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Uzza

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Mentioned in the Qur'an (Sura 53:20), 3Uzzā "the Powerful" (derived from the root 3ZY) was a pre-Islamic Arabian fertility goddess who was one of the three chief goddesses of Mecca. She, Manāh and Allat were known as "the daughters of God". Uzza was worshipped by the Nabataeans, who equated her with the Graeco-Roman goddesses Aphrodite, Urania, Venus and Caelestis. According to Ibn Ishaq's controversial account of the Satanic Verses (q.v.), these verses had previously endorsed them as intercessors for Muslims, but were abrogated.

3Uzzā, like Hubal, was called upon for protection by the pre-Islamic Quraysh. "In 624 at the battle called "Uhud", the war cry of the Qurayshites was, "O people of 3Uzzā, people of Hubal." (Tawil 1993)

Cult of 3Uzzā

It is not simple now to get glimpses of the deities of pre-Islamic Arabia. Origins of deities have to be suggested with caution, but inscriptions related to 3Uzzā among the Nabataeans at Petra have been interpreted to associate 3Uzzā with the planet Venus.

According to the Book of Idols (Kitab al-Asnām) by Hishām b. al-Kalbi, (N.A. Faris 1952, pp. 16-23):

Over her [an Arab] built a house called Buss in which the people used to receive oracular communications. The Arabs as well as the Quraysh were wond to name their children 3Abd al-3Uzzā. Furthermore al-3Uzzā was the greatest idol among the Quraysh. They used to journey to her, offer gifts unto her, and seek her favours through sacrifice. We have been told that the Apostle of God once mentioned al-3Uzzā saying, "I have offered a white sheep to al-3Uzzā, while I was a follower of the religion of my people.
The Quraysh were wont to circumambulate the Ka'ba and say,
By Allāt and al-3Uzzā,
And Manāh, the third idol besides.
Verily they are the [al-gharānīq]
Whose intercession is to be sought.

This last phrase is said to be the source of the aforementioned Satanic Verses; the Arabic term is translated as "most exalted females" by Faris in the text, but he annotates this much-argued term in a footnote as "lit. Numidean cranes."

The Kitab al-Asnam offers additional detail of the "three exalted cranes" Ibn Ishaq says were deleted from the Qur'an: "These were also called "the Daughters of Allah," and were supposed to intercede before God." It is unclear whether these goddesses were always regarded as the daughters of God, or had originally been called daughters of some other deity; the Kitab al-Asnām says that each of the three's worship was introduced at a different period, suggesting that they may not originally even have been sisters.

Each of the three goddesses had a separate shrine near Mecca. The most prominent Arabian shrine of al-3Uzzā was at a place called Nakhlah near Qudayd, east of Mecca towards Taif; three trees were sacred to her there (according to a narration through al-'Anazi abu-'Ali in the Kitab al-Asnām.)

"She was the Lady 3Uzzayan to whom a South Arabian offered a golden image on behalf of his sick daughter, Amat-3Uzzayan (the maid of al-3Uzzā). 3Abd-al-3Uzzā was a favourite proper name at the rise of Islam." (Hitti 1937). The name 3Uzzā appears as an emblem of beauty in late pagan Arabic poetry quoted by Ibn al-Kalbi, and oaths were sworn by her. [1] (http://answering-islam.org.uk/Books/Al-Kalbi/uzza.htm)

3Uzzā's possible presence in South Arabia has been thoroughly effaced by time but her presence has not been obliterated far north at Petra of the Nabataeans, who had deities with Arabian names early in their history, whom they later associated with Hellenistic gods, 3Uzzā becoming associated with Isis and with Aphrodite [2] (http://nabataea.net/gods.html). Excavations at Petra since 1974 have revealed a temple, apparently dedicated to Isis/al-Uzza, now named after some carvings found inside, the Temple of the Winged Lions (Hammond). Inscriptions record the name of Uzza at Petra.

A fragment of poetry by Zayd ibn 'Amr ibn Nufayl, quoted in the Kitab al-Asnam, suggests that 3Uzzā had two daughters: "No more do I worship al-'Uzza and her two daughters" (Arabic فلا العزى أدين ولا ابنتـيهـا).

Muhammad Mohar Ali writes (2002):

The Arabs had developed a number of subsidiary Ka'bas (tawaghit) at different places in the land, each with its presiding god or goddess. They used to visit those shrines at appointed times, circumambulate them and make sacrifices of animals there, besides performing other polytheistic rites. The most prominent of these shrines were those of Allat at Ta'if, al-3Uzzā at Nakhlah and Manāt near Qudayd. The origins of these idols are uncertain. Ibn al-Kalbi says that Allat was "younger" ('ahdath) than Manāt, while Al-3Uzzā was "younger" than both Allat and Manāt. But though Al-3Uzzā was thus the youngest of the three; it was nonetheless the most important and the greatest ('azam) idol with the Quraysh who, along with Banu Kinānah ministered to it.

References

  • Burton, John, The Collection Of The Qur'an, Cambridge University Press, 1977: the collection and composition of the Qu'ran in the life time of Muhammad
  • Finegan, Jack, The Archeology of World Religions, Princeton University Press, 1952, pages 482-485, 492
  • Hammond, Philip, "An Isisian Model for The Goddess of the 'Temple of the Winged Lions' at Petra (Jordan)". 1985
  • Hitti, Philip K. History Of The Arabs, 1937, pp 96-101
  • The Kitab al-Asnam ("Book of Idols") (http://answering-islam.org.uk/Books/Al-Kalbi/uzza.htm): translation as posted by an evangelical Christian site.
  • Kitab al-Asnam (http://www.alwaraq.com/index2.htm?i=137&page=1) in the original Arabic
  • Peters, F. E., The Hajj : The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places Princeton University Press 1994
  • al Tawil, Hashim, "Early Arab Icons: Literary and Archaeological Evidence for the Cult of Religious Images in Pre-Islamic Arabia", PhD dissertation, University of Iowa, 1993 [3] (http://www.uib.no/jais/v002cmt/pavcmt01.htm)
  • Ibn al-Kalbī (author) and Nabih Amin Faris (translator & commentary) (1952): The Book of Idols, Being a Translation from the Arabic of the Kitāb al-Asnām. Princeton University Press. US Library of Congress #52006741

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