First of all, you must understand that Islam possesses not one, but two sets of scriptures: the purported word of God and the purported words of Muḥammad. The purported words of God are contained in the Koran (qur'ân = "reading" or "recitation"). Although it is legitimate to raise questions about individual chapters and verses, I don't think we can seriously doubt that the book as a whole was produced in the manner alleged ie as the ecstatic utterances of a self-styled prophet. The whole style of the Koran points to a single, vivid personality as its source, just as the vivid personality of Jesus shines through the whole of the four gospels.
The purported words of Muḥammad are the Hadiths (ḥadīth, plural ʼaḥādīth = "story" or "account"), of which the earliest and most comprehensive collection, second only to the Koran in its authority, is that of al-Bukhârî). Two hundred years after the death of Muḥammad, this remarkable man is said to have examined 200,000 hadiths, and finally authenticated and collected just over 7,000. Each of them comes with a chain of authorities ie "A said that B told him that C said ..." right back to someone who heard it from Muḥammad himself. Despite this, it should be mentioned, most Western authorities consider the Hadiths bogus. As Alfred Guillaume put it: if an acknowledged expert rejects 97% of the traditions, very strong evidence must be adduced before we accept the remaining three percent.
None of these sources say much about the deeds of Muḥammad himself. To discover this, we need to go to the official biographies, of which the earliest is that of ibn Isḥāq, produced about a century and a quarter after the subject's death. These biographies contain a certain amount of legendary and contradictory material but, by and large, they hang together reasonably well. They are not scriptures, as such, but obviously they carry quite a bit of weight, because Muḥammad is considered the ideal man, and free of sin. Thus, for example, the Islamic State frequently cites the actions of their prophet and his companions as justification for their atrocities.
With these considerations, let us examine a few myths.
Moon GodThe contention that Allah was the pre-Islamic Arabian moon god is advanced by both Christian fundamentalists and militant atheists, proof that groups completely opposed to each other can still end up promulgating the same nonsense if it fits their agenda. The contention is that Allah is the same as the god Hubal, which was the name of the moon god. This is completely false.
In pre-Islamic days the Ka‘ba of Mecca was home to several hundred idols, of which one of the most important was Hubal. His worship appears to have been imported from northern Arabia, but his exact function is unclear. The idea that he represented the moon was proposed by Hugo Winckler in 1901, but there is not much evidence in its favour. In any case, it is unlikely that any Arabian deity represented solely the moon. What is certain is that he was not the same as Allah. The Muslims made a very definite distinction between the two, and when Muḥammad finally conquered Mecca, he removed Hubal's statue from the Ka‘ba, along with all the other idols (except, it is said, the icon of Jesus and his Mother).
The FactsAllah represented the high god of the Semites. It can be argued that, even in pre-monotheistic days, the memory of the One True God had never been completely lost. Half the people of the world - the Semites, Indo-Europeans, sub-Saharan Africans, and the Indians of North and South America - believed in a High God, usually regarded as dwelling in the sky, if not being the sky, the creator who stood high above all the other gods, and allotted their domains.
We can see this in our own European mythology. From India to the Atlantic stretch a group of languages known as Indo-European, most likely spread by warriors from the steppes 4,000 years ago. The High God of the original Indo-Europeans was called Dyēus or Dyēus Ph₂tḗr, or "Father Dyēus", and he was associated with the day sky. The Greek equivalent, or course, was Zeus or Zeus Pater, "the father of gods and men", while to the Romans he was Ju-piter, or "Father Jove".
In India the name became Dyauṣ Pitār. However, whereas Zeus was, to use the Jungian archetype, the "terrible sovereign", this Hindu god was a very minor character. This represents a common phenomenon: the High God becomes otiose ie his worship dwindles, and he is pushed ever further to the background as the people concentrate on more local deities, or the specific gods of natural phenomena.
Now we come to the Semites, who spread over the Middle East, speaking a variety of related languages, such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Akkadian or Babylonian. The High God of the Semites was called simply "God". In Akkadian this was ilu or ila, but under that name he soon became otiose.
The Hebrew form of the word is ’ĕlōah. In the Bible, however, the God of Israel is normally referred to with the plural form ’Elōhîm, used as a plural of majesty. The shortened form - probably the basic form - ēl is, of course, well-known as an attachment to any number of masculine personal names e.g. Gabriel, Elkanah etc., as well as in a number of archaic titles ie
El Shaddai, "God Almighty";
El Elyon , "God Most High"'
El Olam, "the Eternal God"'
El Hai, "the Living God"
El Gibor, "mighty God"
In the cuneiform tablets of Ugarit, dating to the middle of the second millennium B.C., El is the supreme deity, although the process of his being supplanted by Baal has begun.
Understanding this leads to a fresh view of the book of Genesis. Unlike the later books of the Pentateuch, Genesis contains no condemnation of idolatry. The gods of Canaan are not even considered worthy of mention. Abraham was following the High God of the Semites. So was Melchizedik, the king of Salem (Jerusalem), who was priest of God Most High (El Elyon). As for the baals, the fertility gods of the Canaanites, the patriarchs had no need to get involved with them; they were, after all, pastoralists. And in the period when El was becoming otiose in Canaan, and the worship of the baals spreading, the Israelites were cut off from the whole process, because they were in Egypt.
It should be noted that the name, Elohim is hardly ever used for God in the book of Job. Instead, it is either the singular, Eloah, or simply El. This is because the story of Job is conceived of taking place in patriarchal times, outside of God's covenant with Israel.
Which brings us to Arabic. The Arabic word for "god", the equivalent of ’ĕlōah, is ilâh, so with the definite article, al-ilâh means simply, "the god", which is compressed to Allâh. There was also another deity in Mecca, considered one of the daughters of Allâh, called Allât, or "the goddess".
Allah was simply the ancient High God of the Arabs. It was Muḥammad's preaching that He was the only god who existed. Where did he get that idea? The Jews and Christians told him so. They existed in Arabia before him, and always used the name, Allah for the One True God. They still do.
There is today a lot of argument about whether Allah is the same God as the other monotheists worship. The answer is, there is a sense in which it is true, and a sense in which it is false. What should not be disputed, however, is that there has been a continuity of worship of this High God for thousands of years, and it has now split into three separate streams.
So much for that myth. In the next few articles we shall look at a few more, in particular the statement by the Rev. Jerry Vines that Muḥammad was a demon possessed pedophile and terrorist.
Go to: Part 2. Demon Possessed
Part 3. Pedophile
Part 4. Violence