of caravans.
  • Dushara (Arabic: ذو الشرى‎) was a Nabataean god, his name meaning "Lord of the Mountain"

Supernatural beings


  • Jinn (also called djinn or genies, Arabic: جنjinn) are supernatural creatures which possess free will, and can be either good or evil. In some cases, evil genies are said to lead humans astray.[16]
  • Marids (Arabic: ماردmārid) are often described as the most powerful type of jinn, having especially great powers. They are the most arrogant and proud as well. Like every jinn, they have free will yet could be compelled to perform chores. They also have the ability to grant wishes to mortals, but that usually requires battle, and according to some sources imprisonment, rituals, or just a great deal of flattery.
  • Ifrits (Arabic: عفريت‘ifrīt) are infernal jinn, spirits below the level of angels and devils, noted for their strength and cunning. An ifrit is an enormous winged creature of fire, either male or female, who lives underground and frequents ruins. Ifrits live in a society structured along ancient Arab tribal lines, complete with kings, tribes, and clans. They generally marry one another, but they can also marry humans. While ordinary weapons and forces have no power over them, they are susceptible to magic, which humans can use to kill them or to capture and enslave them. As with the jinn, an ifrit may be either a believer or an unbeliever, good or evil, but he is most often depicted as a wicked and ruthless being.


  • A Nasnas (Arabic: نسناسnasnās) is "half a human being; having half a head, half a body, one arm, one leg, with which it hops with much agility". It was believed to be the offspring of a demon called a Shiqq and a human being.[17]
  • Ghouls (Arabic: غولghūl) are desert-dwelling, shapeshifting demons that can assume the guise of animal, especially hyenas. They lure unwary travellers into the desert wastes to slay and devour them. These creatures also prey on young children, rob graves, drink blood, and eat the dead, taking on the form of the one they previously ate. Because of the latter habit, the word ghoul is sometimes used to refer to an ordinary human such as a grave robber, or to anyone who delights in the macabre.[18]
  • [19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Karen Armstrong (2000). Islam: A Short History. p. 11.  
  2. ^ a b L. Gardet, Allah, Encyclopaedia of Islam
  3. ^ See Qur'an 13:16; 29:61-63; 31:25; 39:38)
  4. ^ See Qur'an 37:158)
  5. ^ See Qur'an (6:100)
  6. ^ See Qur'an (53:19-22; 16:57; 37:149)
  7. ^ See Qur'an (53:26-27)
  8. ^ a b c Gerhard Böwering, God and his Attributes, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  9. ^ See Qur'an 6:109; 10:22; 16:38; 29:65)
  10. ^ a b c Book of Idols
  11. ^  
  12. ^ The Dawn of Civilisation, by: Gaston Maspero
  13. ^ Tawil 1993
  14. ^ , Vol. 1. p. 380First Encyclopaedia of IslamHommel,
  15. ^ The Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Asnām) by Hishām Ibn al-Kalbī
  16. ^ Quran 7:11–12
  17. ^ Robert Irwin The Arabian Nights: a Companion (Penguin, 1994)
  18. ^ "ghoul". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2006. 
  19. ^  


  • The Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Asnām) by Hishām Ibn al-Kalbī


  • Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green (ISBN 0-292-70794-0)
  • Karen Armstrong (2000). Islam: A Short History.  
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