If Allah is the name of God in Islam, can Christians also call their God Allah?

By N H Chan

The nomenclature of God

If you look up the word “Allah” in any English dictionary you will find this definition: Allah noun the name of God among Muslims; or Allah n. the principle Muslim name for God. In fact all English dictionaries are definite about the meaning of the word Allah; it is the name of God in Islam. Surprisingly the dictionary does not say that it is an Arabic word. Actually it is not strange at all. As I have already explained before, this Arabic word has become an English word since the sixteenth century when it was spelt using the English alphabet to represent the speech sounds of the Arabic word. It is only an Arabic word if it is written in the original Arabic text as distinct from the phonetic spelling in English.

If Allah is the Islamic God then, since Christians are not Muslims, could or should Christians call their God Allah?

The answer will depend on whether, as a fact, Allah in Arabic was first coined by the founder of Islam or that this Arabic word Allah had predated Islam and had been in existence as a name for “The God” – “The” meaning “the only one of its kind”, as in “the only God” – long before Prophet Mohammed’s Call, the legendary revelation of Allah in 611 AD. As a matter of fact, even before there was Jesus Christ, “Allah” meaning “the only God” was already a word in Arabic a Semitic language spoken by the ancient Arabs who belonged to the ethnic group of peoples known as the Semites.

Historically, therefore, the Arabic word Allah was not coined by Islam’s founder at all. According to the Bible, God made Abraham, his two sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants His people. Since then monotheism – a religious belief that there is only one God – was founded. The descendants of Abraham from the line of Ishmael (the Arabs) and Isaac (the Jews) worshipped the only God named Allah in Arabic and Eloah in Hebrew. In Arabic, Allah was derived from Al – Ilah meaning Al (The) + Ilah (God). In Hebrew God was Eloah with a capital E.

Muslims worship the same God that Abraham, his two sons and their descendants had first worshipped more than 2000 years before Islam was founded and more than 1500 years before Jesus Christ was born.

Before Abraham there was god and there were gods without a capital G. For example: “elohim” means “gods” in Hebrew and “ilah” means “god” in Arabic. Since Abraham, after God made him and his two sons and their descendants His people, God is called Allah in Arabic and Eloah in Hebrew and they mean “The only God”.

So that the Arabs and the Jews, and after the founding of Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims throughout the world worship the same God that Abraham, his two sons and their descendants first worshipped in biblical times thousands of years before there were Christians and Muslims.

Allah was the Arabic name for the only God long before Islam was founded. Abraham worshipped the only God whose name even then was Allah in Arabic and Eloah in Hebrew. Before Abraham there were also those who worshipped the only God. In biblical times English was not then spoken yet, so the Deity was not called God in English. But Arabic was already a spoken language in ancient times and Allah in Arabic was worshipped by those who believed in the only God even then.

But even in ancient times there were those who worshipped other god or gods and the true God was displeased with them (see the Quran) and they were punished. The Quran acknowledged and confirmed the biblical story of Noah (Nur), Surah 71, Abraham (Ibrahim), Surah 14 where Moses was also referred to. The Quran has also confirmed that even in the days of Noah, Abraham and Moses, Allah meaning the only God had been worshipped thousands of years before Islam was founded. That being the case, it has been established beyond peradventure that there were believers who had been worshipping Allah the only God so many thousands of years before Islam was founded in 611 AD.

Therefore, it is dishonest for those narrow-minded politicians and clerics to claim that only Muslims can use the word Allah when before Islam was founded others had been worshipping Allah, meaning the only God, for thousands of years by the Arabs and the Jews. In biblical times Allah was not worshipped by Muslims because Islam had not been founded yet.

That being so, I have often wondered why some people in our government today are so obsessed with the view that only Muslims can use the word Allah. Why should human beings prevent others from worshipping God according to their faiths by decreeing that those who worship the God of Abraham, as Christians do, are not allowed to call their God Allah? God never said His name Allah is for Malay Muslims only! God is never a racist. Only the misinformed are the racists. However, Muslims elsewhere do not mind Christians calling their God by the name Allah because God can be addressed in any language. For example, why should anyone be upset if a Chinese Christian addressed the only God as their God or Allah without using any Chinese word? For that matter, should a sensible Arab Muslim or Christian be upset when an Indian Christian addressed his only God in English or in Arabic, by calling Him God or Allah instead of using Hindi or Tamil?

The etymology of the Arabic and Hebrew languages for God

The Semites or Shemites are an ethnic group of peoples who speak a Semitic language, including the Jews and Arabs as well as the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians. Of these peoples who came from the same national or cultural background only the Arabs and the Jews still exist today.

