Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Watani: Chief Goddess in North Arabia

Assalamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah

The gods and goddesses in Arabia during the Age of Ignorance was of various origin. Some of them were from the Assyrians, some from Mesopotamia and some from the Levant. The Arabs were surrounded by these nations.

Chief Goddesses in Mecca


This goddesses is mentioned in Quran (Surah al-Najm 53:19-23) which shows that the Arabs of the Age of Ignorance considered her as one of the daughters of the God the Highest along with two other goddesses. The shrine and temple dedicated to her was in Taif. It was demolished by Abu Sufyan bin Harb on the orders of noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w during an expedition in the same year as the Battle of Tabuk (630 AD).

In older sources, this goddess is the cognate of a Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld known as Ereshkigal. She was reportedly also venerated in Carthage under the name al-Latu. The goddess occurs in early Safaitic graffiti and the Nabateans of Petra and the people of Hatra also worshiped her, equating her with the Greek, Athena and Tyche and the Roman's Minerva. Minerva is equated to Sarawati of the Hindus in South Asia but Saraswati is the goddess representing the śakti of the knowledge and art. She is frequently called "the Great Goddess" in Greek as carved in the multi-lingual inscriptions.    

Wellhausen mentions that, the Nabateans believed the goddess al-Lāt was the mother of god Hubal and so is the mother-in-law of goddess Manāt

The Greek historian, Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, considered her the equivalent of Aphrodite:
"The Assyrians call Aphrodite as Mylitta, the Arabians, al-Ilat, and the Persians, Mitra. In addition, the deity is associated with the Indian deity, Mitra".
The Persian and Indian deity were developed from the proto-Indo-Iranian deity known as the Mitra. According to Herodotus, the ancient North Arabians believed in only two gods:
"They believe in no other gods except Dionysus and the heavenly Aphrodite; and they say that they wear their hair as Dionysus does his, cutting it round the head and shaving the temples. They call Dionysus, Orotalt; and Aphrodite, al-Ilat".
There is also archeological evidence from Iram shows copious inscriptions devoted to this goddess for the protection of a certain tribe by that name (Surah al-Fajr 89:5-8).

This goddess is also explicitly attested from early records discussing the period of ignorance. According to the Kitāb al-Anām by Hishām bin al-Kalbi, most of the Arabs during the Ignorance Age believed this goddess resided in the Cubicle Shrine in Mecca and also had an idol dedicated for her inside the holy sanctuary:
"Her custody was in the hands of the Banū Attāb bin Mālik of the Taqif, who had built an edifice over her. Most of the Quraish, as well as all the Arabs, venerated this goddess. They also used to name their children after her, calling them Zayd al-Lāt or Taym al-Lāt... Al-Lat continued to be venerated until the people in Taqif embraced Islam, when noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w dispatched al-Mughīrah bin Shu'bah, who destroyed the temple and burnt the idol to the ground

The goddess of fate and she was known with a cognate name as Manawat of the Nabateans of Petra who equated her with the Greco-Roman goddess, Nemesis. She was considered the wife of god Hubal. By the way, Nabateans were Northern Arab Bedouins who inhabited some areas in Jordan, Syria, Israel and Southwest of Arabia. I guess I kept their tribal identification with me but it is lost. 

Grunebaum in his Classical Islam says, the Arabic name of Manat is the linguistic counterpart of the Hellenistic Tyche, Dahr, the fateful "Time" who snatches men away and robs their existence of purpose and value. There are also connections with Chronos of Mithraism and Zurvan in Eastern religions.  

The Kitab al-Asnam describes the goddess worshiped by the pagan Arabs...
"The most ancient of all these idols was Manat. The Arabs used to name their children Abd Manat and Zayd Manat. Manat was erected on the seashore in the vicinity of al-Mushallal in Qudayd, between Medina and Mecca. All the Arabs used to venerate her and sacrifice before "her". The Aws and the Khazraj as well as those among the people of Yatrib and other places who took their way of life, would go for pilgrimage and observe vigil at all the appointed places but they did not shave their heads. At the end of pilgrimage, however, when they were about to return home, they would set out to the place where the idol of goddess Manat stood, shave their heads, and stay there a while. They did not consider their pilgrimage completed until they visited the goddess". - Kitab al-Asnam, pp. 12-14.
The ruling tribes of Yatrib, and other Arabs, continued to worship goddess Manat until the time of Muhammad s.a.w. The temple of this particular goddess in al-Mushallal was raided and the idol was destroyed in the Raid of Sa'd bin Zaid al-Ashhali, January 630 AD (Ramadan of 8th H).


She was also worshiped by the Nabateans who equated her to Greek goddess Aphrodite Ourania or Venus Calestis. 

As stone cube at aṭ-Ṭā’if near Mecca was held sacred as part of her cult. She is mentioned in the Quran together with other two goddess worshiped by the pagans. She was called for protection along with god Hubal by some Quraish Arabs who commit polytheism with other Arabian tribes.

In 624 AD at the Battle of Uhud, the war of cry of the Quraish Arabs was, "O people of al-'Uzzā, people of Hubal!" Al-'Uzza also later appears in Ibn Ishaq's account of the Satanic Verses. 

