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Allah–the Arabic word for God

Sam in front of one of many mosques that appear in communities along the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

World’s Tallest Building Coming To Jeddah

My friends here in Saudi Arabia have built a new apartment for me in a local office building. It was a wonderful gesture on their part, and I’m grateful for both the convenience and the honor afforded me.

With a little more time on hand, I’m sitting down this evening to write another post to my blog site. With the very kind help of my friend Remy Agee,  I have already posted a lot of new photos depicting the massive construction projects underway here in Jeddah.

On February 22, 2012, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal confirmed that his Kingdom Holding Company has been given the final license necessary to begin construction of the tallest building in the world. The Kingdom Tower will stand just over 1 kilometer high–more than 200 floors. Grading for the project began on January 1.

To view the architectural design click here. You can listen to Chicago architect Adrian Smith describe his design for the building by clicking here. It will be the centerpiece and first phase of a US$20 billion proposed development known as Kingdom City that will be located along the Red Sea on the north side of Jeddah. If completed as planned, the tower will reach unprecedented heights, becoming the tallest building in the world, as well as the first structure to reach the one-kilometer mark.

Commonalities Among Abrahamic Faiths

I’ve been studying and discussing with my Muslim friends the numerous commonalities of the three major Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Most recently we were discussing the origin of the Arabic word for God–“Allah.”

During my research in preparing for these discussions I’ve run across a notorious rumor circulated by ill-informed western sources that claim “Allah” is a reference to a pagan “moon god.” These people want you to believe that Muslims worship the moon or that Islam is a descendent religion of “moon worshipers.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact “Allah” is simply a reference to “the one God” that Muslims, Jews and we Christians commonly claim to worship.

Most of this misinformation is related to the crescent moon symbol that many (not all) Muslims have established as a sign of their faith. In similar fashion, many Christians have adopted the cross, while Jews have chosen the Star of David.  The cresent moon symbol for Muslims represents God’s heavenly creations: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him…” (Psalm 8:3 and 4).

According to Islamic scholarship and belief, Allah is the proper Arabic word for “God.” Humble submission to Allah’s (God’s) will, divine laws and commandments is pivotal to Muslim faith. “He is the one and only God, the creator of the universe, and the judge of all mankind.” Allah is unique, and inherently one being, all-merciful and omnipotent.  Among the many descriptive names attributed to Allah, the most famous and most frequently used in Arabic, are “the Merciful” (ar-raḥmān) and “the Compassionate” (al-raḥīm). In other words, God is not “the moon god” nor is he the blood-thirsty, revenge-seeking deity that many in the West say Muslims follow.

Allah is mentioned frequently in everyday conversation here in Saudi Arabia and other nations around the world. Here are a few Arabic phrases I’ve picked up since being here:

  • In reference to future events most Muslims use the un-translated Arabic words insha’Allah (meaning “God willing”). This expression is used repeatedly throughout the day, as no devout Muslim plans even the least activity without first desiring God’s will in the matter. (Some Christians are surprised to learn that a similar sentiment also appears in the Bible in the Epistle of James 4:15, which says that the followers of Jesus should remember that they never know what tomorrow will bring, so as believers we should affirm, God willing, we will do this or that.)
  • There is another oft used phrase that is favored by Muslims, when expressing joy– “Alhamdulillah” (Praise be to God). In Hebrew the Jews would say, “Allelujah!” (Praise be to God).  For many Christians this sentiment may be expressed as either “Hallelujah!” or “Praise the Lord!” (If only we could get all of us (Christians, Muslims and Jews) in one room to sing “Hallelujah to the Lord!”)

As Hebrew and Arabic are closely related Semitic languages, it is commonly accepted that Allah (root word, ʾilāh) and the biblical Elohim are related derivations having descended from the same language, as in Eloah a Hebrew word which is used (e.g. in the Book of Job) to mean “(the) God” and also “God of gods” as in the case of Elohim, ultimately derived from the root El, “the strong (one).” By the way, many in the West bear the name El in our names: Daniel, Isabel, Rachel, Samuel, Rafael, Gabriel, etc. (e.g. my own name “Samuel” from the Hebrew meaning “heard of God.”)  Throughout Jewish scripture, Elohim is used as a descriptive title for the God of the scriptures.

Similarities for the Name for God

There are two simple questions that we may answer that will bring clarity to the word Allah. First, what word did Jesus use when speaking about God? The answer is easy. Jesus didn’t speak Hebrew. He spoke the Assyrian language Aramaic. The Aramaic word for “God” was ʼĔlāhā, or Alaha!

And then what do today’s Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews call God? Since Allah is just the Arabic word for God, it is, therefore, absolute fact that when the Christians and Jews who speak Arabic today call on God, they use the name “Allah.”

So when you hear some Western rumor mills cranking out misinformation about Muslims and using slanderous lies to debase Islam, speak the truth in love. I assure you that we are all seeking to kneel and pray in faith to the same, the one and only God worshipped by Father Abraham.

A Familiar Hymn

In many of our Christian congregations (especially the Methodist), we stand and sing “The God of Abraham Praise.” Here’s some interesting background about that hymn.

One night in 1865, the English hymnist Thomas Olivers was attract­ed to a service in a London Jew­ish syn­a­gogue where he heard an inspiring soloist, Le­o­ni, sing an an­cient He­brew mel­o­dy. His baritone voice was filled with deeply profound emotion. Olivers was im­pressed and immediately was moved to write a hymn to the same tune. The re­sult was the hymn, “The God of Abra­ham Praise.” This hymn is actually a par­a­phrase of an an­cient He­brew yig­dal, or dox­ol­o­gy:

The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love;
Jehovah, great I AM,
by earth and heaven confessed:
I bow and bless the sacred Name
for ever blessed.

