Is Allah God? (or vice versa)

According to Robert Wright, in his book “The Evolution of God”: yes.

“In light of Muhammad’s conviction that he spoke for the Abrahamic god, I’ll depart from current convention and refer to Allah as “God.” Of course, many Christians and Jews wouldn’t agree that their God is the God worshipped by Muslims. Then again, many Jews wouldn’t agree that their God is the God worshipped by Christians, since (for one thing) their God never assumed human form. In calling both the Jewish and Christian gods “God,” we defer to the claim of Christians that their God is the same God who spoke through Moses. It only makes sense to extend that deference to Muhammad’s claim that the God who spoke through him is the same God who had spoken through Moses and Jesus. Besides, if we look closely at how Muhammad turned Allah into the one true god of the Arabs, we’ll see that Allah’s Judeo-Christian lineage is, if anything, stronger than is commonly appreciated.”

“If Allah was indeed the Judeo-Christian God all along, that would solve at least one riddle. Marshall Hodgson, a highly respected mid-twentieth-century scholar of Islam, observed in his magisterial work The Venture of Islam that, before Muhammad came along, Allah “had no special cult”—no community of Arabs who worshipped him with  special devotion. Then, a paragraph later, he reports in parentheses something that strikes him as curious: for some reason, “Christian Arabs made pilgrimage to the Ka’ba, honoring Allah there as God the Creator.”

“Maybe the explanation is simple: Christian Arabs were Allah’s cult, and had been from the day Allah first showed up at the Ka’ba under Christian sponsorship. (To this day, Christian Arabs refer to God as Allah.)…”

“…To be sure, scholars who embrace the independent-evolution scenario have an explanation for the phonetic likeness of the Arabian god Allah and the Christian God of Syria. In Arabic, the generic word for god—for any deity—was ilah, and the phrase for “the god” was al-ilah. Through contraction, they say, this phrase could have been compressed to allah.”

“If this is indeed what happened, then the resemblance between the Arabic allah and the Syriac allaha has an explanation that doesn’t involve direct transmission from Syriac to Arabic. After all, Syriac and Arabic are, like ancient Hebrew, Semitic tongues. So if you could precisely trace the history of the Syriac word allaha back a millennium or so, and you could do the same with the Arabic word ilah, the two lineages might well converge somewhere in the trunk of the Semitic-language family tree. Specifically, they might converge in the vicinity of a word that is enough like ilah and allaha in sound and meaning to suggest close kinship with them: Elohim, Hebrew for God (and for god—lowercase—as well). Thus the phonetic resemblance between the Syriac word for God and the Arabic word for god could be the legacy of a common, distant ancestor, rather than signifying that the former gave birth to the latter.”

“The problem with this scenario lies in the next step: the idea that the name Allah arose as a contraction of “the god” (al-ilah) to refer to a god who was pre-Islamic and non-Judeo-Christian—in other words, a god that dwelt among polytheists. How likely is it that Arabs would have been referring to a particular god simply as “the god” before they had come to believe that he was in fact “the god”—before they had accepted that there was such a thing as the one and only god? A more plausible sequence of linguistic evolution is the more straightforward one: the Arabic Allah is descended from the Syriac allaha, and allaha’s lineage, in turn, leads back to close kinship with Elohim. The names change—a little—but the God remains the same.”, [Robert Wright, The Evolution of God]

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  1. #1 by Jonathan on April 8, 2010 - 1:17 am

    This is very interesting, but what presumptions can we make based on etymology? I think the issue of highest value (and especially a high concern for Jack) is the referential value of language: Is the word ‘God’ or ‘Allah’ appropriately pointing to the Divine Being? My general thought is that one could use the ‘right name’ (if there ever could be such a thing) and yet not reference the Deity. Conversely, I also think that one could use a ‘wrong name’ (which, again, if this type of distinction could even be made, it would be more a relativistic demarcation for the purpose of community identification practices than a moral prescription) and yet actually be referencing the ‘true’ Deity.

    The etymology issue is interesting, and yet complex. I have the tendency to over-trust it, but I’ve been reading Mr. Hoffman’s blog lately (he’s a scholar of biblical languages) and he has something interesting to say about etymology (link below).

    Good article, I enjoyed it.

    http://goddidntsaythat.com/2010/03/01/why-the-true-meaning-isnt-the-true-meaning/

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on April 8, 2010 - 2:01 pm

      I agree, with you and Hoffman. I was putting out this article, mainly in response to Jack’s (and others) suggestion that Allah is derived from a “moon god” and is not related to the Judeo-Christian God. However, I agree with Jack in that the God he worships is not much like the Allah that many worship. Nor is the God he worships necessarily the one I worship. I doubt if any two people ‘see’ God in precisely the same way. Gid is indiscernible, after all.

      I’ve heard many people say things like: “MY god wouldn’t do this…” or “MY Jesus isn’t like that” etc. etc. I am reminded of the grace-before-meals scene in which Ricky Bobby prays to the baby Jesus while his wife prays to the adult Jesus and his son prays to the kick-ass Ninja Jesus. Pretty silly but they do make a point.

      As I said to my pastor the other day, after this past Easter, that I’ve come to the realization that most Christians have made an idol out of Jesus. (Take a deep breath, Jack. 🙂 )

      • #3 by Jonathan on April 8, 2010 - 9:08 pm

        I love that scene in Talladega Nights too, and do not believe it at all sacrilegious as people like to claim. What I personally like about it is how perfectly it highlights our over-subjectification (my own new word, I think) of God. We reduce God – I believe inappropriately – to our own subjective personal experience. Thus, we have language of “MY God” or “MY Jesus” – and we do most definitely make idols. But, I don’t believe that Jesus is the idol, I believe the first person is (or our concepts are). Either we have deified ourselves by anthropomorphizing God and Christ, or we deify our concepts of God and Christ.

