1. Use Of Allah Among Arab Christians
Middle Eastern Christians, numbering over 20,000,000, use the name of Allah when they speak of God and when they pray to God. Prior to Muslims coming on the scene in 623 A.D., Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians used the word, Allah, for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. Allah is the only word used for a deity in the Arabic language. Allah is a compound word. ‘Al’ is the definite article, meaning ‘the’; and ‘ilah’ is the word for deity. Therefore, Allah means ‘the God’. ‘Ilah’ is the Arabic general term for God, equivalent to the Hebrew words, Eloah (singular) and Elohim (plural), and the Aramaic words, Elah or Alaha. In the World Christian Encyclopedia’s list of names for God (originally based on the listing prepared by the British and Foreign Bible Society), Allah is the only Arabic translatable name for God. Incidentally, Allahu and Elohim are two names for God translated in the Hebrew language. For Arabic-speaking Christians or Arabic speakers, there is no other name for God than Allah.
2. Confusion About The Nature And Character In The Use Of The Word Allah
The nature of Allah, is the creator God, the all-powerful and all-knowing one, the unique and only God, who has no other god before him. To this statement, Jews and Christians would say a hearty, “Amen!” Am I implying that Allah of the Qur’an and Jehovah of the Bible are the same? Not at all. Muhammad used a word that was already in existence, but poured new content into the word. The real concern is over the character of Allah, as found in the Qur’an and Islamic teaching, rather than the concept of God. The Qur’anic Allah is not the Biblical God. Islamic teaching defines and explains God in a way not representative of the God of revealed history, as found in the Old and New Testaments. Evangelical Christians have the challenge of presenting the true nature and character of God, rather than the concept of a creator God, which is already understood by Muslims. The Christian missionary should put his/her efforts into clearly defining, explaining, and sharing the true concept of God to a people who have an inadequate, incomplete, and erroneous concept of God.
3. Missionary Concern
Throughout the ages, missionaries have been confronted with the limited use of language. Missionaries assigned to a new tribe or language group look for the word that closely resembles the nature of the God of the Bible. For example, among the Abaluyia of Western Kenya, the word that most closely defines God is Nyasaye. Missionaries started with this word and then redefined it to mean God as revealed through the scriptures and in the person of Christ Jesus. Today, the Christian Abaluyia speak of Nyasaye with the full knowledge of God, through Christ. Swahili-speakers in Tanzania, Kenya, and Walawi worshipped the power in the sky they called Mangu. So, that is the word whose meaning was transformed into the Biblical name for God.
As the gospel penetrated into pagan Europe, Christians of that time faced similar concerns. Those translating the Bible into the German vernacular looked for a word that most closely resembles the nature of the God of the Bible. The German word for God or “gott” was chosen which comes from god P.Gmc. *guthan (cf. Du. god, Ger. Gott, O.N. guð, Goth. guþ). Christians then redefined the word with the biblical content of Jehovah or Elohim. Thus, we have our word God. In modern times, missiologist Don Richardson in his book, Eternity in their Hearts, reports missionaries doing this same process among primitive folk religions around the world.
4. Do We Throw Out The Word And Create Another?
Should Christians use the word, “Allah,” when speaking with Muslims? No other word exists for the Christian to use that most Muslims would understand. To avoid using Allah, we would have to invent a word and would still need to define it. Inventing a new word does not solve the problem as well as redefining the word. Nominal Christians, who understand God as being all-powerful, all-knowing, unique can be equally confused about the character of God. For example, some see God as all-loving but do not acknowledge any moral or righteous foundation to God’s love. Thus, they can become very upset with God for his judgments. Some people believe that God can be fashioned into their own image and chose the characteristics of God that fits their lifestyle. Others believe in a creator God, but have difficulty with saying that Jesus is God. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons use the word God in erroneous ways.
The Christian response is not to find a new word for a false concept of God. Rather, success is found in using the same term, but clearly defining it to explain, and share the true concept or character of God. To use theological terms, God has revealed himself through general revelation (Romans 1) to man, so he may know about God. Thus, many cultures have a name for the supreme deity. To know God personally (Hebrews 1) they need special revelation (God’s story for mankind as found in the Scriptures, a personal relationship with God’s incarnate Word—Jesus, and the indwelling Holy Spirit) . We see a good illustration of this in Acts 17. Paul is in Athens and finds an altar to an “unknown God.” He declares before the Athenian Council of Philosophers that he had the answer for the unknown god, who was above all other deities. Paul completed this word picture with Biblical truths about Jesus.