Should Christians Call God “Allah”?

A Catholic bishop from the Netherlands is being quite unhelpful today. He’s calling for Christians to start referring to God as “Allah.”

According to Australia’s Herlad Sun, Bishop Muskins said: “Allah is a very beautiful word for God . . . . What does God care what we call him?”

Well, He cares very much! He has revealed His name to Moses as “I am.” Jesus used this name in reference to Himself. Christ told us to pray to “Our Father who is in heaven,” thereby distinguishing Him from all other gods. Christians are told to baptize converts not in any name they wish to invoke, but “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

The bishop’s statements are nothing less than an attempt to make the case that Allah and Jehovah are the same deity, and as such is an example of two deadly things. First, it is yet another slip in the theological moorings of liberal churches away from the truth of Scripture, generally, and the message of the Gospel, specifically. Second, as Gene Edward Veith points out, this amounts to a capitulation to “dhimmitude,” the submission that Islam demands of all other religions.

Al Mohler brings the issues squarely into focus when he writes, “This represents a huge problem for both Muslims and Christians. Allah is not a personal deity in the sense that the God of the Bible is. Furthermore, the Qur’an explicitly denies that Allah has a son and Islam considers the notion of a triune God to be blasphemy.

Thus, from its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father. If Allah has no Son by definition, Allah is not the God who revealed himself in the Son. How then can the use of Allah by Christians lead to anything but confusion . . .and worse?”

He then adds:

“The Christian faith is essentially and irreducibly Trinitarian. The Bible reveals that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Jesus is not merely a prophet; He is God in human flesh. This is precisely what Islam rejects. If Allah has no Son he is not the Father.”

Christians and Muslims do not worship the same deity. We do not have the same views about God, Jesus, or salvation. Jehovah is not Allah. We do not worship the same God. If we did, then Muslims would have no problem bending their knee and confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and God (as Thomas did), or referring to God as “Father, Son, and Spirit.”

UPDATE:

In response to the argument that the use of “Allah” is a generic term, please consider Al Mohler’s response (he makes it clearer than I could):

It is certainly true that the word Allah is the Arabic word for deity. Those supporting an argument like that of Bishop Muskens suggest that the Arabic word can be used as a generic term for deity.

In common English we use the word God as both a proper name and a noun. We differentiate between the two usages by capitalizing the word when we mean to refer to the specific personal God of the Bible, and by not capitalizing generic uses of the word. Thus, we might paraphrase the First Commandment like this: “God commanded His people to have no other gods before Him.” The correct interpretation of this sentence requires the use and understanding of the habits of capitalization.

Those making the case for a Christian appropriation of Allah must take their argument in one of two trajectories. The first trajectory is to argue that Allah can be used in a generic way to refer to any (presumably monotheistic) deity. This case will be very difficult to make. Language, theology, and worship are so closely intertwined that it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue for a generic use of Allah. Further evidence against this trajectory is the fact that non-Arabic speaking Muslims also use Allah when referring to their god.

The second trajectory presents even more of a problem. Those following this line of argument must make the case that Allah and God refer to the same deity. This represents a huge problem for both Muslims and Christians. Allah is not a personal deity in the sense that the God of the Bible is. Furthermore, the Qur’an explicitly denies that Allah has a son, and Islam considers the notion of a triune God to be blasphemy.

Even more specifically, he adds this addendum to his statements:

The particular question raised by Bishop Muskens was the use of the word “Allah” by Christians in the West as a means of lessening Christian-Muslim tensions. The question of using “Allah” to refer to god in a clearly missiological setting will raise other issues. If the word is understood as a generic term for God (and not exclusively as a proper name), the question would then be how a Christian must make clear that the God of the Bible–revealed as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ–is not the deity as described in the Qur’an (who explicitly has no son). The linguisitic root of Allah may well be connected to Elohim (a name for God found in the Old Testament). This fact may help to clarify the possible use of the word in a missiological setting. The clarity comes in understanding that, even in the Old Testament, the name Elohim is, in itself, quickly accompanied by other names and words to make clear that the God of the Bible is the personal, monotheistic, covenant-making God of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. The New Testament makes clear that this God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — indeed the God who in these latter days has spoken definitively through the Son [Hebrews 1].

