Ar-Rahman of the Quran: A Pagan Deity or the God of the Bible?

Being a Response to Muslim Polemicists

Sam Shamoun

The team at Islamic Awareness (IA) wrote a response to the question of whether Muhammad’s god was a pagan deity, specifically the moon god of Southern Arabia. In their response they seek to address my article where I present evidence to show that the Allah of pre-Islamic Mecca was Hubal, an idol whose origins possibly stem from the false god Baal (*). I sought to demonstrate how Muhammad transformed this false god into the one true God of the Holy Bible.

I further showed that one of the attributes and titles which the Quran ascribes to Allah, namely ar-Rahman or "the Merciful", was also the name of a pagan god worshiped in South Arabia. I even provided references from Muslim sources showing that the pagans of Mecca were not at all familiar with the name ar-Rahman and actually thought that he was some other god besides Allah.

The team of M.S.M. Saifullah and Abdullah David (SD for short) took exception with my assertions regarding the pagan origins of Muhammad’s Allah and wrote:

When the pagans were asked to bow before al-Rahman, they did not know who al-Rahman was. Similarly, when the Christian missionaries mention the name al-Rahman, they associate him with a "Moon god" of South Arabia, who was incidentally worshipped by their own brethren. The ignorance of who al-Rahman or Rahmanan was in pre-Islamic South Arabia appears to be quite widespread among the Christian apologetical literature on Islam. For example, Brett Marlowe Stortroen was aware that Rahmanan appears in pre-Islamic inscriptions from South Arabia. But he does not even mention that this term was used by the Christians for God in the same region. He claims that the deity al-Rahman was assimilated into Allah after the advent of Islam… "The Merciful" is an attribute of God which is used by the Jews, Christians and Muslims. This epithet was also used for the pagan deities in Syria and Palmyra.[31] This is not surprising because, whether in the pagan or monotheistic milieu, a divinity must have as aspect of mercy. Without this aspect, a divinity can never be worshipped. Nöldeke considered that Allah's name al-Rahman was borrowed from the Jews.[32] It is hard to see why this would be the case when its use was wide-spread in the Ancient Near East. On the other hand, Arthur Jeffery acknowledges that al-Rahman originated from the common Semitic root RHM and that it occurs in the pre-Islamic Sabaean inscriptions.[33] This word is also found in the pre-Islamic poetry. As for the origin of al-Rahman in Arabic, Jeffery says that "the matter is uncertain". (Rahmanan (RHMNN) - An Ancient South Arabian Moon God?; source)

Several comments are in order. To begin with, my argument regarding ar-Rahman being a pagan god doesn’t stand or fall on whether the Southern Arabs worshiped the moon-god. That is simply irrelevant to my point. The authors decided to focus on one quote of mine where the author made the connection between the Southern Arabian ar-Rahman and moon worship. Whether ar-Rahman was a name for a moon deity or not, this fact would still remain uncontested… ar-Rahman was a pagan god worshiped by the pagans in Southern Arabia. Even the authors admit this in their rebuttal which leads me to my second point.

Notice their candid admission that the pagans of Mecca did not know who Muhammad’s Rahman was, which supports our contention that Rahman was a different god from the high god worshiped by the Meccans.

Moreover, despite admitting that Rahman was used for pagan deities, SD still try to connect Muhammad’s Rahman with the God of the Jews and Christians. In proposing this view the authors commit the fallacy of false analogy, comparing two things as if they are parallel when they are not really the same at all, for at least two reasons.

First, the response of the Meccans militates against such a view. The fact that the Meccans didn’t view Rahman as just a name or attribute of their god Allah proves that they didn’t derive their concept of Allah from the Jews or Christians, or from Abraham and Ishmael as the Islamic tradition claims.

After all, if Abraham and Ishmael were the ones who introduced the worship of Allah in Mecca then the residents there would have surely known that Rahman was a title of the God of Abraham. At the very least they would have been aware that it was one of the names which both the Jews and Christians ascribed to their God, and that the Hebrew Bible itself uses the Hebrew word Rachuwm all throughout its pages, from which the Hebrew cognate of Rahman, specifically Rachman, is derived. They would have realized that this attribute was used to describe God’s mercy and compassion just as the following biblical texts demonstrate:

"The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,’" Exodus 34:6

"For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them." Deuteronomy 4:31

"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." Psalm 103:8

Why, then, were they taken aback by the use of this term if they indeed were worshiping the same God as the Jews and Christians? Doesn’t this actually suggest that the Allah they were worshiping wasn’t the God worshiped by the Jews and Christians, but a pagan high god which Muhammad sought to transform into the true universal God of Abraham?

Second, the Jewish and Christian conceptions of God radically differ from Muhammad’s conception of the Deity, as even SD indirectly admit. For instance, the authors provide three ancient Christian inscriptions which use the title Rahman for God, all of which provide persuasive evidence that neither the South Arabian Rahman nor Muhammad’s Rahman was/is the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians.