Last Thoughts for Now

Admittedly we who seek to know and understand Abraham’s God have many differences in our beliefs and traditions; some more significant than others. And – may God forgive us – we have through the centuries often turned to war instead of peace and understanding to settle even the most trivial matters.

There is now a very pressing need for a grassroots, mass movement of reconciliation between the believers in the one God/Allah. Turning aside from dwelling on the “painful times” and “the dark moments” in the history between Christians, Jews and Muslims, a new generation is now looking forward, not backward. This new generation seeks justice and better times for all our peoples.

I’m just one among many who are actively working for Middle East peace and religious reconciliation. I’m so happy living here in these exciting times. I’m glad to be a participant in a healing process that, hopefully, will lead to a proliferation of justice, tolerance and forgiveness as we three Abrahamic faiths share together our joys and hopes for the future. May God (Allah) give us wisdom and bless our efforts.

————–

Introduction to Dr. Safi Kaskas

For a Muslim perspective on the need for religious reconciliaton, I introduce you to my dear friend and colleague Dr. Safi Kaskas. Safi is the president of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists in North America. You can learn more about Safi by clicking here.

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February 7, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I love this post..wish I could teach all my friends about how the three religions have much in common.

    Comment by Andrea | February 19, 2012 | Reply

  2. Sam, I appreciate your study and comments. Perhaps you and Safi could respond to a book I’ve been reading, “A Time for Hope: One New York Pastor’s Biblical Response to 9/11, Terrorism and Islam.” It’s written by the son (a prominent NYC minister) of a good friend at BayWoods who is an evangelical Christian. I was interested in what he would say about Muslims and he seems to believe they are the enemy and Jesus is the Savior. He sees the Koran as a book that “encourages them to kill and die for Allah – promising them Paradise if they do… there have been times throughout history when Christians have also pursued terror. What makes all the difference, however, is that when Christains have engaged in terror, it is always diametrically opposed to the teachings and the personal example of Jesus Christ. Tragically, when Muslims engage in error it is consistent with Mohammads’s own teaching and personal example. The contrast could not be more graphic.”

    I will share more later. He sees the differences as so strong that there are few commonalities. I was thinking of sending you the book so you could see what the other side is saying, but maybe you already know.

    Light Life and Love. Mardy

    Comment by Mardy Burgess | February 22, 2012 | Reply

    • Mardy,

      The anger we now see from Muslims in Afghanistan has little to do with a few Qur’ans that were found burned in the US military trash (by mistake). The protests and violence from the people is a result of US insensitivity to Afghan culture. We are occupants there–not friends to freedom. I can’t imagine what the American people would have done if Vietnamese people had video-taped communist soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Americans or perhaps were found to be burning Christian Bibles in their garbage. The US would have exploded over such behavior–anger would have been manifested in the streets and in every church–and it would have turned the tide of the war against the communists.

      NATO troops are not wanted in Afghanistan. We have lost the war because it was not established as a war to win the hearts of the Afghan people. From the very beginning it has been a war of revenge. The US stomped on their love of God/Allah and showed disdain for the Afgahnis by urinating on their dead bodies. I’m afraid the war in Afghanistan is now a total lost cause. We must leave ASAP. No apologies will suffice–not even from Obama. And every child maimed by our bombs–every father killed–has bred only hatred and more terrorism. US foreign policy is inept it seems. We need a Department of Peace–not Defense, and our troops should be trained in the philosophy and work of the US Peace Corps. But I guess, unfortunately, there is no immediate, huge profit in making peace. Eisenhower’s parting words about the US military industrial complex is so true–and those words of warning are even truer today than the day he left office.

      I have long respected the philosophy of the Quakers, and now in God’s providence I find myself to be one. And I’m so proud! (And I realize that pride should not be a Quaker attribute, but in this case I think God will excuse or indulge me!)

      And now we come to the question, “Are Muslims in general an angry people?” I would have to vehemently disagree with your friend’s son’s book on that point. These people (the Saudis, Lebanese, Palestinians, Jordanese, Egyptians, Ethopians, Syrians and Yemenese) that I have met are not different that Al, you or I. They just want the freedom to survive, to live in democracy and freedom and the possibility of acheiving the “American dream” that they see every night on their TV sets. They love and appreciate Americans. I see this love and appreciation when I walk through a local street and a complete stranger says in broken English, “Please, mister, I give you hot tea?” And I enter into his home and sit a drink tea with him.

      If the US wants to make a difference, now is the time to send our troops as “peacemakers” to help establish the new democracies, advising them on the writing of their constitutions, providing aid and assistence in building schools, hospitals, etc. But we must do this in a spirit of humility–not demanding that they be exactly like us, not an attitude that we know what’s best. We cannot impose democracy on these people–we must walk alongside them as partners and friends.

      While America is not a Christian nation, it is certainly perceived to be a “Christian nation” by Muslims simply because the majority of US citizens are Christians. And now the Afghan Muslims (not all Muslims) perceive Americans to be disrespectful of their holy book and that we Christians urinate of the bodies of their dead soldiers.

      While we may have lost the war in Afghanistan we have not lost the battle for the hearts of the Muslim people in other parts of the world. I hope that US foreign policy will soon be rested from the hands of the military industrial complex and relinquished to the goodwill of Quakers and others who are promoters of peace.

      All the best to Al and you and all my other Quaker friends.

      Walking in the Light here in the Middle East and so very grateful for your love and friendship,

      Sam

      Comment by Sam Shropshire | February 26, 2012 | Reply


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