Sunday 20 December 2015

Is Allah the Arabic Word for God?

NJ Bridgewater

The Name of God pictured in the Hagia Sophia cathedral.
It reads 'God, Glorified be His Glory' in Arabic.

The question often arises—not among academics, for whom it is an irrelevant point—but among Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals, of whether Allah is the specific name for the God of Islam or whether it is the name for God in general. Actually, when I say ‘the question arises’, I mean that they have already made an assumption on that matter and the answer given is ‘no’. The reason is quite simple, to differentiate Christianity from Islam based on theology and, by so doing, to make it appear as something ‘foreign’ or ‘other’. In any case, it is an attempt at misinformation in order to sow seeds of doubt among the ignorant. In every age, the clergy (i.e. priests, ministers, doctors of religion, etc.) are the ones who lead the flock astray from the straight path into the paths of perdition, just as the priests, scribes and Pharisees of the time of Jesus led their flocks away from the truth and into error. Likewise, the Prophet Moses was opposed by the priests and magicians of Pharaoh, the Prophet Zoroaster was opposed by the Magi of ancient Persia, Buddha was opposed by the Brahmin priestly caste and the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh were opposed by the ‘ulamā’ of Persia. In every age, self-professed ministers and priests sow weeds among the wheat. In Matthew 13:24 – 30, we find:

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

The Parable of the Tares

The ‘weeds’ could be likened to the priests, ministers, theologians and ‘ulamā’ themselves, who are like weeds choking the life out of the wheat surrounding them. Also, the ideas and superstitions spread by the clergy could be seen as weeds which need to be burnt in the proverbial fire of truth. In either case, these weeds are useless and—worse—harmful, as they promote and teach that which leads people astray from the path to salvation. Likewise, in Matthew 15:13 – 14, Jesus says: “But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Here it is again made clear that priests, ministers, etc. can be compared to ‘blind leaders of the blind’, who shall lead their congregations ‘into the ditch’. This phrase does not just apply to the Pharisees, scribes and priests of two thousand years ago, but also to those priests, ministers, and other clergy of this day and age who encourage their followers or flock with misinformation, superstition, prejudice and scriptural literalism. A prime example is when Christian ministers claim that Allah is not a general word for God and is, rather, the name of a different or specific God in distinction to the God of the Bible, whose name is Yahweh or YHWH, or perhaps Jehovah (an anglified Greek form of the former). This could not be further from the truth.

The magicians of Pharaoh pictured in "The Ten Commandments"

Clergy condemning Jesus Christ

An example of such misinformation is an article entitled ‘Is “Allah” Truly The Arabic Word for God’, posted on May 26, 2008 by an ordained minister and writer for ‘HeavenlyManna’. The article is essentially an attempt to fudge the issue and misinform the reader by raising non-issues, such as the existence of different names and titles for God in the Qur’ān and Bible and insisting that the name of God is Yahweh or Jehovah, two versions of the same name which are rarely, if ever, translated as ‘God’ in English versions of the Bible. The article avoids the plain and simple question of, how do you translate the word God into Arabic, to which the answer is ‘Allah’. That simple and straightforward fact is enough to disprove the entire premise of the article, but I will attempt to address the points raised nonetheless, so that they may be laid to rest once and for all.

1. Argument I from the article: The name of God in the Bible is Yahweh/Jehovah, not Allah.

YHWH in Hebrew, from Scarlett Inkwell

My response:

This is rather like saying, “The name of the President in America is Obama, not Ra’īs (the Arabic word for ‘President’)”. We all know very well that the word ‘president’ can be translated in different ways. We also know that the President has three other names: Barack Hussein Obama, and a number of different titles, such as Commander-in-Chief and Head of State. Likewise, Queen Elizabeth II may be referred to as the Queen, Elizabeth the Second, the Head of State, the Defender of the Faith, or even the ‘Queen of Canada’, the ‘Queen of Australia’, etc. yet all these terms refer to one same person. In Arabic, she is referred to as al-Malikah (the ‘Queen’), and she is respectfully addressed as your ‘Your Majesty’ (SāHibatu’l-Jalālah), if I got the feminine form correct there. The Torah or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament for Christians) is a composite work, as has been established by Biblical critics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book of Genesis was composed by two groups, the authors of the ‘Priestly Source’ (abbreviated to P) and the authors of the ‘Yahwist Source’ (abbreviated to J). The Yahwist Source may be distinguished from the Priestly Source in that the former refers to God by the title or name of YHWH (the sacred Tetragrammeton), usually pronounced Yahweh in Hebrew or Jehovah in English. The Priestly Source refers to God as Elohim (the plural form of Eloh) or El. These two traditions combined in the Torah as we know it today, composed between the 5th and 6th centuries BC, about 600 years after the birth of Moses, based on oral traditions passed down through the generations.

EL SHADDAI in Hebrew Script

YHWH is almost universally translated in the English version of the Bible as ‘LORD’, rather than God, in order to distinguish the two terms: Elohim (and Eloh or El) and YHWH. In Genesis 1:1, God is referred to as Elohim: bɘrešîth bārā ’elōhîm ’eth haš-šāmayim wɘ-’eth hā-’āreṣ. Not only is this sufficient proof that God is called Elohim in the Bible, but it is also shows how almost every word in that opening verse can be etymologically connected to similar Arabic verses from the Qur’ān. In Qur’ān 7:54, we read: ’inna rabbakumu llāh-u lladhī khalaqa s-samāwāti wa l-’arḍ-a fī sittati ’ayyāmin (‘Verily, your LORD is God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days’ [my translation]). LORD in Arabic is Rabb, which is related to the Aramaic/Hebrew Rabbi (‘my lord’). The word for ‘created’ is different here, khalaqa as opposed to bārā, but otherwise the similarities persist. God is referred to in Hebrew as ’Elōhîm (lit. ‘God (plural’), the plural form of ’elōh (Arabic cognate: ’ilāh ‘a god, deity’). In Arabic, the term ’Allāh (lit. ‘the God’) is used. The first consonant and glottal stop are elided in the verse here due to their being a short –u ending on the word rabbakumu (i.e. ‘your Lord’). Since this elision always occurs with the definite article al- (‘the’), it is quite clear that the ’Al in ’Allāh is none other than the definite article. The latter part of the word (i.e. –lāh, is simply a short form of ’ilāh, which is identical to the Hebrew ’elōh, which has the same meaning and etymological origin). An argument