The first inscription reads:

1. bhyl / rhmnn / wmshhw / mlkn / 'brh / ...

8. ... wqflw / bn / hl

9. [b]n / [b]hyl / rhmnn

1. By the power of the Merciful One and His Messiah, the king Abraha...

8-9 ... So Abraha returned from Haliban by the power of the Merciful One.

Here, Abraha’s victory is ascribed to the power of the Merciful One AND His Messiah, implying their coequality.

The second inscription says:

1. By the power and favour

2. of the Merciful and His Mes-

3. -siah and the Holy Spirit. They have

4. written the inscription: Behold

5. Abraha who has been exalted, the king, the descendent of men of Ge‘ez, the ramaihis,

6. Za Bayman, king of Saba' and Dhu

7. Raydan and Hadramaut and Yamanat

8. and of 'their' Arabs on the plateau and in Tihamat.

Notice the invocation to the Triune God, i.e. the power and grace of the Merciful One, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This again shows their essential coequality.

The third and final inscription states:

16. ... bsm / rhmn / wbnhw / krsts / glbn

16. ... in the name of the Merciful and, his son Christ, the victorious.

Here is another prayer, another invocation to the Merciful and his Son the Lord Jesus.

The foregoing inscriptions show that the Rahman worshiped by Abraha is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, one of the members of the Holy Trinity.

Furthermore, both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Greek Scriptures teach that the Rahman/Rachman of the Holy Bible is a spiritual Father to his redeemed community:

"Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’" Exodus 4:22-23

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:8

"Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’" Hosea 1:10

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:12-13

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." 1 John 3:1

A fact which the Quran vehemently denies. Contrast the above inscriptions and biblical citations with the teaching of the Quran regarding Muhammad’s Rahman not having children at all:

The Jews and Christians say: We are sons of Allah and His loved ones. Say: Why then doth He chastise you for your sins? Nay, ye are but mortals of His creating. He forgiveth whom He will, and chastiseth whom He will. Allah's is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and unto Him is the journeying. S. 5:18 Pickthall

And they say, 'The All-merciful has taken unto Himself a son. You have indeed advanced something hideous! The heavens are wellnigh rent of it and the earth split asunder, and the mountains wellnigh fall down crashing for that they have attributed to the All-merciful a son; and it behoves not the All-merciful to take a son. None is there in the heavens and earth but he comes to the All-merciful as a servant; S. 19:88-93 Arberry

Say: 'If the All-merciful has a son, then I am the first to serve him. Glory be to the Lord of the heavens and the earth, the Lord of the Throne, above that they describe.' Then leave them alone to plunge and play, until they encounter that day of theirs which they are promised. And it is He who in heaven is God and in earth is God; He is the All-wise, the All-knowing. Glory be to Him, to whom belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all that between them is; with Him is the knowledge of the Hour, and to Him you shall be returned. S. 43:81-85 Arberry

Clearly, the deity proclaimed by Muhammad is not the same God revealed in the Holy Bible.

This leads us to our next point. It is obvious that when the pagans of South Arabia spoke of Rahman they did not have either the Father of Jesus or the Trinity in view. How, then, can anyone assert that the god of the South Arab pagans was actually the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians?

In light of the foregoing the reader should be able to spot the authors’ blatant straw man argumentation when they assert:

One can see that there is no evidence that Sabaic Rahmanan worshipped by the Jews and Christians, which is an equivalent of Arabic al-Rahman, was a Moon god. It appears to be a massive Freudian slip on the part of the Christian missionaries to claim that their brethren in South Arabia before the advent of Islam worshipped a Moon god. In their fervour to hypothesise the lunar characteristics of Allah, those and apologists have engaged in self-imposed paganism – a worrying development. Apart from their telling ignorance about the ancient South Arabian religion, one can also notice that their old habits of claiming Allah being a Moon god stick-in-the-mud.

It is common to find a person resorting to straw man arguments, to distorting the actual position held by the opponent, when the individual in question realizes s/he cannot refute the point being made. This is the case with the authors’ statements since we never denied that the word Rahman was or could be used for the true God, nor did we intimate that the Sabaic Rahman was necessarily a moon god. What we were claiming is that the ar-Rahman of the South Arabian pagans was a pagan deity and not the same Rahman worshiped by the Jews and Christians. The authors are not only attacking a straw man but are also committing the fallacies of false analogy and equivocation since they have erroneously assumed that just because two groups use the same term they must necessarily have the same being or thing in view. The fact is that just because there were Jews who were worshiping Rahman in South Arabia this doesn’t mean that they were worshiping the same Rahman of the South Arabian pagans.

After all, both Muslims and Arab Christians use the word "Allah" for God, but the Christian Allah is radically different from the Muslim Allah.

For more on the typical fallacies which Muslim polemicists often commit we recommend the following article:

To conclude our discussion, we discovered that:

Further Reading

Responses to Islamic Awareness
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page