WitnessForChrist 1  _ 2010



“Malaysian Authority confiscated bibles imported from Indonesia that contain the name Allah. ... The court allowed the Catholic Herald magazine still using the name Allah. ... Four Christian churches were burned in Malaysia."

These are news from Malaysia around the turn of the year 2009/10. The news are not strange since some Malay have an ego-possessive character. Imagine, angklung, reog, batik, and other property in Indonesia are claimed as their own, and now the name 'Allah' in the language of the Arabs is also claimed as theirs, whereas Arabic is not their mother tongue. Actually in Malaysia not everyone supported neither the ban nor the anarchy, many Muslims scholars and leaders also blamed it, even Marina Mahathir initiated an online petition entitled 'Malaysian Muslims Must Condemn Any Act of Violence Toward People of Other Faiths' (http://www.petitiononline.com/Msia0801/petition.html). In 2007, the authority of Islam 'Majlis Agama Negeri Perlis' issued a fatwa that: "There's nothing wrong at all with non-Muslims using the name Allah."

Symptoms of fundamentalism are new, since among the Arabs themselves, whether they are Muslims, Jews and Christians, from the past to the present, the name 'Allah' was used together to worship 'Allah, the monotheistic belief of Abraham / Ibrahim' even though they worship in different aqidah/teaching about the same 'Allah'. Even the court in Malaysia and many scholars do not prohibit the use of the name by non-Muslims, but the sentiment of radical groups in the religion impose their will against other religious groups has ignited ban and anarchy. Fundamentalism is also emerged among Christian sects in Indonesia that is influenced by Judaism (Sacred Name Movement), which also impose their will and sued some Christian agencies to court in order to withdraw all Bibles and Christian books containing the name Allah, but with different motivation i.e. that the name 'Allah' is considered an idol.

Allah In Arabic

Is the name 'Allah' solely owned by the Islamic religion? if correct why was it used long before Islam was born? The name ‘Allah’ is used as old as the birth of the Arabic language. Much earlier in Mesopotamia, where the Semitic religions begun, the people already know the name ‘El / Il’ as the supreme deity in the pantheon of Babilonia. But for most of the descendants of Shem (which the Semitic family name originated), the name was understood as the 'Almighty Creator of heaven and earth.' The name ‘El’ evolved into the North and West as ‘Ela’, and the Aramaic-Syriac name is ‘Elah/Alaha’ and among the Hebrews ‘El/Elohim/Eloah.’ While the name ‘Il’ was developed in Eastern and Southern regions, and become ‘Ila,’ and in Arabic ‘Ilah/Allah.’

The oldest record of the second millennium BC mentions that the descendants of Abraham, called the Arab tribes, especially Ibrahimiya and Ismaelliya which are known as the Hunafa (sing. Hanif), has called the name 'Allah' since the birth of the early Arab language. Islamic Encyclopedia mentions that:

"The idea of The One God called Allah, was known by the ancient Arabs ... Other religious groups before Islam are hunafa' (sing. hanif), a word that was originally aimed at the ancient monotheism belief that originated from the teachings of Abraham and Ishmael. " (pp.50-51)  

 The inscription of the Lihyan tribe reveals record of VI/V century BC (same period as Ezra) that the name Allah was already used. Some are stigmatizing that Allah is the name of ancient Syrian idol, the fact is that Lihyan inscription proves that Lihyan is a center of 'hlh' worship and not directed to the Syrian idol. It is now known that the inscriptions in North Arabian (Sabean, Lihyan, Tamudic, Safaitic) expose that Lihyan is the center of ‘Allah ' worship and the Arab dialects emerged from it where the article 'al' and ‘ha’ are used for 'God the One'. Winnet in his research on Lihyan inscription stated that the praise to Allah in the inscription is neutral and can be directed to any deity, but the text indicates a keyword 'abtar' which exist only in Al-Qur’an (QS.108) which is directed to 'The Allah, the One and Eternal '(QS.112).

