Even if the exact etymology of the word « Allah » cannot be determined with certainty,9 ,9 one thing we can be sure about from historical records is that the Arabs of pre-Islamic days, despite all their idolatry, knew of and acknowledged Allah’s existence as the supreme God. In proof of this point Cragg comments: « It is clear from the negative form of the Muslim creed, ‘There is no god except God,’ that the existence and lordship of Allah were known and recognized in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Prophet’s mission was not to proclaim God’s existence but to deny the existence of all lesser deities. The fact that Muhammad’s own father bore the name Abd-Allah, slave of God, would indicate that God was known by that name prior to Islam. « Cragg goes on to say that « There can be no doubt then that the Prophet ‘ s contemporaries knew of a Supreme Being, but He did not dominate their minds. Rather they thought more directly and frequently of the lesser gods, the daughters, perhaps even the sons, of Allah who were far more intimately related to their daily lives, their wars, their harvests, and their fertility. » Zwemer makes a similar point: « But history establishes beyond theshadow of a doubt that even the pagan Arabs, before Mohammed’s time, knew their chief god by the name of Allah and even, in a sense, proclaimedHis unity. In pre-Islamic literature, Christian or pagan, ilah is used for any god and Al-ilah (contracted to Allah), i.e., ‘o Oeos, the god, was the name of the Supreme. Among the pagan Arabs this term denoted the chief god of their pantheon, the Kaaba, with its three hundred and sixty idols…. As final evidence, we have the fact that centuries before Mohammed the Arabian Kaaba, or temple at Mecca, was called Beit-Allah, the house of God, and not Beit-el-Alihet, the house of idols or gods.
Ajijola, a Muslim author and apologist, writes, « In the Arabic Language the word ‘ilah’ means ‘one who is worshipped ‘ …. The word ‘Allah’, on the other hand, is the essential personal name of God. ‘La ilaha illa-Allah’ would literally mean, ‘There is no « ilah » other than the One Great Being known by the name Allah.’ » Cragg, in his highly acclaimed work The Call of the Minaret, notes, « The Arabic form ilahun meaning ‘a god ‘ is similar to the hebrew and Aramaic words for deity. When used with the definite article Al-Ilahu meaning ‘The God’ the l consonant of the article coalesces with the same letter in the first syllable of the word eliding the i sound to make Al-lah. If we take the word to be of genuine Arabic form this is the obvious rigin.If, as some scholars believe, the word does not have this origin but is historically derived from a sister language, its significance is the same. Allah means ‘God’ which connotation English achieves by dismissing even the definite article and using the capital letter—a device which Arabic lacks. »
There has been much speculation and endless discussion among Muslim exegetes and lexicographers concerning the real significance of the Arabic word « Allah. » A well-respected Muslim commentator, Beidhawi, suggests that Allah is derived « from an [invented] root illaha = to be in perplexity, because the mind is perplexed when it tries to form the idea of the Infinite! »4 Still, « according to the opinion of some Muslim theologians, it is infidelity (kufr) to hold that the word has any derivation whatever! . . . They say that God is not begotten, and so His name cannot be derived. He is the first, and had an Arabic name before the creation of the worlds. » The author of the Muheet-el-Muheet dictionary says: « Allah is the name of necessary Being. There are twenty different views as to the derivation of this name of the Supreme; the most probable is that its root is illah, the past participle form, or the measure fi’al, from the verb ilaho = to worship, to which the article was prefixed to indicate the supreme object of worship. »
Allah is the personal name for God in Islam. We make no distinction in this book, as some do, between the word « Allah » and the English word « God. » As one well-known Muslim author puts it, « Al Lah means ‘the Divinity’ in Arabic: it is a single God, implying that a correct transcription can only render the exact meaning of the word with the help of the expression ‘God.’ For the Muslims, al lah is none other than the God of Moses and Jesus. »In agreement with this warning, Kenneth Cragg, the noted Christian scholar of Islam, also claims that » since both Christians and Muslim faiths believe in One supreme sovereign Creator-God, they are bviously referring when they speak of Him, under whatever terms, to the same Being.To suppose otherwise would be confusing. It is important to keep in mind that though the apprehensions differ, their theme is the same. The differences, which undoubtedly exist, between the Muslim and the Christian understanding of God are far-reaching and must be patiently studied. But it would be fatal to all our mutual tasks to doubt that One and the same God over all was the reality in both. » Arab Christians use the term « Allah » for God. Of course, their nderstanding of what this term means differs from that of Muslims, but both have the same deferent in mind.
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