Monday, August 18, 2008

The Nature of Islam: The Beginning

1. Islam or Muhammedanism?

Western scholars have often referred to Islam as Muhammedanism, the religion of Muhammed, as compared to Christianity, the religion of Christ. However, Muslims call their religion Islam, and are usually very offended when someone mentions the former name, since they do not, as they say, worship Muhammed.

The Muslim creed states that there is no god but ‘Allah’
[1] and Muhammed is his messenger. Although that seems illogical, Islam focuses clearly as much on Muhammed as Christianity does on Christ. Muslims consider Muhammed’s words sacred as though ‘Allah’ himself had spoken, and thus introduce a semi-divine status to their Prophet. The difference between ‘Allah’ and Muhammed is not very apparent to Muslims who accept the latter as the perfect authority of the former’s will. Many scholars have argued that obedience to the Prophet is really an obedience to ‘Allah’ and thus there seems to be only a minor difference. That understanding is derived from the following koranic passage: “Whoso obeyeth the messenger obeyeth Allah, and whoso turneth away: We have not sent thee as a warder over them.”[2] Although Muhammed was only a mortal man, he is entitled to a semi-divine status in Islam, whether Muslims care to admit that or not.

The fact is that Muhammed was a sinner like everyone else. In the Koran, ‘Allah’ literally asks Muhammed to beg forgiveness for his sins,

[3] and his sinful nature is as well ment­ioned in other Koranic passages. Furthermore, many hadiths (the sayings of Muhammed) mention Muhammed’s sinfulness. On the other hand, many Muslims, including Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph, believed that Muhammed was divine and could not die. Others, as reported by the authentic scholar al-Bukhari, fought over his dirty water from washing, which they drank or smeared over their bodies, if Muhammed’s spit was not available, or a single hair of his body.

Those who accept Muhammed’s words as the perfect authority of right and wrong are elevating this sinful man to the status of a god. If Muhammed really has absolute status in Islam we are justified in referring to his religion as Muhammedanism, or consider Islam as bi-theism (bi-theistic religion). If he was just another messenger, even the most exalted one, we cannot accept his words as the perfect authority of ‘Allah’s’ will. Either way, theological Islam has contradicted itself concerning this issue.

The Sunna of Muhammed

The fundamentals of Islam are the Koran and Muhammed’s sunna (trad­itions). Muslims believe the Koran to be the eternal word of ‘Allah’, the eternal god. If he is its author, then his revelations are not restricted to time, but are valid through eternity. On the other hand, Muhammed’s sunna can only be applied to time, since he was a mortal man. His three basic titles, nadhir (warner), nabi (prophet) and rasul (mess­enger) do not apply any special personal qualities to him.

Muslims presume that Muhammed’s uniqueness is due to his revelations given by ‘Allah’. On the other hand, the prophet Moses (Musa) was the only one with whom ‘Allah’ spoke directly. Miracles as well as other supernatural features were mainly restricted to Jesus (Isa) the son of Mary. Jesus was also the only one who did not die, accord­ing to the Koran, but was taken to heaven by ‘Allah’, and ‘someone like him’ was crucified in his place. It is notable that Muhammed acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah but still, although it is contradictory in terms, denied him being the Son of God.


Indeed, Muhammed had no intention of reigning supreme over the other prophets of ‘Allah’ during the first years of his mission. He simply considered himself as the one whose mission was to purify the holy place of worship in Kaaba and abolish polytheism in his city of birth, Mecca. During the first years of ministry there, Muhammed used to preach social reforms, the Day of Judgement, resurrection from the dead and the unity of ‘Allah’ to polytheistic Meccans. Arent J. Wensinck describes his mission as follows:

The position of Abraham, Moses, Hud, Salih and Jesus, as described in these suras [of the Koran], is really the same as that of Muhammad in Makka [Mecca]; they were Apostles of God like himself... Muhammad’s rank, it is true, is high, but there is no trace of a unique position.[5]

