Why we should call the god of the Muslims “Allah,” not “God”
(August 6: the discussion continues
I recently wrote to a reader:
May I point out something? In your comment, before I edited it, you wrote:
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I understand for instance how a Third Worlder who has been raised Muslim all his life can be convinced to become a suicide bomber; it is sufficient to convince him that God wants him to kill infidels, and that if he dies in the process he will be rewarded beyond anything he could hope for in this life.
My own usage, and that of many others, is not to use the word “God” when referring to the god of the Muslims, but Allah. The reason is that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible, but fundamentally different. He is a God of unceasing hate and murder, a god of pure will, not a god who can be known and loved (as the Pope explained in his Regensburg lecture). Indeed, he is a god who commands death to people who believe in the God of the Bible in biblical terms rather than in Islamic terms. Therefore he should be referred to by his distinct Muslim name of Allah. He should not be given the dignity and legitimacy of the God of the Bible.
But here it needs to be pointed out that the Catholic Church has got itself permanently screwed up by its official description of Muslims—in a Church document of the 1960s called Nostra Aetate and in the Catholic Catechism itself—as “fellow adorers of the One God.” This articulation makes it impossible for the Church hierarchy to stand against Islam. It is the reason why Pope Benedict folded like a cheap camera (that is a criticism of the pope as an actor on the political stage, not as the Shepherd of the faithful) and backed off his profound criticisms of Islam in response to Muslim riots and protests following the Regensburg lecture. As long as the Church officially speaks of Muslims as “fellow adorers of the one God,” it is impossible for the Church truly to reject Islam or oppose the Islamization of the West.
So long as Nostra Aetate remains authoritative, any papal statement critical of Islam is nothing more than an unprincipled exception to Nostra Aetate, meaning a non-liberal attitude that is not backed up by a non-liberal principle, and that therefore is inevitably rolled over by liberal principle. Thus Cardinal Ratzinger said in 2004 that Turkey’s admission into the EU would be a grave error, because Europe is Christian and Turkey is not. But that was just a vestigial, non-liberal attitude to which Ratzinger was giving voice, and which, as pope, he abandoned. The only authoritative principle for him was that Islam and Christianity are basically one, because Christians and Muslims both “adore the one God.”
Michael K. writes:
You indicate that Muslims worship a different god than Christians, and that therefore this different god should be referred to as “Allah” rather than “God.” You also indicate that the word “Allah” is “the Muslim name” for their god. While you are absolutely correct on your substantive points (and your criticism of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church for its statements concerning Islam in Nostra Aetate is well placed), there is a semantic problem with your position.
Arabic speaking Christians have used the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God for thousands of years. I used to go to an Antiochian Orthodox Church, and in the Arabic form of the Divine Liturgy, the term “Allah” is used repeatedly to refer to God. I recall having been confused by this very point as a young Christian, and asked the Priest about the use of the term. He indicated that the word had always been used to refer to God by Christian Arabs, which use predated the arrival of Islam by centuries.
Millions of Christians today refer to the Holy Trinity as Allah, which Christians themselves are suffering severe persecution at the hands of Muslims. While I understand and agree with your intent, rather than cede the use of the word to Islam, why not simply refer to the god of the Muslims “the god of the Muslims?”
That the word for God in Arabic is Allah, and that Christian Arabs refer to the Christian God as Allah, is interesting, but it doesn’t affect the basic issue as far as we are concerned. We are not living in the Arab world. We are not speaking Arabic. We live in the Western world and we speak English or other Western languages. And in our linguistic world, Allah is not the generic name of God, Allah is known as the Islamic name of the Islamic god.
Howard Sutherland writes:
Kudos for distinguishing between God and Allah. Nostra Aetate is actually in Latin, and Latin has no articles, indefinite or definite. So (yes, I am a nerd) I took a look at the original—wonders of the internet—to see if “fellow adorers of the one God” shouldn’t actually be rendered as “fellow adorers of one (i.e., a single) God” in the sense of acknowledging that we’re all monotheists here, rather than saying that the God of Christians and Jews and the Allah of Moslems are in fact one and the same. Never mind for the moment that Moslems themselves consider Trinitarian Christians polytheists.