Of the Semitic or Shemitic languages that include Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and such ancient languages as Arkadian and Phoenician, only Arabic and Hebrew are still spoken.

In the Semitic languages, God is ‘Allah’ in Arabic, ‘Eloah’ in Hebrew and ‘Elah’ in Aramaic – these words, signifying God, are being pronounced according to their phonetic spelling in English as most, if not all, of us do not speak or write any of the aforesaid Semitic languages. Why do the mentioned languages sound so much alike? They sound similar because the Arabs and the Jews belong to the same ethnic group of peoples called Semites who shared and speak the same genus of Semitic languages. By the same token the Chinese people even though they speak different dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, etc their language is written in Chinese characters which an educated Chinese can read irrespective of his spoken dialect. Similarly a scholar of any of the ancient Semitic language could decipher and read another language of the same Semitic genus.

To find out when Allah became the name of God to his people, we have to go back in time to ancient biblical history. We start with Shem who was the eldest of Noah’s three sons: see Genesis 10:21 in the Old Testament. The descendants of Shem were the Shemites or Semites, hence the name of this ethnic group of peoples. The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians, including the Jews and Arabs were regarded as descendants of Shem: see The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.

The phases of God: from making Abraham and his descendants His people to being worshipped throughout the world from the teachings of Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, Abraham was the first of the patriarchs and the founder of the Hebrew people (Genesis 11 – 25). Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar who was Sarah’s maidservant, was the ancestor of 12 Arabian tribes (Genesis 21: 8 – 21; 25: 12 – 18). Isaac was the younger son of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17: 21 – 27).

In How to Judge the Judges I wrote, pages xxix, xxx:

Abraham was the founder of the Hebrew people. According to the Old Testament, Abram (later Abraham) at God’s call abandoned civilization, his father’s household and his people to wander in the desert as a nomad. His wife Sarai (later Sarah) had borne him no children. So Sarai took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. Hagar soon conceived with Abram’s child. But Sarai mistreated Hagar and heavy with child she ran away. According to the Old Testament, the angel of God found Hagar and told her to return to Abram and added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” God also told Hagar that she shall name her son Ishmael for God has heard of her misery at the hands of Sarai. Ishmael means God hears. So Hagar bore Abram a son and he gave him the name of Ishmael. According to the Old Testament, Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. When Abram was 99 years old, God said to Abram that no longer will he be called Abram (it means exalted father); your name will be Abraham (it means father of many) for you will be the father of many nations – he will be fruitful and kings will come from him. In return, Abraham and his descendants will worship the God of Abraham who will be the God of his descendants for generations to come and the Covenant (agreement) they are to keep were; Every male among him shall be circumcised. For the generations to come every male who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in the household or bought with money from a foreigner – those who are not their offspring. Those who are not circumcised will be cut off from his people. As for Sarai, her name will be Sarah and she will be blessed and she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her. A son will be born of her. His name will be called Isaac. Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

As for Ismael, God said he had heard Abraham: “I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”

And so on that very day, so the story goes in the Old Testament, Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household, and circumcised them. Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was 13. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born to him by Sarah, and he was circumcised.

And at page xxxi:

So now we know that the Arabs and the Jews were descended from Ishmael and Isaac whose father was Abraham (Ibrahim); and the God of them is the same God. And God has marked them as His people by circumcision.

Those events took place some two millennia before Jesus Christ was born, and before Prophet Mohammed founded Islam some 600 years after the birth of Jesus Christ.

After Abraham, with the advent of Christianity and Islam the worship of the only God extended to worshipping Him throughout the world. Monotheism, the religion of worshipping only One God, has become a world religion.

I ask, because I am unable to understand, why our government is trying so hard to separate the inseparable, that is, the people who believe in worshipping the same God to demean another of the same faith by decreeing that Christians are not allowed to call their God Allah and desecrating their Bible just because Christians call Allah their God. But the Quran had accepted Jesus Christ as being sent by God (Allah) to deliver the teachings of Allah (God).

  1. #1 by monsterball on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 9:27 pm

    Buddhists and Hindus combined together form the majority of human in faith believes.
    I wish all will attempt to study comparative religion without ignoring Buddhists and Hindus..and why these believers are so peaceful loving human beings.

  2. #2 by pulau_sibu on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 9:59 pm

    A paradox for Chinese people. Do we believe that our ancestors are from the middle east even if we are Christians? If the Chinese don’t believe that Al-lah is their God, Al-lah cannot represent the world of people. Please first tell us how the middle east people are the ancestors to China and Africa.

