Quran Inconsistency

Did the Polytheists Believe That Allah Was The Supreme Being
Or Did They View Him As One of Many Rival Gods?

Sam Shamoun

The Quran claims that the pagans of Muhammad’s time believed that Allah was the creator and owner of the heavens and earth:

Say: Unto Whom (belongeth) the earth and whosoever is therein, if ye have knowledge? They will say: Unto Allah. Say: Will ye not then remember? Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens, and Lord of the Tremendous Throne? They will say: Unto Allah (all that belongeth). Say: Will ye not then keep duty (unto Him)? Say: In Whose hand is the dominion over all things and He protecteth, while against Him there is no protection, if ye have knowledge? They will say: Unto Allah (all that belongeth). Say: How then are ye bewitched? S. 23:84-89

And if thou wert to ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth, and constrained the sun and the moon (to their appointed work)? they would say: Allah. How then are they turned away? Allah maketh the provision wide for whom He will of His bondmen, and straiteneth it for whom (He will). Lo! Allah is Aware of all things. And if thou wert to ask them: Who causeth water to come down from the sky, and therewith reviveth the earth after its death? they verily would say: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them have no sense. S. 29:61-63

If thou shouldst ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth? they would answer: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them know not. S. 31:25

The Quran says that the problem of the pagans was to associate other deities with Allah:

They assign unto Allah, of the crops and cattle which He created, a portion, and they say: "This is Allah's" - in their make-believe - "and this is for (His) partners in regard to us." Thus that which (they assign) unto His partners in them reacheth not Allah and that which (they assign) unto Allah goeth to their (so-called) partners. Evil is their ordinance. S. 6:136

Allah hath not chosen any son, nor is there any god along with Him; else would each god have assuredly championed that which he created, and some of them would assuredly have overcome others. Glorified be Allah above all that they allege. S. 23:91

And verily, if thou shouldst ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth? they will say: Allah. Say: Bethink you then of those ye worship beside Allah, if Allah willed some hurt for me, could they remove from me His hurt; or if He willed some mercy for me, could they restrain His mercy? Say: Allah is my all. In Him do (all) the trusting put their trust. S. 39:38

The Quran further states that their reason for worshiping these other gods was so that they might get closer to Allah:

Surely pure religion is for Allah only. And those who choose protecting friends beside Him (say): We worship them only that they may bring us near unto Allah. Lo! Allah will judge between them concerning that wherein they differ. Lo! Allah guideth not him who is a liar, an ingrate. S. 39:3

However, there are other references which indicate that the unbelievers did not view Allah as the supreme god, but believed he was just one of many rival deities. For instance, the Quran claims that Muhammad’s antagonists did not worship his god Allah:

Say: 'O unbelievers, I serve not what you serve and you are not serving what I serve, nor am I serving what you have served, neither are you serving what I serve. To you your religion, and to me my religion!' S. 109:1-6 Arberry

Muhammad is even warned from insulting their gods lest they insult his deity:

Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do. S. 6:108

The above texts make no sense if the Quran is correct that the pagans worshiped Allah as the supreme deity. After all, why would they insult the high god of their pantheon and how could they be accused of not serving Allah if in fact they believed he was the creator of all and that they only worshiped other gods in order to get closer to him?

These verses only make sense if the pagans did not worship Allah or did not view him as the Supreme Being, but believed he was only one among many rival deities.

The following narrative provides additional substantiation that the pagans viewed Allah as one among many gods, that is assuming that they did believe in Allah:

… Abu Sufyan said, "Our victory today is a counterbalance to yours in the battle of Badr, and in war (the victory) is always undecided and is shared in turns by the belligerents, and you will find some of your (killed) men mutilated, but I did not urge my men to do so, yet I do not feel sorry for their deed" After that he started reciting cheerfully, "O Hubal, be high!" On that the Prophet said (to his companions), "Why don't you answer him back?" They said, "O Allah's Apostle! What shall we say?" He said, "Say, Allah is Higher and more Sublime." (Then) Abu Sufyan said, "We have the (idol) Al Uzza, and you have no Uzza." The Prophet said (to his companions), "Why don't you answer him back?" They asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What shall we say?" He said, "Say Allah is our Helper and you have no helper." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 276)

