Monday, March 12, 2012

The “Allah Derived From Allat” Myth, Poor Scholarship, And The Ideological Critique of Islam

By Wesley Muhammad, PhD

It is popular in many Afrocentric circles, largely due to the suggestion by Dr. Yusef ben Yochannan, to claim that the Islamic deity Allah derived from the pre-Islamic female deity Allat. I have demonstrated that this claim, and the suggestion by Dr. Ben, is completely foundationless and contradicted by the linguistic, epigraphic and historical evidence. See my Note

“Allāh Derived From Allāt? Exposing Another Afrocentrist Anti-Islam Myth”



What was not pointed out there is the profoundly poor scholarly method that is at the root of this disproven claim that still has some currency in some Afrocentric circles. It appears that the origin of this claim is with American feminist and knitting expert Barbara G. Walker. Walker is famous for her knitting books, though she studied journalism at the University of Pennsylvania. However, as a feminist and atheist thinker, she wrote books on religion and myth and was an exponent of the “Matriarchal Mother Goddess” myth, even though as an atheist she did not believe it to be true. One such book of hers is The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983). It was in this work that we find the claim that Allah is the “Late Islamic masculinization of the Arabian Goddess, Al-Lat or Al-Ilat.”[1] She further claims that:

“It has been shown that ‘Allah of Islam’ was a male transformation of the primitive lunar deity of Arabia.’”

Where did this knitting expert moon-lighting as an Historian of Religion get this information from, that Allah is a male transformation of Allat? She quotes and cites one source: Robert Briffault’s book, The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins (1927).[2]

Briffault, born in Nice in 1873, studied medicine at Dunedin University and received an MD and Ch.B in 1901, 1905. After working in private practice for a while, he caught the fever to write on issues of anthropology (for which he had no expertise) and comparative religion (for which he had no expertise). His magnum opus was The Mothers. Here, Briffault sought to prove that a primitive matriarchy (woman rule) universally preceded patriarchy; that families are a feature only of later patriarchies; and that there was a universal worship of a Goddess. As an arm-chair anthropologist Briffault’s work is dismissed by most scholars. But even his scholarly supporters recognize that, while there is important information in this mammoth three volume work, it is fraught with methodological and factual errors, and its main thesis has been disproven by more recent archaeological and anthropological data. Gordon Rattray Taylor, who sees the continuing value of The Mothers, yet admits:

“the advance of archaeology went far towards confirming (the skepticism of Briffault’s critics). It was observed that agricultural peoples, driven by pressures out of Asia Minor into the steppe country, became pastoral - which is just the contrary of what Briffault asserts to be the normal process…Briffault did himself much disservice by claiming too much: it was in the nature of the man to prefer the sweeping generalization, and he loved to shock the unimaginative out of their preconceptions. His data do not justify him in making the assertion that matriarchy always and everywhere preceded patriarchy…It must be concluded that he is open to criticism in matters of detail. He not infrequently contradicts himself, and sometimes uses a fact to prove one thing at one stage and support an equally plausible but quite different view at a later point. He is sometimes guilty of selecting his references to prove his point and glossing over those which are incompatible with it.”[3]      

And these are the words of one of the few modern day supporters of the work! Thus, we have a “scholarly” claim made in Afrocentric circles that derives from a trained journalist but expert knitter who only moon-lighted in religious studies, who herself claimed to have gotten the information from an armchair anthropologist and fellow religious studies moonlighter, whose relevant work is known to be methodologically and factual flawed. But if this was not bad enough, Walker’s claim to have derived her information from Briffault’s work turns out to be false!

Walker quotes and cites page 106 of the third volume of Briffault’s work. However, no such claim is made by Briffault or his sources. Compare Briffault and Walker’s use of Briffault:

Walker’s claim:

“Allah: Late Islamic maculinization of the Arabian Goddess, Al-Lat or Al-Ilat-the Allatu of the Babylonians-formerly worshipped at the Kaaba in Mecca.  It has been shown that ‘the Allah of Islam’ was a male transformation of ‘the primitive lunar deity of Arabia.’ [see Briffault 3, 106] Her ancient symbol the crescent moon still appears on Islamic flags, even though modern Moslems no longer admit any feminine symbolism whatever connected with the wholly patriarchal Allah.”

The bolds signify Walker’s direct quoting of Briffault. Now let’s see the original passage cited and quoted by Walker in its full context:

“ ‘In the faith of ancient Arabia,’ remarks Prince Teano, ‘in the cult of the moon, regarded as the supreme male deity, conceived as a cause to which all worship refers, there lies manifestly the germ of monotheism, although only the Jews first, in Judaism and in Christianity, and Muhammad afterwards in Islam, attained a clear enunciation of the monotheistic formula.’ The great Yahwistic movement which resulted in Jewish monotheism was conducted by many political circumstances, and owed its triumph in great measure to its nationalistic character. But from the religious point of view it was essentially much what it claimed to be, a return to ‘the faith of our fathers,’ a purging of Jewish cult from accretions which, if not exactly ‘foreign,’ were at any rate extraneous in many of their aspects to the primitive conceptions and cult of the Hebrew people. ‘There are abundant indications,’ observes again Prince Teano, ‘which seem to demonstrate that the Jehovah of the Hebrews and the Allah of Islam are merely transformations of the primitive lunar deity of Arabia.’”[4]   

We note first that the direct quote that Walker lifts from Briffault is of a third author, himself quoted by Briffault -  Prince Teano. We note further that Prince Teano’s quote says the exact opposite of what Walker makes it say. Prince Teano claims that the supreme MALE lunar deity of ancient Arabia was transformed into “the Allah of Islam.” Nowhere is the claim made that a FEMALE lunar deity was transformed into a MALE Allah. Now, I have demonstrated that even this claim that Allah derived from a moon-god is out-dated and wrong. See

Allah No Moon-God (Exposing the Christian and Afrocentrist Myth)”



But what is most important here is that Walker completely twists her source and makes it say what it nowhere says. In fact, Briffault speaks correctly on this point in his book (though he will err on other points). He says rightly:

“Al-Ilat is the feminine form of Ilu, or Allah, and may be rendered Goddess.”[5]

In other words, Walker completely made up the claim of Allah’s derivation from Allat.

Barbara Walker’s bona fides as an expert knitter is unassailable, so we happily defer to her in matters of the needle. We absolutely must NOT defer to her in matters of religious studies, however, for she has proven to be not only unqualified in that area, but blatantly dishonest in her treatment of her sources as well. Yet, she likely authored the claim that is still current in some Afrocentric circles that the male God Allah derived from the female Goddess Allat. This beyond all shadow of a doubt indicates just how ideological and non-scholarly much of the Afrocentric critique of Islam really is.  


[1] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983) 22.
[2] Robert Briffault, The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927).
[3] Gordon Rattray Taylor, “Introduction,” in Robert Briffault, The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins, Edited, with an Introduction by Cordon Rattray Taylor (New York: Howard Fertig, 1993) 13, 14, 19.
[4] Briffault, Mothers, 106.
[5] Briffault, Mothers, 80. 

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