Notes on the Background of Islam

From: The Islamic Invasion by Robert Morey Harvest House Publishers 1992

Notes from pages 47-65 (Chapters 4 and 5) All footnotes are included in brackets where the numbers were in the original text. The author originally had every sentence in a paragraph of its own. To make reading easier and this text a little shorter, I have combined some into paragraphs where appropriate.



By this time it should not come as a surprise that the word 'Allah" was not something invented by Muhammad or revealed for the first time in the Quran. The well-known Middle East scholar H. Gibb has pointed out that the reason that Muhammad never had to explain who Allah was in the Quran is that his listeners had already heard about Allah long before Muhammad was ever born. [H.A.R. Gibb, Mohammedanism: An Historical Survey (New York: Mentor Books, 1955), p. 38]

Dr. Arthur Jeffery, one of the foremost Western Islamic scholars in modem times and professor of Islamic and Middle East Studies at Columbia University, notes:

"The name Allah, as the Quran itself is witness, was well known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Indeed, both it and its feminine form, Allat, are found not infrequently among the theophorous names in inscriptions from North Africa." [Arthur Jeffery, ed., Islam: Muhammad and His Religion (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1958) p. 85]

The word 'Allah' comes from the compound Arabic word, 'al-ilah'. 'Al' is the definite article "the" and 'i1ah' is an Arabic word for "god." It is not a foreign word. It is not even the Syriac word for God. It is pure Arabic. [For an interesting discussion of the origins of 'allah,' see J. Blau, 'Arabic Lexigraphical Miscellanies." Journal of Semitic Studies, vol XVII, no. 2, 1972, pp. 173-190. That 'allah' is an Arabic word is also pointed out in Hastings' 'Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, I:326.]

Neither is Allah a Hebrew or Greek word for God as found in the Bible. Allah is a purely Arabic term used in reference to an Arabian deity.

Hastings' 'Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics' states:

"'Allah'is a proper name, applicable only to their [Arabs'] peculiar God". [Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908), I:326]

According to the Encyclopedia of Religion:

"'Allah' is a pre-Islamic name...corresponding to the Babylonian Bel." [Encyclopedia of Religion, eds. Paul Meagher, Thomas O'Brian, Consuela Aherne (Washington D.C.: Corpus Pub., 1979), I:117]

For those people who find it hard to believe that Allah was a pagan name for a peculiar pagan Arabian deity in pre-Islamic times, the following citations may be helpful:

"Allah is foundin Arabic inscriptions prior to Islam" (Encyclopedia Britannica) Encyclopedia Britannica, I:642

"The Arabs, before the time of Mohammed, accepted and worshiped, after a fashion, a supreme god called allah" (Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. Houtsma). [Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. Houtsma, Arnold, Basset, Hartman (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1913), I:302]

"Allah was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs; he was one of the Meccan deities" (Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. Gibb). [Encyclopedia of Islam (e. Gibb), I:406]

"Ilah ... appears in pre-Islamic poetry ... By frequency of usage, al-ilah was contracted to allah, frequently attested to in pre-Islamic poetry" (Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. Lewis). [Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. Lewis, Menage, Pellat, Schacht (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971), III:1093]

"The name Allah goes back before Muhammed" (Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend). [The Facts on File: Encyclopedia Of World Mythology and Legend, ed. Anthony Mercantante (New York, The Facts on File, 1983) , I:41]

"The origin of this (Allah) goes back to pre-Muslim times. Allah is not a common name meaning "God" ( or a "god"), and the Muslim must use another word or form if he wishes to indicate any other than his own peculiar deity" (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics). [Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (ed. Hastings), I:326

To the testimony of the above standard reference works, we add those of such scholars as Henry Preserved Smith of Harvard University who has stated:

"Allah was already known by name to the Arabs." [Henry Preserved Smith, The Bible and Islam: or, The Influence of the Old and New Testament on the Religion of Mohammad (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897), p. 102]

Dr. Kenneth Cragg, former editor of the prestigious scholarly journal Muslim World and an outstanding modern Western Islamic scholar, whose works were generally published by Oxford University, comments:

"The name Allah is also evident in archaeological and literary remains of pre-Islamic Arabia." [Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 31]

Dr. W. Montgomery Watt, who was Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Edinburgh University and Visiting Professor of Islamic studies at College de France, Georgetown University, and the University of Toronto, has done extensive work on the pre-Islamic concept of Allah. He concludes:

"In recent years I have become increasingly convinced that for an adequate understanding of the career of Muhammad and the origins of Islam great importance must be attached to the existence in Mecca of belief in Allah as a "high god." In a sense this is a form of paganism, but it is so different from paganism as commonly understood that it deserves separate treatment." [William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad's Mecca, p. vii. See also his article, "Belief in a High God in Pre-Islamic Mecca," Journal of Semitic Studies, vol. 16, 1971, pp. 35-40]

Caesar Farah in his book on Islam concludes his discussion of the pre-Islamic meaning of Allah by saying:

"There is no reason, therefore, to accept the idea that Allah passed to the Muslims from the Christians and Jews." [Caesar Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observations (New York: Barrons, 1987), p. 28]

According to Middle East scholar E.M. Wherry, whose translation of the Quran is still used today, in pre-Islamic times Allah-worship, as well as the worship of Ba-al, were both astral religions in that they involved the worship of the sun, the moon, and the stars. [E.M. Wherry, A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran (Osnabruck: Otto Zeller Verlag, 1973), p. 36]

Astral Religions

In Arabia, the sun god was viewed as a female goddess and the moon as the male god. As has been pointed out by many scholars such as Alfred Guilluame, the moon god was called by various names, one of which was Allah! [Alfred Buillaume, Islam (London: Penguin Books, 1954), p. 6] The name Allah was used as the personal name of the moon god, in addition to other titles that could be given to him.

Allah, the moon god, was married to the sun goddess. Together they produced three goddesses who were called "the daughters of Allah." These three goddesses were called Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat. The daughters of Allah, along with Allah and the sun goddess were viewed as "high" gods. That is, they were viewed as being at the top of the pantheon of Arabian deities.

"Along with Allah, however, they worshiped a host of lesser gods and 'daughters of Allah.'" [Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, I:61]

The Crescent Moon Symbol

The symbol of the worship of the moon god in Arabian culture and elsewhere throughout the Middle East was the crescent moon. Archaeologists have dug up numerous statues and hieroglyphic inscriptions in which a crescent moon was seated on top of the head of the deity to symbolize the worship of the moon god. While the moon was generally worshiped as a female deity in the Ancient Near East, the Arabs viewed it as a male deity.

The Gods of the Quraysh

The Quraysh tribe into which Muhammad was born was particularly devoted to Allah, the moon god, and especially to Allah's three daughters who were viewed as intercessors between the people and Allah. The worship of the three goddesses, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat, played a significant role in the worship at the Kabah in Mecca. The first two daughters of Allah had names which were feminine forms of Allah. The literal Arabic name of Muhammad's father was Abd-Allah. His uncle's name was Obied-Allah. These names reveal the personal devotion that Muhammad's pagan family had to the worship of Allah, the moon god.

Praying Toward Mecca

An Allah idol was set up at the Kabah along with all the other idols. The pagans prayed toward Mecca and the Kabah because that is where their gods were stationed. It only made sense to them to face in the direction of their god and then pray. Since the idol of their moon god, Allah, was at Mecca, they prayed toward Mecca.

The worship of the moon god extended far beyond the Allah-worship in Arabia. The entire fertile crescent was involved in the worship of the moon. This, in part, explains the early success of Islam among Arab groups that traditionally had worshiped the moon god. The use of the crescent moon as the symbol for Islam which is placed on the flags of Islamic nations and on the top of mosques and minarets is a throwback to the days when Allah was worshiped as the moon god in Mecca. While this may come as a surprise to many Christians who have wrongly assumed that Allah was simply another name for the God of the Bible, educated Muslims generally understand this point.

A Muslim Taxi Driver

During one trip to Washington D.C., I got involved in a conversation with a Muslim taxi driver from Iran.