could be made that ’Allāh was borrowed from Aramaic or its descendant-language, Syriac, since some of the religious terminology of the Qur’ān is borrowed from Syriac, Persian, Ethiopic and Greek. The Syriac word for God (as used by Syriac-speaking Christians) is ʼĔlāhā, while the Biblical Aramaic word for God is ʼAlâhâ, both of which are etymologically and semantically connected with the Arabic ’Allāh. Since the mother-tongue of Jesus Christ was Aramaic, He would have referred to God as ʼAlâhâ or, when quoting Hebrew, as’Elōhîm.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that all Arabic-language Bibles translate ‘God’ as ’Allāh. It should also not be surprising that YHWH is translated in Arabic as Rabb. Both ’Allāh and Rabb are common names for God in the Qur’ān, translated in English as ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ respectively. In Genesis 1:1 of the Arabic version of the Bible, as found on, we find: fi l-bud’-i khalaqa llāh-u s-samāwāti wa l-’arḍ-a, which is almost word-for-word identical with the phraseology of the Qur’ān, using Allah to render the term ‘God’. The name Jehovah appears in the English translation of the King James Bible seven times (Genesis 22:14, Exodus 6:3, 17:15, Judges 6:24, Psalms 83:18, Isaiah 12:2, and 26:4). For example, in Exodus 6:3 (KJV), God is quoted as saying: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them”. In Hebrew, this is: wā-’erā ’el-’abrāhām ’el-yiṣḥāq wɘ ’el-ya‘aqōb bɘ ’el šaddāy ūšɘmî Yahweh lō nōwda‘tî lāhem. The names for God given here are ’el šaddāy, usually rendered as El Shaddai, and Yahweh. In Arabic, this is translated as: wa-’anā ṭahar-tu li-’ibrāhīm-a wa-’isḥāq-a wa-ya‘qūb-a bi-’annī ’ilāh-u l-qādir-u ‘alā kull-i shay’-in. wa-’immā bi-sm-ī yahwah fa-lam ’a‘raf ‘inda-hum. Here, as in English, the word YHWH is simply transliterated (in Arabic as ‘Yahwah’). In the vast majority of cases, however, YHWH is simply translated as Rabb, as in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”. The original Hebrew is: šɘma‘ yiśrā’el Yahweh ’elōhenū Yahweh ’eḥād. This is rendered inArabic as: fa-sma‘ yā ’isrā’īl-u: ar-rabb-u ’ilāh-u-nā rabb-un wāḥid-un. Here, Yahweh is translated as ar-Rabb-u and Rabb, as it is consistently throughout the Arabic Bible, a name which appears throughout the Qur’ān. A parallel with this verse can be found in the famous  Qur’ānic verse (112:1): qul huwa llāh-u ’aḥad (say: He is God, the One). The Arabic ’aḥad (one) is a title of God correlating with the Hebrew ’eḥād (one) from Deuteronomy. The Hebrew ’elōh-e-nū (‘our God’) correlates exactly with the Arabic ’ilāh-u-nā (‘our God’). The phrase ’ilāh-u-nā appears in the Qur’ānic verse 29:46, where Muslims are told to tell people of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians): wa qūlū ’āmannā bi-lladhī ’unzila ’ilay-nā wa ’unzila ’ilay-kum wa-’ilāh-u-nā wa ’ilāh-u-kum wāḥid-un wa naḥnu la-hu muslim-ūna (“And say: we have believed in that which was sent down unto us and sent down unto you and our God and your God is One and we are in submission unto Him” [my translation]). A greater ecumenical statement could not be imagined, proving once again that the God of the Jews, Christians and Muslims is one God.