"North Arabian inscriptions. ... Allah-names first become common in the Lihyan text. ... The evidence supplied by the occurrence of Allah-names suggests that Lihyan (mod. Al-Ula) was the first center of Allah-worship in Arabia. ... "The Syrians, however, raised the common noun for “god”,  allah, to the dignity of a proper name by affixing the determining element "a": allaha = "the god", then “God”.  ... When the Lihyanites took over the proper name, Allaha, they changed to Arabic by dropping the determining element "a"." (F.V. Winnet, Allah Before Islam, in The Moslem World, Vol.38, 1938, pp. 245-247)

Lihyan inscription of VI / V century BC is in North Arabia originated from the Nabataea-Aramaic language and its location is not far from Jerusalem where the books of Ezra and Daniel were known and mentioned Aramaic 'Alaha' name who is the ‘Elah of Yisrael' (Ezra.5: 1; 6:14). Moreover, the predecessor of Lihyan tribe is the tribe descended from Dedan who is the grandson of Keturah, the wife of Abraham, it suggests that there is a relation with the Hanif. The same study proposed by Trimingham in his book 'Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times', suggests that the name 'Allah' had long been used among Arab tribes, including the Christians, and was derived from Aramaic 'Alaha' which in the book of Ezra is addressed to the ‘Elah of Yisrael' (Ezra 5:1; 6:14), Arabic language was known to emerge from the Nabatea-Aramaic language. So the notion that 'Allah is the idol of Siraic Lihyan,’ was refused by by Winnet and Trimingham who stated that it was directed to Aramaic 'Alaha' which refers to 'Elah Yisrael.’

Allah Among The Arab Christian

In contrast to the assumption that the Jewish & Arab Christians originally called 'al-Ilah' instead, and at the time of Islam ruling they were forced to use the name 'Allah,' historical facts show that since the beginning, the Jewish Arabs and Christians have used the name 'Allah' in their worship. The prove that the name 'Allah' was used by Jewish Arabs can be seen that before Islam the name of the scribe of the synagogue in Medina is 'Abdallah ibn Saba,' and among the Christians the use of  'Allah' were common. Arab Christianity had begun as early as the first century in which the Arabs heard the sermon of Jesus (Mark. 3 :7-8) and in the Day of Pentecost they heard in Arabic (Acts. 2: 11), Paul visited Arab Christian church (Gal.1: 17). In the year 244 an Arab Christian Phillip the Arab becomes emperor of Rome and at The Council of Nicaea (325) was attended by 6 Arab bishops of the region of Roman Empire and three other bishops from non-Roman Arab regions. This shows that the Arab Christian communities with their Arabic language have spread, and even Arabs were elected as Caesar of the Roman Empire and Bishops of the Emperor Arab communities.

 Father Pacerillo, Franciscan archaeologist had found houses in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine from the IV century AD with the inscription 'Bism Ellah al Rahmani al Rahimi' (In the name of Allah the merciful and compassionate), whereas the Council of Ephesus (431) was attended by an Arab bishop whose name is Abdellas (Abdullah, compare with: 'Wahab Allah' which is translated into Greek as 'ouaballas'). In pre-Islamic fragments founded in 1901 in Damascus there was a text of Psalm 78 where the LXX ' - ho theos' (Elohim) was translated in Arabic, written with Greek characters as 'allau' (Verses 22,31,59). In the inscription the letter 'ha' in Arabic is written as ‘upsilon’ in Greek. An Arab Christian martyr of Najran has a name 'Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad'(523).

Bambang Noorsena, a law graduates who took his post-graduate study in Arabic literature at Cairo for 2 years, in his book mentions that before Islam was born, the use of ‘Allah’ among the Christian can be seen from a number of inscriptions of pre-Islamic period found around the area of Syria where the name of ‘al-Ilah’ and ‘Allah’ are called:

"There were two important inscriptions: first Zabad (512 CE) that begins with the formulation 'Bism al-Ilah' (In the name of al-Ilah) which was followed by the names of Syrian Christians, and second, 'Umm al-Jimmal' (Also from the same century) that begins with the words 'Allahu ghafran' (Allah forgives)." (History of Allah, p.10)

The Inscription 'Allahu Gafran' of Umm al-Jimmal is clearly illustrated in the book 'Islamic Caligraphy' by 'Yasin Hamid Safadi' (London: Thames and Hudson Limited, 1978, p.6). Noorsena also mentions that there was Syraic-Aramaic text from that period in which the Aramaic name 'Alaha' was translated 'Allah' in Arabic:

" Risalah fit at Tadbir al-Khalash li Kalimat Allah al-Mutajjasad (Syriac-Arabic), the work of Mar Ya’qub al-Rahawi (James of Eddesa). This book begins with the sentence: Allah ..., translating the original text that begins with: Alaha ... (Syriac original text was written in 578 CE) ". (The History of Allah, p.12.)