  3. #3 by zuriz on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 10:32 pm

    selamat petang,
    Pertama memang ayat memberi makna tapi penghayatan dan pemahamnya yang salah..
    Kena hayati sejarah macam mana wujudnya islam dan kristian dahulu..
    Kristian menyembah anak tuhan, holy ghost manakala islam hanya satu iaitu allah bolehkah disamakan dua2 agama ini??
    So dont play with word…
    Sekiranya penggunaan ayat yang Allah sama maka orang akan keliru bukan semua orang dalam dunia ini pandai seperti saudara lim kit siang.
    Ada yang hanya lulus darjah enam sahaja ..ada yang buta huruf…

    • #4 by ChinNA on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 9:45 pm

      Dear Zuriz,
      I will point out your Christian theology is wrong. Please take a look at what Jefferey was trying to explain. It is closer to the concept of Trinity.

      Therefore please seek first to understand and then to be understood.

      Next, I would like to understand how you relate this article to cleverness of Lim Kit Siang? Did you meant to say that he is a smart person who wrote this article?

      Waiting to hear from you.

      No here is another piece from the Christian bible that you will not like:

      John 14:6 Jesus said to him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. John 14:7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. And from now on you know Him and have seen Him.
      John 14:8 Philip said to Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.

      I can say that not many will like it too, as it is too deterministic and judgemental. Nevertheless it is in the Bible and for those who believe it, it is truth.

  4. #5 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 10:45 pm

    The common Abrahamic tradition & history may constitute an explanation why Christians in some places were/are used to describing and knowing God by the shared expression of “Allah”, and on this basis, argue for an understanding and tolerance for such of their use based on custom without any intent to offend or confuse persons of the Islamic faith.

    This approach is however different from N H Chan’s approach which, as I understand it, comes close to saying, and may well be interpreted or misinterpreted to suggest that such use of common term is justified because persons of Christian and Islamic Faith share the same God.

    Whether or not that is true belong to discourse in theological academia by persons knowledgeable on such things. It is controversial – and not helpful- to take such a line for resolution of political issues especially under present climate. Many people of both faiths will not readily accept such an argument. They may feel offended.

  5. #6 by hallo on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 10:55 pm

    HUMAN BEINGS ALL ARE GOD BELOVED CHILDREN giving the same thing when come in this world

    DEVIL smiling good the GOD BELOVED CHILDREN are quarrel and fight among each them on human made word…..no one actually know what the god name as man made word / sign cant represent him

    DEVIL smiling fight fight GOD BELOVED CHILDREN as you done wrongly you be serve me in h……

  6. #7 by negarawan on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 11:03 pm

    There is only one God Almighty and the entire human race is His children. UMNO is fighting over the exclusive right to call God by a certain name. How stupid and as if God bothers about how He is called. It’s what in the mind and heart that matters to Him.

  7. #8 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 11:14 pm

    Following preceding posting it is to be noted that although both Christianity & Islam are monotheistic based on shared Abrahamic tradition and even if as NH Chan says “the Quran had accepted Jesus Christ as being sent by God (Allah) to deliver the teachings of Allah (God)” there are several salient differences:-
    • the sacred holy books are different;
    • Allah in Islam is Unitarian (Sura 4:48 ), whereas by Christian scriptures God is trinitarian (Father Son & Holy Spirit) (2 Corinthians 13:14 ). Whereas Jesus Son of God is one of the Trinity, in Islam Jesus was just an apostle of God.

    For practical purpose of political as distinct from theological discourse, many faithful of both faiths are therefore unlikely to accept the view that they worship the same God to argue in justification why Christians may use “Allah” in the Alkitab/religious literature.

    It suffices to explain that the common Abrahamic tradition constitutes an explanation why Christians in some places were/are used to describing and knowing God by expression of “Allah”, and on this basis, argue for an understanding and tolerance for such of their use based on custom without any intent to offend or confuse persons of the Islamic faith.

    This is quite different a justification from that based controversially on same God as N H Chan appears to be proceeding in his line of argument.

  8. #9 by Saint on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 11:22 pm

    Dear Zuriz, you are wrong. Even the Muslims believe in the trinity in an indirect manner:- Allah the God, the Prophet Mohammed, and the books (the Holy Koran and the Hadith). These three are inseparable. In Islam you cannot believe in One Allah, but not accept Mohammed and you cannot accept both without the Hadith. The Christian have The One God (Father), The Prophet Jesus (the Son) and well the Holy Ghost. (the Holy Koran was through the Holy Ghost)
    Both are the same concept, one directly an another indirectly. In fact in your call for prayers in all Malaysian TV these three are mentioned together.

