WRF Member Thomas Schirrmacher Asks Whether It Is Appropriate for Arab Christians to Call God "Allah"
In the attached article, I examine the demand [issued by some Christian groups in Germany and the USA] that Arab Christians should not address God as Allah in prayer, and that we should never render the Arabic term “Allah” as “Gott” in German (or “God” in English).
I present the following arguments against this opinion and in in support of the view that “Allah” is the best and most natural designation for the Biblical God:
1. “Allah” corresponds to the Old Testament designations for God, “El” and “Elohim.” That is the unanimous opinion of Islamic studies and Old Testament Biblical scholars.
2. The designations “Elohim,” “El,” and “Theos” used by Jews and Christians in the Old and New Testaments were common to their pagan environment. Jews and Christians used these terms for the true God as well as for false Gods. The Bible exclusively uses designations for God that were also used for other deities.
3. Arabic churches and Christians have always called God “Allah ‘ in confessions, in prayer, and in literature. Arab Christians and Jews called the Biblical God “Allah” long before Mohammed appeared. What else could they have done? At the Council of Nicea, six Arab bishops participated and, at the Council of Chalcedon, there were twenty. They, of course, called God by the Arabic and common Semitic identifier, “Allah.”
4. "Allah" is not a name but rather a generic term. Since the Arabic Koran is taken by Muslims to principally be untranslatable and since non-Arab Muslims have to say their prayers in Arabic, Muslims also automatically tend to use the Arab word “Allah” for God in languages other than Arabic. In Germany, Muslims also use the German word “Gott” in addition to the familiar foreign word “Allah.”
5. Given the Arabic feeling for language, “Allah” is not a name of God, as it appears to be when transliterated into Western languages, but rather it is understood in its original meaning to be ‘the God’ (“al-ilah,” contracted to “Allah”). In Hebrew, “El” and “Elohim” are generic terms, in a sense of the occupation or the office of “God,” while “Yahweh” is the name of God. Jesus Christ as well has a personal name, “Jesus,” and a designation of his office, “the Christ.”
6. In Arabic there is no alternative to “Allah” as the name of God, because “Allah,” long before Mohammed, was quite simply the Arabic designation for the Creator God.
7. The German word “Gott” was less suitable and from pre-Christian times more tainted than “Allah.” That is to say, that while “Allah” corresponds to the Old Testament’s “El” and does not refer to a specific idol, the Germanic peoples did not have a designation for an all-embracing Creator God. “Gott” is namely derived from “ghu,” which has the meaning “to appeal to” or “call upon.” As an “appealed to being,” then, the word actually means “a being called upon through magic words.”
8. The question of whether one believes in the same God is not so simple as it might initially sound. This is due to the fact that individuals can believe in the same God but can have completely different views of him. Who would want to deny that Jews believe in the same God as Christians, and yet they have a wrong picture of God that obstructs their way to salvation in Jesus Christ? Jehovah‘s Witnesses and Mormons believe in the same God as Christians and yet retain a completely wrong view of God. And in cases where various tribal religions believed in the existence of a Creator God, who in most cases was not worshiped, missionaries, following Paul’s speech at the Areopagus, were correct not to argue that this God did not exist.