2. Argument II from the article: God has different attributes in the Bible and Qur’ān:

My response:

If you were to take the sum of two books and to take account of all the attributes mentioned in each for a particular being or personality, it is very likely that there will be some used in one book and not another, especially if those books were written in two different languages and composed about 500 – 1000 years apart. In reality, however, the Bible is not one book—it is a collection of books written over more than a thousand years by hundreds of authors, some prophetic and others inspired. While evangelical Christians and orthodox Jews may want to believe that the Torah or Evangel are written by the hand of God, they are, in reality, composite works reflecting a wide time-span and changing linguistic, cultural and societal frontier. Nevertheless, despite the human element in their composition, the Qur’ān recognises that the Bible is a divine work because it preserves the oral traditions of Moses, the lesser Prophets and Jesus Christ, even though they are not the exact words preserved by God. The essence of the Torah, Psalms, Evangel and other Prophetic works have been preserved. Let’s examine some of the names and attributes referred to by the minister.  She writes: “Remember, if the God of the Bible, commonly referred to as “Yahweh”, or “Jehovah” in the Old Testament, is called “Allah” in the Qu’ran, both He and Allah should bare the exact same names. After all, if they are one and the same being, they should possess the exact same personality, characteristics, personality, mind, and attributes.”

Names of God in the Qur'an

She begins with a false assumption: that God, the illimitable, the unknowable Essence, can be limited by one specific set of attributes described at one particular period of time, in particular ancient languages, and recorded through an oral tradition for centuries before being written down in a more modern variety of Hebrew than existed at the time of Moses. The second false assumption is that the Bible is an exclusive work with a fixed number of books to which none can be added or substracted. As such, it contains a fixed number of names and attributes of God mentioned in the text. On the contrary, the Qur’ān should no more be considered in separation or apposition to the Bible than the New Testament should be considered an isolated phenomenon from the Old Testament. Rather, the three elements: the Old and New Testaments and the Qur’ān should be considered part of a greater whole, referred to simply as ‘Divine Revelation’ or the ‘Word of God’. Let’s look at some specific attributes referred to by the poster, who writes: “The God of the Bible is named with titles that cannot be found among the names of Allah. They are “The Lamb of God”, “The Son of God”, “The Father”, “The Song of Songs”, “The Lord that Healeth”, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, “The Resurrection”, and “The Holy One of Israel”. “The Lamb of God” is a title that can only be worn by the one who was sacrificed on the spiritual altar at Calvary for the remission of man’s sins. This is a foreign concept with Allah. The title of “Son of God” can only be borne by the God-man who had no earthly father, but was fathered by God Himself and placed in the womb of a virgin.”

The list above includes a number of titles which refer either to God or to Jesus Christ, making the assumption that the two are the same when, in reality, the Bible itself makes no presumption that Jesus is God or part of a Trinity (a post-Biblical concept derived from paganism—references to the Trinity such as Matthew 28:19 contain interpolations which do not appear in the original New Testament). The term ‘Lamb of God’ does not appear in the Hebrew Bible and hence, from the argument above, the God of the Old Testament must be a different God from that of the New Testament. The term, which in Greek is Amnos tou Theou, refers specifically to Jesus of Nazareth, a person who lived two thousand years ago and NOT to God, the eternal, everlasting Being who is beyond ascent and descent, egress and regress, or any corporeal form. The concept of an incarnated God-man is not only foreign to the Old Testament, but would have been rejected by Jesus Himself, who worshipped one God and would not have accepted any denigration of the Almighty. ‘God-man’ was a well-established concept in the first few centuries of the Christian era, but not among Christians—it was, rather, a pagan conception derived from the legends of Hercules, Achilles and other ‘God-men’ and the concept of Zeus incarnating and changing his shape as he took on different forms. It also had parallels in the beliefs of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman mystery cults who believed in a dying or sacrificial god. While I fully accept Jesus Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’, there is no reason why the title should be considered a name or attribute of God Himself. Nor does the title in any way contradict the Qur’ān.

Mithras slaying the bull: an image from the mystery cult
which inspired some aspects of Christian theology

The Apotheosis of Heracles - he's ascending to heaven as a god

Osiris, Horus and Isis - the ancient Egyptian Trinity

The title ‘Son of God’ again refers to Jesus Christ and NOT to God. In Hebrew, the title does not mean a ‘God-man’ or only-begotten Son of God. Rather, it refers to just and pious men, kings of Israel and Judah, and angels. It is commonly used throughout the Old Testament so is not a unique title of Jesus. Psalm 2:7 refers to King David in the following terms: “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Is King David a God-man? No, he was the King of Israel and a mortal man. The term ‘only-begotten’ (John 1:18) is an extra-biblical appellation which found its way into the New Testament as a marginal note—a mere interpolation—which became embedded in the text along with numerous other such anomalies. The Nicene Creed’s reference to Jesus as the ‘only-begotten Son of God’ in 325 AD is far removed from the original teachings of Christianity and has no connection to the Biblical text. The reader should refer to RationalWiki, where there is a page which lists Biblical interpolations. Another title given by the Christian minister is ‘the Father’. God is often referred to as ‘the Father’ in the Bible, in a symbolic sense, since God brings all human beings into existence. The title is not used in the Qur’ān but the Qur’ān, as already mentioned, is not exhaustive. It recognises the Torah, Psalms and Evangel and all the titles of God used in those works. Yet another is the ‘Song of Songs’, a title with no real theological significance; ‘the Lord that healeth’ (see below), ‘the God of Abraham’ (see below); the ‘Resurrection’, and the ‘Holy One of Israel’.

