Should Christians be discouraged from using the term "Allah"?

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The Malaysian cabinet and government declared last week that Malaysian Christians could no longer use the word “Allah”. Their rationale was based on the concern that the use of the word “Allah” by Christians in their religious messages could confuse some Muslims and hence could draw them toward Christianity.

It seems that the ban in Malaysia was placed 20 years ago but was never enforced until a few days ago.

islam on Should Christians be discouraged from using the term "Allah"? Malay Christians argue that the word “Allah” predates the time of Prophet Muhammad and thus predates Islam. They also contend that Christians who predated Islam used the word “Allah” to refer to “God”.

In many regards, their argument is valid and factually correct. Both Arab Christians as well as other non-Christian Arabs actively used the term “Allah” as part of their religious beliefs and practices.

The most common example is that of Prophet Muhammad’s father who was named “Abd Allah” in the period before the dawn of Islam.

In another example, during the signing of the peace treaty of Hudaybiya in the prophet’s time, Suhail bin Amr was sent as the Makkan envoy representing the Quraysh in Makkah and Arabs. During the negotiations, dictating to Ali, the Prophet said: “Write, In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent.” Suhail objected by saying, “Do not write this. Instead, write, ‘In Thy name O Allah.‘” The Prophet in turn complied with his demand.

islam on Should Christians be discouraged from using the term "Allah"?

This is because the words “the Most Merciful” (“Rahman” in Arabic), and “the Most Beneficent” (“Raheem” in Arabic) were revealed in Quran – something non-Muslim Arabs did not recognize at the time.

Furthermore, there seems to be no proof that the Prophet forbade anyone (Christians, Jews, Pagans, etc.) from using the term “Allah”.

Regarding Christians, Allah says in the Quran:

“Surely, disbelievers are those who said: “Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” But there is no ilah (god) (none who has the right to be worshipped) but One Ilah (God -Allah)………(Quran: Al-Maeda, Chapter 5: 73)

In line with the beliefs of Trinity, Arab Christians today use the terms “Allah al-ab” meaning God the father, “Allah al-ibn” meaning God the son, and “Allah al-ruh al koudous” meaning God the Holy Spirit. The Arabic Bible also uses the word “Allah” in its text.

islam on Should Christians be discouraged from using the term "Allah"?

Here lies the dilemma: A number of Christian groups believe that the Muslims’ God is not the same as the “Christian God”.

I attended an interfaith session where evangelical Christian leaders of a Church made it very clear that they did not believe that the God they believed in is the same as the Muslim God or “Allah”. On the contrary, in the same meeting the Muslim attendees made it clear that they believed that our God is the same – rather it’s how Christians attribute Eesa (Jesus) as son of God and other such beliefs that make the two religions different.

One of the evangelical Christian sites reflects the above attitudes when it states:

“The crux of the matter is what definition one gives to the word God in any language. That is, what are the theological ideas that someone has when they refer to God? The theology of the Arab Christian who uses the word Allah is completely different from the theology of the Muslim who also uses the word Allah.

Some of the non-Arab evangelical Christians (I can’t say if it is all denominations of that group) assert that the Arab Christians using “Allah” is no more significant than Muslims using the word “God” when they speak in English. One of the Christian sites states:

“it could be said that Christians worship Allah, whose son is Jesus; and Muslims worship God, whose prophet is Mohammed.”

Another case in point. While Arab Christians freely use the word “Allah”, other versions of Bible do not use that word in their texts. For example, the English bible does not use the term “Allah”. The Persian bible uses the word “Khuda” in their texts. However, Malaysians in the case cited earlier may be an exception to that rule as they have insisted on the use of the word “Allah”.

This leads one to believe that Arabs using the word “Allah” is more of a linguistic issue than one based on theology. Many blasphemous statements by many Christians (especially by non-Arab Christians) over the past few years using the word “Allah” clearly demonstrates that their use of the word “Allah” is only linguistic – not the same case as Muslims who treat the word “Allah” with great respect for obvious reasons – the term “Allah” is used in the Quran – Arabic or otherwise.

Coming back to the Malaysian case, the latest update is that the Malaysian authorities have reversed their ruling. So, at least for now, Malaysian Christians can start using the word “Allah” again in their religious practices.

This discussion is far from complete and does require the input of both Muslim and Christian scholars. Some of the questions that come to mind are as follows:

islam on Should Christians be discouraged from using the term "Allah"?

  • Are there contrary proofs to the fact that Prophet Muhammad did not object to non-Muslims (especially Christians) using the word “Allah” (although it seems from the above that he never objected to it)?
  • What specific reasons do Christians have for believing that the “Muslim God” is not the same as theirs?
  • Why was the term “Allah” left out in subsequent Bible translations?
  • What do Jews (Arab and others) believe about the term “Allah” and its use? Apparently, Arab Jews lived in Madinah at the time of Prophet Muhammad. How did they refer to “God” at that time?
  • Finally, was the Malaysian government justified in banning Malay Christians from using the word “Allah” for the reasons mentioned above?

Share your thoughts and knowledge on the subject below!

— The IqraSense.com Bloogger

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