        My hope is that we always keep our concepts in tension with the Being. All of our concepts of God are false, and yet true – most appropriately, they are inadequate. So, we must be tolerant of others in their experience and practices toward God – for God is most gracious and merciful to our own failings. I misappropriate God all the time, yet I hope and trust in forgiveness through Christ. Just like I accept forgiveness for my misconceptions, so I should be quick to extend the same to others.

        As Christ said, ‘Go, and do likewise’

  2. #4 by Jonathan on April 8, 2010 - 1:24 am

    The general concept of Hoffman’s post on etymology, in case no one wants to read it, is that often the traditional and original meanings do not actually pertain to current meanings or to contextual connotations/innuendos.

    One example he gives is the fact that the words “glamour” and “grammar” share etymology but clearly diverge significantly in meaning.

    How do we handle this in light of the current conversation?

    • #5 by Christian Beyer on April 8, 2010 - 2:19 pm

      Occasionally one finds a grammar with her fair share of glamor. If my memory serves me, Irene Ryan cleaned up rather nicely.

      Irene Ryan

  3. #6 by anon on April 8, 2010 - 11:18 am

    “…many Christians and Jews wouldn’t agree that their God is the God worshipped by Muslims.” This statement may be true today—but it may not represent the historical relationship of Judaism and Christianity with Islam.

    The Christianity prevalent in the area at time-period of Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) was “Eastern” Christianity (as opposed to “Western”(Roman) Christianity). Many of their doctrines were more closely aligned with Judaism than that of the Western/Roman Church. When the Muslims in Mecca had to endure persecution by the Meccans, it was the Christian Abyssinan Kingdom (present-day Ethiopia) that gave some of them a refuge. When the rest of the Muslims along with Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) migrated to Medina/Yathrib to escape persecution, the Prophet extended peace treaties to the neigboring tribes and kingdoms. Some Christain Churches responded by extending their hands in friendship.(as one monotheist to another)—-(Some such as the Christian Byzantium Empire, ignored the Prophet)
    Much later around 8/9th century onwards there was much exchange of ideas, disscussions and debates between Islam and Judaism and both religions benefitted from it. The Jews accepted that Islam was monotheist though they did not accept the Prophet (—because he was not a Jewish Prophet).

  4. #7 by anon on April 8, 2010 - 11:35 am

    “Christian Arabs made pilgrimage to the Ka’ba, honoring Allah there as God the Creator.”

    The Arabic Bible translates the word “God” as Allah—and is still used today by Christians to refer to God. In Malaysia, the Christians use the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God even though the Malay language has its own translation of the word God (=Tuhan). (There was a recent controversy over there with both Muslims and Christians fighting over the right to use “Allah”)

    Kaba (Cube)
    There is mention of a “valley of Baca” in Psalms and it is said it was a place of pilgrimage. (?)
    The Quran mentions that Baca was the original place of a monotheist shrine (house of worship)
    The Arabs claim that an older name for Mecca was Baca.
    The Kaba was built by Prophet Abraham(pbuh) and his son Ishmael. (mentioned in Quran)

    • #8 by Christian Beyer on April 8, 2010 - 2:14 pm

      In Malaysia, the Christians use the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God even though the Malay language has its own translation of the word God (=Tuhan).

      Now that’s interesting; Christians in Malaysia fighting for the right to call God Allah.

  5. #9 by anon on April 8, 2010 - 11:55 am

    Jonathan
    As far as I know, “Allah” seems to have been a generic term used in the area.
    (The “Allah” of the Pre-Islamic Arabs had daughters.—a deviation from the monotheism established by Prophet Abraham(pbuh), which is why the Quran is particular about stressing the “Unity”/Oneness of God/Allah)

  6. #10 by nielsensr on April 28, 2010 - 4:39 pm

    You question about Allah & God is answered in this fantastic new book.
    There is a recently published e-book: “My God,” which was dictated to Robert R. Nielsen, a “channeler” in 1994 by the Supreme Being. It has been kept secret until now. It contains answers to millions of questions, yet it is only 45 pages. If you are really interested in the God of gods, then you will enjoy this book he transcribed at the direction of the Creator of All That Is, or ever can be. The site has a subscription box and if you subscribe there are many “freebies” available to you. Go to http://www.mygodebook.com Once you read this free material you will want a copy of this fantastic work for your personal use. Thanks and enjoy

  7. #11 by shortermarvin on August 31, 2010 - 5:51 pm

    The Holy Bible is a book of fantasies about the Messiah Jesus a man who was crucified by the pen. Who know more about a man murder then the men who committed the murder? Can you not see all the detail in the murder? To this day no man can give a full detail about a man life except “Lord God”. The Christians and the Jews over plotted in stealing information out of {The Koran with Parallel Arabic Text}.Can you not see that they are fantasizing about “Allah Almighty God” the World Greatest Most High Exalted Creator and Ruler of the Universe. Who did not take the form of a mortal man? This is but one of their fantasies, to clean you of your sins. All “Allah” need say is Be, & it is. People, (The Koran) is “Heaven”, and in Heaven you will find “God”, who lives in Heaven? Also you will find “Paradise” the home of the African-Americans who is the Israelites & Egyptians (Muslims) the faithful servants of Lord God. And the fire that surrounds “Paradise” is the Holy Bible of damnation. The tree that God had commanded you to keep away from He is the Forgiving One, the Merciful God. Allah, we submit this seeking Your divine mercy

    • #12 by Christian Beyer on August 31, 2010 - 6:06 pm

      A little over my head. But thanks for your input. (I think)

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