From WikiIslam, the online resource on Islam
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Under construction icon-yellow.svg

This article or section is being renovated.

Lead = 2 / 4
Structure = 2 / 4
Content = 3 / 4
Language = 2 / 4
References = 2 / 4
2 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
2 / 4
2 / 4

Hubal (هبل) was the head moon-god of the polytheistic Arab pantheon at the Ka'ba.[1] Hubal's idol was one of many located in the Kaaba, which Muhammad ultimately removed and destroyed upon his conquest of Mecca. Despite Hubal's importance to the pagan Arabs, the Quran does not mention the moon-god by name, even as it mentions the names of other pagan Arab deities, such as al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat. Some have suggested that Muhammad's idea of Allah was simply a transformation of preexisting ideas of Hubal and perhaps, another pagan Arab god, Baal, however these claims appear untenable.

Description in hadith

Narrated Al-Bara bin Azib: The Prophet appointed 'Abdullah bin Jubair as the commander of the infantry men (archers) who were fifty on the day (of the battle) of Uhud. He instructed them, "Stick to your place, and don't leave it even if you see birds snatching us, till I send for you; and if you see that we have defeated the infidels and made them flee, even then you should not leave your place till I send for you." Then the infidels were defeated. By Allah, I saw the women fleeing lifting up their clothes revealing their leg-bangles and their legs. So, the companions of 'Abdullah bin Jubair said, "The booty! O people, the booty ! Your companions have become victorious, what are you waiting for now?" 'Abdullah bin Jubair said, "Have you forgotten what Allah's Apostle said to you?" They replied, "By Allah! We will go to the people (i.e. the enemy) and collect our share from the war booty." But when they went to them, they were forced to turn back defeated. At that time Allah's Apostle in their rear was calling them back. Only twelve men remained with the Prophet and the infidels martyred seventy men from us. On the day (of the battle) of Badr, the Prophet and his companions had caused the 'Pagans to lose 140 men, seventy of whom were captured and seventy were killed. Then Abu Sufyan asked thrice, "Is Muhammad present amongst these people?" The Prophet ordered his companions not to answer him. Then he asked thrice, "Is the son of Abu Quhafa present amongst these people?" He asked again thrice, "Is the son of Al-Khattab present amongst these people?" He then returned to his companions and said, "As for these (men), they have been killed." 'Umar could not control himself and said (to Abu Sufyan), "You told a lie, by Allah! O enemy of Allah! All those you have mentioned are alive, and the thing which will make you unhappy is still there." 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! (1) 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, "Says Allah is our Helper and you have no helper."
Narrated Al-Bara: We faced the pagans on that day (of the battle of Uhud) and the Prophet placed a batch of archers (at a special place) and appointed 'Abdullah (bin Jubair) as their commander and said, "Do not leave this place; and if you should see us conquering the enemy, do not leave this place, and if you should see them conquering us, do not (come to) help us," So, when we faced the enemy, they took to their heel till I saw their women running towards the mountain, lifting up their clothes from their legs, revealing their leg-bangles. The Muslims started saying, "The booty, the booty!" 'Abdullah bin Jubair said, "The Prophet had taken a firm promise from me not to leave this place." But his companions refused (to stay). So when they refused (to stay there), (Allah) confused them so that they could not know where to go, and they suffered seventy casualties. Abu Sufyan ascended a high place and said, "Is Muhammad present amongst the people?" The Prophet said, "Do not answer him." Abu Sufyan said, "Is the son of Abu Quhafa present among the people?" The Prophet said, "Do not answer him." Abd Sufyan said, "Is the son of Al-Khattab amongst the people?" He then added, "All these people have been killed, for, were they alive, they would have replied." On that, 'Umar could not help saying, "You are a liar, O enemy of Allah! Allah has kept what will make you unhappy." Abu Safyan said, "Superior may be Hubal!" On that the Prophet said (to his companions), "Reply to him." They asked, "What may we say?" He said, "Say: Allah is More Elevated and More Majestic!" Abu Sufyan said, "We have (the idol) Al-'Uzza, whereas you have no 'Uzza!" The Prophet said (to his companions), "Reply to him." They said, "What may we say?" The Prophet said, "Say: Allah is our Helper and you have no helper." Abu Sufyan said, "(This) day compensates for our loss at Badr and (in) the battle (the victory) is always undecided and shared in turns by the belligerents. You will see some of your dead men mutilated, but neither did I urge this action, nor am I sorry for it." Narrated Jabir: Some people took wine in the morning of the day of Uhud and were then killed as martyrs.


Francis E. Peters

Amr ibn Luhayy brought with him (to Mecca) an idol called Hubal from the land of Hit in Mesopotamia.5 Hubal was one of the Quraysh's greatest idols. So he set it up at the well inside the Ka'ba and ordered the people to worship it. Thus a man coming back from a journey would visit it and circumambulate the House before going to his family, and he would shave his hair before it.

