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A Misunderstanding: Manat and Somnath

The story of Muslim conquest of central India may have begun with a misunderstanding: one man’s pronunciation can become another man’s poison. The three most revered pagan goddesses of pre-Islamic Mecca were AL Lat, Al Uzza, and Manat, denounced in the Quran as false deities and the source of the infamous controversy about the alleged ‘Satanic Verses’. According to an old belief, when the prophet smashed the idols at Kaaba, the image of Manat was missing: it had been secreted away, and sent in a trading ship to a port-town in India called Prabhas, which imported Arab horses. According to this belief, idol-worshippers built a temple to Manat , and renamed the place to So-Manat, or somnath.

From, Shade of Swords: Jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity By M.J Akbar.

She was one of the goddesses Prophet Muhammed once said could be worshipped, but then retracted, claiming that the assertion was influenced by Satan. The reference to Manat is contained in the so-called Satanic Verses, subsequently deleted from the Quran.

A good place for a historian of Islam to start would be 629 ad, or Year 8 of the new Muslim calendar, though that had yet to come into being. In that year, 20 armed horsemen, led by Sa'd ibn Zayd, were sent by Muhammad to destroy the statue of Manat, the pagan goddess of fate, at Qudayd, on the road between Mecca and Medina. For eight years Muhammad had tolerated the uneasy coexistence of the pagan male god Allah and his three daughters: al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. Al-Uzza (the morning star, Venus) was the favourite goddess of the Quraysh, the tribe to which Muhammad belonged, but Manat was the most popular in the region as a whole, and was idolised by three key Meccan tribes that Muhammad had been desperately trying to win over to his new monotheistic religion. By Year 8, however, three important military victories had been won against rival pagan and Jewish forces. The Battle of Badr had seen Muhammad triumph against the Meccan tribes despite the smallness of his army. The tribes had been impressed by the muscularity of the new religion, and Muhammad must have deemed further ideological compromise unnecessary. Sa'd ibn Zayd and his 20 horsemen had arrived to enforce the new monotheism.

The keeper of Manat's sanctuary saw the horsemen approach, but remained silent as they dismounted. No greetings were exchanged. Their demeanour indicated that they had not come to honour Manat or to leave a token offering. The keeper didn't stand in their way. According to Islamic tradition, as Sa'd ibn Zayd approached the beautifully carved statue of Manat, a naked black woman seemed to emerge from nowhere. The keeper called out: 'Come, O Manat, show the anger of which you are capable!' Manat began to pull out her hair and beat her breasts in despair, while cursing her tormentors. Sa'd beat her to death. Only then did his 20 companions join him. Together they hacked away until they had destroyed the statue. The sanctuaries of al-Lat and al-Uzza were dealt with in similar fashion, probably on the same day.

A seventh-century prophet could not become the true spiritual leader of a tribal community without exercising political leadership and, in the Peninsula, mastering the basics of horsemanship, sword-play and military strategy. Muhammad had understood the need to delay the final breach with polytheism until he and his companions were less isolated. However, once the decision to declare a strict monotheism was taken, no concessions were granted. The Christian Church had been forced into a permanent compromise with its pagan forebears, allowing its new followers to worship a woman who had conceived a child by God. Muhammad, too, could have picked one of Allah's daughters to form part of a new constellation - this might even have made it easier to attract recruits - but factional considerations acted as a restraint: a new religious party had to distinguish itself forcefully from Christianity, its main monotheistic rival, while simultaneously marginalising the appeal of contemporary paganism. The oneness of a patriarchal Allah appeared the most attractive option, essential not only to demonstrate the weakness of Christianity, but also to break definitively with the dominant cultural practices of the Peninsula Arabs, with their polyandry and their matrilinear past. Muhammad himself had been the third and youngest husband of his first wife, Khadija, who died three years before the birth of the Islamic calendar.

Historians of Islam, following Muhammad's lead, would come to refer to the pre-Islamic period as the jahiliyya ('the time of ignorance'), but the influence of its traditions should not be underestimated. For the pre-Islamic tribes, the past was the preserve of poets, who also served as historians, blending myth and fact in odes designed to heighten tribal feeling. The future was considered irrelevant, the present all-important. One reason for the tribes' inability to unite was that the profusion of their gods and goddesses helped to perpetuate divisions and disputes whose real origins often lay in commercial rivalries.

From, Mullahs and Heretics by Tariq Ali


  1. .
    wonder how i missed this post in my earlier visits. there are two books which you may find interesting.

    1. Maxine Rodinson, Muhammad. Its a Penguin edition.

    2. Romila Thapar, Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History

    In fact, if you google you will find an article by Thapar on Somanatha in Frontline.

    Lage raho Vinayak bhai...



    1. I finally got Maxine Rodinson's book. It still isn't available easily.

  2. I have read that interesting article written by Romila Thapar and I have read excerpt from her book Somanatha.
    Would try to lay hands on the book by Maxine Rodinson.

  3. somnath can be rendered su-manat, and has a huge black stone, which used to float in the air....

  4. I really find this very funny to say the least... How can U compare a male deity Bhagwan Mahdev Shankar to some controversial pre islamic deity who's a female? Is this some kind of insult to the Hindu's saying tht our religion is based on some female deity renamed and sex-changed to a male..... when the word SOM means Moon and NATH means Lord.... which actually means tht the muslims also shld factually worship LORD SHIVA as their religious sign and the most revered one is the MOON. Can anyone claiming the SOMNATH to be SU-MANAT tell me who is the founder of the Christian Religion (I know for sure) then the founder of ISLAM (tht too I know) the founder of JEWISH religion (I know that) the founder of BUDDHISM (again I k...) and any religion U come up with.... but is there any person knowledgeable and Innovative enough to tell me the founder of my GREATEST and the foundation of all the religions on this planet... HINDUISM. I am really open to discussion on this and I do have a lot of material to prove what I say... U better be innovative

    1. I know it is a 4 years old comment :P ... moon is only used as a reference for Islamic calendar, it has no other significance (and also it is used by many muslim countries in their flags but that is just their choice, nothing to do with the Quran or the Prophet)

  5. I agree with Amod... Its Senseless that Manat is compared to Somanth and Mohmmad Ghazni attacked Somnath because.. Some Crazy told him that its pagan God Manat ..Actually Manat was meant and compared to some wish and fortune goddess of greeks... we should not insult our own religion and there was no shiv ling in Kaba...Please dont insult our religion... we are Aryans followers of vedas.. the true knowledge ...


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