Thus, the name of al-Ilah and Allah were used together and exchanged especially prior to the Islamic era. Ensyclopedia of Islam mentions:

"For the Christians and monotheist, al-illah evidently means God; for the other poets it means merely "the one who is worshiped", so that al-ilah indicates “the god already mentioned”... this use was survived to the present day ( 'Abd al-Ilah). ... Allah, frequently attested in pre-Islamic poetry (where this name cannot in every case have been substituted for another) , and then became a proper name (ism 'alam)." (Brill, Vol.III, p.1093)

"Allah was known to pre-Islamic Arabs, he was one of the Meccan deities, possibly the supreme deity, and certainly a creator God (cf. QS.13:16;29:61,63; 31:25; 39:38; 43:87). He was already known, by antonomasia,   as the God' al-Ilah (the most likely etymology; another suggestion is the Aramaic Alaha." (Brill, Vol.I, p.406)

"most regarded the proper name Allah as a derivative (mushtakk, mankul), a contraction of al-illah, and endeavoured to attach ilah to a triliteral root.” (Brill, Vol.III, p.1093)

"Allah is a name of nature, or the belief is absolute. Apparently the word 'Allah' is a specialization of the words al-Allah. ... The name "Allah" has been known and used before the Qur'an was revealed .... The word is not only specific to Islam only, but it is also a name that, by the Ummah Arabic-speaking Christians of the Eastern churches, used to call Allah." (Glasse, Islamic Encyclopedia, p..23)

Beside mentioned in the Islamic Ensyclopedias that 'Allah is a contraction of al-Ilah, ' many other encyclopedias such as Britannica, Encarta, and Wikipedia also mention the same.  Of course the topic of Allah's name in it was written by Arab experts.

In addition to the inscriptions and names, since the beginning, the Gospel in Arabic also uses the name 'Allah.' Peshita, Bible in Aramaic, written in the second century AD, El / Elohim / Eloah were translated as 'Elah/Alaha.' As it is known from the Lihyan VI/V century BC inscription, the history of the language suggests that 'Allah' in Nabatea-Arab and Arabic is originated from Aramaic 'Alaha'. In the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas (II century AD) there is a story about 'Allah allowing Jesus made the miracle of the clay bird' and was cited in the Infancy Gospel in Arabic 't Tufuliyyah' and then further told in the Qur'an (QS.5:110).

In the third century, Origen wrote in the introduction of his Hexapla that he consulted with copies of other languages including Arabic, this means that in the III century AD some fragments of the Bible in Arabic have existed. The following century (IV AD), Waraqa ibn Nawfal in Mecca translated some Bible fragments into Arabic, in the year 520 AD in Najran Christians have a gospel in Arabic dialect written in the Musnad script. John of Sedra 630 AD wrote a translation of the four Gospels in Arabic to be used by Muslim scholars, and other fragments of the Bible written in Arabic were also found at that time. Compilation of more complete Arabic Bible, was prepared by Hunayan ibn Ishaq and Saadia Gaon (IX century AD).

Allah In The Al-Qur’an

Al-Qur’an supports the use of the name Allah before Islam, and mentions that during Islam, in the church and synagog the use of the name Allah were common, It means that in pre-Islamic era the name 'Allah' has been used by Jews and Christians. Muhammad, before he became a prophet and messenger was associated with the Nestorian monk Waraqa ibn Nawfal who is a cousin of Khadija. He also attended the Christian teachers who teach near Mecca, and after starting his religion he claimed to write the book as a successor of the Jewish scriptures and the Christians which were already existed, this indicates that he claimed the name 'Allah' is used together with the two former religions. It is clearly visible in Al-Qur’an that mentions:

"(They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, “our Lord is Allah”. Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will)." (QS.22: 40)

