Allah and Biblical History
Because Islam uses the word “Allah” in reference of the godthey worship, many Christians have come to associate that word as the name ofthe god of Mohammed. Further still, many non-Arab Christians do not understandhow Arab Christians can continue to use the word “Allah” in reference to God,even though they have been using that word longer than English speakers haveused to the word “God.”
One place to start is to understand the difference between a“word” and a “name.” Allah is not the name of God in Islam; it is the Arabicword for “God.” It is not a word that can be applied to anyone else but God, orto any other “gods,” so it is a unique word, but it is not God’s “name.” If Godhas a name, He has not shared it, according to Islam, so they simply use theword for God whenever they address Him, or talk about it Him. This is part ofwhy they reject the Christian doctrine of the trinity; in their way ofthinking, one word = one person, and cannot be applied to anyone but that oneperson. The other reason they reject Christian theology is the word itself, “Al’lah”simply means “THE The.” “AL” is the definite article in all semitic languages(which we’ll see later in Hebrew). If you put Al in front ofAl, you get Al’lah, which literally means “THE the.” The underlying meaning isthat if you say anything about God, like He is the Holy one, or the Creator, orthe Redeemer, etc. the common thread is “the.” If you put another “the” infront of the, it makes God not just THE MOST Holy One, but THE ONLY Holy One. Al’lahoveremphasizes the unique difference of God from anyone or anything else, notjust in person, but in quality. He is THE the.
Think of it this way, if I told you to wash “the” truck, andthere was a whole parking lot of trucks, I would have in Arabic had said “Al”truck. You would probably ask, “which truck?” Because saying “the” truck didn’thelp you when you have a lot to choose from. I could name the truck uniquely andsay, “The Ford F-250.” That’s a name, not a word. Or I could say, “the blacktruck” which simply gives it a quality. Or I could say, “You know … THE truck!”in reference to a truck that is unique, special, or stands out in some way thatby emphasizing “THE” you immediately knew which one I meant. If you followthat, you are still only have way to understand what Al’lah means. Imagine thena truck that was so unique, so much better in every way, so transcendently beyondany other truck, that to call anything else a truck would be a lie. That iswhat Al’lah means about God. It’s not a name, it’s a word that uniquelydescribes Someone so different that the word cannot be used to talk aboutanything else.
In the Judeo-Christian heritage, God revealed His name toMoses in Exodus 3:14 as “YHWH” (Yahweh) which in English is translated “I AMWHO I AM.” When God the Father or God the Son (Jesus) speaks that name “I AM”it conveys power that literally knocks people over. That is the name thatGod provided when asked by Moses. But that is not the word for God in Hebrew. The word is "El."
The Jewish tradition has many other names for God some ofwhich would be known by Christians: El Shaddai, El Gibbor, El ‘Olam, Elohim, Eloah,Elohai, Elah (Yisrael, Yerushelem, Shemaya, Avahati, Elahin), El Roi, Elyon. Ifyou’re wondering if the “El” in Hebrew and the “Al” in Arabic are related, youare on the right track. El in Hebrew is the definite article. In fact, its usedby itself in Genesis 33:20, and 46:3 by itself to mean “God.” El Shaddai means “THEGOD who is Almighty”; El Ro’I means “THE GOD who is my shepherd.” And so on …It also shows up in names in the bible, like Dani-el which means “God’sjudgment” or Isra-el “one who struggled with God.” Michael, Raphael, Ariel, Ishma-el(God who hears) and Immanu-el “God is with us.”
And then of course Jesus shouts out on the cross “Eloi,Eloi, lmala sbacthani!” Which is the “El” plus the possessive “I” which makesEloi mean “my God.” But wait, that’s not in Hebrew, that’s in Aramaic! Which isnot a Jewish language – its an Arabic language that would have been commonlyspoken in his home town of Nazareth which is way up north of Jerusalem, andhistorically influenced by the surrounding non-Jewish peoples descended fromIshma-el. Jesus certainly new both Aramaic and Hebrew, but in his moment of grief he called out in his home town talk - Aramaic.
How is then that the words Al’lah and El function the sameway in two different languages associated with two very different religions?
Start with Noah. He had three sons, Ham, Shem and Japeth.After the flood, they scattered around the land and all peoples and languagesare descended from them. Shem stayed in the land where Israel and the Arabworld now occupy, and their languages are derived from the same “Shem”itic, or semitic, language.
Now go to Abraham, who has two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. Whatlanguage did Abraham speak? He was descended from Shem, so he spoke a semiticlanguage, and his sons would learn the semitic language, and we know that inone of the oldest semitic languages (Ugaritic) the word for God was “El”. Not aname, just the word for God. So both the father of Israel and the father of theArab world were raised to call God “El.” Roll forward over time, and as thedescendants of the two sons of Abraham separated into those who followed theGod of Abraham and Isaac, and those who did not, “El” persisted as the word forGod.
Now back to Jesus, who in 33 AD calls out to “Eloi” … “myGod.” And then Christianity inherits the linguistic heritage of Israel, and later AmyGrant can write a song “El Shaddai” and Americans can sing praise songs aboutGod using a semitic term common to the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael.
Paul then takes the Gospel outside of Israel, outside of thesynagogues, and to the people some of whom are Roman occupiers, some of whomare transplanted Greeks … but most of whom are the descendants of Abraham whohave lived in that area for hundreds of years, outside of Israel. The apostlesspread the Gospel to places like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Persia. TheChurch springs up amongst these semitic/Arabic speaking peoples in Syria, and theyworship not just the God of Israel (Elah Yisrael) but also God’s son Jesus, theImmanu-el … God with us … and the Holy Spirit (El Ruah) the breath of God. TheEl in Hebrew and the Al in Arabic both mean “the” and are used in reference toGod. In Arabic, another “al” was added to distinguish the God of Abraham fromall the other false gods common in the lands descended from Ishmael. And theArabic speaking churches are worshipping Al’lah Alah Yisrael, God, the God ofIsrael, whose name is YHWH. And they do so in the name of His son Issa Al’massihor Jesus the messiah, who died that they might be born again even if they werenot born to Israel.
It wouldn’t be for several more centuries before the Gospelspread to the pagans, the forefathers of the English speaking peoples.The earliest records of a Christian church in Britain dates to early in the 3rdCentury, but was considered a minority cult. Meanwhile the Christian Church inthe Arab world was spreading like wildfire into Africa, and east towards India,etc. Tens of thousands of Christians were singing praise to Al’lah forcenturies before the first English speaker sang praise to God.
Roll forward to the latter half of the 6thcentury, and a guy named Mohammed destroys all the religions, and establishesone to worship the God of Israel, the God of Christians, the only true God … buton his terms, with a special revelation from an ang-el (messenger of God) named Gabri-el (strength of God). [Joseph Smith will dothat again in the US 1200 years later with Micha-el and others, but the fact that his primary sources is Moroni ... which does not end in -el ... is an indicator.]
Islam isn’t a new religion, it’s a cult derived from its Judeo-Christian roots, that has added, subtracted, multipliedand divided the original messages. Like all other cults, it uses the samewords, but applies different meanings. That’s why today in the same town inLebanon, while Muslims are praying “God is great” allhu alakbar, thinking about killing Christians ... the Christianchurch which has stood for 2000 years is thanking God for their after servicepotluck, saying what we all probably learned at Christian summer camp, “God isgreat (allhu alakbar) God is good … let us thank him for our food.” Arab Christians don't need to be ashamed to use the word for God that has been theirs since Abraham. And non-Arab Christians have nothing to fear from that word either.