In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
Should Christians call God by the name “Allah”? They should if they heed the advice of Dutch Roman Catholic bishp Tiny Muskens. “Allah is a very beautiful word for God,” he recently told Dutch television. “Shouldn’t we all say from now on we will name God Allah?…What does God care what we call him?” He based his opinion in part on the fact that churches in Indonesia call God “Allah” in the Eucharist: “In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can’t we start doing that together?”
The Quran derides this theology: “and [neither will] they [who] worship, side by side with God, things or beings that can neither harm nor benefit them, saying [to themselves], “These are our intercessors with God!” Say: “Do you [think that you could] inform God of anything in the heavens or on earth that He does not know? Limitless is He in His glory, and sublimely exalted above anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity!” (10:18)
The name “Allah” is the Arabic form of the ancient semitic name for the supreme diety. Its proto-Semtic root word is “LH,” which means “to worship.” In Arabic, it comes from the words Al Ilah, which means “The God.” The root word of ilah, which means “god,” is aliha, which means “to bewilder.” This makes perfect sense because, when one contemplates over the awesome nature of God, one cannot but be bewildered. In fact, a Muslim scholar once said, “The non-believer is bewildered by creation, but the believer is bewildered by the Creator.”
The Hebrew “eloh,” which is the name used for God in the Hebrew Bible, also comes from the proto-Semitic root “LH.” In Aramaic, the language related to Arabic and Hebrew and the one which Jesus spoke, the word for God is “alaha.” Morover, the name “Eloi,” which Jesus calls out on the cross in Mark 15:34, is nothing but the Hebrew translation of the Aramaic “alaha,” and therefore Jesus would have called God “alaha,” which is very similar to “Allah.” In other words, Jesus would have called God by the name “Allah.”
Information on the origins of the symbol are difficult to ascertain, but most sources agree that these ancient celestial symbols were in use by the peoples of Central Asia and Siberia in their worship of sun, moon, and sky gods. The star and crescent (with the crescent under the star, which was simply a round circle) were also widely used in ancient Ethiopia and South Arabia (modern day Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia).
Its image can still be seen on the Hawulti at Matara, Eritrea and all of the Aksumite coins prior to its conversion to Christianity, for example. According to some reports, the Greek colony of Byzantium also used the emblem on their flag as an official governing symbol. According to legend in 339 BC the city of Byzantium, (later known as Constantinople and then Istanbul), won a decisive battle under a brilliant waxing moon which they attributed to their patron Goddess Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology) whose symbol was the crescent moon. In honor of Artemis the citizens adopted the crescent moon as their symbol (though some legends attribute the adoption to a Roman victory against the Goths on the first day of the lunar month).
When the city became the Christian Roman Constantinople in 330 AD, Constantine also added the Virgin Mary‘s star on the flag. As such, it has been claimed that when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they adopted the city’s existing flag and symbol. However, the most common theory in Turkey is that crescent and star symbol was adopted by Ottoman Empire after a bloody war in Balkans. After seeing the reflection of crescent and star on to the blood of soldiers, Ottoman Sultan decided to adopt a new flag to honor the soldiers who died for the sake of their country.
What does all this mean? Should Western Christians call God “Allah” in their liturgies? No, I am not in favor of that at all. The English word “God” is a beautiful name, and it dates back to at least the Neolithic Period. It is derived from the proto-Indo-European word “gheu,” which means “to invoke” or “to supplicate.” “God,” in fact, is a past participle of “gheu,” and thus is means “the one who is invoked,” very similar to the meaning of the word “Allah,” which is “the one whom is worshiped.”
What’s more, the word “God” dates back to before Christianity, and its earliest documented use is in the poem Beowulf. Thus, to use the word “God” to refer to “Allah” is not only proper, it is linguistically correct for me as a native English speaker. Some Muslims believe that the only name Muslims should use for God is “Allah.” I do not ascribe to this belief. While the name “Allah” is the most beautiful of all the names for God, it is not the only one that has been used in history, and there are many other beautiful names for God that are used today that are completely appropriate. To me, the names are interchangeable, and whichever word I use – “God” or “Allah” – is completely immaterial. I will use both, depending on the situation in which I find myself.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that “Allah” is the very same God worshipped by Jews and Christians, and Muslims do not worship an alien or pagan god. Rather than heed the calls of those who would seek to divide us, we should learn about and appreciate our similarities – as followers of the Abrahamic tradition – so that we can learn to work together for the common good. The God upon whom we call is one and the same; the name each particular community chooses to call Him is completely immaterial.