No such luck. That phrase is in a paragraph replete with pious blithering about the honor Moslems accord to Abraham, Jesus and Mary, which makes it pretty clear that whoever wrote it does think God and the Allah of Moslems are the same deity. As you say, that’s a problem: it is theological unilateral disarmament by us Papists. It is also a mistake, and not one made under any pretense of infallibility. Clearer minded theologians—or Popes—can easily correct it. Let’s hope someone who both has sufficient authority and is tough-minded enough to take the inevitable heat does so soon. Cheers.
It is unforgivable that learned Christians, such as the people who compose official Vatican documents, do not know that when Islam “honors” Jesus as well as other biblical and prophetic figures, it honors them solely in Islamic terms, as Islamic prophets. Which means that Islam is not honoring the biblical religions; rather, Islam is appropriating the Bible for Islam. In fact, any Christian who believes in Christianity rather than in Islam, any Christian who affirms that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of the Father, has committed the single most disgusting sin under Islamic law, deserving of the most sadistic punishments.
This is not difficult to know. It’s right there in the Koran.
Bill carpenter writes:
To address your frequent concern with nominalism, I think we would have to say that Christians and Moslems who refer to one God as the Creator and Ruler of the universe are referring to the same God, but that the Moslems believe all kinds of wrong and horrible things about him. Just as we and they would be referring to New York if we said New York, though they wrongly believed it was located at the South Pole.
As I see it, this is not a matter of somewhat different understandings of the same thing. This is a matter of two understandings that are so different that they amount to two different things. While one could find passages in the Koran that describe a god that has some of the qualities we associate with God, for the most part the god of the Koran is clearly a projection of Muhammad’s own power-mad, hate-filled, vengeful psyche and not like God at all. When the God of the Bible threatens punishment, there is a sense of this being an expression, a symbolical expression if you will, of the divine truth. When the god of the Koran threatens punishment, which he does in over 50 percent of the text, there is the sense of monstrous expression of human hate and power-lust. Yes, Allah has, mixed with his monstrousness, enough god-seeming qualities to win the devotion of his followers. But I do not believe that the god of the Koran is the same god as the God of the Bible, only understood differently. I think he is not God at all. If he has any supernatural reality, it is that of a demon, as Muhammad himself feared at one point. See the 2005 entry, “William Muir’s theory of Muhammad.”
Allan Wall writes:
Regarding the question of the terms God and Allah, I don’t agree with your position and I think it sows confusion. I suggest you reconsider it.
The fact is, the term Allah is the Arabic word for God, it pre-dates Islam, and is used by millions of Arabic-speaking Christians. We can’t ignore that fact, it is relevant to the question, and we are doing Arabic-speaking Christians a disservice by taking this position. [LA replies: How is it relevant to the question? The question, again, is: how should we refer to the god of Islam? As “God”? Or as “Allah”? I’m saying that we should refer to the god of Islam as “Allah,” because he is a different god from the God of the Bible. How does the fact that Christian Arabs speak of God as Allah change the point? Maybe I’m not seeing something here. Also, it’s not just me. Most writers, and I think all Islam critics, when speaking of the god of Islam, call him Allah. Are all those writers sowing confusion? How are they sowing confusion? Again, maybe I’m not seeing something here. Also, please tell me, in concrete, specific terms, how am I doing a disservice to Arabic-speaking Christians, who, by the way, are not even a part of this discussion.]
Another question is, how do converts (Muslim to Christian) fit into this? I’ve read about converts that don’t see Allah as a false god they rejected to become Christians. They see it as having had a previous view of God as more distant, but now they have better knowledge and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. [LA replies: They have a right to their opinion; they see the god of Islam as God, imperfectly understood. But what is that to us? I think they’re wrong. I’m not telling them to change their view. But I have a different view.]
