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Allah, God and Nostra aetate!

As a Christian Arab, whose grandfather is called A’bd Allah (slave of God) and his son is called Yoh’anna (Jehovah is gracious), it's very special for me to write on this issue. 

To my knowledge, all the Arabic translations of the Bible has “Allah” for the Hebrew “Elohim” as well as for the Greek “Theos”. In addition, all day long we use phrases like “noshkor Allah,” when thanking God and “Inshaa’ Allah,” when wishing for God's will. 

Having said that, the question here: Is Allah just another name for the one and only God? In other words, are Allah and God, just different names for the same God? 

The Catholic Church since Nostra aetate (in our time) declaration at the second Vatican council has taught that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. On our part as evangelicals, can we sincerely, yet wisely answer the vexed question: “Is Allah of Qur’an and God of the Bible the same?”

Let's examine the meaning, nature and attributes of Allah and compare them with the Biblical portrait of God, in order to understand more this complicated matter.

1. Origin and meaning 

The word Allah probably comes from the Arabic “al-ilah,” which means “the god.” Allah predates Islam and was one of the gods in Al-kaa’ba, the main worship center in Mecca. Allah was a generic term for the highest god in the Arab peninsula. He had three daughters, Al-lat, Al-u’zza and Manat. In an amazing debate against polytheism, the Qur’an chose Allah as the one true God, rejecting the notion that Allah could have any daughters or sons. 

In a similar way, the Greek word “Theos,” which was used for the pagan gods of Greece, is used in the Septuagint (Greek OT translation) as an equivalent of the Hebrew word “Elohim,” as well as in the Greek New Testament. Similarly, the English word “God” originates from the pagan world, probably from the pre-Christian Proto-Germanic “Guthan.” 

Importing words from previous cultures is natural and acceptable. The words have both a denotative (dictionary definition) and a connotative meaning, so it would be correct to say that God and Allah both refer to the concept of Deity. However, the connotation is determined by what a person conceives about the object of that word.

2. Allah’s attributes

Allah is described with a variety of names, attributes and acts, which are called "the 99 most beautiful names of Allah." 36 of them relate to his sovereignty and dominion, e.g. omniscient, omnipotent and sublime. 24 of them relate to his compassion and mercy, e.g. benevolent, patient and forgiving one. The rest of them relate to different other angles, e.g. avenger, living one, faithful, defender, destroyer, guide and tempter.

As you may notice, one name of Allah can negate another and the content of one may be included in the other. Muslims therefore worship this unknown, super dimensional God and live before him in fear, acknowledge his existence with reverence, observing all his laws in strict obedience.

In this attitude, the phrase, "Allahu akbar!", may help us to see this intuitive understanding. This phrase is not complete in itself, but is only a part of a sentence. It literally means "Allah is greater!" i.e. greater than anyone or anything we know.

Let’s try to understand what concept do Muslims have of Allah? Who is he, whom they seek to worship? We’ll consider Muslim perspective of Allah, in order to see if it fits the Christian perspective of God. 

Here are some Allah’s essential, yet controversial characteristics:

A. One

The first part of the Islamic creed is "There is no God but Allah!". It’s also the most important Islamic dogma, presenting the monadic oneness of Allah against any claim that other gods exist besides him. “Say: He is Allah, the one and only; Allah, the eternal, absolute, He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him” (The Qur’an, Sura 112: 1-4).

This means that Allah has no children (neither spiritual nor carnal). Thus, Allah can neither be a father nor a son. In addition, the holy spirit is considered usually to be the angel Gabriel. This is an absolute negation of the sonship and deity of Jesus and the fatherhood of God.

On the contrary, God of the Bible is by nature a triune unity and the eternal relationship within the trinity (father, son and holy spirit) promotes love within the Godhead and extends to his creation. 

B. Master and creator

The devout Muslim prostrates himself before Allah several times every day in worship. His entire way of living and thinking is fully guided and influenced by Allah and under his laws. The Arabic words for a religious worship (E’bada), and worshipper (A’abed) are derived from the A’bd which means a slave. According to Islam, no one is a free person, as all are slaves to Allah and have only the privilege to worship him fearfully. 

