A MODEST SUGGESTION: “GOD,” NOT “ALLAH”

I wish to offer a modest suggestion to my Muslim friends, namely, that when they wish to refer to the deity while writing or speaking English they use the English word “God” (or analogously in other European languages, such as Gott, Dieu,...), and not the Arabic word “Allah.” The reason for the suggestion is that, given the vast ignorance concerning, to say nothing of rampant bad will toward, Islam today, many Christians, and Jews, will mistakenly think that Muslims do not believe in the same God they believe in, that is, the one and only God, creator of all that exists.

If one asks what the formal creeds of Judaism or Islam are, the answers will be very brief. The Jew in response will recite the Shema (Hebrew, “hear”): Shema Yisrael, Yahweh elohenu echad (“Hear oh Israel, Yahweh our God is one!” Dt. 6:4—a devout Jew will substitute the word adonai, “Lord,” for “Yahweh,” out of reverence for the proper name of God).[1]

The Muslim formal creed, the Shahada (Arabic, “testimony”), sounds strikingly similar to the Hebrew Bible’s injunction: La ilaha illa ’llahu (“There is no god but God”—’llahu being pronounced allahu, is simply the generic Arabic word for “god”). Many Muslims use Allah as a proper name for God (like Yahweh is in Judaism), although, of course, it is not a proper name. In Arabic, ’l, or al, is the parallel to the Hebrew el—both being Semitic languages—meaning “god.” To this statement about there being only one God, the Shahada adds only: “and Mohammed is his prophet.”

Christianity, after it was embraced by the Hellenistic Roman Emperor Constantine, was vastly more influenced by abstract Greek philosophical thinking in its self-understanding than were either Judaism or Islam (both were much more Semitic, hence, focused largely on ethics, in their thinking). Consequently, its formal creed(s) were much longer. Nevertheless, they always started basically the same way: Credo in unum Deum, “I believe in one God.”

All three religions affirm authentic monotheism, that is, there is only one God, creator of all that exists; all other claimants to divinity are rejected. At the same time, there are not just three different understandings of God by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Rather, there are many. Clearly, for example, the Christian understanding of God as a loving, forgiving father of a Prodigal Son is the antithesis of the understanding of God as confirming the Inquisition and burning heretics at the stake. The same antitheses can be seen in Islam: God the Compassionate and Merciful vs. a suicide bomber shouting the name “Allah.” All three traditions affirm God’s beneficent will toward humankind and the rest of creation. Theologizations and practices that contradict that fundamental position run contrary to the core of all three religions’ central understanding of God.

Hence, for Muslims to speak in English of “Allah” rather than “God” is to communicate to the listener a sub-message: My God is different from your God, and you can tell by his different name. To so speak/write is both inaccurate, and worse, builds a barrier and enmity precisely where there should be a bond and amity.

Having voiced this concern to several of my Muslim friends, I happily learned that they had already come this view—and practice—long before I spoke to them. I would therefore like to share this view with my fellow Christians, as well as Jews, Hindus, agnostics, etc., and encourage them to consider both adopting and supporting it, both for themselves and for our Muslim sisters and brothers.

 

Leonard Swidler

 

Preuzeto sa: Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 45, 4 (Fall, 2010).

 

 


[1] Devout Jews already from ancient days developed the custom of not speaking, or even writing, the proper name of God, Yahweh, out of respect. Today I still receive papers and exams from some Jewish students who, even in English do not write out God, but instead write “G-d.” I once even received a student paper which said: “Because I am an atheist, I don’t believe in G-d, but, . . .”