A number of years ago, a dearly beloved relative of mine felt compelled to ask:
“Is ‘Allah’ God?”
This question took me by surprise, for I felt as though my evangelical credentials were being put on trial.
However, I have come to understand that this question comes from a place of legitimate concern about moral relativism, compromise and a desire to be faithful.
I have also come to understand that, as a result of who my Lord and Savior is, the closer we grow in faithfulness and commitment to him, the closer we find ourselves in the midst of those “not like us” with arms outstretched in love, hearts full of grace and minds ready to listen.
Therefore, as a committed follower of Christ, I offer these five reasons that I am convinced “Allah” is, in fact, God.
1. “Allah” is the Arabic word for God
At its most basic, “Allah” is God for no other reason than the fact that “Allah” has been the Arabic word for God for centuries.
Millions of Arabic-speaking monotheists living throughout the Middle East, Africa, Eurasia and the Americas worship “Allah.” And, they have worshipped him for centuries – Muslims, Christians and Jews.
To denigrate “Allah” is to denigrate the object of faith for millions, including millions of our own Christian brothers and sisters in faith.
To illustrate, I offer the plea of one Middle Eastern evangelical Christian to his brothers and sisters in the West, from an article, “Allah and the Christian Arab,” which appeared in the 2012 book, “Toward Respectful Understanding and Witness Among Muslims:”
“Please never, never speak against the glorious name of Allah, a name that has been loved and revered by millions of God’s children down through the centuries.”
2. Allah is the pre-Islamic, Aramaic-derived Arabic word for God
It is often claimed that “Allah” originated within pre-Islamic Arabian paganism, was exported throughout the Middle East and North Africa via the Arab conquests and was subsequently adopted by Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews.
However, historical and etymological evidence rather compellingly points us in the opposite direction.
Historically, Judaism and Christianity were both widespread and well known within pre-Islamic Arabia and they shared a common name for God. That name was “Allah.”
Furthermore, “Allah” is in all etymological likelihood derived (via Syriac) from Aramaic, the third most common language of the Bible and the language Jesus Christ himself spoke.
Any guess as to the Aramaic word for God used by Jesus? “Alâh-â.”
3. Muslims maintain that they worship the same God as Christians and Jews – the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and so on
As followers of Christ, it is imperative for us to listen to people on their own terms and in their own words, “not via the distorted and defensive lenses” of historical animosity.
Therefore, when the Quran, Muhammad and the early Muslim community speak of the “one true God,” they intentionally speak of “Allah” – the one God already known to Christians and Jews.
Islam clearly recognizes a common affinity with both Judaism and Christianity and deliberately worships the God of both Christians and Jews – “Allah.”
4. Although vital differences remain, Christian and Muslim beliefs about God are significantly more similar than some might initially suppose
To paraphrase Miroslav Volf in his book, “Allah: A Christian Response,” the similarities between Christian and Muslim conceptions of God in their description of God’s being, character and ethical expectations allow us to conclude with confidence that Muslims and Christians do, in fact, worship the same God.
Volf asserts that “normative” Christians and Muslims “agree on the following six claims about God:”
â— There is only one God, the one and only divine being
â— God created everything that is not God
â— God is radically different from everything that is not God
â— God is good
â— God commands that we love God with our whole being
â— God commands that we love our neighbor as ourselves
Therefore, Volf is led to affirm that:
â— To the extent that Christians and Muslims embrace the normative teachings of Christianity and Islam about God, they believe in a common God, such that the God of whom the Christian holy books and great religious teachers speak is the same God of whom the holy book and the great religious teachers of Muslims speak.
â— To the extent that Christians and Muslims strive to love God and love neighbor, they worship that same true God, such that God requires Muslims and Christians to obey strikingly similar commands as an expression of their worship.
History, etymology and (very important) questions of salvation aside, when Christians and Muslims begin to unearth the theological substance of their respective traditions, a remarkable amount of common ground emerges.
5. I think Jesus would want me to
In his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus reveals something quite remarkable about the manner in which we should understand and interact with those of different social and religious backgrounds.
As Kenneth Bailey notes in his book, “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes,” it is a well-known biblical fact that Jews and Samaritans, who shared a “significantly similar albeit vitally different” faith in the one true God, hated each other with a passion.
So when the Samaritan woman inquires as to the differences in faith and practice between Jews and Samaritans, rather than condemn her “inaccurate ritual practices,” Jesus offers the “most important teaching on worship in the entire New Testament” and a life-altering encounter with himself.
In this encounter, Jesus affirms the truth of previous revelation, building upon, rather than condemning, the elements of truth already present within Samaritan religion.
In so doing, Jesus simultaneously:
â— Honors and respects the pre-existing worship of both Jews and Samaritans of the one true God, whether fully understood or not
â— Challenges the exclusivity of both Jewish and Samaritan religious and social practice
â— Reveals the centrality and uniqueness of his own mission as the fulfillment of both Jewish and Samaritan hopes for the salvation of the world
Since the contemporary relationship between Christianity and Islam is often likened to that between the ancient Judeans and Samaritans, I feel fully justified in:
â— Respecting the worship of both Christians and Muslims of the one true God
â— Challenging the exclusivity of both Christian and Muslim religious and social practice
â— Proudly affirming the centrality and uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the full revelation of God and the fulfillment of both Christian and Muslim hopes for the salvation of the world
Jesse Wheeler is projects manager at the Institute of Middle East Studies, based in Mansourieh, Lebanon, at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission. Visit Arab Baptist Theological Seminary on Facebook.
Jesse Wheeler is MRel program administrator, support instructor for MENA history, politics and economics, and program support Instructor at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary’s Institute of Middle East Studies in Lebanon.