The above tradition poses problems for the Muslim view that the pagans believed Allah was superior to the rest of the gods. Abu Sufyan’s comments presuppose that Allah was either one among many deities or that he was a foreign god who could be defeated by their gods. After all, Abu Sufyan attributed the victory over Muhammad to his god Hubal and the goddess Uzza, suggesting that at least in his mind these gods were equal, if not superior, to Allah. Abu Sufyan apparently felt that Allah could be challenged and defeated.

Now wouldn’t this support the fact that the pagans didn't see Allah as the unrivaled and supreme deity?(1)

With the foregoing in perspective, it is rather interesting to read the following amusing comments by some Muslim polemicists:

It is hard to see how this tradition poses "problems" for Muslims. In fact, this tradition clearly refutes the missionaries' claim that Allah and Hubal were identical. Furthermore, Abu Sufyan, the chieftain of the Quraysh, became a Muslim in 8 AH just a few days before the liberation of Makkah, after a personal council with the Prophet.[15] He swallowed his pride and admitted that:

By God, I thought that had there been any God with God, he would have continued to help me.[16]

In other words, Hubal and al-‘Uzza which Abu Sufyan had proclaimed as gods neither assisted nor helped him to defeat the Muslims. He then accepted Allah as the one, supreme God beside whom there exists no other god. Furthermore, he was also personally involved in the smashing of the idol of Allat, one of the so called daughters of Allah… (M S M Saifullah & ‘Abdullah David, Is Hubal The Same As Allah?; source)

There are several problems with the above assertions.(2) First, the writers have confused a question of fact with a question of relevance since Abu Sufyan’s conversion is irrelevant to the issue of his initially believing that Hubal and Uzza could rival Allah in battle.

This leads us to the second problem with the authors’ claims. There is nothing stated by Abu Sufyan which denies that the pagans initially believed that their gods were equal to and rivaled Allah. In fact, his purported statements actually support the view that they didn’t consider Allah to be the unrivaled sovereign of all. Abu Sufyan’s conclusion that Allah alone is god in light of the failure of his gods to help him presupposes that he initially believed that these idols were Allah’s equals and could help the pagans fight against Allah and the Muslims. Note how this works out:

Finally, the authors have managed to bring to light an additional contradiction within the Islamic corpus. According to what they have quoted, Abu Sufyan came to the conclusion that the gods worshiped by the Meccans, such as the daughters of Allah which included the goddess al-Uzza, do not exist. Yet according to other narratives, Muhammad believed that they did exist and even sent one of his followers to kill al-Uzza:

In this year, five nights before the end of Ramadan, Khalid al-Walid destroyed al-‘Uzza in the lowland of Nakhlah. Al-‘Uzza was an idol of the Banu Shayban, a subdivision of Sulaym, allies of the Banu Hashim. The Banu Asad b. ‘Abd al-‘Uzza used to say it was their idol. Khalid set out for it, and then he said, "I have destroyed it." [The Messenger of God] said, "Did you see anything?" "No," said Khalid. "Then," he said, "go back and destroy it." So Khalid returned to the idol, destroyed its temple, and broke the idol. The keeper began saying, "Rage, O ‘Uzza, with one of thy fits of rage!"–whereupon a naked, wailing Ethiopian woman came out before him. Khalid killed her and took her jewels that were on her. Then he went to the Messenger of God and gave him a report of what happened. "That was al-‘Uzza," he said, "and al-‘Uzza will never be worshiped [again]."

