After this lengthy analysis, it becomes quite clear that the anti-Muslim theory that “Allah is the moon-god” comes from nothing more than the fact that the crescent moon is often used as a symbol to represent Islam. This argument is paper thin for numerous reasons:
1) The star of David is used to denote Judaism; well then, the Jews must worship the stars–Yahweh must be the star-god! The cross is used to denote Christianity; do Christians worship the cross? Certainly, this is silly “logic.”
We can similarly disregard the “Muslims use the lunar calender” argument. Jews also use the lunar calender; does this mean that they too worship the moon? Christians use a solar calendar; does this mean they worship the sun god?
2) The crescent moon as a symbol for Islam is a relatively new phenomenon. The Prophet Muhammad certainly never used it. In fact, it seems that he forbade all forms of religious iconography, as he feared it would lead to idolatry. Neither did the Muslims use the symbol for hundreds of years. It was only in the nineteenth century that the Ottoman Empire used the crescent symbol on their flag. The Ottomans were of Turkic origin, and the crescent symbol was used by the pre-Islamic Turkic tribes. The Ottoman Turks were converts to Islam, and they retained the pre-Islamic symbol from their pagan faith.
The Ottoman Empire expanded to involve much of the Islamic world, and soon “Muslim” became synonymous with “Turk” to the Europeans. Therefore, the crescent became associated not just with the Ottoman Empire, but Islam in general. Even so, it was only until the twentieth century that the crescent really became the symbol of Islam in the West and in some (but certainly not all) Muslim countries. It is a historical irony that the adoption of the pagan symbol was a result of the early Islamic reticence towards adopting an icon. With no icon representing the faith, the crescent moon became the stand-in symbol for Islam.
Although it is true that the crescent symbol is pagan in origin, it cannot be used as a proof that the Prophet Muhammad or the early Muslims worshiped the moon, since the crescent is of recent origin. During Muhammad’s time (and hundreds of years thereafter), the Muslims did not use the crescent symbol.
It is hotly debated whether or not the Ottomans adopted the crescent symbol from the Byzantine Empire. Recent scholarship has moved away from this belief, but it is interesting to note that even when it was a widely held belief, nobody in their right mind would think that it would be proof that the Christians of the Byzantine Empire worshiped the moon! But somehow when it comes to Muslims there are always foregone conclusions.
3) As mentioned above, the Prophet Muhammad forbade the use of religious icons. Furthermore, even though the crescent is used by the religious laity, it is rejected by the traditional and orthodox clergy of Islam. For example, the ultra-orthodox Islamic website Islam-qa.com says:
There is no basis in sharee’ah for taking the crescent or star as a symbol of the Muslims. This was not known at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), or at the time of the Khulafa’ al-Raashidoon (the first four leaders of Islam after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), or during the time of the Umawis (Umayyad dynasty)…there is no evidence that this symbol is prescribed by Islam, it is better not to use it. Neither the crescent nor the star are symbols of the Muslims, even though some Muslims may use them as symbols.
Elsewhere, the site says that the symbol might be haram (strictly forbidden) and even bidah (literally: a blame-worthy innovation; what it really refers to is a deviation from or corruption of the faith). Since our opponents usually take the most conservative expressions of Islam as the only legitimate and representative forms of the religion, surely this should be acceptable to them as proof that the crescent is not a part of Islam.
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It would be appropriate here to point out the pagan origins of many things in the Christian faith: for example, both Christmas and Easter–the two most popular holidays of Christianity–are of pagan origins. Christmas originated from a pagan holiday involving the worship of the sun. As for Easter, this too has pagan origins, and involved the worship of the Great Mother Goddess named Eostre. Just imagine if the two Islamic holidays–the two Eids–had pagan origins. This would become the supreme proof for the anti-Muslim camp. It would be proof that Allah was the sun god or the pagan mother goddess.
Robert Morey was forced to admit that Christmas and Easter come from pagan origins, but he brushed this point off by saying:
Some Muslims may point to the so-called Christian feasts of Christmas and Easter being pagan in origins. I agree. They are pagan in origin! That is the reason I teach people to not indulge in Christmas and Easter as a form of worship to God, because the New Testament teaches that we are not to observe any holy days, or months or years (Gal. 4:10-11). Keeping Christmas and Easter as a non-religious time of gift-giving is okay. But we do not worship God with it.
Morey is arguing that although the majority of Christian laypersons worship Christmas and Easter with great devotion, the purists like himself “teach people to not indulge” in them. Doesn’t this then apply to the crescent symbol, which is rejected by Islamic purists, namely the traditional and orthodox clergy? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? This is yet another case of the huge double-standards employed by the anti-Muslim camp when criticizing Islam.
But Christmas and Easter are just the tip of the iceberg. Scholarship has uncovered much else of Christianity’s pagan origins; there is evidence to suggest that even the concept and story of Jesus Christ has pagan roots.
Yet more relevant is the fact that the Judeo-Christian concept of God originates from pagan sources, according to some scholars. Professor Mark S. Smith, a professor of the Bible and Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU, published a book entitled The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel in which he discusses this issue in great detail. The book is dense and difficult reading, but fortunately it has been appropriately summarized by Wikipedia (normally I would be averse to using Wikipedia as a “source,” but here I am simply using it as a good summary of the book itself, which I have read; whoever summarized it on Wikipedia did a great job, better than I could do myself. More importantly, I’ll reference a scholar’s review of the book to corroborate the online encyclopedia.):
Smith begins from the understanding that Israelite culture was largely Canaanite in origin, and that deities such as El, Baal and Asherah, far from being alien to the Israelites, formed part of their heritage. He therefore sees Israelite monolatry (the insistence that Israel should worship one god, Yahweh, but without denying the reality of other gods) as a break with Israel’s own past.