  9. #10 by cseng on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 11:41 pm

    Because, Umno survives only with sepration of race and religion,. Just like Taib survives with native being native. Nothing religious but political..

  10. #11 by hallo on Saturday, 30 April 2011 - 11:51 pm

    Human are full of imagination

    As human we are slave of lust, hunger, thristy because of human body

    After death are we still slave of lust, hunger, thirsty?

  11. #12 by k1980 on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 8:32 am


    Ali Baba is to be charged in court for stealing. Will he be set free if he raises his right hand and angkat sumpah?

  12. #13 by hallo on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 9:09 am

    When you take the earth soil

    Human make any shape by his imagination

    The name still refer the same

    Except it became not the same after human shaping it

    Some say GOD command love

    Some say GOD command ……

    You got it right is GOD, got it wrong is OPPOSITE

  13. #14 by limkamput on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 9:32 am

    When When tradition, understanding and tolerance do not work, what is next? Of course we have to justify, what more if we have solid grounds to do so. My take is this controversy was not due to confusion it may create among the followers of Islamic faith. It is for political reasons based on dominant-subservient relationship.

  14. #15 by monsterball on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 10:40 am

    And in everyone else…the body…mind and soul are the trinity.
    And all
    “trinities”are pointing towards… not to be tempted by the Devil.
    I like to hear Mahathir talk about Trinity.

  15. #16 by monsterball on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 10:43 am

    But he is talking about poor lost souls of Malaysian Chinese.
    He is talking he is a mamak but is now pure Malay…as the Sultan accepted him as one.
    He is turning coocoo.

  16. #17 by Not spoon fed on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 11:08 am

    Islamic calendar is less than 1500 years. Around the time when it started, Aramaic language for god is Elah (transliterated Hebrew word for Mighty One, pronounce as “El lah” or “Al lah”. This “Allah” and El-lah sounds the same. Al-lah derives from Aramaic while Aramiac derives from Hebrew which is “Eloah” pronounce as “El loah”.

    Therefore, if all studies correctly, the dispute would be zero because while argue about this generic name of god?

    The Christians world also call the generic name of the Creator as god or lord. Both god and lord are generic name like we call each other mister.

    These are all not the name of the Creator. So, peace is missing on earth for changing His Name and too many human’s teachings.

  17. #18 by cseng on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 11:51 am

    Tell mamak, if there is no Chinese, India and others, where got Malay and Mamak?. This is his games, he master at it. You create those races, rank them, create privileges/ demand/problem/tension, now you control it and are the master. The only problem is those stupid subject must not grow-up and is an expensive game.

  18. #19 by hallo on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 12:04 pm

    I think you got it right

    In Malaysia, it is non-malay, non-bumiputra make them specific position

    If we (human being) are ignore them, dont admit them privilege, they are equal as we are nothing different

    It is we(human, non-malay) make them privilege

    Imagine are they any privilege outside Malaysia?

  19. #20 by hallo on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 12:16 pm

    Human sometimes are very childish

    If you present them some goodness with their trust, they may in confuse then you say anything they lost their wits to identify good or bad

  20. #21 by boh-liao on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 5:15 pm

    Under NR n UmnoB, Islam has bcome a circus, a joke, n a part of forensic science
    2 prove a point as a fact (without any evidence), a Muslim just has 2 go 2 a mosque n take an oath – voila, poof, d person instantly proved his innocence while proving another person’s guilt, so easi 1
    Some more, got polis protection 1, got 2 wear bullet-proof vest, syiok lor

  21. #22 by zuriz on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 5:27 pm

    Dear Saint, you are totally wrong. Muslims DONT believe in the trinity in an indirect manner:- Allah the God, the Prophet Mohammed, and the books (the Holy Koran and the Hadith). Prophet Mohammed is our RASUL is just a human being to show the way of Islam. The Holy Koran not the Holy Ghost it just a book. That why i say u must understand ISLAM just like this word:

    ‘ Allah in Islam is Unitarian (Sura 4:48 ), whereas by Christian scriptures God is trinitarian (Father Son & Holy Spirit) (2 Corinthians 13:14 ). Whereas Jesus Son of God is one of the Trinity, in Islam Jesus was just an apostle of God.’

    Saint my friend, I think u should convert to ISLAM then u will know the different of the two religious.

