Middle Eastern Mythologies

The Arabs and Islam

Was there a pre-Islamic mythology in Arabia?

Yes. Various tribes had cult centers marked by holy stones (baetyls), sacred trees, or temples. The tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, the Quraysh, for example, worshipped a great tree called the Dhat Anwat on the road between two of the settlements that would become holy to Muslims: Mecca and Medina. Before it became the center of Islamic worship, the Kabah, with its mysterious Black Stone, was a stone cult center. In fact, it was a pilgrimage center and sanctuary with some 360 idols. There are, however, some indications that even before the time of Muhammad some Meccans were moving toward a vision of a single divinity, al-ilah (the god), who stood behind such tribal gods who were worshipped, as the Qur’an tells us, in the time of Nuh (Noah).

Goddesses, too, played a part in pre-Islamic Arabian cultures. Manat, Allat (al-Lat,” the goddess”), and al-Uzzá are all mentioned in the Qur’an. Manat was particularly associated with pilgrimages to the Kabah. Allat was called “Mother of the Gods,” reminding us of the Canaanite Athirat. As for Al-Uzzá, she was the Inanna of the pre-Islamic Arabs—a goddess of love. Later Muhammad would forbid the worshipping of the goddesses, and, like the Hebrew prophets who spoke against the worship of Asherah and other Canaanite goddesses, he experienced some significant resistance from his countrymen.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Mythology Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App