Haram Month #5 – Mythological Spotlight #6 – The Gharaniq Goddesses

The Gharaniq goddesses, interpreted by a Neopagan artist.

Introduction

There are three Arabian goddesses that are a matter of some controversy among Islamic scholars. These goddesses are Allat, Al-Uzza and Manat as shown above, and were worshiped in pre-Islamic polytheistic tradition. Allat is a goddess of fertility, Al-Uzza is a goddess of power and Manat is a goddess of fate. They are the subject of what is known as the “satanic verses”, which is apparently an incident when the prophet Muhammad believed that these goddesses were the daughters of Allah, before recanting this belief and denouncing it as the whispers of Satan (or rather Iblis). The idea that Muhammad could have venerated any deity, let alone three goddesses, alongside Allah is no doubt considered to be blasphemous by Muslims (after all, Muslims believe there is no deity other than Allah and Muhammad is his messenger), and it is believed that if the verses are authentic then it means that Muhammad not endorsed polytheism at one point but was also briefly suggestible to the words of Iblis – the latter apparently offends Muslims because they believe that the prophets, including Muhammad, are infallible.

 

History

Before the time of the prophet Muhammad and his conquest of Mecca, the Arabs practiced polytheism, worshipping many deities instead of one. Three of these deities were Allat, Al-Uzza and Manat.

Allat was worshipped in Mecca, but was also worshiped as far afield as Palmyra in Syria and it’s also been claimed that she was worshiped in ancient Carthage as Allatu. Aside from being considered a mother goddess and a goddess of fertility and spring, she was also considered to be a goddess associated with the underworld and seen as equivalent to the Mesopotamian goddess Ereshkigal. Apparently there is also reference to a goddess named Beltis, or Beltis-Allat, that is identified with Allat and Ereshkigal. Her name means “Great Goddess”, and this is seen as an indication the wife of Allah – given that her name is the feminine form of Allah – much like how the Semitic goddess Asherah, who was also known as Elat which is a feminine form of El – her consort. And yes, Allah himself was originally a deity in worshiped in Mecca as part of pre-Islamic polytheism, just like Jehovah or Yahweh was originally a deity from Canaanite polytheism. The Greeks identified Allat with their own goddess of love Aphrodite, as well as Athena the goddess of wisdom and strategy – there also exists depictions of a syncretic deity named Allat-Minerva who may have been worshiped in Syria. She was also associated with the planet Venus. In the year 630 AD, the idol of Allat and her shrine in Ta’if was demolished on the orders of Muhammad by a man named Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb. Muhammad demanded that the idol be destroyed immediately, rather than leave the idol remain until the people of Ta’if embraced Islam on their own.

Al-Uzza was worshipped in Meeca as well as in Petra, in what is now Jordan, where she may have been adopted as a presiding goddess alongside Dushara – a deity of the daytime. She was the goddess of power, but she was also associated with the stars as well as love, vegetation and funerary relationships. She was also a goddess that was invoked for protection by the pre-Islamic tribe that controlled Mecca. She may even have been seen as a supreme goddess in Petra. She was identified with Aphrodite Ourania (in Rome, Venus Celestis), a form of Venus associated with the heavens – perhaps as Queen of the Heavens – and with the Egyptian goddess Isis. It is thought that depictions of a syncretic deity named Isis-Al-Uzza are carved on the treasury in Petra. Her idol at Nakhla was demolished and her temple raided on the orders of Muhammad by the general Khalid ibn Al-Walid. Khalid was destroyed trees associated with the goddess, demolished all her idols and killed the people who looked after the idols and the temple.

Manat, also known as Manawat, is considered to be the ancient of the three goddesses. She was worshiped by the Nabataeans in Petra and the Aws and Khazraj in Arabia. She was believed to be the wife of the storm deity Hubal, and it was believed that sacrifices were made to her. She was also identified with the Greek goddess Nemesis, but some claim she is connected with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar because of the fact that “Menitu” is a title of Ishtar. It may have been believed that Manat watched over the graves and control the destinies of her worshipers. It is believed that she may have been worshiped in Palmyra alongside Ba’al. Her temple was destroyed on the orders of Muhammad by a man named Sa’d ibn Zaid al-Ashhali. During the raid, there was a dark-skinned women with unkempt hair that was killed by Sa’d, and Muhammad believed that she was the goddess Manat.

In Islam these goddesses are considered to be “false gods”, as are any deities other than Allah. But in the so-called “Satanic verses”, Muhammad appears to refer to Allat, Al-Uzza and Manat as exalted goddesses. The verses, according to the historian Muhammad ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, are as follows:

Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzzá
and Manāt, the third, the other?
These are the exalted gharāniq, whose intercession is hoped for.

The word “gharaniq” is usually taken to mean “high-flying cranes”, in case you were wondering. According to Al-Tabari’s account, Satan (or should that be Iblis in this case?) whispered these verses into Muhammad’s ears causing him to endorse veneration of and intercessory prayer to the three goddesses. It is described that afterwards the angel Gabriel tells Muhammad that what he had just recited was not from Allah. Realizing this, Muhammad was overcome with grief and fear of Allah, but finds that Allah sent a revelation upon Muhammad and was merciful. The verses that actually appear in the Quran which mention the goddesses are as follows:

Have you considered El-Lat and El-‘Uzza and Manat the third, the other?… They are naught but names yourselves have named, and your fathers; God has sent down no authority touching them… How many an angel is there in the heavens whose intercession avails not anything, save after that God gives leave to whomsoever He wills, and is well-pleased. Those who do not believe in the world to come name the angels with the names of females.

The very idea that Muhammad could be misled by Satan and thus advocate the worship of pagan goddesses is considered blasphemous to many Muslims, considering that they believe Muhammad is the bringer of the word of God, and both are considered to be infallible incapable of error. It’s generally held that the teachings of the Quran are perfect, the final word of Allah (hence the reason orthodox Muslims have a problem with heterodoxy, as shown in their attitude towards the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam), and the idea that Muhammad can be suggestible to falsehood at any one point subverts this notion of perfection. Not to mention the mere idea that Muhammad would ever promote polytheism, when in Islam there is no God but Allah. It’s no wonder, then, that the “satanic verses” are the subject of discussion and debate among Islamic scholars, and often outright denounced as lies by Muslims.

This is why when Salman Rushdie released his novel, The Satanic Verses, in 1988, the novel was accused of being blasphemous, and why in 1989 the then-Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie and called for him to be executed. Because of this, there were quite a few attempts on his life. He survived, but a few of his translators were injured in various attacks and one of them, Hitoshi Igarashi, was killed. And Iran has not forgotten about the fatwa either. In recent years, the Iranian media has been offering generous monetary rewards, upwards of $600,000, for the assassination of Salman Rusdie. Incidentally, the controversy surrounding Rushdie’s novel helped re-ignite the debate among Islamic scholars about the specific verses.

 

Conclusion

These three goddesses exist as a reminder of the pre-Islamic polytheistic past, and evidently a rather embarrassing one for the Islamic faith. So much so, in fact, that the Islamic community has shat itself over a novel written about the verses that were allegedly whispered into Muhammad by Satan, to the point that they place a death fatwa on the author of the novel. But they are also, sadly, relics of an age that Muhammad tried to extirpate from Arabia in order to fulfill the conquest of Islam. And, following in Muhammad’s footsteps, ISIL wages much the same campaign wen they set out striving to erase all that is not Islamic from the world around them, as is shown by how they have destroyed many ancient sites of Middle Eastern cultural heritage over the last few years.

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