What do we mean by 'Allah'?

(Joel Vaughn) #1

This seems important if one is to have a meaningful conversation with a Muslim. I have heard that “allah”–like the cognate “el” or “eloh” (singular of “elohim”) in Hebrew–is simply the Arabic word for God, and that this is how “God” is translated by Arab Christians. As one Jewish writer often says, “God” is not God’s name. The most high God spoke His name to Moses. “God” is more like a title or descriptive of His relationship to creation.

Now I’ve also heard mostly Christians, but even some ex-Muslims, describe “Allah” as the name of a rival God–or a demon–and not the God Who historically spoke to Abraham. My gut reaction is that this seems like a “scorched earth” approach to any kind of common ground we have with Muslims as fellow “people of the Book.” To me, it seems like this would be like asserting that Issa is not Jesus because Muslims don’t believe that Jesus was God. But if Issa is the name of Jesus in Arabic, this clouds the issues more than it clarifies. Some Christians preach things about God that seem to make Him sound kind of horrible and demonic, so we need to take care about this. I don’t even think telling a Mormon that the Jesus in the Book of Mormon is a demon is generally going to lead to dialogue about redemption and divinity, regardless of the names being the same.

How do Arab Christians perceive this? How do Muslims perceive this? How should we handle it truthfully and with sensitivity?

(Jimmy Sellers) #2

I don’t know if this is what you had in mind but if your are interested in the names this might be helpful. It is from a course that I took on the Quran.

This video is part of the three part series on The nature of Allah. Yusef Estes is an American convert and I might add an ex-Baptist preacher. Hopefully you will find these useful.

(Joel Vaughn) #3

@Jimmy_Sellers, I appreciate the information you’ve shared, though my post is really about how we treat the understand and term ‘Allah’, in terms of both linguistics and evangelism. Interestingly, what Christians usually think of as the “names” of God, are embellishments of the name YHWH with other distinctions. There are some maybe exceptions such as the epithet El Shaddai, which is more like a title. This is interesting because god/el/allah is about what He is, whereas YHWH is about Who He is, the mystery of His nature and person.

(Jimmy Sellers) #4

I believe that was the point that I was trying to make. Here we have a Muslim, an American, ex- preacher and re-vert giving his understanding of the word Allah both in definition and linguistics.

I would be interested in you fleshing out a little more of your thoughts on how Christians should/could understand Allah. Are you asking if Christians are buying into the idea of that the God of the Bible and Allah are one and the same? Or are you concerned that some well meaning Christian might lead with a distorted picture of who they think Allah is and lose any further opportunity to engage a Muslim?

(Aline Aswad) #5

Hi Joel
I’m an Arab Christian. We use the name Allah as God in Arabic. It is even used in the Arabic translations of the Bible.
The difference between us and the Muslims is that we don’t believe it’s his name as they do.
In contrast, Issa is not the arabic word for Jesus. It is the Muslim distortion. In Arabic, for a Christian, Jesus is Yassoua - very close to the Hebrew Yeshoua, Arabic and Hebrew being semitic languages and you may find a lot of commonalities.
I hope this helps.

(Joel Vaughn) #6

Thank you, @aaswad. That’s very good to know. Is it the Quran that introduces Issa as the name of Jesus, or the Hadith? Also, assuming you hear Christians say things like, “Allah is not God”, what impression do you think this makes on Arab Christians and/or Arab Muslims?

(Bonnie Crabtree) #7

When speaking to Muslims or anyone of another belief, i am very careful not to be condescending toward them or their beliefs. That’s a quick way to break down communication.

Instead I seek to explain my God to them and to show who He is and what He has done according to the bible.

My understanding is that the word Allah is the word God is Arabic.

(Joel Vaughn) #8

@Jimmy_Sellers @crabtreelighthouse @aaswad
Ravi Zacharias relates an amazing encounter with a sheikh:

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

Thanks. I have not seen this video but I have heard this story on his radio program Let my people think. I do agree it was quite a powerful encounter.