Yahweh, he argues, originated in Edom/Midian/Teman as a warrior-god and was subsequently assimilated into the highland pantheon headed by El and his consort, Asherah and populated by Baal and other deities.
Smith sees this process as marked by two major phases, which he describes as “convergence” and “differentiation.” In the period of the Judges and the early monarchy, convergence saw the coalescence of the qualities of other deities, and even the deities themselves, into Yahweh. Thus El became identified as a name of Yaweh, Asherah ceased to be a distinct goddess, and qualities of El, Asherah and Baal (notably, for Baal, his identification as a storm-god) were assimilated into Yahweh. In the period from the 9th century BC through to the Exile certain features of the Israelite religion were differentiated from the Yahweh cult, identified as Canaanite, and rejected: examples include Baal, child sacrifice, the asherah, worship of the sun and moon, and the cults of the “high places”
In other words, various Canaanite (pagan) deities converged into Yahweh, and only at a later point differentiated into competing gods but only after Yahweh had assimilated many of their qualities into himself. Prof. Richard S. Hess has also summarized and reviewed Smith’s book, saying (emphasis added):
Smith argues that there are three major tendencies in the history of Israelite religion. There is the convergence of the characteristics of deities such as El, Baal, and Asherah into those of Yahweh. There is the divergence of the figures of Baal and Asherah from Yahweh. Finally, there is the role of the Monarchy in the acceptance of various deities and images associated with Yahweh as well as rejection of these late in the Monarchy under Josiah.
Smith then turns his attention toward the evidence for various deities during the period of the Judges, i.e., Iron Age I. For him, this was largely a time that saw the convergence of deities such as El and Yahweh…
For Smith, El was never a threat and simply became assimilated with Yahweh in the first millennium, as evidenced by the early divine name Yahweh-El. Baal was a clear threat from the ninth century onwards as the account of Ahab and Jezebel’s attempt to introduce the Tyrian form of this deity (Baal Shamem) led to a prophetic revolt and intolerance for the god. Nevertheless, various characteristics such as those of the storm and stormcloud were adopted and applied to Yahweh. As noted, Asherah was reduced to a cult symbol of Yahweh. However, the female characteristics of Yahweh and some background to the personification of Wisdom (e.g., Proverbs 3) owe their origins to Asherah. The sun deity was assumed by Yahweh who took on its characteristics. The actual symbol of the sun in the form of the winged sun disk became a later symbol of the Judean monarchy.
This is a polemical goldmine: “the sun deity was assumed by Yahweh who took on its characteristics.” If anti-Muslims Jews and Christians want to argue that Allah came from the moon-god, then Muslims can reply by noting that Yahweh came from the sun-god. If the Islamophobes would cite unacademic and spurious sources like Robert Morey and Yoel Natan to claim Allah comes from the moon-god, Muslims can cite actual scholars such as Prof. Mark S. Smith and others in academia to claim that Yahweh originates from a solar deity and other pagan gods.
One could certainly disagree with Smith’s hypothesis and conclusion. What is relevant here however is the recurring theme of hypocrisy displayed by anti-Muslim Jews and Christians, whereby they vilify Islam for what is present in their own religion.
It would be easy to apply the same simplistic line of thinking to Christianity that the Islamophobes apply to Islam: Christians use the solar calendar, they celebrate Christmas which originated from a pagan holiday involving the sun-god, and they worship the Sun/Son of God–THIS IS ALL PROOF THAT CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SUN-GOD!
I wouldn’t really be surprised if some anti-Muslim Jews and Christians used this fact, that some scholars say the Biblical God had roots in a solar-deity, to argue that the Islamic God came from the sun-god, since after all, the Islamic God is the same as Judeo-Christian one–except they would somehow link Allah to the sun-god, and use “ellipses” to omit the fact that the link to the sun-god is through the Judeo-Christian tradition itself. Then they’d argue: the Islamic God is not the same as the Judeo-Christian one because Allah comes from the pagan sun-god!
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This last revelation, that early Judaism was not completely independent of “pagan” religion and society, should signal a paradigm shift in the minds of modern-day Jews, Christians, and Muslims who often define themselves in complete opposition to pagandom. Such a myopic view towards pagan faiths (here defined simply as non-Abrahamic religions) is intolerant, hateful, and simply inaccurate.
On a more positive note, there is certainly room to accept a more tolerant, nuanced, and appropriate view of “paganism” in Islam: the Prophet Muhammad is said to have affirmed what was good in pre-Islamic Arab custom and rejected what was wrong with it. For example, he affirmed the hospitality that the pre-Islamic Arabs were known for, whereas he rejected female infanticide. The point is that he did not reject pagan custom wholesale.
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Having thus established that Allah did not originate from the moon-god–that Muslims never worshiped the moon, that the Quran itself explicitly forbids lunar worship in multiple verses, and that Allah was the most popular name the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians used for God long before Muhammad was born, that the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians continue to do so, that Allah is the name used for God in Arabic Bibles, that the word Allah is derived from the Aramaic word Alaha which Jesus used, that the word Allah is closer to what Jesus used than the word “God” that Christians use today, that much of Christianity comes from pagan origins, that the word “God” that Christians use today comes from pagan roots, and that some scholars say that the Israelite god originated from pagan deities including the sun-god–the Islamophobes have absolutely no leg to stand on.
And because they don’t have a leg to stand on, the Islamophobes resort to their fall-back argument. They argue that the Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians because the Quran categorically rejects the Trinity dogma. This argument, supported by the likes of Robert Spencer, will be addressed in the next part of the Series–and it will be seen how this is yet another case of anti-Muslim Christians shooting themselves in the foot in their desperate attempts to vilify the religion that they despise so much.