I've heard this claim many times, mostly from anti-Islamic sources such as this one.

Basically, they attempt to refute the way Islam views itself as an "Abrahamic" faith that is basically a newer version of the previous ones (Christianity and Judaism), and claim instead that Islam is based on an ancient, pagan, moon worshiping cult that was widespread in Arabia at the time.

Has such a moon worshiping cult ever existed? And if so, is there any credible link between it and Islam? How significant is that link?

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    If it were to be found that Christianity incorporates pagan rituals and iconography, would it be considered non-Abrahamic as well? – Jonas Oct 4 '11 at 20:45
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    Christianity displays evidence of some sort of rabbit fertility ritual: a sort of Furry Culture if you will. – horatio Oct 4 '11 at 21:24
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    @horatio: My understanding is that when Christian missionaries were sent into pagan Europe, they were specifically encouraged to build ceremonies on top of pre-existing celebrations. So Easter borrows much from a vernal fertility celebration (including its name & rabbits, eggs, etc.) and Christmas piggybacks on winter solstice festivals (trees, lights, yule logs, etc.) – Mike Dunlavey Oct 5 '11 at 2:01
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    Can we take it as read that Christianity's rituals are also inspired by pagan practices? The original referenced site seems to be a case of "the pot calling the kettle black." Rather than listing more examples in the comments, let's address the question asked by the OP. – Oddthinking Oct 5 '11 at 4:25
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Why is it absurd? As far as I know, Christians consider that Christianity started shortly after the time of Christ (1st century CE) and did not exist earlier. Muhammad was born in the 6th century CE, over 500 years later. It's not clear from what I read whether people consider that Islam started at the time of Muhammad, or existed earlier but was perfected by him. But I don't see why the former interpretation would be "absurd". Lots of religions don't assert that they have always existed. – Nate Eldredge Jan 11 '15 at 22:52

tl;dr Influenced by? Yes. Mainly/truly/only based on? Nope.

Islam did not miraculously pop into existence (ok, to some extent it may have), but it was heavily influenced by pre-existing religions. This includes the name of Allah (Muhammad's Father's name includes Abd Allah, servant of god), which was the name of one of the deities worshipped in Mecca, and which is etymologically related to Elohim (one of the names of the old testament god) according to the OED.

The moon symbol also predates Islam, though its use on flags has only been traced back to the 12th century, and it was also associated with the Mithras cult, a variant of which is also known for its similarities to Christianity (link to a site that suggests Christianity is basically Mithraidism with a new name).

Importantly, the moon was not a symbol of early Islam. Thus, the claim that Islam is based mainly on a moon worshipping cult becomes difficult to defend, unless one would assume that the most holy symbol of the religion was somehow kept secret from everybody else for several hundred years.

While it will be difficult to deny that Islam was influenced by the prevailing thoughts and religions of the time, it is wrong to claim that "in reality", Islam is a pagan religion. The reality of religions are based the beliefs of the adherents, and if Muslims believe that theirs is fundamentally an Abrahamic religion, then that's their reality. Using the history of religion to make claims about the "validity" is just trolling.

Two more links for your reading pleasure (ok, only the second is a pleasant read):

  • Many religions have symbolism not directly relating to the prime function of their deity(ies). Thus it's not possible to conclude that Allah is not (derived from) an older lunar deity just because the moon wasn't at the time used to depict him (or his followers). See how early Christians used the fish as a symbol, vaguely in honour of John the Baptist but mostly because the letters INRI in some ancient language (Greek I think it was) spelled out "fish". The crucifix only came into common use much later (and the Christian god isn't a "cross god" whatever that is, the lore derives different). – jwenting Oct 6 '11 at 11:53
  • @jwentig: The cross has been an important symbol for Christians since probably the 2nd century already, though the fish symbol (the letters for fish spell "jesus-christ-god-son-savior" in greek) was indeed more common. In my answer, I just wanted to point out that if the Islamic Allah was indeed based on a moon deity that had been revered by the symbol of the moon previously, then it would be surprising if this particular symbol would fall into disuse immediately at the start of the religion. – Jonas Oct 6 '11 at 13:08
  • Indeed a long, and a bit biased, read that link! But it's thorough, and what I was looking for. Thank you :) – System Down Oct 6 '11 at 23:40
  • has it indeed rapidly fallen into disuse between the 5th and 11th centuries or was it present in some other form? It didn't show up on flags, but was it present (in whatever form) in other places, like coats of arms (if used) and artworks? I'm not familiar with early (proto-)Islamic art so don't know. Of course we do have familiar star like motives in a lot of Islamic art forms from the 16th century onward at least, possibly earlier. Could those be related? – jwenting Oct 8 '11 at 15:42
  • @jwentig: I'm not familiar enough with early Islamic art to really be able to tell, but here's a google books link to a book on art history that partly supports my point: books.google.ca/…. – Jonas Oct 8 '11 at 15:55

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