Al-Qur’an Surrahs (QS) mention "The Jews say: “Allah’s hand is tied up.”"(5:64), and" the Jews & Christians believe in Allah"(2:62) and also refers "we are sons of Allah" (5:18). The Christians call "Christ the son of Allah" (9:30) and "the Messenger of Allah" (4:157,171; 61:6), "Said Jesus: “Fear Allah, if ye have faith”" (5:112), "I am indeed a servant of Allah" (19:30), and "Allah said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself" (3:55; 4:158; 5:110). These indicate that the name 'Allah' was used by Jews and Arab Christians in their books (QS.2: 97; 5:48) before Islam was born. In recorded history in 628 AD when Islam began to expand, delegates from the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai met the Prophet Muhammad and received protection from him to practice their religion freely. (Prophets Muhammad's Promise to Christians, http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/)

From the above facts, we know that in the early days, especially in the pre-written spoken language, the use of the name 'Allah' occured as a derivation from Aramaic 'Allaha', as equivalent/contraction of  'al-Ilah,' and/or as a proper name. But it is interesting to know that in the Middle East, the use of the name 'Allah' by Jews, Christians, and Muslims who speak Arabic is common without any problems since the beginning, but for some there is also stigmatization of the name 'Allah' and regarded it as the name of the 'pagan moon god." (Arab Bible [2004] is a plagiarism of the classical 'Arabic Bible' [1865] in which the name 'Allah' was changed to 'al-Ilaah').

The crescent moon symbol was not originated in Arab but Osman Turk (XV century AD) to commemorate the victory in Byzantium in the dark night war when suddenly the cresent moon appeared. Al-Qur’an never claims that 'Allah' is a moon god except as ‘The Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, including the moon."

"If indeed thou ask them who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law), they will certainly reply, “Allah”. How are they then deluded away (from the truth)?" (QS.29: 61)

"Among His Signs are the Night and the Day, and the Sun and the Moon. Do not prostrate to the sun and the moon, but prostrate to Allah, Who created them, if it is Him ye wish to serve." (QS.41: 37)

The fact does not close the possibility that among the Arab Lihyans and Pagan (Jaahiliyya) Arabs of the pre-Islamic era, besides the Hunafa who worship the monotheist ‘Allah’ of Abraham / Ibrahim there were also pagans who called their god as allah too. In Arab history, the paganism of the pre-Islam era was known as a syncretism of imported foreign idols (including the moon idol 'Hubal'), but in the presence of Islam, monotheism belief of the Hanif was restored.

"The idea of One God with the Name of Allah, was known by the ancient Arabs ... Other religious group before Islam was ‘hunafa' (sing. hanif), a word that was originally aimed at the ancient monotheism belief that proceed from the teachings of Abraham and Ishmael. By the 7th century, the religion awareness of Abraham among Arab nations have disappeared, and the position was replaced by the worship of idols ... in 20 years time the whole tradition of the Jaahiliyya erased by the last teaching of Allah, namely the teaching of Islam". (Islamic Encyclopedia, pp.50-51)

"Since the religion of Islam has improved the religion brought by Ibrahim, the pure religion, Then jaahiliyya  was seen as an era before the arrival of Islam, like the darkness before dawn. At this time the monotheism of Abraham was gone and had been replaced by a system of paganism, and colored by moral decadence. Some pagan gods were brought to Mecca from various Middle Eastern countries. But not all Arabs at that time embraced the pagan belief system, but there were some Arab tribes who embraced Christianity and Judaism. There was even a group of people who embraced spiritual matters, they were called 'Hunafa' (sing. hanif) who were not sided with one of the two religions, but they were stuck by the teachings of Abrahamic monotheism ". (Islamic Encyclopedia, p.190)

The decline of the use of the name 'Allah' is not only happening among the Arabs, because in Israel the same decline also occurred. 'Elohim, The Creator of Heaven and Earth ' (Gen.1:1) was once used to refer idol, e.g. 'Calf idol' (Kel.32: 1.4) who was also celebrated as YHWH (Ex.32:5). So here we see that the problem is not in the name 'Elohim / Allah' but what is the aqidah/teaching behind the same name taught in the Scriptures of the respective religions.

