Last year a good friend who has lived and worked in Afghanistan for many years said he “called the Christian God Allah when speaking with Muslims”. This was in the context of a training workshop that I had invited him to speak at, and, some of the participants argued vigorously against this; but the reality and background is worth considering….
Many Western Christians seem unaware that Allah is the God Arabic-speaking Christians worship. The Arabic Bible is chock-full with the word Allah, from Genesis through to Revelation. Jesus Christ is even called the son of Allah in the Arabic Scriptures.
Arabic-speaking Coptic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Maronite, Evangelical, and Reformed Christians worship Allah, which is simply the word or term for God in another language. Islam does not use the term exclusively. Arabic churches and Christians have always called God Allah in confessions, in prayer, and in literature. Arab Christians and Jews called the Biblical God Allah long before Mohammed even appeared. At the Council of Nicea six Arab bishops participated, and at the Council of Chalcedon there were twenty. They, of course, called God by the Arabic and common Semitic identifier Allah. It can be assured that prior to Mohammed there were Arabic translations of Biblical books.
To demean or demonize the word for God in another language does a great disservice to believers who speak that language. Opportunities to win a hearing or dialogue between Christians and Arabic-speaking Muslims vis-à-vis Jesus Christ are also minimized.
Allah is not a name but rather a generic term. Since the Arabic Koran is taken by Muslims to principally be untranslatable and since non-Arab Muslims have to say their prayers in Arabic, Muslims also automatically tend to use the Arab word Allah for God in languages other than Arabic.
It is time for all of us, especially Christians, to exercise caution when it comes to attacking the term for God in a language foreign to most of us. No other term exists in Arabic for the God Christians claim to be the one, true God. Western Christians do not normally use Hebrew terms for God in their languages. Allah is equivalent to the English God, the French Dieu, or the Spanish Dios.
To understand that the Muslim concept of Allah differs from the Christian concept of Allah, is helpful and maybe that is where we should apply some energy and rigour.
It has also been cogently argued that the German word Gott and the English word God are much more strongly tainted than Allah.
Throughout Western history, many people have corrupted the term God. Yet, English-speaking Christians have not permitted such corruptions to rob them of their use of the term God. Likewise, the same is true for God in Arabic. Terrorists may misuse the term Allah, but they cannot rob millions of their word for God. God loves the world, including those who speak Arabic.
Arabic was spoken at Pentecost, a watershed event in church history (Acts 2:8–11). Its usage regarding the worship of God predates English. In fact, Muhammad may have borrowed the term from Christians and Jews of his day. A Washington University anthropology professor states, “Allah is the south Semitic version of the north Semitic Elohim…so that the Eloh and Allah versions appear to come from the same Semitic root.” Let’s exercise caution in speaking of Islam’s different tenets and not demonize Allah, who is found throughout the Old and New Testaments in the Arabic Bible, as is God in our English version. We can join our Arab brethren in Christ who say: “Allah be praised!”