Who is Allah? By Jerald Dirks

The use of the word ‘Allah’ to mean ‘God’ frequently sounds rather strange, esoteric, and foreign to Western ears. ‘Allah’ is an Arabic word derived from the contraction of ‘AI’ and ‘Ilahi’, meaning ‘the God’, or by implication ‘the One God’. Linguistically, Hebrew and Arabic are related Semitic languages, and the Arabic ‘Allah’ or ‘Al-Ilahi” is related to the Hebrew ‘EI’, meaning ‘God’ (Toombs LE 1971), and ‘El-Elohim’, meaning ‘God of Gods’ or ‘the God’ Beavin EL 1971).

It is these Hebrew words that are translated in the Old Testament as ‘God’. Thus, one can see that the use of the word ‘Allah’ is consistent, not only with the Quran and with Islamic tradition, but with the oldest Biblical traditions as well.

This basic similarity between the Arabic ‘Al-Ilahi’, of which ‘Allah’ is a contraction, and the Hebrew ‘El-Elohim’ can be seen even more clearly when one considers the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets. Neither Arabic nor Hebrew have letters for vowels. Both languages have alphabets consisting only of consonants, and both rely on vowel markings, typically found only in formal writing, as a pronunciation guide.

The English transliteration of the Arabic ‘Al-Ilahi’ and of the Hebrew ‘El­Elohim’ have included these vowel markings. If one were to remove the English transliteration of these vowel markings, the Arabic becomes ‘AI­Ilh’ and the Hebrew becomes ‘El-Elhm’. If one were to remove the plural of respect, which is found only in the Hebrew, the Arabic remains ‘AIIlh’, while the Hebrew becomes ‘EI-Elh’, Finally, if one were to transliterate all Arabic ‘Alifs’ as ‘a’, and all Hebrew ‘Alifs’ as ‘a’, the Arabic becomes ‘AI-Alh’.’ and the Hebrew becomes ‘AI-Alh’.

In other words, with the single exception that the Hebrew uses the plural of respect, ‘AI­Ilahi’, for which ‘Allah’ is a contraction, and ‘El-Elohim’, the Hebrew translated as ‘God’ in the English version of the Old Testament, are absolutely identical terms in two closely related languages.

‘Islam’ is an Arabic word, which literally means ‘submission’, i.e., submission to the will and pleasure of Allah. However, this is not a mere lip service type of submission. Islam implies a total submission of the heart, mind, and body. This type of total submission still finds expression in the Jewish scriptures of the ‘received Torah.’

– Islam acknowledges that a book of revelations, known as the Torah, was given by Allah to Moses. However, Islam maintains that the original Torah of Moses was adulterated by subsequent generations, and that the five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) presently known as the Torah are only a weak and frequently misleading echo o f that original revelation.

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5)

The Christian scriptures maintain that Jesus, peace be upon him, echoed the above verse, and thus also mandated a total submission to Allah. In addition, further expression of the need to submit to Allah can be found in the New Testament.

‘Submit yourselves therefore to God… Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you’. The need to submit totally to Allah finds its clearest expression in the Quran, as translated in the following verse:

“So if they dispute with thee, say: ‘I have submitted my whole self to Allah, and so have those who follow me.’” (Quran 3:20)

Unfortunately, the majority of the children of Israel did not submit to Allah, resulting initially in the formation of Judaism, and subsequently in the formation of Christianity. In that respect, the Bible records that Prophet David, peace be upon him, spoke the following words of revelation from Allah.

‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.’ (Psalms 81:10-11)

As to the failure to submit to Allah, which resulted in the sequential formation of both Judaism and Christianity, the Quran records the following words of Allah “The religion before (in the sight of) Allah is Islam (submission to His will): nor did the people of the book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account.” (Quran3:19)

– The phrase ‘People of the Book’ denotes Jews and Christians, i.e. those who had received earlier books of revelation, but who had not kept those books of revelation in their original and pristine state.

The believer in and practitioner of Islam is known as a Muslim. The words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ derives from the same Arabic root word and ‘Muslim’ literally means ‘one who submits’, i.e., one who wholly submits to Allah. While ‘submission’ is the primary definition associated with the etymology of the word ‘Islam’, there is also a secondary definition, which is ‘peace’. Thus, it is only with full and complete submission to Allah that a Muslim experiences true spiritual peace.

While most non-Muslims typically believe that Islam began in the seventh century with the advent of the preaching of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Muslims adamantly reject this supposition. They believe that Islam began at the dawn of mankind with Adam, peace be upon him, and his wife being the first persons to practice Islam “We had already, beforehand, taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot: and We found on his part no firm resolve.” (Quran 20:115)

However, Muslims also believe that Islam has been given to mankind as a progressive revelation. While the core of that revelation, i.e., that there is no god but Allah, has never changed throughout the course of time, the revelation was only completed and finalized with the last revelation given to the Prophet Muhammad.

“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Quran 5:3)

Belief in Allah
Glorified and exalted is He. As the term ‘Allah’ implies, the belief in Allah is a stringent and strict monotheism. Allah is ‘the One God’. There is no other. As such, Allah is not the god of just one selected nation or ethnic group. Allah is the god of all mankind, of all forms of life, of all creations, and of all worlds. “Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds.” (Quran 1:2)

Allah is not simply a nationalistic or ethnic god among a plurality of gods, as early Judaism appears to have maintained, and which at least one reading of the following Old Testament verse appears to imply. In that regard, it needs to be pointed out that the following verse, the first of the so-called Ten Commandments, does not deny the existence of other gods, but merely prioritizes which god is to be worshipped by the children of Israel, and establishes a preferred tribal deity, i.e., ‘the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, peace be upon them all.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6)

However, not only is Allah One without equal and without peer, He is also One in His unity. His unity admits and allows no partners or associates. His unity leaves no room for any triune conceptualization of the deity, which results in sectarian divisions and in endless theological squabbling about issues such as:

Is it three persons in one substance, or three persons of similar substance; how does one really define ‘person’ and ‘substance’; how does each of three ‘persons’ in one ‘substance’ keep its separate identity, which ‘person’ of the unified ‘substance’ preceded which other ‘persons’; which ‘person’ of the unified ‘substance’ begat which other ‘person’; if one ‘person’ begat another ‘person’, did not the first ‘person’ precede the second ‘person’, implying a time when the second ‘person’ did not exist; which ‘person’ of the unified ‘substance’ directed which other ‘person’ to do what, e.g., to create the world and universe, and does this not imply that one ‘person’ is subordinate to another ‘person’; are the three ‘persons’ of the unified ‘sub­stance’ equal or unequal; do each of the three ‘persons’ of the unified ‘substance’ share in the being of the other ‘persons’, or are they rigidly separated; etc.

Issues such as the above have resulted in fruitless and repetitious debate, as well as multiple schisms, within Christianity for almost 2,000 years. Ritualistic and liturgical formulae and creeds, such as the statement that the Son proceeded from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, raise far more questions than they answer.

In Islam, Allah is One, i.e., One without peer, and One in absolute unity. He is not One among many, nor even One among others, but One in total uniqueness. His very uniqueness defies total comprehension by the limited intellect of mortal man. He is without beginning and without end, and there is nothing comparable to Him. Allah is the One God, besides Whom there is no other. The most perfect, beautiful, and sublime expression of this Oneness of Allah is to be found in the Quran chapter, The Purity of Faith:

“In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful. 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.” (Quran 112:1-4)