Historical truth can’t be changed and we need to realize that the name 'Ilah / Allah' (Arabic) has the same origin (cognate) with El / Elohim / Eloah (Hebrew), Elah / Alaha (Aramaic), and El / Il among the Semitic people (Mesopotamian) , who was believed by the religions as ‘a god’, supreme ‘God,’ but also as 'Allah The Almighty creator of heaven and earth.' (In ancient Canaanite, El was also directed to the head of the Canaanite pantheon)

We have to be aware that even the Jewish religion (Tanakh), Christianity (Bible) and Islam (Qur'an) are using the same name 'God' as 'Allah of the monotheism of Abraham / Ibrahim,' the three believe different aqida / teaching which is told by each scripture. The confusion occurs when people mix up the name 'Allah' as the name of Semitic / Abraham’s God in Arabic and the aqida  / teaching about the same Allah, so if we want to compare is between 'Allah' of the Christian Arabs and 'Allah' of the Mulims’ Arabs. Let us listen to the writing of Dr. Olaf Schuman, German Christian theologian who speaks Arabic fluently and for 3 years has studied and teached at Al-Azhar University in Cairo:

"It can not be denied that there is a problem. But the problem is a matter of dogmatic or 'aqida, Because the three heavenly religions have different interpretation of dogmatic about the same Allah, intrinsically, and also about the way their statements and actions." (Keluar Dari Benteng-Benteng Pertahanan, p.177)

It is also interesting to know the fact that in the Qur'an in Hebrew, which was published in Israel, the name 'Allah' was translated as 'Elohim' (Al-Qur’an Tirgem Avrit, Devir Publishing House, Tel-Aviv, 1945), this indicates that among the Arabic-Hebrew, the name 'Allah' is equivalent to the name 'Elohim."

Allah In The Bible

Since the beginning, the name 'Allah' is continuesly used in the Bibles in Arabic, including eight versions currently used by about 29 million people of Arab Christians throughout the world. In the year 1671 the Roman Catholic Church translated the Bible into Arabic in Rome and published as a whole in 1880, but the popular translation used by the Protestant and Orthodox Church is 'Arabic Bible' (Van Dyke, 1865), published in Beirut. ‘Catholic Translation of the Bible' which was published in 1880 was revised in 1988. 'New Translation of the Arabic Bible' (1988) called the 'Book of Life, an interpretative translation' (Book of Al Hayat, tarjama tafsiriya) then become the 'New Arabic Version' (1992), and at the same year was also published the 'Today's Arabic Version' (Good News).

In connection with the Muslims, in the 1980s in Egypt there were Christians who published the New Testament for the purpose to be read by Muslims called 'The Noble Gospel' (Al-Syarief Gospel, 1990) and the entire Bible in 1999. There are interesting efforts of the Syrian-Arab writers Mashaz Mallouhi (2008), which gathered experts of Islam and Christian Arabs to sit together to translate the 'Gospel and the Apostles' as 'The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ' into modern Arabic, addressed to the Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs which also is intended as a history lesson and discussion of Arabic literature, Arabic Bible terminology which is now not commonly used in modern Arabic. All versions of the Bible in Arabic from the beginning know only a single Arabic word for God i.e. 'Allah' (in addition to ar-Rabb translation of 'Adonai' for the reading replacement of the holy name YHWH).

In Indonesia since the introduction of Islamic religion (XIII century) and Christian (XVI century), the name 'Allah' was absorbed in Malay language and later entered the vocabulary of Indonesian language, and is used as early as Bible translation in Malay written in 1629 to the present translations of the Indonesian Bible Society (LAI). Although Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world so far no one questioned the use of the name of Allah. It is caused by the fact that the Islamic experts and scholars in general understand that the 'Name Allah' is used together in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, despite questioned by a small group of fundamentalist sect lately.

In Malaysia, efforts to translate Bible into Bahasa Melayu (BM) started in 1974. The New Testament was published in 1976 and the Old Testament in 1981. 'Alkitab Bahasa Melayu' (BM) was published in full in 1987 by The Bible Society of Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. In 1990 the translation into the language of everyday Malay had been initiated and in 1996 was published as the 'Good News Bible' by The Bible Society of Malaysia. All Melayu Bibles mention the name ‘Allah.’ ***

With Love from Yabina ministry www.yabina.org


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