(Brief) Introduction to Pre-Islamic Polytheism

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In pre-Islamic Arabia and the Levant, the ancient peoples of the region were Polytheists. Because Muhammad and others tried to root out the vestiges of Polytheism in these areas, not much is known about the particular pantheons of Gods. Through war and forced conversion, pre-Islamic Polytheism became nearly extinct. However, some of it was inadvertently preserved such as the Daughters of Allah.

Since the Nabataeans, Minaeans, and Sabaeans preferred geometric shapes for their icons, many of their shrines were blocks of granite (baetyls). (Note 1) Other peoples like the Bedouins worshipped in high places in the mountains or at groves of trees (masha’ir). Towns had a Ka’aba, a holy place that housed all the Gods. (There were 360 Gods and Goddesses worshipped by the peoples of the region.)

The best known of the Gods is Allah, who is the Creator God. (Note 2) The Allah of Pre-Islamic Arabia created the world, the Gods, and the Goddesses. Afterwards, He retired to highest heaven. His baetyl, the Black Stone of the Ka’aba, is in Mecca. This Allah was transformed into the Islamic Monotheistic God who is also called Allah. (Note 3)

Other notable Gods are Hubal, the God of War and Fortune. He is the consort of Al-‘Uzza, the Goddess of Battle. People went to the “high places” to worship to Manaf, the God of Mountains, Peaks, and Valleys. Portrayed as a giant archer, Quzzah is the God of Storms, who fires hailstones.

The three best-known Goddesses of Arabia are Al-‘Uzza, Al-Lat, and Menat, since They are known as the Daughters of Allah. (People prayed to Allah’s Daughters to intercede for them for Allah.) Al-Lat is the Mother Goddess who is responsible for the fertility of the earth. The Goddess of the Evening Star, Al-‘Uzza is the Goddess of Power and Might. Menat is the Goddess of Destiny and Fate.

Other Goddesses include Ath-Thurayya of the Pleiades Stars, who brings the rain. Ash-Shi’ra of the Star Sirius grants wealth and good fortune. While the Gods of the Moon are male (Wadd and Hilal), the Gods of the Sun are female (Suwas and Shams). Zuhal of Saturn watches over farmers and the land.

Since the peoples of the Levant and Arabia influenced each other, Hawwa, the Mother of All Living Things became known as Eve, the First Woman. (Later in Islam, Hawa became the wife of Adam.) She is associated with snakes, who are beings of longevity and are holy to Wadd, God of the Moon. Her tomb is in Jeddah, derived from “jaddah” (grandmother). (The Saudi government cemented it over to prevent veneration of Her.)

In the Levant, Dagon (Dagan) is known as the God of the Philistines in the Old Testament. A God of Fertility, He is the inventor of the plow. Ba’al, who is also mentioned in the Old Testament, could be various Gods. Ba’al Hadad is the God of the Storm for the Canaanites. Meanwhile, El, the Father of the Gods, became conflated with Yahweh to form the Monotheistic God Yahweh. The Goddess Asherah, the Consort of El had poles erected in her honor.


Note 1. Baetyls (Beth-el) are oddly shaped stones, blocks, rock formations or meteorites. A baetyl is the house of a particular God, who will come there for a time. Homes had small baetyls.

Note 2. The concept of a high God or supreme deity was common in Semitic Polytheism. Allah of Arabia and El of Canaan are Creator Gods living in the highest heavens.

Note 3. This Allah, like the Hebrew Yahweh, became a Monotheistic deity, changed from his original Polytheistic roots. That Allah now has a feminine presence and spirit known as the Sakinah (Motherly One). This is similar to Yahweh and the Shekhinah.


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