Arab Baptist Theological Seminary: “Is Allah God?” 5 Reasons I Am Convinced

Arab Baptist Theological Seminary: “Is Allah God?” 5 Reasons I Am Convinced



Mohamad Mostafa Nassar

Twitter:@NassarMohamadMR

A number of years ago, upon learning of my intention to pursue the academic study of Islam, a dearly beloved relative of mine felt compelled to ask:

“Is Allah God?”

This question took me by surprise, for I felt as though I was being put to the test, as if my evangelical credentials were being put on trail.

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, however, 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 in-fact 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, 5 reasons I am convinced Allah is, in fact, God are:

1) Allah is the Arabic Word for God.

Simple as that. At its most basic, Allah is God for no other reason than the simple 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 worshiped Him for centuries. Muslim. Christian. Jew.

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 closing plea of one Middle Eastern Evangelical Christian to his brothers and sisters in the West, from his article “Allah and the Christian Arab “:

“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.” [1]

2) Added to this, 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 point 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. [2] 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]

3) In addition, Muslims themselves maintain that they worship the same God as Christians and Jews, the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.

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. When the Qur’an, Muhammad and the early Muslim community therefore speak of the ‘one true God’, they intentionally speak of Allah, the ONE God already known to Christians and Jews.

Islam self-consciously views itself as both a continuation of and corrective to that which came prior. Islam recognizes the prophets and apostles of Judaism and Christianity, holds a special, if incomplete, view of Jesus Christ, and in principle honors, despite allegations of corruption by some, our respective holy books.

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 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”:

  • There is only ONE God, the one and only divine being.
  • God created everything that is not God.
  • God is radically different from everything that is not God.
  • God is good.
  • God commands that we love God with our whole being.
  • God commands that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

Volf is therefore led to affirm that:

  • 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.
  • And, 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) Finally, because I think Jesus would want me to.

In his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), Jesus reveals something quite remarkable in regard to the manner in which we should understand and interact with those of different social and religious backgrounds.

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, Jesus, rather than condemn her ‘inaccurate ritual practices’, offers instead the “most important teaching on worship in the entire New Testament” [5] and a life-altering encounter with himself. In this encounter, Jesus affirms the truth of previous revelation. But he also builds upon, rather than condemns, the elements of truth already present within Samaritan religion.[6] In doing so, Jesus simultaneously:

  • Honors and respects the pre-existing worship of BOTH Jews and Samaritans of the one true God, whether fully understood or not,
  • Challenges the exclusivity of BOTH Jewish and Samaritan religious and social practice, and
  • Reveals the centrality and uniqueness of his own mission as the fulfillment of BOTH Jewish and Samaritan hopes for the salvation of the world.

So, as the contemporary relationship between Christianity and Islam has often been likened to that between the ancient Judeans and Samaritans,[7] I feel fully justified in:

  • Respecting the worship of BOTH Christians and Muslims of the one true God, whilst also
  • Challenging the exclusivity of BOTH Christian and Muslim religious and social practice, and
  • 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.

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For a slightly outdated, yet nevertheless very interesting article by theologian Miroslav Volf as to the importance of this discussion, see here.
For a truly fascinating article by linguistics expert Rick Brown, see here.

“Is Allah God?” 5 Reasons I Am Convinced (A Primer to a Much Larger Conversation)

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[1] Rafique, “Allah and the Christian Arab”, Seedbed, 13/1 (1198), 7, as quoted in Rick Brown, “Who Was Allah before Islam? Evidence that the Term Allah Originated with Jewish and Christian Arabs” in Toward Respectful Understanding and Witness Among Muslims: Essays in Honor of J. Dudley Woodberry. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2012) 147-178

[2] This is attested to by scholars as diverse as Rick Brown, “Who Was Allah,” 147-178, Imad N. Shehadeh, “The Predicament of Islamic Monotheism”. Bibliotecha Sacra. 161 (April -June 2004) 142-162, and Foud Accad, Building Bridges (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress), p. 22

[3] However, the final â is often dropped. And, in Syriac this becomes Alâhâ. Furthermore, the Aramaic Alâh/Alâhâ is cognate to the Hebrew word Elôh.

[4] Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response, (Harper Collins e-books, 2011). Kindle Edition. Locations 1869-1970; 2106-2113.

[5] Kenneth Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008) 210

[6] Christian theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg describes this as “the incurable religiosity of all humankind”. As there is only one God and each of us is created in His image, all humans have a natural desire for God. Hence religion. Through Christ, alone, that desire is satisfied.

[7] For example: Colin Chapman, Cross and Crescent: Responding to the Challenge of Islam. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2007) Kindle Edition. Location 746