In other words, it would seem best to think of Allah in this setting as a place to begin a conversation about God in a Muslim setting. The challenge from that point onward will be to make certain that there is no misunderstanding about the fact that the only true and living God is the Father of Jesus Christ the Savior.

The crucial questions here are these: First, can we assume that the deity central to Islam and known as Allah is, in fact, the same God worshipped by Christians and revealed in the Bible? The answer to that question must be negative. In that sense, Allah is certainly not the God of the Bible.

The second question is whether the word “Allah” can be understood, in Arabic and Muslim settings, as both a generic noun and a proper noun. Some credible Christian scholars and missionaries are certain that it can. The issue then becomes how contemporary Christians remain faithful to the Gospel in this setting even as the Apostle Paul remained faithful in Acts 17 when he visited Athens. Paul, we must remember, had to tell the religious Athenians that they had misunderstood the very nature and character of the true God. “”Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you” [Acts 17:23].

You can read Mohler’s entire article here.

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12 Responses to Should Christians Call God “Allah”?

  1. don’t you think you should leave that question for every Christian to decide for himself? My Arab Christian friends wouldn’t feel comfortable calling God anything else. The differing theology is NOT what matters. Allah was never specifically a Muslim God. The pagans in Arabia used to refer to Allah. So if you spoke to an arab the reason why they call Allah as such is because they speak Arabic, nothing more and nothing less. Even among Muslims there are different theological schools.
    A lot of reasons why non Arabic speakers like to use Allah as opposed to God is because Allah is not a gendered word while God is masculine and people seem to have a problem with that. Also, Allah is a neutral word in terms of number as well, implying that there’s only one.
    Just because I understand God differently doesn’t mean I can’t use the word God.

  2. Scott W. Kay says:

    tradicionalista,

    Please take a moment and read the update I’ve added at the bottom of this blog. It addresses your comments.

  3. ukok says:

    Hi, you might be interested in reading the following blog post written by an orthodox Catholic on this very subject.

    http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/archives/008283.php

    God Bless you

  4. Scott W. Kay says:

    ukok,

    Thanks for the link. Many good points are made there.

  5. edtajchman says:

    you know whats interesting, For the Jewish faith and Moslem, Abraham is the patriarch of both, you think this would be a point of peace, not contention like it is in Isreal…

  6. owen59 says:

    Every language on Earth has a different word for the Creator. There is only one God regardless of the word used to express it. As to the trinity, be careful not to confuse the pure reflection of the holy spirit in the being of Christ, with some idea that the unknowable essence has incarnated in a human form. Jesus relationship with God is clear – that the true son perfectly reflects the nature of the father. We follow His example and are humble at the threshold.

  7. blueminer says:

    that way I see this…

    God gave the Torah to Moses…the Jews complied with the tenets but some of their kings went astray and this led to dilution of the tenets. Prophets were hunted down.

    God sent Jesus with the Gospel to put the strayed ones to the right path, but they instead crucified him.

    God wasnt pleased and we know he is quite vindictive. So He gave to mankind the last and final revelation, the Quran, to his last prophet on earth Muhammad. It affirms all the messages of the prophets (including Jesus) starting from Adam. Its quite explicit and there is very little room for misinterpretation.

    Since it affirms both the Torah and the Gospel, then it is most likely that the 3 revelations came from the same omnipotent God.

    Furthermore, for want of lineage, Abraham aka Father of All Nations, had 2 sons namely:

    Isaac from his legal wife Sarah from which sprung Israel
    Ishmael from Hagar, an Egyptian slave, in which rose the Islamic nations

    The Qur’an and the Bible confirms the convenant of God and Abraham. Thus, imho, both refer to the same God.

