Arabian mythology

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Arabian mythology is the set of ancient, pre-Islamic beliefs held by the Arab people. Prior to Islam, belief was based on a polytheistic culture comprising deities and other supernatural beings such as demons, djinn, and demigods. Gods and goddesses were worshipped at local shrines, such as the Kaaba in Mecca. The Kaaba was dedicated to Hubal and also contained the images of the three chief goddesses Al-lāt, Al-‘Uzzá and Manāt. Allah might have been one of the gods of the Meccan religion to whom the shrine might have been dedicated although it seems he had little relevance in the religion.[1][2][3][4] It has been inferred from this plurality that this mythology flourished in an exceptionally broad context.[5] 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.[5]

Background and belief systems[edit]

Although there existed significant Jewish and Christian minorities, polytheism was the dominant belief system in pre-Islamic Arabia.[6][7] The religious beliefs and practices of the nomadic bedouin were distinct from those of the settled tribes of towns such as Mecca.[8] Nomadic religious belief systems and practices are believed to have included fetishism, totemism and ancestor worship but were connected principally with immediate concerns and problems and did not consider larger philosophical questions such as the afterlife.[8] Settled urban Arabs, on the other hand, are thought to have believed in a more complex pantheon of deities.[8] Whilst the Meccans and the other settled inhabitants of the Hejaz worshipped their gods at permanent shrines in towns and oases, the bedouin practised their religion on the move.[9] Historians have debated whether these belief systems were derived from indigenous Semitic religious traditions or were a "degenerate" offshoot of the more sophisticated mythologies of the nearby Fertile Crescent.[6]

The sources of information regarding pre-Islamic mythology include a small number of inscriptions and carvings,[7] remnants of stone idol-worship,[6] references in the poetry of the pre-Islamic Arab poet Zuhair and in pre-Islamic personal names,[10] as well references in the Quran and later Muslim sources such as the 8th century Book of Idols.[11] Nevertheless, information is limited[7] and there is little certainty about the nature of pre-Islamic mythology and considerable debate amongst scholars.[6]



In pre-Islamic Arabia, including in Mecca, Allah was used to probably refer to a deity, possibly a creator god or a supreme deity – in a polytheistic pantheon. The word was not much used as a name as it was as a title.[12][13][1][2][3][4] It also wasn't used to refer to a sole divinity as Allah is considered to be in Islam. The concept of Allah may have been vague in the Meccan religion,[13][14] and he might have had having sons and daughters who were also divinities.[citation needed] 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. The Arabic Jews referred to Uzair as the son of Allah. Some Arabic Christians identified Jesus with Allah while others believed in the concept of divine triad of Allah the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son.[1][2][3][4][15] Muhammad's father's name was ʿAbd-Allāh meaning "the slave of Allāh".[14]

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 religion were Al-lāt, Al-‘Uzzá, and Manāt, who might have been considered to be the daughters of Allah.[1][2][3][4] Each was associated with certain domains and had shrines with idols located near Taif[16] which were destroyed on orders of Muhammad.[17] Allāt (Arabic: اللات‎) or Al-lāt was the goddess associated with the underworld.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[5] 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.[21] Manaf (Arabic: مناف‎), was another god of Meccans. He was related to women and menstruation.[16]

Other deities[edit]

Supernatural beings[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.


  • 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.[22]
  • 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.[23]
  • Bahamut (Arabic: بهموتBahamūt) is a vast fish that supports the earth. It is sometimes described as having a head resembling a hippopotamus or elephant.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Jonathan Porter Berkey (2003). The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-521-58813-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d Neal Robinson (5 November 2013). Islam: A Concise Introduction. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-136-81773-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d Francis E. Peters (1994). Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. SUNY Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-7914-1875-8. 
  4. ^ a b c d Daniel C. Peterson (26 February 2007). Muhammad, Prophet of God. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8028-0754-0. 
  5. ^ a b c Karen Armstrong (2000). Islam: A Short History. p. 11. ISBN 0-8129-6618-X. 
  6. ^ a b c d Jonathan Porter Berkey (2003). The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-521-58813-3. 
  7. ^ a b c David Nicolle (20 June 2012). The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632-750. Osprey Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-78096-998-5. 
  8. ^ a b c Reza Aslan (2 December 2008). No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. Random House. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-4070-0928-5. 
  9. ^ Francis E. Peters (1994). Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. SUNY Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-7914-1875-8. 
  10. ^ William E. Phipps (1 September 1999). Muhammad and Jesus: A Comparison of the Prophets and Their Teachings. A&C Black. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8264-1207-2. 
  11. ^ Francis E. Peters (1994). Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land. Princeton University Press. pp. 5–7. ISBN 0-691-03267-X. 
  12. ^ Zeki Saritopak, Allah, The Qu'ran: An Encyclopedia, ed. by Oliver Leaman, p. 34
  13. ^ a b L. Gardet, Allah, Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. by Sir H.A.R. Gibb
  14. ^ a b Gerhard Böwering, God and his Attributes, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, ed. by Jane Dammen McAuliffe
  15. ^ Hitti, Philip Khouri (2002). History of the Arabs. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 800. ISBN 9780333631423. 
  16. ^ a b c Book of Idols
  17. ^ Ibn Ishaq - Sīratu Rasūlu l-LāhHawting. 
  18. ^ The Dawn of Civilisation, by: Gaston Maspero
  19. ^ Tawil 1993
  20. ^ Hommel, First Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 1. p. 380
  21. ^ The Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Asnām) by Hishām Ibn al-Kalbī
  22. ^ Robert Irwin The Arabian Nights: a Companion (Penguin, 1994)
  23. ^ "ghoul". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2006. 
  24. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis (2002). The Book of Imaginary Beings. London: Vintage. pp. 25–26. ISBN 0-09-944263-9. 


  • 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. ISBN 0-8129-6618-X.