We are blessed with the only preserved revelation on Earth which has been proven to be the infallible word of God (exalted be He). The Holy Qu’ran is the miracle of miracles. Those who have been blessed with the knowledge of the living language in which it was revealed know the sweetness of it. On the other hand, the rest of the Muslims believe in this as a part of faith.
It was this amazing reality which led me to rigorously study the language of the Qur’an through a daily regimen for 5 years in the Middle East. Since then, I have been an avid reader of Islamic sciences according to the classic and contemporary works in the Arabic language and believe thoroughly that this is the only way to attain true scholarship of Islam. What I am suggesting is that once you have been blessed with that sacred knowledge, the next proper step is to make sure it is articulated correctly in the language of your homeland. This is the wisdom of God Almighty.
“We merely sent messengers preaching in their people’s native tongue so that they may clarify to them the guidance…” (Qur’an, 14:4).
In this article I want to analyze and attempt to correct—with God’s help—the confusion that has come as a result of the pride of the Arabs and the inferiority complex of the vast majority of Muslims who don’t know Arabic. This critical analysis will take many off guard, but it is in keeping with the Qur’an, sunnah (records of the sayings and actions of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) and practical experience. Anyone who has met Muslims, their leadership, and, even in many cases, their scholarship knows that we have a lot of work to do before we can assume that the way we are doing things is right and not up for debate.
In this article I will revisit some accepted norms among the Muslims in the west. I pray that the opinions presented are taken and respected for the evidences they are based on and not disrespected due to lack of popularity. The reason for this research is the same as the reason I do any Islamic research—to see if our rich tradition of understanding Islam can be presented more efficiently to the masses, Muslim and otherwise.
Issue #1 - Defining the Creator in English—God vs. Allah
The only real argument for seeing it as a must to keep the Arabic word ‘Allah’ to describe the Creator in English is that He revealed and preserved the Qur’an and referred to Himself as الله. The hole in this argument is that the Creator revealed other scriptures to other prophets who spoke other languages which came before Arabic (God willing we’ll talk about this later) or to another nation, most commonly the Jews (children of Israel). According to centuries of sound scripture and tradition ‘YHWH’ is the Hebrew equivalent to ‘Allah’ in Arabic. They also have ‘El,’ ‘Elohim,’ ‘Adonai,’ ‘Shaddai’ and many others. Are those prophets and their followers wrong for calling upon God in the language He revealed Himself? You might say fair enough, but still that doesn’t serve as evidence to call Allah (swt) ‘God’ since we know there was no revelation sent to people who spoke English. I mention this to broaden your horizons or de-Arabize our understanding of “the names of God.”
Now why should we call the Creator ‘God’ while speaking English? First of all because Almighty God said so in the Qur’an:
“Do not argue with the people of the book except with that which is better and do not argue with those who have oppressed you. Tell them, we believe in what was revealed to us as well as that which was revealed to you. Our God and your God is one in the same and we submit to Him” (Qur’an, 29:46).
Christian and Jewish Arabs have been calling God ‘Allah’ for centuries. They do this while believing polytheistic and un-Qur’anic ideas. It is part of our mission as Muslims to define God according to His final revelation. This whole insistence upon using the word ‘Allah’ gives the wrong indication that we worship a different God than the One worshipped by the people of the scripture. That is counterproductive to the command in the aforementioned verse and it is against our fundamental belief that there is only one God! Yes, people define and worship Him differently, but our call is to teach everyone with love and compassion who God is and how He should be worshipped.
In driving home the point let’s make a linguistic comparison between the word الله and the word ‘God’. In Arabic ‘Allah’ comes from the root ء – ل – ه.This root refers to that which is worshipped or deified. When given the alif and lam (two Arabic letters corresponding to ‘a’ and ‘l’) for definitive recognition it means The Supreme Being Who created the universe, knows and has power over all. This is noted and seen as the correct view according to the great scholar Ibn Manthoor, author of the great Arabic dictionary Lisan al-Arab. Okay so what does God with a capital G mean? According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary it means “The supreme or ultimate reality: as the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.” If we go to the World English Dictionary we get, “The sole Supreme Being, eternal, spiritual, and transcendent, who is the Creator and ruler of all and is infinite in all attributes; the object of worship in monotheistic religions.” I ask you, who is this in Arabic?!