Allah: Is it God or Allah?

April 30, 2006 at 1:57 pm (Uncategorized)

Some have remarked how in United 93 “Allah” had been translated as “God” rather than “Allah.” Let Us explain the three prevailing theories, that We know of, concerning the origin or nature of the word allaah.

One theory maintains that allaah is a contraction or corruption of al-ilaah. “ilaah” means “a god,” the feminine being “ilaat.” Thus, when the shahaadah says laa ilaaha illa-llaah, what it really is saying is that there is no god (or goddess, presumably) other than allaah, or that the only deity that exists is allaah.

Another theory maintains that allaah is connected with allaat, a goddess mentioned in the Qur’an and, evidently, in Arab paganism allaah’s wife. As such, it is maintained that allaah is really al-laah, while allaat is really al-laat, both being partners and thus grammatically the same word but simply differentiated by gender. We are sure it can also be said that allaah really is al-ilaah (The God) while allaat is really al-ilaat (The Goddess) by corruption or contraction. (A sidenote: In Arab paganism, allaah was the father of the gods and the moon god; allaat was the mother of the gods and the sun goddess. Indeed, in a variety of Semitic languages, “moon” is male and “sun” is female. This can explain why the moon was used by the Arabs as Islam’s symbol.)

According to both of the above theories, allaah is not a name but a title, as it were, meaning “The God.” As such, allaah can be translated as “God.”

However, many Muslims believe that allaah is a name, just like Jack or Ahmad or Yechizqiyahu or Balasubramanium. These Muslims believe that one may not translate it as “God.” Although it may have a same sense as the English “God” (and Dominus, Dios, Dieu, et cetera; in Judeo-Christian dominated languages, “God” has virtually become a name), a name cannot be replaced with a noun. One cannot replace “William,” for example, with “boy.” These Muslims would also point to how words for “god” (“ilaah”) and “the god” (“al-ilaah”) already exist in Arabic, neither of which is allaah, thus allaah is fundamentally different from ilaah/al-ilaah. “allaah” is thus comparable with the Name of God in the Hebrew Bible (the four-letter name of God, also known as the Tetragrammaton). However, this link cannot be used too much as Jews have replaced The Name with the Hebrew for “Lord.” But the point such Muslims would make is that Jews have replaced The Name, not translated it.

One point that devout Muslims have in their favor is the fact that over time words change their significance. Whereas it may be true that at one point allaah served as a noun to distinguish The Deity from others, now it serves as the name of The Deity. Which aspect ought to prevail, historical facts which may no longer be irrelevant or modern theology which may supress if not ignore historical facts?

We are sure this is an issue of debate amongst Muslims as well: is allaah a name or a noun? However, whatever the answer is for Muslims, it would have no affect on Islamic theology, jurisprudence, beliefs, or whatnot. For them, it’s simply a minor linguistic puzzle. Because it is difficult to ascertain which theory ought to be adhered to (indeed, one must question whether historical facts matter or current theology), for English-speaking people this may be a matter of personal taste. Some believe it does not matter what word one uses to address The Supreme Deity, while others believe it does matter.

inna naHnu-l-a’lam.

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7 Comments

  1. Christopher Taylor said,

    Excellent information, your blog consistently teaches me things I’ve long wanted to know and I wish you had more readers.

  2. Wickedpinto said,

    God as an adjective isn’t a western creation, however the definition of “god” is a western creation. We in the west automaticaly assume that all gods, no matter the religion are all powerful.

    God as an adjective/title was the standard before “abraham” even zorroastrianism (spelling) had numerous gods, but defined a god either greater than the rest or supreme to the gods that were known.

    As Mus mentioned about the paganism in the ancient muslim, world, the acknowledgement that some creature that is not human was greater than humanity, was a situation of conflict. Even Moses, while speaking with pharoah said “my god” not “The God” but “My God.”

    in terms of all faiths other than christianity, god is relative to other things greater than man. Christianity unfortunately defined 3 gods, granted it was 1 god in three states, but that was an consession to the polytheism of the greeks and romans, and pretty much the entire world. In thruth there is no true mono-theistic religion. Either there is one god with many states, or many gods who rule one state of nature and life.

    God itself as a definition is flawed, the words are always flawed, Hell, St. Patrick the beloved icon of Irish Catholocism was able to overcome the power of magicians who invoked their own god, other than the catholic god. . . . .how is that, if there is only one god over all things?

    I think, that while “allah” is a god, and “christ” is the representation of god on earth, and “jehovah” is the lord your god, who is the god of the others that are not I?

    Using God as a distinct definitave translation is fundamentaly flawed because before you can define the revelation of god to man, you must accept the revelation of all gods that preceded. All religions have accepted a god that existed first, and this god, or that god grew greater and now rules man.

    So, “God” of christians, should be called “God Christ” or “The Christ” which itself has a godly aspect to it, the god of the jews should be any one of the various pronunciations of the lord your god, and in islam “god” their god, should always be “allah”

    Clear the confusion, because we in the west are in touch with mono-theism, in it’s bastardization as truly mono-theistic, rather than the biblical god of supremacy (not conquest, supremacy, different) that makes us think there is only one word for god.

    Christians give god a name, the only name since he is unknowable for god is the name and title held by the only avatar of god. “Christ” or “Jesus”

    Jews have a lot of words, but “jehovah” is likely the one.

    Muslims have “allah”

    Always allah, always christ always jehovah (or one of the other pronunciations)

    all monotheisms are not the same.

    You can buy 50 screws at your local hardware store, but a 6-20, is very different from an 8-16 screw, if you doubt, try driving an 8-16 into a 6-20 tap. (thats a square peg round hole analogy if you missed it)

    As an aside, whoever asked, the reason for the “eye test” is because it is an a’linear image, that can’t be easily regognized by automatic software to allow for mass spamming.

    You have to punch in the letters so that you can prove that you aren’t a “bot”

  3. Muslihoon said,

    Thank you, Christopher!

    Excellent points, wickedpinto!

  4. Michael said,

    Jews have a lot of words, but “jehovah” is likely the one.

    It’s actually “jahweh.” The historic “jehovah” is an error that arises from the fact that written Hebrew has no vowels. It’s the actual name of God (i.e., a noun) that means “I am.” More accurately (I’ve read), it’s a tenseless form of Hebrew that does not exist in English and actually means “I am what I am, I am what I was, and I am what I will be,” thus signifying that God is outside of time (a fascinating subject which the Bible elsewhere addresses, but too much to discuss here).

    Other references to God in the Old Testament are titular, e.g., “adonai,” which simply means “lord.” It’s my understanding that ordinary Jews would use terms like this and never speak the proper name of God out of reverence for it. Thus, when Jesus answered a question by saying “I am” with reference to himself, the crowd was enraged and attempted to stone him to death. For them, stoning was the appropriate and prescribed sanction for such an outrageously blasphemous utterance.

  5. Christopher Taylor said,

    To be more specific, the Tetragrammaton is simply 4 letters that are all consonants. The vowels were removed to make the word protected from being spoken out of fear and reverence for the name of the Lord. Nobody knows how to pronounce it, but Jehovah is an old German attempt that has been used most over the years. For Jews, the name of God is so sacred, they won’t even type it out, typically using G_d or some such variant.

  6. Michael said,

    Jahweh is also frequently transliterated as “Yahweh,” by the way. It’s a Y sound in English, which is sometimes a J sound in other languages. The Hebrew manuscript would just have YHWH. You have to guess the vowels, and it is now generally accepted that jehovah was a bad guess.

  7. Michael said,

    OK, Chris, let’s take turns instead of posting pretty much the same thing at the same time. You go next.

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