Gnostics of Arabia: Syncretizing Indigenous Beliefs

Abdulla Galadari, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, UAE IQSA International Conference 2021 “Giorgio La Pira” Library, Palermo, Italy
Panel 1. Scripture, Epigraphic Corpora, Gnosticism, and Beda Venerabilis

There is much debate in recent scholarship about the religious attitudes of pre-Islamic Arabs, some suggesting that they were not idol-worshippers, and perhaps even espoused some forms of pseudo-monotheistic or henotheistic beliefs, as they are described believing in the Supreme God along with God’s begotten children. This paper explores the hypothesis of the possibility of some sort of syncretized beliefs that might have existed between local indigenous cultures with other adopted concepts, which might have included traces of Judaeo-Christian beliefs. A good model for this kind of syncretized belief system is Gnosticism, which syncretized neo-Platonism with Judaeo-Christian elements. Gnostics are not typically described as idol-worshippers, even though they had an elaborate cosmology of many lesser deities to the Supreme God. Understanding the historical context of the Gnostics and their presence in pre-Islamic Arabia might provide us with some possible hints of, at least, some of the communities with whom the Qur’an might be in conversation. Not that they were necessarily Valentinians, Basilideans, or other Gnostic groups that emerged in other regions, but perhaps this model allows us to understand the possibility of syncretized belief systems, which might have existed in pre-Islamic Arabia that allows us to contextualize certain Qur’anic passages.