According to Ibn Humayd – Salamah – Ibn Ishaq, who said: The Messenger of God sent Khalid b. al-Walid to [deal with] al-‘Uzza, who was at Nakhlah. She was a temple venerated by the tribes of Quraysh, Kinanah, and all Mudar. Her keepers were of the Banu Shayban, a division of the Banu Sulaym, allies of the Banu Hashim. When the master of the temple heard that Khalid was coming to deal with al-‘Uzza, he hung his sword on her and climbed the mountain near which al-‘Uzza was located. As he went up he said:

O ‘Uzza, attack with an attack that hits no vital place,
against Khalid! Throw down thy veil, and gird up thy train!
O ‘Uzza, if today thou wilt not slay Khalid,
bear a swift punishment, or become a Christian!

Having reached al-‘Uzza, Khalid destroyed her and returned to the Messenger of God. (The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, translated by Michael Fishbein [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1997], Volume 8, pp. 187-188; bold emphasis ours)

How, then, could Abu Sufyan deny the existence of these gods when his own prophet believed that such beings did exist?

In conclusion, it is apparent from the foregoing data that both the Quran and the Islamic tradition are confused regarding whether the pagans worshiped Allah or not. Certain citations say that they did worship Allah and believed he was the supreme creator of all, whereas other references claim that they didn’t serve him and/or didn’t believe that he was the supreme god of all. Rather, they thought that Allah was either a foreign god or one among many equal deities.

Further Reading



(1) A Muslim may argue that these passages are not including all of the Meccan pagans, but only some of them. They may wish to say that the verses are merely stating that there were some (if not many) pagans who may have doubted that Allah was the supreme deity.

The problem with this assertion is that the verses do not make such a qualification but speak of the pagans in general, i.e. the texts do not say that only some, or perhaps many, of the pagans denied that Allah was the high god who was sovereign over the rest. The language of the Quran clearly includes all of the pagans.

Had the author of the Quran wanted to make sure that the reader wouldn't assume that s/he was referring to all the pagans s/he could have qualified his/her statements, much like s/he did in the following texts:

Can ye (o ye men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you? - Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of God, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it. S. 2:75 Y. Ali

Is it not (the case) that every time they make a covenant, some party among them throw it aside? - Nay, Most of them are faithless. And when there came to them an apostle from God, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of God behind their backs, as if (it had been something) they did not know! S. 2:100-101 Y. Ali

The foregoing examples show that if the author only meant that some, if not many, of the pagans didn't view Allah as the highest and unrivaled god s/he could have formulated the references in the following manner:

Say: 'O unbelievers, I serve not what some of you serve and some of you are not serving what I serve, nor am I serving what some of you have served, neither are some of you serving what I serve. To you your religion, and to me my religion!'

Revile not those unto whom some of them pray beside Allah lest some of them wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance.


Say: 'O unbelievers, I serve not what a party among you serve and some of you are not serving what I serve, nor am I serving what a party among you have served, neither are some of you serving what I serve. To you your religion, and to me my religion!'

Revile not those unto whom a party among them pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance.

But unfortunately for the Muslims this is not what s/he wrote. As it stands, these verses have been framed in such a way as to leave no doubt that the author of the Quran intended to include all of the pagans without exception.

(2) This response from Islamic Awareness was in reference to my claim that if this particular hadith regarding Abu Sufyan is submitted as proof that Hubal wasn’t Allah in pre-Islamic times then it must also be taken as evidence against Allah being the supreme God of all. Instead of addressing the issue, the authors decided to bring up the red herring of Abu Sufyan’s conversion to Islam! However, this fails to address at all my point that Abu Sufyan’s statements presuppose that the pagans before Islam considered their gods such as Hubal as being equal to, if not greater than, Allah.

Hence, either the IA team must accept the fact that this narration refutes the claim of the Quran that the pagans believed Allah was the supreme sovereign god over all, or must concede the point we made that this report is not recounting actual history but is reading back into Muhammad’s time later theological and polemical ideas and views. As such, it doesn’t tell us anything about Allah’s identity in pre-Islamic times, i.e. whether Allah was a name for Hubal, the chief god of Mecca and the Quraysh, or a separate deity altogether.

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