    But in this situation, there are some of Malaysian Political Parties have interest in this matter…

  22. #23 by tak tahan on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 10:28 pm

    Why making so much issue of religion?Just respect every individual choice la..as long there is no harm intended from anyone.These so called religious people and behaving so hyprocrite and crook..F**k you!!!Ya,tell your supreme God!!

  23. #24 by cemerlang on Sunday, 1 May 2011 - 10:55 pm

    Boleh aka can because the 1trueGod who is not inferior to yours and not superior than yours never says how to call Him in a politically correct manner. Somewhere it is written that some people worship an unknown God and actually this unknown God is the 1trueGod. Probably the only place on Earth that makes everyone fearful of Allah’s name is Malaysia. If you go elsewhere, nobody will stop you from saying Allah’s name. In fact if you go elsewhere, nobody is that bothered about Allah or His name. Are we so bothered with that name ? Does it really matter to Allah or God or Tuhan that you make such a big deal to His name ? He could not be bothered whether you are doing all that you think you are correct because at the end of your life, it is how you live your life and whether you acknowledge Him that is the most important of all. Just because of not calling Him in a politically correct way, you drag someone to the religious court. The day you die, you will feel stupid in doing such a thing because in the presence of Allah, you will know if you have been so right all along.

  24. #25 by monsterball on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 2:07 am

    Race and religion politics at the dirtiest height now..under Najib.
    He does not care….for he is confident fanatics and racists are growing more and more to support him.
    MCA President is an inslut to all Malaysian Chinese.
    He also do not care…for being what he is today…he feels Malaysian Chinese will be very afraid to vote against BN.

  25. #26 by Ray on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 8:46 am

    Firstly ,Rakyats Lets Vote PR into Putrayaya and the Reality of PR Reformation
    Lets wake up now before its too late >>Stop and Crush(not bruise) all these Umno BN evil ones completely so on so forth…
    >>Meritocracy equality good fair education governance will be visionalised.Lets fight together against the threats BN Umno Mca Mic Supp Pbb sampah busut Kotol sex obssession and money ringgits indulgence and economy plundering politics of fear ,Hopelessness etc….
    Therefore ,Rakyat .>>>Lets Stand TALL against those wishing to kill or poison the minority races -malaysians and overcome this Umno Evil humanity.
    The real facts today is this threat to our existence isn’t a theoretical one, it cannot be minimized, it stands before us, before all of humanity, and it MUST be stopped…..otherwise our future will be bleak and bitter taste as we all know this world full of uncertainties(political socail econ aspects) and new evils threats..
    Take care of the future generiatonsand be Alert Always,
    Do not engage(distance away ) with Umno kakis morons and their cunning quiet tactic Umno Ideology of Evil decietfulness .

  26. #27 by dagen on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 11:37 am

    Well and good Dato Chan. Now pls tear up your well reasoned argument. Then go to sleep. You need that and lots of it for what you are dealing with is not islam but islam jenis-umno. That kinda makes your argument per incuriam doesnt it?

    Be tht as it may, rest assured that the rest of us understand and appreciate your views greatly. Its just those followers of islam jenis-umno.

  27. #28 by cemerlang on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 12:24 pm

    Boleh. Why ? Why ? Why ? Because this is Malaysia Boleh !

  28. #29 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 5:58 pm

    The fault, dear UMNO, lies in education.
    The fault, dear Muhyiddin, lies in learning world history.

    To be learned, Moo, it means no matter and even if Perkasa says that Earth is the sun and the moon is a planet, someone with sense and science will tell Perkasa straight to their faces that stupidity begins when one chooses to be closeted and cloistered like the proverbial katak dibawah tempurong and remains blindly in self-denial.

  29. #30 by cemerlang on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 8:38 pm

    If Earth is the sun, then that kind of thought belongs to the 16th century and now you wonder why Malaysia is experiencing a slow slow slow growth

  30. #31 by tak tahan on Monday, 2 May 2011 - 11:36 pm

    Wah..good la..can go back to 16th century whereas American only know how to go futuristic.Slow slow and steady ma..mai ka chiong one..arr..

  31. #32 by hallo on Tuesday, 3 May 2011 - 12:28 am

    I think it is not the same

    One is LOVING

    One is rules, fear…..

    You can find out study it

  32. #33 by hallo on Tuesday, 3 May 2011 - 12:36 am

    It is refer to the same

    Except in different direction

    One is saying about love

    One is about rules, fear……

    It is refer the same

  33. #34 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 3 May 2011 - 1:33 am

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