In the Nabatean region, the first known mention about this particular goddess is from the inscriptions of Dedan, the capital of the Lihyanite kingdom in the 4th or 3rd century BC. She had been adopted alongside Dushara as the presiding goddess at Petra, the Nabatean capital, where she was assimilated with Isis, Tyche, and Aphrodite attributes and superseded her sisters. During the 5th century, Christianity became the prominent religion there following the conquest of Barsauma, the Metropolitan of Nisibis from the Church of Persia.

Inscriptions related to al-'Uzza among the Nabateans at Petra have been interpreted to associate al-'Uzza with the planet Venus. According to the Kitab al-Asnam by Hisham bin al-Kalbi (N.A. Faris, 1952; 16-23):
Over her (an Arab) built a house known as Bus in which the people used to receive oracular communications. The Arabs as well as the Quraish polytheists would name their children as Abd al-'Uzza. Furthermore, it was perceived as a patron deity for the Quraish. They used to make pilgrimage for her, offer gifts to the temple for her, and seek her favors through sacrifice.
The polytheist Quraish would circumambulate the Cubicle Shrine and say, "By al-Lāt and al-'Uzza, and al-Manāt, the third idol besides. Verily they are al-gharānīq whose intercession to be sought".

This last phrase is said to be the source of the alleged Satanic Verses; the Arabic term is translated as "most exalted females" by Faris in the text, but he annotates this much-argued term in a footnote as "lit. Numidean cranes".

The Kitāb al-Aṣnām offers additional detail on the "three exalted cranes" Ibn Isḥaq says were omitted from the Qur'an, "These were also called "the daughter of the God the Highest" and were supposed to intercede before Him". Each of the goddesses had a separate shrine for them near Mecca. The most prominent Arabian shrine of this particular goddess was at a place known as Nakhlah near Qudayd, east of Mecca toward aṭ-Ṭā'if; three trees were sacred to her there (narration through al-'Anazi Abū 'Alī in the Kitab al-Aṣnām):
"She was the Lady 'Uzzayan to whom a South Arabian offered a golden image on behalf of his sick daughter, Amat-'Uzzayan (the Maid of Uzzayan)".
Abd al-'Uzza or the slave of the mightiest one was a favorite proper name among the pagans during the advent of Islam (Hitti, 1937). The name al-'Uzza appears as an emblem of beauty in late pagan Arabic poetry quoted by Ibn al-Kalbi, and oaths were sworn by her name.  

The worship toward this goddess in South Arabia has been thoroughly effaced by time but her presence has not been obliterated far north at Petra of the Nabateans, who had deities with Arabian names early in their history, whom they later associated with Hellenistic gods, al-'Uzza becoming associated with Isis and with Aphrodite.

Excavations at Petra since 1974 have revealed a temple apparently dedicated to Isis or al-'Uzza, now named after some carvings found inside, the Temple of the Winged Lions (Hammond). Inscriptions record the name of this goddess at Petra. Isis was an ancient Egyptian goddess worshiped by slaves, sinners, artisans, the downtrodden and also a patron goddess for maidens, the wealthy, aristocrats and rulers. The worship to this particular goddess became prominent in Greco-Roman empire and areas closer to the empire.

A fragment of poetry by Zatd bin 'Amr bin Nofayl quoted in Kitab al-Asnam suggests that al-'Uzza had two daughters through the phrase, "No more do I worship al-'Uzza and her two daughters".

Muhammad Mohar Ali writes (2002), "The Arabs had developed a number of subsidiary Ka'bat (tawaget) at different places in the land, each with its presiding god or goddess. They used to visit those shrines at appointed times, circumambulate them and make sacrifices of animals there, besides performing other polytheistic rites. The most prominent shrines were those of al-Lat at Ta'if, al-'Uzza at Nakhlah and al-Manat near Qudayd. The origins of these idols are uncertain. Ibn Kalbi says that al-Lat was "younger" (ahdat) than al-Manawat, while al-'Uzza was "younger" than both al-Lat and al-Manawat. But though al-'Uzza was thus youngest of the three; it was nonetheless the most important and the greatest ('azam) idol with some of those pagan Quraish who, along with the Banū Kinānah, ministered to it".

On the authority of Abdullah bin 'Abbas, al-Tabari derived the word al-'Uzza from al-'Azīz or "The Most Honored" and it is one of the 99 glorious Names of the God the Highest in his commentary on the Quran Surah al-A'araf, "And to the God the Highest belong the best names, so invoke Him by them! But leave (the company of) those who practice deviation concerning His names! They will be recompensed for what they have been doing" (7:180).

The temple of this goddess worshiped by Quraish and the larger Kinanah tribes was destroyed by Khalid bin al-Walid in Ramadan 8 H. The temple was under the custody of Banu Shaiban. Khalid, heading 30 horsemen arrived there and exterminated that place. On his return, Muhammad s.a.w asked him if he had seen anything there? Khalid replied nothing. Muhammad s.a.w said that it was not fully destroyed and he has to return there. He went back again and saw that there was an Abyssinian woman naked with thorn hair. He struck her with his sword and tore her into "two parts" as according to Safi al-Rahman al-Mobarakpuri. He returned and narrated the story to Muhammad s.a.w, who then confirmed the fulfillment of the task. Some said that the "woman" was the personification of the "power" of the idol worshiped by the people who manifests itself after her "house" was destroyed.  

Sealed with prayers for mercy, peace and love, amin!

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