When I asked him, "Where did Islam obtain its symbol of the crescent moon?" he responded that it was an ancient pagan symbol used throughout the Middle East and that adopting this symbol had helped Muslims to convert people throughout the Middle East. When I pointed out that the word Allah itself was used by the moon-god cult in pre-Islamic Arabia, he agreed that this was the case. I then pointed out that the religion and the Quran of Muhammad could be explained in terms of pre-Islamic culture, customs, and religious ideas. He agreed with this! He went on to explain that he was a university-educated Muslim who, at this point in his life, was attempting to understand Islam from a scholarly viewpoint. As a result, he had lost his faith in Islam.

The significance of the pre-Islamic source of the name Allah cannot be overestimated.


In the field of comparative religions, it is understood that each of the major religions of mankind has its own peculiar concept of deity. In other words, all religions do not worship the same God, only under different names. The sloppy thinking that would ignore the essential differences which divide world religions is an insult to the uniqueness of world religions.

Which of the world religions holds to the Christian concept of one eternal God in three persons? When the Hindu denies the personality of God, which religions agree with this? Obviously, all men do not worship the same God, gods, or goddesses. The Quran's concept of deity evolved out of the preIslamic pagan religion of Allah-worship. It is so uniquely Arab that it cannot be simply reduced to Jewish or Christian beliefs.


Islam claims that Allah is the same God who was revealed in the Bible. This logically implies in the positive sense that the concept of God set forth in the Quran will correspond in all points to the concept of God found in the Bible. This also implies in the negative sense that if the Bible and the Quran have differing views of God, then Islam's claim is false. This issue can only be decided by a comparison of the two documents in question. It should not be decided on the basis of religious bias on any side but by a fair reading of the texts of both books.

The Attributes of God

The Orientalist Samuel Zwemer pointed out in 1905:

"There has been a strange neglect on the part of most writers who have described the religion of Mohammed to study Mohammed's idea of God. It is so easy to be misled by a name or by etymologies. Nearly all writers take for granted that the God of the Koran is the same being and has like attributes as Jehovah or as the Godhead of the New Testament. Is this view correct?" [Samuel Zwemer, The Muslim Doctrines of God: An Essay on the character of Allah according to the Koran (New York: American Tract Society, 1905).

Most people simply assume that the God of the Bible and the God of the Quran are one and the same God, just under different names. But, as Zwemer asked, is this correct? When we compare the attributes of God as found in the Bible with the attributes of Allah found in the Quran, it is rather obvious that these two are not the same God. As a matter of historical record, Christian and Muslim scholars have been arguing over who has the true view of God ever since Islam arose as a religion.

The biblical view of God cannot be reduced to that of Allah any more than Allah can be reduced to the biblical God. The historical background concerning the origin and meaning of the Arabian "Allah" reveals that Allah cannot be the God of the biblical patriarchs, the Jews, or the Christians. Allah is merely a revamped and magnified Arabian pagan moon deity.

As Dr. Samuel Schlorff points out in his article on the essential differences between the Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible:

"I believe that the key issue is the question of the nature of God and how He relates to His creatures; Islam and Christianity are, despite formal similarities, worlds apart on that question." [Samual Schlorff, "Theological and Apologetical Dimensions of Muslim Evangelism," Westminster Theological Journal, Vo. 42, no. 2 (Spring 1980), p. 338]

Let us look at some of the historic differences that have been pointed out time and again between the God of the Bible and the Allah of the Quran. These points of conflict have been noted in scholarly works for over a thousand years. [For the Christian view of God, see H. Spencer, Islam and the Gospel of God (Madras: S.P.C.K., 1956) and Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 186. For the Muslim viewpoint, see Mohammad Zia Ullah, Islamic Concept of God (London: Kegan Paul Inter. 1984.]

These points of conflict are recognized by all standard works on the subject. Therefore we will give only a brief survey of the issues involved.

