Desert Reality and Divine Delusions

The prophet Mohammad was probably born c 560 CE; this is the most likely date out of eight dates that have been given in various accounts of his life. In the days of his boyhood there was no central authority to weld nomadic tribes with any social consciousness. Rather, each tribe existed as a single and separate entity that was in constant competition with other tribes for the essentials of life. Under such conditions personal retaliation was the only “law” that they understood when loss was experienced due to another tribe or person. “Justice” was therefore understood as imposing an extortion of payment; in other words, indulgence in vendetta. That is a feature which still erupts from the background of Islam, for that tribal retaliation mindset remains the heart and soul of Muslim conduct with all whom they choose to judge to be “infidels.” The natural outcome of the vendetta mindset was a state of perpetual warlike conditions among the tribes, for each retaliation necessitated in turn the opponents’ retaliation. Such ongoing irrational indignities were brought to a standstill among the tribes only during the mutually agreed upon times of religious observances at Mecca. Mohammad, however, grandiosely claimed to be counseled by Allah and thus chose not to respect such rationality. (The recognition of Allah was derived from an earlier tribal designation al-Lah, meaning High God in a pantheon of earlier Arab gods.)

The Arabs up to the general timeframe of Mohammad’s youth had long observed a custom of addressing the planet Venus as al-Uzza, meaning “The Mighty One,” and it was by that name that Mohammad had worshipped it as a youth. The Sabeans (Sabaeans), the ancient inhabitants of the kingdom of Saba (Sheba), regarded the Moon as the visible symbol of their principal deity. The birth festival associated with this deity occurred in the tenth month by Arab reckoning (which equals the 24th of December in western cultures), with the birth of the “Lord Moon” being celebrated on that night. This provides the reason for the emblem of Islam being the crescent new Moon and a single star. The true relationship of Earth circling the sun occurring at that time of year was not recognized as important for they regarded the sun as feminine.

During his merchant travels Mohammad had plenty of opportunity to listen to Jewish and Christian merchants speak of their faiths. Gradually Mohammad apparently grew to understand that his youthful adoration of al-Uzza (Venus), as one of three bannat al-Lab, or “Daughters of God,” had been focused upon the symbol of past celestial turmoil. The other two “Daughters of God” were known as al-Lat, “the goddess,” and Manat, “the Fateful One.” These three deities were of especial importance to the Arabs of the Hejaz in the time of Mohammad’s youth. (Within Hejaz in NW Arabia are Mecca and Medina, the holy places of Islam.) Influenced by Jewish and Christian tales Mohammad apparently concluded that those revered stones could not rightfully represent the Sustainer out of which the legendary events had occurred.

The implied kinship, “Daughters of God,” and also the reference to the three “sisters” as bannat al-dabr, meaning “daughters of fate,” seemed to hint of past tribulations and woe for Earth.* Further indication that these “daughters” were linked to past Venus-Earth turmoil is the fact that the three deities had been represented with large standing stones, not as comprehensible feminine forms. Thus in the Quran (53:19-26) the question is raised in regard to having formerly worshipped al Uzza, al-Lat, and Manat, calling them “…nothing but empty names which you have invented–you and your forefathers–for which God has bestowed no warrant from on high.” Nonetheless, a meteorite stone, which probably hurtled to Earth during one of the encounters with the planet-sized comet which had disturbed the orbits of both Earth and Mars became the cornerstone of the Muslim shrine Kaaba.

The association of al Uzza, al-Lat and Manat in Arabic culture is thus far older than Mohammad. The legends and folklore among the Arab tribes concerning past celestial terrors associated with Venus would naturally color Mohammad’s interpretation of a divine being. This background of star-associated legends gives added dimension to the romanticized picturing of Mohammad meditating under the crescent moon — and perhaps concentrating on the planet Venus.

It is said that Mohammad, during his youth, had traveled widely with his tradesman uncle, and he continued to travel widely after he had become a prosperous merchant himself. This traveling merchant connection has led some scholars to speculate that his wide-ranging journeys provided abundant opportunity to hear the religious claims of both the Jews and Christians. The theory is that the stories that he heard from members of each faith as they read from their holy books inspired him, and this, they say, is evident in the use of biblical characters in his later dictations. The muddle of these recited tales must have seemed bewildering to the prophet. Somewhere amid all this, possibly as he meditated upon the planet Venus under a crescent new moon while on Mount Hira, Mohammad is claimed to have had a “vision.”

Islam’s origins, even though well within the framework of verifiable history, is strangely imprecise. Islam’s traditions of a desert prophet passing along angelic revelations to a ragtag band of followers, although colorful and inspiring, is rejected by main scholars. The underlying reason is the historically verifiable rapid politcal success of the movement, which indicates that something much more secular was at work than patient heaven customarily sponsors. An omniscient Creator would find it creatively impractical to promote the self-contradictory term “holy war” as a devotional duty: worldly conquest can hardly be an obsession for an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Creator.

Mohammad died unexpectedly in 632. Strangely, the prophet had provided no instruction as to who was to carry on his holy work, for he left no male heir to continue the prophetic lineage. This lack of foresight regarding future leadership naturally resulted in confusion and uncertainty concerning Allah’s desires on how the Arab people were to conduct themselves. That question of entitlement over who was intended to represent Mohammad’s spiritual vision is still violently contested between the Sunni and Shia to this day in continuous tribal-style conflicts.

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