Allah created the world, an act which reminds forgetful humans of creation’s goodness as a gift that should provoke gratitude. Yet Allah is considered too holy to have personal relationships with his own creature.

God according to the Bible is the master of the universe and a father who anticipates worship by the free will of his devotees whom he considers as his children. God in the Bible is a sovereign, infinite one and creator of the universe. However, God’s relationship with his people is portrayed as a father caring for his children.

C. Schemer

In a complicated approach, Allah does not love the sinner "Allah loves not transgressors… He loves not creatures ungrateful or wicked." (Sura 2:190, 276)

In addition, whomever he wishes, “he puts him on a straight path” (Sura 6:39), yet he does not just judge or simply punish unbelievers, but even leads them astray. Allah commands the angels, “guide them (wrongdoers) on the path of hell” (Sura 37:22- 23). Moreover, Allah is portrayed as chief deceiver and plotter against unbelievers. “Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is he who deceives them. And (the unbelievers) schemed and planned, and Allah schemed also, and the best of schemers is Allah”( Sura 4:142; Sura 3:54; Sura 8:30).

God according to the Bible is neither deceiver, nor schemer. He is a loving savior, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2: 3-4). God loves everyone regardless of their sins. He is the initiator of love, who also teaches his adherents to love their enemies.

D. Abrogator

Allah reveals and cancels verses as he wishes. “None of our revelations do we abrogate or cause to be forgotten but we substitute something better or similar- knowest thou not that Allah has power over all things?” (Sura 2:106).

Allah, according to this, is not consistent and often changes his revealed purpose. If so, none of his promises of eternal security of believers can be guaranteed.

In contrast to this, God according to the Bible does not change his words and promises. He gives assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ and unquestionable eternal security as his promises stem from his unchanging nature. 

E. Rewarder

According to the Qur’an, Allah's eternal reward is paradise, totally filled with carnal pleasures for believers (Muslim men) to engage in throughout eternity. Their reward is ongoing feasts along with hosts of maidens to engage in sex with, yet stay in virginal state forever. “But for those who fear Allah is a blissful abode, enclosed gardens and vineyards, and damsels with swelling breasts, their peers in age, and a full cup” (Sura 78:31-34). 

In contrast, according to the Bible, God’s eternal reward is totally different. The believers will dwell forever with God in heaven enjoying his presence, infinite love and joy, devoid of any carnality. “Neither marry nor are given in marriage… being sons of the resurrection… The kingdom of God is not food or drink, but righteousness..."(Luke 20:35-36; Romans 14:17).


Allah in Islam is a distant being who reveals his will but not himself, therefore, it is impossible to know him in a personal way. In his absolute oneness there is unity but not trinity, and because of this lack of relationship, love is not emphasized. For Muslims, Allah is a title or a generic noun for the true God.

In contrast to the Muslim concept, the Christian Arabs reference to Allah, is for the Biblical God who is a personal, triune, loving Father who has entered human history (incarnated in Jesus) to reveal Himself to us and rescue us from our sinfulness. He has paid the price for our sins in order to free and restore us to his image and give us assurance of eternal life. This understanding is starkly different from the Islamic one, who would never consider such connotation.

Muslims as well as Christian Arabs will apparently continue to use the name Allah, with different concepts. Therefore, rather than opposing to that, or trying to answer the question of this article with a Catholic YES or Evangelical NO, maybe a different response is possible. 

We can adopt a mild way to respond by listening respectfully and inquiring about Allah as we may do with other imported words like Karma, Halal, Kosher, etc. This is a respectful and practical attitude which can lead to a friendly conversation that enable us to share our faith through our Biblical concept of God. 

Dr. Makram Meshreky is a Christian Arab lay minister and prolific author. He specializes in Bible background, comparative religion and Jewish & Muslim literature.

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