Knowable Versus Unknowable

According to the Bible, God is knowable. Jesus Christ came into this world that we might know God (John 17:3). But in Islam, Allah is unknowable. He is so transcendent, so exalted, that no man can ever personally know Allah. While according to the Bible, man can come into a personal relationship with God, the Allah of the Quran is so distant, so far off, so abstract, that no one can know him.

Personal Versus Nonpersonal

The God of the Bible is spoken of as a personal being with intellect, emotion, and will. This is in contrast to Allah, who is not to be understood as a person. This would lower him to the level of man.

Spiritual Versus Nonspiritual

To the Muslim, the idea that Allah is a person or a spirit is blasphemous because this would demean the exalted One. But the concept that "God is a spirit" is one of the cornerstones of the biblical nature of God as taught by Jesus Christ himself in John 4:24.

Trinitarian Versus Unitarian

The God of the Bible is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Trinity is not three gods but one God. When we turn to the Quran, we find that it explicitly denies the Trinity. The Quran states that God is not a Father and Jesus is not the Son of God. Neither is the Holy Spirit God.

Limited Versus Unlimited

The biblical God is limited by His own immutable and unalterable nature. Thus God cannot do anything and everything. In Titus 1:2, we are told, "God cannot lie." We are also told this in Hebrews 6:18. God can never act in a way that would contradict His divine nature (2 Timothy 2:13). But when you turn to the Quran, you discover that Allah is not limited by anything. He is not even limited by his own nature. Allah can do anything, anytime, anyplace, anywhere with no limitations.

Trustworthy Versus Capricious

Because the God of the Bible is limited by His own righteous nature and there are certain things He cannot do, he is completely consistent and trustworthy. But when we turn to study the actions of Allah in the Quran, we discover that he is totally capricious and untrustworthy. He is not bound by his nature or his word.

Love of God Versus No Love of God

The love of God is the chief attribute of the biblical God as revealed in such places as John 3:16. God has feelings for His creatures, especially man. But when we turn to the Quran, we do not find love presented as the chief attribute of Allah. Instead, the transcendence of Allah is his chief attribute. Neither does Allah "have feelings" toward man. That concept is foreign to Islamic teaching. That would reduce Allah to being a mere man -- which again is blasphemous to a Muslim.

Active in History Versus Passive

Allah does not personally enter into human history and act as a historical agent. He always deals with the world through his word, prophets, and angels. He does not personally come down to deal with man. How different is the biblical idea of the incarnation, in which God himself enters history and acts to bring about man's salvation.

Attributes Versus No Attributes

The Quran never tells us in a positive sense what God is like in terms of his nature or essence. The so-called 99 attributes of Allah are all negative in form, signifying what Allah is not, but never telling us what he is. The Bible gives us both positive and negative attributes of God.

Grace Versus Works

Lastly, the Bible speaks much of the grace of God in providing a free salvation for man through a Savior who acts as an intercessor between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Yet in the Quran there is no concept of the grace of Allah. There is no savior or intercessor according to the Quran.

In conclusion, when you examine the attributes of the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible to the Allah who is described in the Quran, they are not one and the same God.


The Same God?

After presenting this material to a group of people, one person responded that he believed that Islam and Christianity worshiped the same God because they both worshiped "only one God." What he failed to understand is that monotheism in and of itself does not tell us anything about the identity of the one God who is to be worshiped. In other words, it is not enough to say there is only one God if you have the wrong God! Someone could say that Ra, Isis, or Osiris is the one true God, but this does not mean that Christian and Egyptian deities are one and the same.

Ancients could have taught that Ba-al or Molech was the one true God. Or again, the Greeks could have argued that Zeus or Jupiter was the one true living God. But merely arguing that there is one God does not automatically mean that the one God you choose to worship is the right one.

In this case, the God of the Bible has revealed Himself in such a way that His nature and His names cannot be confused with the nature and names of the surrounding pagan deities.

The cult of the moon god which worshiped Allah was transformed by Muhammad into a monotheistic faith. Because Muhammad started with a pagan god, it comes as no surprise that he ended up with a pagan god. As the German scholar Johannes Hauri points out:

"Mohammed's monotheism was just as much a departure from true monotheism as the polytheistic ideas .... Mohammed's idea of God is out and out deistic." [Quoted in Zwemer, Muslim Doctrines, p. 21]

Is Allah in the Bible?