Hubal is the idol to which Abu Safyan6 said on the day of (the battle of) Uhud, "Tower up, O Hubal," that is, manifest you religious power," while the Prophet said, "Tower up, O Unique One." The name of the well inside the Ka'ba was al-Akhsaf; the Arabs used to call it al-Akhshaf...(al-Azraqi 1858, 73)

Muhammad ibn Ishaq said that Hubal was (made of) cornelian peal in the shape of a human. His right hand was broken off and the Quraysh made a gold hand for it. It had a vault for the sacrifice, and there were seven arrows cast (on issues relating to) a dead person, virginity and marriage. Its offering was a hundred camels. It had a custodian (hajib)...7 (Ibid., p.74)
The Quraysh had several idols in and around the Ka'ba. The greatest of these was Hubal. It was made, as I was told, of red agate, in the form of a man with the right hand broken off. It came into the possession of the Quraysh in this condition, and they therefore made for it a hand of gold....It stood inside the Ka'ba, and in front of it were seven divinatory arrows. On one of these were written the word "pure," and on another "associated alien." Whenever the lineage of a newborn was doubted, they would offer a sacrifice to Hubal and then shuffle the arrows and throw them. If the arrows showed the word "pure," the child would be declared legitimate and the tribe would accept him. If, however, the arrows showed "associated alien," the child would be declared illegitimate and the tribe would reject him. The third arrow had to do with divination concerning the dead, while the fourth was for divination about marriage. The purpose of the three remaining arrows has not been explained. Whenever they disagreed concerning something, or proposed to embark upon a journey, or undertake some other project, they would proceed to Hubal and shuffle the divinatory arrows before it. Whatever result they obtained they would follow and do accordingly. (Ibn al-Kalbi, Book of Idols, pp. 28-29 = Ibn al-Kalbi 1952, pp. 23-24)

Patricia Crone

But if Quraysh represented Allah, what was Hubal doing in their shrine? Indeed, what was the building doing? No sacrifices can be made over a stone immured in a wall, and a building accommodating Hubal makes no sense around a stone representing Allah. Naturally Quraysh were polytheists, but the deities of polytheist Arabia preferred to be housed separately. No pre-Islamic sanctuary, be it stone or building, is known to have accommodated more than one male god, as opposed to one male god and female consort. The Allah who is attested in an inscription of the late second century A. D. certainly was not forced to share his house with other deities. And the shrines of Islamic Arabia are similarly formed around the tomb of a single saint. If Allah was a pagan god like any other, Quraysh would not have allowed Hubal to share the sanctuary with him-not because they were proto-monotheists, but precisely because they were pagans.

One would thus have to fall back on the view that Allah was not a god like any other. On the one hand, Allah might simply be another name for Hubal, as Wellhausen suggested: just as the Israelites knew Yahwe as Elohim, so the Arabs knew Hubal as Allah, meaning simply "God." It would follow that the guardians of Hubal and Allah were identical; and since Quraysh were not guardians of Hubal, they would not be guardians of Allah, either. But as Wellhausen himself noted, Allah had long ceased to be a label that could be applied to any deity. Allah was the personal name of a specific deity, on a par with Allat, not merely a noun meaning "god"; and in the second century this deity had guardians of his own. When Abd al-Muttalib is described as having prayed to Allah while consulting Hubal's arrows, it is simply that the sources baulk at depicting the Prophet's grandfather as a genuine pagan, not that Allah and Hubal were alternative names for the same god. If Hubal and Allah had been one and the same deity, Hubal ought to have survived as an epithet of Allah, which he did not. And moreover, there would not have been traditions in which people are asked to renounce the one for the other.

On the other hand, Allah might have been a high God over and above all other deities. This is, in fact, how Wellhausen saw him, and he has been similarly represented by Watt. It is not how he appears in the inscriptional material, in which he is very much the god of a particular people [footnote: He was the god of Rubat, the tribe to which the guardian belonged, cf. Milik, "Inscriptions," p. 58, adducing an inscription in which Ilaha is asked to regard the tribe of Rubat with benevolence.]; and the fact that he was known as Allah, "the god," is no indication of supremacy: Allat, "the goddess," was not a deity over and above al-Uzza or Manat. But he could, of course, have developed into such a god, as the Qur'anic evidence adduced by Wellhausen and Watt suggests. If we accept this view, however, we are up against the problem that he is unlikely to have had guardians of his own in this capacity. Viewed as a high god, Allah was too universal, too neutral, and too impartial to be the object of a particularist cult, as Wellhausen noted; no sanctuary was devoted to him except insofar as he had come to be identified with ordinary deities. A high god in Arabia was apparently one who neither needed nor benefitted from cultic links with a specific group of devotees. (Wellhausen may of course be wrong: maybe a high god in Arabia did benefit from such links. But if so, we are back at the problem of why Allah was made to share these links with Hubal.)

If Quraysh were guardians on behalf of an Allah above all other deities, they must thus have started as guardians of someone else. But as has been seen, they do not appear to have been guardians of Hubal, and Hubal was not identified with Allah, nor did his cult assist that of Allah in any way. And if we postulate that they started as guardians of an ordinary Allah who subsequently developed into a supreme deity, we reinstate the problem of Hubal's presence in his shrine. The fact is that the Hubal-Allah sanctuary of Mecca is an oddity; can such a shrine have existed in historical fact? There would seem to be at least two sanctuaries behind the one depicted in the tradition, and Quraysh do not come across as guardians of either.

Additional mentions

Translated and annotated by William Montgomery Watt and Michael V. McDonald

Published by State University of New York Press, Albany (1988)

See pages 3-4

By John F. Healey

Published by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands (2001)

See pages 127-132

External Links


  1. Karen Armstrong (2000,2002). Islam: A Short History. pp. 11. ISBN 0-8129-6618-x.