In Qur’ān 41:44, we are told that the Qur’ān itself is ‘a healing’: qul huwa li-lladhīna ’āmanū hud-an wa shifā’-un (“Say: it is, for those who believe, guidance and healing” [my translation]). In Qur’ān 26:77, God is described as: rabb-a l-‘ālamīna, lladhī khalaqa-nī fa-huwa yahdī-nī wa lladhī huwa yuṭ‘imu-nī wa yasqī-ni wa ’idhā mariḍ-tu fa-huwa yashfī-nī (“...Lord of the worlds, Who created me and then guideth me and Who feedeth me and giveth me to drink and, when I am ill, then He healeth me” [my translation]). With regards to the ‘God of Isaac’, the Qur’ān says: qul ’āmannā bi-llāhi wa mā ’unzila ‘alay-nā wa mā ’unzila ‘alā ’ibrāhīm-a wa ’ismā‘īl-a wa ’isḥāq-a wa ya‘qūb-a wa l-’asbāṭ-i wa mā ’ūtiya mūsā wa ‘īsā wa n-nabiyyūna mir-rabb-i-him lā nufarriq-u bayna ’aḥad-im min-hum (“Say: we have believed in God and what hath been sent down unto us and what was sent down unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the descendants and what was given unto Moses and Jesus and the Prophets from their Lord—we do not differentiate between any one of them” [my translation]). God consistently refers to the Israelites as ‘Children of Israel’ in the Qur’ān and makes it clear that they are a chosen people (Qur’ān 2:47). It also refers to God’s power to bring about resurrection and new life. Again, the Christian minister, by making the absurd claim that, because the man-made theology she ascribes to, which is based on a combination of an imaginative interpretation of the New Testament and pagan concepts (e.g. God-man, Trinity, etc.), differs from that present in the Qur’ān, it must be preaching about a ‘different God’, when overwhelming evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

3. Argument III from the article: only the Christian God is the ‘God of the Resurrection’:

The minister writes: “What is more is that this very title cannot be separated from the title of “The Resurrection”. In the New Testament book of St. Mark 12.26-27, Jesus said, “Have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.”

My response:

A depiction of the Resurrection by Luca Signorelli

The Qur’ān states (75:3 – 6): ’a-yaḥsib-u l-’insān-u ’a-lan najma‘-u ‘iẓām-a-hu, balā qādir-īna ‘alā ’an nusawwiya banān-a-hu; bal yurīd-u l-’insān-u li-yafjur-a ’amām-a-hu, yas’al-u ’ayyāna yawm-u l-qiyāma-t-i (“Doth man think that We shall not gather His bones—yea!—We are so Powerful as to apportion his very fingers; nay, but man desireth to sin continually, asking ‘when shall the Day of Resurrection be?'” [my translation]). The minister implies that Muslims do not believe in the day of resurrection and only Christians have hope of a resurrection whereas the Qur’ān is, in reality, replete with references to the Resurrection and God’s power over resurrection and death. But it’s much easier to spread misinformation and fear than to allow Christians to investigate the truth for themselves so that they might come to realise that there is only one God and that the God of Abraham is also the God of the Qur’ān, that the Yahweh of the Bible is the Rabb of the Qur’ān, that Elohim and Allah are one ancient, divine Being. I will conclude with these words of Bahá’u’lláh, who is the Messenger of God for this day and age and thePromised One of all religions:

“To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men. ‘No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision; He is the Subtle, the All-Perceiving.’ No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible.”

The Book of Certitude by Baha'u'llah,
quoted in the paragraph above

For more on arguments for the existence of God, see my blogpost on ‘The Qur’ān’s arguments for Belief in God’ and my blogpost in response to Stephen Fry entitled ‘A response to Stephen Fry’s condemnation of God’. Also make sure to check out my response to Stephen Crowder's post on why the Qur'an and Bible are incompatible, entitled 5 Reasons the Qur'ān and US Constitution can Coexist. For more information on Bahá’u’lláh, who is quoted above, see or