About the word “Allah” and its meaning
The word in Arabic for the Majestic and Exalted God, is “Allah.” Unfortunately there are some antagonists that wish to propagate that this word means other than the One God of the Prophets, as if the word refers to some idol or moon god.1 In Arabic the generic word for deity and god is “ilah” (إله) with the dual as Ilahain (إلهين) and the plural as Aalihah (آلهة). The word Ilah in Arabic means “that which is worshiped” whether rightfully or in folly, thus meaning respectively the One True God, or god as in false gods. In the plural of Arabic Aalihah (آلهة) is always for the false gods and idols. To give some examples of usage we can say, for instance for the One True God, in constructions with pronouns like my God “Ilahi,” and your God “Ilahukum,” and with proper nouns like the God of Abraham “Ilahi Ibraheem.” In the following verse we find “God of your fathers” as Ilaha aba`ika and “One God” as “Ilahan Wahidan” (إلها واحدا)
﴿أَمْ كُنْتُمْ شُهَدَاءَ إِذْ حَضَرَ يَعْقُوبَ الْمَوْتُ إِذْ قَالَ لِبَنِيهِ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ بَعْدِي قَالُوا نَعْبُدُ إِلَهَكَ وَإِلَهَ آَبَائِكَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ
وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ إِلَهًا وَاحِدًا وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ ﴾
“Were you witnesses when death approached Jacob and he said to his sons, ‘What will you worship after me?’ They said, ‘We will worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, one God. And we are Muslims (in submission) to Him.” [2:133]
Allah relates the amazement of the Arab polytheists at the claim of monotheism by the Messenger Muhammad, and what they said to him:
﴿ وَعَجِبُوا أَنْ جَاءَهُمْ مُنْذِرٌ مِنْهُمْ وَقَالَ الْكَافِرُونَ هَذَا سَاحِرٌ كَذَّابٌ ﴿﴾ أَجَعَلَ الْآَلِهَةَ إِلَهًا وَاحِدًا إِنَّ هَذَا لَشَيْءٌ عُجَابٌ ﴾
“And they are amazed that there has come to one to warn from among themselves, and the disbelievers say, ‘This is a sorcerer, a liar.’ * Has he made the gods one God? Indeed, this is an incredible thing.”[38: 4-5]
The word “Allah” is the proper name of The One God. Literally it is made up of the letters “al” which is the definite article “the,” and “ilah” the word for god or God (according to context as above). Thus the word “Allah” is “al-ilah” and literally “The God,” as in the Arabic phonetic construction (ال + إله = اللَّهُ). Of course the meaning is the One and Only God and the One Lord and Creator and Sovereign of the creation.
In the other Semitic languages the word for God is closely related to what we have mentioned about Arabic. The Aramaic word for God is “alah.” In Hebrew the word for God or god is (אל) (el) and “Elah,” (or Eloh) and the plural form is (אלוהים) (elohím). In Semitic languages there is a plural of number, and a plural of majesty and royalty to show honor and respect. The root is “alef-lamed-heh” and is related to the older root, “el” which means God, deity, power, strength, etc. The word “el” in Hebrew is attached as suffix to many names like Gabriel, (Strong God), Ishmael (the one who hears God), and Israel (the one who wrestles with God, or one who struggles with God). It may be a prefix in names like in Elihu (My God is He), Elisha (God is Salvation), and Eleazar (God has helped), etc. El is mentioned in the New Testament when Jesus, peace be upon him and may he be cleansed of all falsehoods attributed to him, cried out as in the Gospel: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matthew 27: 46] 2
YHWH is a tetragrammaton (four vowels for four words), which in Hebrew uses the letters י (yodh) ה (heh) ו (vav) ה (heh) or יהוה (reading right to left = YHVH, or with the Biblical Hebrew pronunciation, YHWH) called Yahweh (and written and read from right to left as in other Semitic languages Arabic and Aramaic). This unique word is a specific way used by the Jews of expressing the sacred personal name of God without writing or uttering the actual word which may debase it by too frequent or improper usage, in fear being a form of blasphemy, for as it is written, “7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD (YHWH) thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” KJV: Exodus 20:7] The meaning of the word is according to some scholars in the third person “He Is” or “He Exists” (the first person would be “I Am’) and said to mean “He who causes to be” and describes the being who is the self-existing one giving others existence. To avoid mentioning YHWH in respect they substituted saying Adonai or Adonay translated as “the Lord.” Some Christian scholars introduced the name Jehovah for YHWH.
