Pre-Islamic Arabia | religion


Rising from a roundel, the sculpture represents a priestess who intercedes with the sun goddess on behalf of the donor, Rathadum

Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia was a mix of polytheism, Christianity, Judaism, and Iranian religions. Arab polytheism, the dominant belief system, was based on the belief in deities and other supernatural beings such as djinn. Gods and goddesses were worshipped at local shrines, such as the Kaaba in Mecca. The Kaaba was dedicated to Hubal and also contained the images of the three chief goddesses Al-lāt, Al-‘Uzzá and Manāt. Some scholars postulate that Allah may have been one of the gods of the Meccan religion to whom the shrine was dedicated although it seems he had little relevance in the religion.[93][94][95][96] Many of the physical descriptions of the pre-Islamic gods are traced to idols, especially near the Kaaba, which is believed to have contained up to 360 of them.[97] Allah was the only god not represented by an idol.[98]

Other religions were represented to varying, lesser degrees. The influence of the adjacent Roman, Axumite and Sassanian empires resulted in Christian communities in the northwest, northeast and south of Arabia. Christianity made a lesser impact, but secured some conversions, in the remainder of the peninsula. According to the Bible in Acts 2:11 and Galatians 1:17, Christianity was established first by the early Arab traders who heard the gospel from Peter the apostle at Jerusalem as well as those evangelized by Paul's ministry in Arabia. Christianity was mostly prominent in Najran, South Arabia. In the latter stages of the pre-Islamic era, Christianity gained converts with some unorthodox sects, such as the gnostics, having a presence. With the exception of Nestorianism in the northeast and the Persian Gulf, the dominant form of Christianity was Monophysitism.[99] The peninsula had seen Jewish migration since Roman times, which had resulted in a diaspora community supplemented by local converts.[100] Additionally, the influence of the Sasanian Empire resulted in Iranian religions being present in the peninsula. Zoroastrianism existed in the east and south whilst there is evidence of Manichaeism or possibly Mazdakism being practised in Mecca.[101][102]

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