  8. ‘Allah’ is simply the Arabic word for ‘God’. Arabic-speaking Christians already use ‘Allah’ to refer to God. Using the Arabic word for God instead of the English one, is no different from using the English word for God instead of the Hebrew one.

  9. Dave Skinner says:

    Scott,

    You and Mohler are correct in biblically interpreting and understanding the name of God. Although semantics, historical and common usage play a role in who Allah was and is, the God of the Old and New Testaments is perfectly clear about His jealous nature, especially when it comes to His name.

    “You shall have no other gods before me” narrows the playing field to one – the one and only true God, who has many ‘authorized’ names in Scripture, but never a name that contradicts His true nature. The common idea and name of Allah do not reflect the biblical God.

  10. Scott W. Kay says:

    owen59 – sounds like you are denying the incarnation of God in Christ. To do so is flatly contradictory to the Bible, and destroys any hope of the redemption offered in the Gospel.

    blueminer – Christians reject the notion that God gave Mohammed any revelation at all, much less the final one. We do not hold that the Qur’an confirms any covenants of God, as the Bible does. While Abraham was the father of both Isaac and Ishmael, the apostle Paul makes quite clear in the Book of Galatians that the covenant with Abraham was passed through Isaac & Israel. Jesus Christ IS the greatest revelation of God to man. He IS the incarnation of the covenant with Abraham, offered to those who believe on Him alone for salvation from sins.

    David Russell – Did you read the entire blog?

    Dave Skinner – Thanks for the commnents. Yes, God is very specific about the names He has authorized, Allah not being one of them.

  11. I understand your arguments, but I still don’t agree. You’re saying Christians can’t or shouldn’t call God Allah because Christians and Muslims understand God differently. However, I think that’s a silly premise to forbid Allah. Because I am making my argument from a linguistic basis not a theological differences basis. People call Allah the Muslim God. And I would say that non Arabic speaking Muslims use the word Allah for a variety of reasons, for one because we have a united liturgy that’s all in Arabic. A mosque in Malaysia, China, Saudi, USA our prayers are in Arabic. Also,I mentioned before the word Allah is attractive to female converts to Islam in particular because of the grammatical neutrality of the word not implying that God is male.
    However, to say that Allah that is the Muslim God is erroneous. We call God that because of the language of our prayers an the quran and so forth. The idol worshipers that were Arab used to call God Allah as did the Jews in Yathrib as do the Christian and Jewish Arabs today even in their liturgies.
    Basically I’m disagreeing with your theological basis of not using Allah because I’m saying that linguistically it just means God. I’m not even talking about it being the same God that’s a different argument.
    To me your argument sounds like you can’t say Dios.
    I’m not talking about using God as a theological word.

    I hope my argument is understood better.

  12. Scott W. Kay says:

    I fully understand that the word “Allah” is a generic term in Arabic, which is the language used for all Islamic liturgy. But Christianity’s liturgies aren’t limited to only using Arabic. So, for example, in English (since that is the language this whole debate is being centered on), it is not the case that the term “Allah” is generic. In fact, in common English usage, “Allah” typically has a very specific object of reference, namely, the deity of Islam. Muslims can argue that this is wrong to do, but it nevertheless remains the common English understanding of the term.

    So, this is a linguistic difference that carries with it a theological one in the minds of most English-speaking people, and particularly Christians. In English the term “God” is generic, in Spanish the term “Dios” is generic (as you point out), but “Allah” is not taken that way generally, except by those who use Arabic in their liturgies (and even then they are typically referring to the Muslim deity). So while “God” is a generic term in English, “Allah” is not, right or wrong.

    So the point I’m making is that the linguistics affect the theological differences in our language. This is why Christians do not agree that their God should be referred to as “Allah” – it carries with it too much Islamic theological baggage.

    I hope that helps.

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