In a very important passage we find: “3And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: 3And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them…. 13And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? 14And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. 15And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. [KJV: Exodus 6:2-3,13-15]
This passage is reminiscent of the Qur`anic passages that mention Allah’s Names “al-Hayy al-Qayyum” (الحي القيوم) The Ever-Living, and the Self Existing who gives others their existence. Another of the Sacred Names of Allah is “as-Samad” (الصمد) which has many meanings including the Absolute, the Eternal, the Eternally Existent who gives others existence, the one to whom all seek and all supplicate and upon whom all depend. These names indicate by their inherent comprehensive meaning and absoluteness all the other Names and Attributes of Allah the Exalted, and they are mentioned as the “Greatest Name” (الاسم الأعظم) for Allah in some verified narrations. 4
Of course Allah has many Beautiful Names and Exalted Attributes, for as He says:
﴿ وَلِلَّهِ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَى فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا وَذَرُوا الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي أَسْمَائِهِ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ ﴾
“And to Allah belong the Best (Most Beautiful) Names, so supplicate Him by them. And leave those who deviate concerning His Names (by blasphemy or denial). They will be recompensed for what they used to do.” (7:180) And Allah the Exalted said:
﴿ قُلِ ادْعُوا اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُوا الرَّحْمَنَ أَيًّا مَا تَدْعُوا فَلَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَى﴾
“Say, ‘Call upon Allah or call upon the Most Beneficent in Mercy (ar-Rahman): whichever you call, to Him belong the Best Names…” (17:110)
Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, known for his vast knowledge in language and the Quran, and an eminent companion of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessing be upon him, defined the word Allah saying:
الله ذو الألوهية والعبودية على خلقه اجمعين
“Allah is the one of supreme Divinity and of worship incumbent upon the entire creation.” 5
English belongs to the family of languages that has been designated as “Indo-European” because the Indian dialects and the European dialects descend from the prehistoric proto-Indo-European language of pastoral Aryans of Central Asia about 4500 B.C. Concerning the word -G O D- the Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that the English word god and God is the “(Anglo-Saxon God; German Gott; akin to Persian khoda; Hindu khooda). The root-meaning of the name (from Gothic root gheu; Sanskrit hub or emu, “to invoke or to sacrifice to”) is either “the one invoked” or “the one sacrificed to.” 6 The Oxford English Dictionary gives a detailed etymology and says: “The word God is derived from the old Teutonic form gudo which means that which is invoked (or worshipped) by sacrifice … The ulterior etymology is disputed. …There are two Aryan roots of the required form … one meaning ‘to invoke’ (Skr. hū), the other ‘to pour, to offer sacrifice’ … Either of these conjectures is fairly plausible, as they both yield a sense practically coincident with the most obvious definition deducible from the actual use of the word, ‘an object of worship.’” 7 Thus the generic word “god” in English and “ilah” in Arabic both basically denote an object of worship, and God with the capital “G’ and Allah are for the One Who is worshipped rightfully since He is the God, the One and only Creator.
It is instructive to note that the Arab Christians say as their Trinitarian creed dictates that their savior Jesus is “Ibn Allah” and this is how their scholars have translated the Bible into Arabic. This literally means the “son of Allah,” with Allah being God the “Father” of the trinity. Of course Muslims and Jews consider this statement and the Trinitarian creed erroneous and blasphemy. Even some Christians reject trinity. This is not our line of investigation since the point here is only to show that the word “Allah” means “The God” and not some idol or pagan deity as some have absurdly tried to propagate maliciously. The Arabic translation of Bible uses the name “Allah” to refer to God in Genesis 1:1: “Fee al-badi’ khalaqa Allahu as-Samaawaat wa al-Ard…” In the Hebrew the word in Genesis 1:1 is “elohim.”
Of course we Muslims along with the Jews and Christians who claim to be monotheists say that all these false gods and idols of the polytheists are mere figments of imagination. All creatures are exactly as Allah created them and thus are not worthy of worship as God. Allah said informing us about the words of the Prophet Yusuf (Josef), son of Yaqub (Jacob), may peace be upon them, to some polytheists:
﴿ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِهِ إِلَّا أَسْمَاءً سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنْتُمْ وَآَبَاؤُكُمْ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِنْ سُلْطَانٍ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ
أَمَرَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ ذَلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴾
“You do not worship besides Him (God, Allah) anything except mere names that you have designated, you and your fathers, for which Allah has not sent down any authority. The legislation and rule is only for Allah. He has commanded that you worship no one except Him. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.”
And Allah said addressing the pagan Arabs and their idols:
﴿ إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا أَسْمَاءٌ سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنْتُمْ وَآَبَاؤُكُمْ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِنْ سُلْطَانٍ إِنْ يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ
وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنْفُسُ وَلَقَدْ جَاءَهُمْ مِنْ رَبِّهِمُ الْهُدَى ﴾
“They are not anything except mere names that you have named designated, you and your forefathers, for which Allah has sent down no authority. They do not follow anything except assumption and what their souls desire, and there has already come to them from their Lord guidance.” (53:23) This verse identifies false assumptions and wicked desires as the basis of all sins and evil actions.
When we translate the creed of Islam, the testimony of faith, which says, LA ILAHA ILL-A-LLAH, (or la ilaaha illallah) we usually translate it as, “There is no god except Allah” or with the more explanatory phrase considering the intended meaning, “there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah.” All monotheists no matter what language they speak say, there is only One God and that all so called gods with a small ‘g’ and other deities don’t exist, and, therefore, all worship rendered to these gods is false and useless idol worship. We find numerous statements in the Bible similar to the creed of Islam, for instance, the saying of Moses, peace be upon him, “The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4), and the saying of Jesus peace be upon him, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” (Mark 12:28-30 and Matthew 22:37), and the statement, “There is no God but One.” [1 Corinthians 8:4].
1 This outrageous claim is prevalent nowadays on the internet especially among Christian evangelicals who wish to malign Islam falsely. One African friend informed me that as a child the Christian missionaries in his land of Zimbabwe (called Rhodesia at the time) told him that Muslims worship the moon and that is why the crescent is a symbol of Islam on flags and so forth.
2 See “alef-lamed-heh” (ALH) in the “Milon Ben-Y’hudaah, Ivri-Angli” (Ben Yehuda’s Hebrew-English Dictionary), and various reputable online dictionary and encyclopedias
3 See “alef-lamed-heh” (ALH) in the “Milon Ben-Y’hudaah, Ivri-Angli” (Ben Yehuda’s Hebrew-English Dictionary), and various reputable online dictionary and encyclopedias.
4 In narrations reported in the Sunan literature and verified by Sheikh al-Albani as in his Sahih al-Jame’as-Sagheer # 979, 980, 982, and as-Silsalah as-Sahihah # 746 and other books, and Sheikh al-Arna`ut in his verification of Musnad Ahmad # 12226 and Hussein Asad in his verification of Sunan ad-Darami #3389.
5 Reported by Ibn Jareer at-Tabari and Ibn Abi Haatim, and mentioned by many with confirmation.