In a conversation with an ambassador from a Muslim country, I pointed out that the name Allah came from an Arabic word that had to do with the worship of the moon god in pre-Islamic Arabia. As such, it could not be found in the Hebrew Old Testament or in the Greek New Testament. The ambassador used two arguments by which he hoped to prove that the Bible did speak of Allah.

First, he claimed that the name Allah was found in the biblical word "allelujah." The "alle" in the first part of the word was actually 'Allah" according to him! I pointed out to him that the Hebrew word allelujah is not a compound Hebrew word. That is, it is not made up of two words. It is one single Hebrew word which means "praise to Yahweh." [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. Orr), II:1323.] Also, the name of God is in the last part of the word, 'jah', which has reference to Yahweh or Jehovah. The name Allah simply cannot be found in that word.

He then proceeded to tell me that when Jesus was on the cross and he cried out, "Eli, Eli," he was actually saying 'Allah, Allah." But this is not true either. The Greek New Testament at this point gives us the Aramaic, not the Arabic, translation of a portion of Psalm 22:1. Jesus was saying, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" It is a far cry to go from "Eli, Eli" all the way to 'Allah, Allah." It simply cannot be done.


Wrong Time Period

As a matter of historical record, it was impossible for the authors of the Bible to speak of Allah as God. Why?

Up until the seventh century when Muhammad made Allah into the "only" God, Allah was the name of a pagan deity! Since the Bible was completed long before Muhammad was ever born, how could it speak of a post-Muhammad Allah? In reality, the name Allah never came across the lips of the authors of Scripture.

Up until the time of Muhammad, Allah was simply one pagan god among many, his name a particular name for the moon god as worshiped in Arabia. . The biblical authors would never have confused Allah with Jehovah any more than they would have confused Ba-al with Jehovah.

The Arabic Bible

During a radio show in Irvine, California, an Arab caller responded to these observations by asking, "But doesn't the Arabic Bible use the name 'Allah' for God? Thus 'Allah' is a biblical name for God."

The answer depends on the time period. Was the Bible translated into Arabic in Muhammad's day? No! The first Arabic translation of the Bible did not appear until around the ninth century. By the ninth century, Islam was the dominant political force in Arab lands and the men who translated the Bible into Arabic faced a difficult political situation. If they did not use "Allalh" as the name for God, they might suffer at the hands of fanatical Muslims who, as part of their religion, believed that the Allah of the Quran was the God of the Bible.

Since 'Allah" was by this time the common name for "God" because of the dominance of Islam, translators bowed to the political and religious pressures and put "Allah" into the Arabic Bible.

No Logical Bearing

Since the Arabic translation of the Bible came 900 years after the Bible was completed, it cannot have any bearing on whether "Allah" was originally a name for God in the Bible. In the end, the rather obvious fact is that a ninth century Arabic translation of the Bible cannot be used to establish the argument that the biblical authors who wrote many centuries earlier in Hebrew and Greek used the Arabic word "Allah" for God. Credulity has its limit!


Many Westerners assume that Allah is just another name for God. This is due to their ignorance of the differences between the Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible and also due to the propaganda of Muslim evangelists who use the idea that Allah is just another name for God as an opportunity to convert Westerners to Islam.

The Bible and the Quran are two competing documents that differ in their concept of deity. This fact cannot be overlooked just because it is not in conformity with the present popularity of religious relativism.

Noted added 3/8/03: The claim that Allah is in reality the Babylonian moon god is somewhat controversial. See for example Brother Andrew's article on Islam The web site Answering-Islam is usually quite reliable. They have a page devoted to the discussion of this topic. There is no need to dwell too much on this issue--what is important is to understand that the attributes, character and actions of Yahweh as revealed in the Bible and as seen in history, are very different from those of Allah. They are not the same God. Allah is a monad, a single entity, the God of the Bible in One, but three Persons. See "A Personal God" [ed.]