Wensinck continues to quote some Koranic passages and concludes by stating that it “seems impossible to admit that the man who emphasised this idea [of him as an Arab Proph­et] should have regarded himself as a mission­ary to the whole world.”[6] However, after Muhammed was transformed from the status of a social reformer to a warrior-proph­et, he also became the Seal of the Prophets, as the last and most perfect in the long line of messengers of ‘Allah’. The validity of other prophets is beyond doubt, but Muhammed’s uniqueness came to be emphasised, due to this new interpretation.[7]

The real pillar of Islam: Muhammed

Islam stands or falls with the reliability of Muhammed, whose name means ‘highly praised’ in Arabic. The Arab historian Philip K. Hitti noted that Muh­amm­ed was probably an honor­ary title but not his real name.
[8] Indeed the Koran, in sura (chapter) 61:6, calls him Ahmad, but it has been reasonably argued that this sura was inter­­­polated into the Koran.[9] Other sources argue that the relev­ant passage should be trans­lated as ‘ahmadu’ or ‘more praise­worthy’, and thus not referring to a name.[10] Muhammed is also reported to have had several other names, such as al-Aqib, al-Mahi and al-Hazir.[11] Although Musl­ims call him Muh­ammed, his tribe titled him al-Amin, ‘the faithful’ and Abu-Qasim, the ‘father of Qasim’. As Hitti stated, his given name is un­­known to us, and might “remain for­ever uncertain.”[12] However, among the ancient Semites there existed a common custom to use theophorous names. Javier Teixidor explains such a custom the follow­ing way:

A theophorous name is usually given when a child is born; thus names reflect the parents’ piety toward the god under whose protection the new-born is plac­ed. A theophorous name conveys the anxieties, the joy, and the expect­ations of the
The names which are the easiest to understand are the sooth­saying names: nomen is omen. Names showing confidence in the god as being ‘the shelter’ (Arabic ‘wd’) of the new-born: Avidallat (‘Protégé of Allat’) ...
The compulsive force of the name is nowhere as obvious as in the over­whelming use of the term ‘servant’ in Semitic onomastics. From the very first moment the child’s
name ‘Servant of [this or that deity],’ sets the type of life which the new-born
is asked to lead.

In pre-Islamic Arabia we know about such names as Abd’ Allat (abd’=servant), Abd’ Manat, Abd’ al-Uzza, Abd’ Allah, defined by the parents’ belief. If this trend happened to apply to Muhammed, we might suggest that his name was Abd’ al-Uzza (Abdul Uzza). We know that during his younger years, Muhammed sacrificed to the deity al-Uzza, which most likely was his family’s deity. Even the early Muslim writer Ibn al-Kalbi, in his Book of Idols, counts Muhammed amongst the followers of al-Uzza.[14] We know that the name of Muhammed’s first uncle was Abdul Uzza. Concerning this devoted worshipper of al-Uzza, who opposed Muham­med’s mission with fervour, was this revealed in a very early Meccan sura: “He will be plunged in flaming fire...” and thus he was renamed Abu Lahab, ‘the father of flame’, and the name Abdul Uzza vanished. This same model might very well have been used by Muhammed himself and has been frequently applied to later Muslims, such as the boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali), the NBA star Chris Jackson (Abdul Rauf), and many more.

If Muhammed’s name really was Abdul Uzza this might explain why his real name is neither mentioned in Muslim sources nor by Muhammed himself. And if there is question about the name and nature of Muhammed, it is even more so concerning ‘Allah’.

Introduction to Allah

Allah was a pagan moon-god, worshipped among nomads around the Middle East. His name is, however, not even Arabic. One would think that an Arabian deity would have an Arabic name. But not Allah. Arthur Jeffery, one of the West’s most distinguished authorities on Islam, states:

The common theory is that it [the name of Allah] is formed from ilah, the common
word for a god, and the article al-; thus al-ilah, ‘the god’, becomes Allah, ‘God’. This theory, however, in untenable. In fact, the name is one of the words borrowed into the language in pre-Islamic times from Aramaic.

