Saturday, July 02, 2005

May Christians use "Allah" as their name for God?

July 2, 2005

Westerners often question whether Arabic-speaking Christians should be using the word "Allah" as the name for God, especially in translations of the Bible into Arabic. Unfortunately, these critics seem oblivious to the fact that Middle East Christians have used "Allah" for centuries.

The earliest known Arabic translation of the New Testament is "Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151" which was published under the auspices of "The Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies" in cooperation with The Bible Society in Beirut, Lebanon, 1985. The Pauline Epistles in this Codex were translated from Aramaic in 867 A.D. by a Christian living near Damascus, Syria.

Its importance cannot be exaggerated as it demonstrates how the Arabized Christians of the Levant needed an Arabic version of the sacred text as they were no longer familiar with their Aramaic translation of the Bible. Throughout the entire Codex 151, the translators used the word Allah. For them, as well as for successive generations of Eastern Christians whose mother tongue had become Arabic, no problem was encountered by referring to God as Allah.

The word Allah, for the Christian, always meant the triune God, as revealed in Holy Scripture, and as confessed in the ecumenical Creed of Nicea.

During the 19th Century two major translations of the Bible were done in Arabic, in Beirut, Lebanon. The first one (1860) is known as the Smith-VanDyke translation. These American missionaries relied on the help of two Lebanese Christian scholars, Al-Bustani and Al-Yazigi.
In 1870, the Jesuit Arabic translation appeared. In all of these versions, and subsequent revisions, the word Allah was consistently used. The Living Bible Arabic version, published in Beirut in 1988, did not depart from this tradition.

Besides these translations of the Bible into Arabic, Christian Arabic literature is replete with the use of the name of Allah, always signifying the tri-unity of God. In fact, when Arabic-speaking Christians invoke the name of the Trinity, they do so according to this formula: "Bismi'l Aab, wal-Ibn, wal-Ruh al-Qodos; Ilah Wahed, Ameen." (In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.")

All Arabic-speaking Christians from the 9th Century on have consistently referred to God as Allah. Therefore the real question is regarding the meaning of the word; whether the Christian Allah and the Muslim Allah are the same. No Arabic-speaking Christian, if he or she is consistent with the basic tenets of their faith, can ever say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. When Christians address God in their mother tongue, they use the word Allah and they mean the One and only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


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Ecce Libanus said...

Incidentally, the etymology of the word "Allah" is Aramaic, NOT Arabic!!! So, there should be no compunctions about its use by Middle Eastern Christians. Islam did not emerge ex nihilo in a vacuum. It was influenced theologically, linguistically, and ritually by Christianity, Judaism, and their respective languages (ie: Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac...etc....) Even the word for Qor'an (the supreme source of "pure" Arabic and the Islamic dogma) comes from an Aramaic etymology, "Qoryaan" (which means "reader" or "recitation.") You can refer to Dr. Sobhi al-Saleh's writings on the topic.
Of course there is also the Arabist and Islamist canard which argues that "Allah" is the definite form of the indefinte word "Ilaah". Linguistically, and phonologically, if that were indeed the case, then the definite "Ilaah" would have been rendered "al-Ilaah", and the Islamic article of faith "La Ilaaha Illa Allah..." would have more accurately been "la Ilaaha illa l-Ilaah..." with a soft "Aleph" sound not an emphatic one. The emphatic "Aleph" sound in Arabic (the one we hear in the English "father" as opposed to "hat") is quite rare!!! Emphatic "Alephs" in Arabic occur mainly in loan words, such as "Allah". I want to submit to you that "Allah" is simply a distortion of the Aramaic-Syriac "Allaha" (pronounced with an emphatic "Aleph" almost resembling the "O" sound.) We in the Maronite church recite, in Syriac, the following:
"Alloho Qobéél Qorbono" (ar. "Allah, Iqbal qaraabinana", eng. "God, accept our offrands"..."
If taken only on its chronological merits, "Allah" as an Aramaic word still makes more sense. But the linguistic evidence is already overwhelming. So, go ahead, don't be afraid to use the word "Allah", for it is not Arabic. Remember, the Arabs came later... much later!!!

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