Islam does teach the omnipotence and omniscience of the Supreme Being, who is the Judge of the world. Where Christians part company with Muslims is we don’t believe Muhammad was a messenger of God, and we can’t agree with Islam’s rejection of Christ’s deity. Of course, Muhammad had all sorts of garbled ideas, which find their way into Islamic doctrine. There’s no doubt about that. [LA replies: the differences are much greater than you suggest.]
Getting back to the original question, one illustration I have seen is that of interviews of the president. Two journalists interview the president. One gives a garbled version of his interview. The other truthfully relates what the president says. There is obviously a big difference between the two reports. We wouldn’t say, however, that the reporters are talking about two different presidents. That would further confuse matters. We would say, however, that the garbled report misrepresents the president. And that’s what Islam does, it misrepresents God.
Check out this Wikipedia article on the term “Allah.” Especially notice the use of the term among Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews (there are Jews who are native speakers of Arabic). Notice how the Arab Christians have their own Trinitarian formula which utilizes the term “Allah.” Here’s another article on this subject.
Bill Carpenter writes:
I agree with what you say, but the point I want to make is that there is only one God, ours. Moslems either worship a perverted image of him or something that doesn’t exist. When you speak of their god and our God, it is almost as if you conceded that they both exist on the same plane, or that, nominalistically, the names didn’t refer to anything real, which I don’t believe is you intent. “Allah” doesn’t refer to anything, or it refers to a distorted image of God. Of course, words can refer to things that don’t exist, but it is beyond my simple understanding to place that in the nominalist-realist dichotomy. The main point is not to let our dhimmi clerics get away with telling us that we and Moslems worship the same God, when they are violent heretics and our sworn enemies.
We are approaching the issue differently. The way I’m approaching it, the question of which God is real does not arise. I am not discussing that question at all. I am looking at each of these Gods as they are presented in the two respective religions/scriptures. So yes, you’re right that I am treating these two Gods as though they both existed on the same plane. But that doesn’t mean I am saying that the god of the Muslims is equally real as the God of the Christians, because I am simply not dealing with that question. I am dealing with these two ideas of God as they are presented and believed in by the two religions, and I am saying that these two ideas of God are so different that they amount to two different and distinct Gods.
That is the best I can explain my position at the moment. I again concede that I may be wrong.
Allan Wall writes:
The reason we can’t ignore the linguistic perspective is that the term Allah is from the Arabic language, it existed before Islam, and is used by millions of Christians to refer to the God of the Bible. That alone should tell us we need to tread carefully here. I think that Arab Christians and converts from Islam have valuable perspectives to offer us.
I notice in William Muir’s writings, that he translates “Allah” as “God,” at least on the pages I saw.
Thomas Bertonneau writes:
As I understand it, the Allah worshipped by Mohammed and elevated by him to the one deity was originally one pagan Bedouin deity in a pantheon of pagan deities that included, for example, the moon under the guise of a goddess. It is worth noting that Islam kept the proper name for the pagan god who ousted all other pagan gods in Mohammed’s appropriation and radical purge of his ancestral religion.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 04, 2011 07:11 PM | Send
Modern Westerners use the word God or Dieu or Bog (depending whether they speak a Germanic, a Latinate, or a Slavic language)—which is to say they use a generic term.
The Western European and Christian generic term for God reflects a key moment in the development of Hebrew monotheism, when the deity revealed himself to Moses from the burning bush. Significantly, God did not give himself a name; he merely defined himself, as “I am that I am.” This would immediately have distinguished him from the Bedouin and Egyptian gods with whom Moses, who was raised as an Egyptian and who was sojourning in exile among the Bedouins, would have been familiar.
There are various ways of referring to God in the Old Testament—Elohim and Adonai come to mind. But these are not names either; they are titles, the one being an old generic plural (“The Gods”), the other meaning a prince or lesser king (“Lord”). Perhaps El (“God”) is related etymologically to Allah.
In the development of the Olympian religion among the Greeks, the tendency—in Plato, foe example, where the trend is already pronounced—is to refer to “The God,” again using the generic title in contrast to a proper name. In Christian doctrine, the Triune God is composed of generic, not proper, nouns: The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.