Most suras in the Koran (all but the ninth) begin with the proclamation: ‘In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’ This indeed sounds very nice and might have been a very clever introduction to an Arabian deity, if this formula had been made by Muhammed or ‘Allah’ himself. However, those titles, attributed to ‘Allah’, were a formulae composed by the worshippers of the Babylonian deity Baal. All around the Semitic world, the high god’s name —whatsoever that was at each place— was pronounced with such titles as ‘good’, ‘compassionate’, ‘merciful’, and ‘bountiful’.
[16] Those names also appear in the list of 99 additional names the Muslims contribute to ‘Allah’.[17] Thus ‘Allah’s’ titles are borrowed from the pre-Islamic Arabian pagan deities, just as that name itself was borrowed from an Aramaic moon-god in the Syrian cities of Palmyra and Teima.

The fact is that even ‘Allah’s’ most frequently used title, ar-Rahman (the Merciful) was known in South Arabia well before the advent of Islam, and signified a moon-god, whom Muhammed even occasionally confused with or used as a substitute for ‘Allah’. The Koran mentions ar-Rahman occasionally, for example in sura 43:19, which most translators have renamed as God or Allah, since they, as Muhammed, found no difference between these two South Arabian moon-gods.

The name ar-Rahman had even been used by several Arabian prophets before Muhammed, and this deity seemed to have signified a similar, if not the same, position as Allah in Mecca. Therefore we cannot accept the unilateral acceptance of ‘Allah’ as the biblical High God, any more than the Persian high god Ahura Mazda or the Norse Odin.

[1] We want to distinguish between ‘Allah’ — Muhammed’s deity — and the pagan moon-god Allah.
[2] The Koran 4:80 (Throughout this book, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation will be used, except where otherwise stated).
[3] The Koran 40:55
[4] The Koran 4:171.
[5] Avent Jan Wesninck, The Muslim Creed (Leiden, 1932), 5.
[6] ibid, 7.
[7] See, Hekhar Bano Hussein, Prophets in the Koran (vol. I: The Early Prophets. London, 1994 and vol. II: The Later Prophets. London, 1995)
[8] Philip K. Hitti, Islam and the West (Princeton, 1962), 8-9.
[9] Alfred Guillaume (transl.), The Life of Muhammad. A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah. (ed. Ibn Hisham, London, 1955), 70. A. Guthrie and E. F. F. Bishop, ‘The Paraclete, Almunhamanna and Ahmad’, Muslim World XLI (1951), 255; William Montgomery Watt, Early Islam (London, 1990), 43-50.
[10] William Montgomery Watt, ‘His Name is Ahmad’, Muslim World XLIII (1953), 110-117; — Early Islam, 43-50, 82.
[11] Ismail K. Poonawala (ed), The History of al-Tabari (vol. IX, The Last Years of the Prophet, New York, 1990), 156.
[12] Philip K. Hitti, The Arabs: A Short History (London, 1968), 23.
[13] Javier Teixidor, The Pagan god (Princeton, 1977), 158-160.
[14] See discussion in; Francis E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam (Albany, 1994), 111.
[15] Arthur Jeffery (ed.), Islam. Muhammed and his religion (New York, 1958), 85.
[16] Teixidor, The Pagan god, 1139-140.
[17] See the list of ‘Allah’s’ titles in; Jeffery, Islam, 93-98


Anonymous said...

Dirka allah muhammed jihad

hvh said...

It is a human tendency to identify with a “strong person” or a role model to compensate for broken self-image (sense of lack). The qualities of the leader are overstated and the flaws are ignored. In the most extreme cases, this person is made divine. The exalted person on the other hand often takes advance of this worship tendency to gain more control over his/her followers and to compensate for his/her broken self-image. Relationships of this kind are of course unhealthy.

To mock the prophet is in Islam regarded as blasphemy and thus reflects the status of the prophet within the religion.

SEO said...

True Mr. HVH.

Did you have any particular (religious) leader in mind?

To mock i.e. the Pope would not be a blasphemy.

That is why Christianity is "named after" Christ, not the Pope or any prophet / leader.

hvh said...

I realized this relationship pattern through a certain religous leader, but didn’t have him/her particularily in mind when I wrot this. It is rather a speculation of how Muhammed migth have reach his semi-divine status within Islam.