Arabian mythology

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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. The shrine was dedicated to the god Hubal and also contained images the three chief goddesses Al-lāt, Al-‘Uzzá, and Manāt. 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[edit]

Allah in pre-Islamic Arabia[edit]

In pre-Islamic Arabia, Allah was used by polytheistic Arabs including the Meccans as a reference to possibly a creator god or a supreme deity of their pantheon.[2][3] In pre-Islamic Arabia, Allah was not used to refer to the sole divinity as it is in Islam. The notion of the term may have been vague in the Meccan religion.[3][4] Muhammad's father's name was ʿAbd-Allāh meaning "the slave of Allāh".[4] Pre-Islamic Christians, Jews and the monotheistic Arabs called Hanifs used the term 'Bismillah', 'in the name of Allah' and the name Allah to refer to their supreme deity in Arabic stone inscriptions centuries before Islam.[5]

Meccan gods[edit]

A Neo-pagan interpretation of the Three Gharaniq of pre-Islamic tradition: Allāt, al-'Uzzā and Manāt

The three 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[6] which have been destroyed.[7] Allāt (Arabic: اللات‎) or Al-lāt is the goddess associated with the underworld.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

Hubal (Arabic: هبل‎) was one of the most notable gods in Mecca where an image of him was worshipped at the Kaaba. The sanctuary was dedicated to Hubal, who was worshipped as the greatest of the 360 idols the Kaaba contained, which probably represented the days of the year.[1] 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.[11] Manaf (Arabic: مناف‎), was another god of Meccans. He was related to women and menstruation.[6]

Other notable gods[edit]

Supernatural beings[edit]

Spirits[edit]

  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.

Monsters[edit]

  • 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.[12]
  • 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.[13]
  • Bahamut (Arabic: بهموتBahamūt) is a vast fish that supports the earth. It is sometimes described as having a head resembling a hippopotamus or elephant.[14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Karen Armstrong (2000). Islam: A Short History. p. 11. ISBN 0-8129-6618-X. 
  2. ^ Zeki Saritopak, Allah, The Qu'ran: An Encyclopedia, ed. by Oliver Leaman, p. 34
  3. ^ a b L. Gardet, Allah, Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. by Sir H.A.R. Gibb
  4. ^ a b Gerhard Böwering, God and his Attributes, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, ed. by Jane Dammen McAuliffe
  5. ^ Hitti, Philip Khouri (2002). History of the Arabs. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 800. ISBN 9780333631423. 
  6. ^ a b c Book of Idols
  7. ^ Ibn Ishaq - Sīratu Rasūlu l-LāhHawting. 
  8. ^ The Dawn of Civilisation, by: Gaston Maspero
  9. ^ Tawil 1993
  10. ^ Hommel, First Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 1. p. 380
  11. ^ The Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Asnām) by Hishām Ibn al-Kalbī
  12. ^ Robert Irwin The Arabian Nights: a Companion (Penguin, 1994)
  13. ^ "ghoul". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2006. 
  14. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis; Margarita Guerrero, Norman Thomas di Giovanni (trans.) (2002). The Book of Imaginary Beings. London: Vintage. pp. 25–26. ISBN 0-09-944263-9. 

References[edit]

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

Sources[edit]