Allah is Not a Personal Name

Allah is Not a Personal Name It is bad enough when the Malaysian government bans Christians from using the word Allah. It is worse when some misguided Christians (granted it is a small minority) agree that Muslims have sole proprietary rights to the word Allah, even though this capitulation amounts to surrendering their centuries old … Continue reading “Allah is Not a Personal Name”

Allah is Not a Personal Name

It is bad enough when the Malaysian government bans Christians from using the word Allah. It is worse when some misguided Christians (granted it is a small minority) agree that Muslims have sole proprietary rights to the word Allah, even though this capitulation amounts to surrendering their centuries old usage of the word Allah for worship and spiritual instructions.

Perhaps this capitulation results from a misunderstanding of Arabic grammar, that is, the view that Allah is a personal name. Allah, as such, refers solely to the individual Supreme Being whom Muslims (and no other believers) worship. Accepting this misunderstanding would give grounds to the Muslim’s (still contestable) demand that only they have the right to use the word Allah and its related terms.Such a capitulation must be vigorously resisted seeing how the Malaysian government unrelentingly prosecutes its ban against Christians using the word Allah. It is imperative that we analyze and correct this misunderstanding.

Fortunately, a recent comment responding to an earlier article, The Semantics of the Word Allah LINK provides a fitting opportunity for us to demonstrate why the view of Allah is a proper name is grammatically flawed. I have decided to post the discussion from the comments section the article on The Semantics of Allah LINK as a regular post since most readers are not likely to visit this comments section. The significance of the contested issue is simply too important to be missed:

To begin, a reader by the name of Kristian Sugiyarto posted the following comments:
Allah is a proper noun (proper name). It is never found to be plural, and no possessive suffix such as, my/your/their/his/… – Allah as to be the case in all proper nouns, istead of “my Ilah” etc. Thus it is never found to be construct form such as Allah of Abraham/Ishak/Yakub, but “Ilah” of Abraham/Ishak/Yacob.

If the word “Allah” comes from Al + Ilah, then we should be able to change that word in any sentence; in fact we never can do that. E.g. We can’t change the word (Arabic) “Allahuma” into “Al-Ilahuma”, or “Ya Allah” into “Ya Al-Ilah” but “ayuha Al-Ilah”. Thus the Theory Allah = Al-Ilah is certainly nonsense. Ilah in English is God (for the true one) or god (for the false one).

Here is our response:
Kristian Sugiyarto’s Understanding of Grammatical Rule is not Quite Right
Obviously Kristian S. says just the opposite of what the article says, but I stand by what I wrote based on my understanding of Arabic grammar.
Allah is not a personal name. It is a generic word and therefore follows the grammatical rules of other generic words in Arabic as whenever it becomes connected to some determinator (e.g., personal pronoun, “mudaf ilaihi” ) determinating a second noun like “the father’s house”. Where the second word, house, is determined by the first word it loses its article; you cannot say: “the house the father’s”, or “the father’s the house”. It is bait al-âb and not: “al-bait al-âb”.

Now consider the case of Allah = al-ilah: in: “Abraham’s God”, God (”the God”, “Allah = al-ilah” is determined by Abraham and therefore has to lose its article as well. This means Allah is used without the article, that is, ilah: ilah Abraham. As such, “Allah Abraham” is impossible, or grammatically incorrect. You will not find it in any Arabic translation of the Bible or elsewhere.
There is a plural form of ilah(god): âliha, “gods” or with the article: al-âliha. However, “al-ilah” is only contracted in the singular form.

The standard Arabic grammar book,  A Grammar of the Arabic Language by W. Wright 3ed., revised by Robertson Smith and M.J. Goeje (Librairie Du Liban, 1974), vol.1 confirms our position.

Arabic Proper Nouns_Article and Pronomical Suffixes Annotated

I can think of a similar rule in the Hebrew language which is a cognate/Semitic language with Arabic –
The word in the construct state never takes the article. When the compound idea is definite, it is (not the word in the construct but) the genitive (following it) which takes the article, thus we have:

´îš-´élöhîm 1Samuel 9:6 – A man of God.
´îš hä´élöhîm Deuteronomy 33:1 – The man of God. It’s not hä ´îš hä´élöhîm
More immediately related to the present dispute is the case of el/elohim.  We find in the Hebrew Old Testament the following construct state,
´élöhê ´abrähäm and not ha ´élöhê ´abrähäm – Genesis 31:42, Exodus 3:6 and Psalm 47:9 – ´élöhê being masculine plural construct
Similarly we find,
yad hä´élöhîm 1Samuel 5:11 and 2 Chronicles 30:12 – The hand of God

In the simplest form of the noun, the feminine singular and masculine plural change their forms. However, the masculine singular and the feminine plural do not change externally (forms) but they are recognized as constructs by the maqqeph accompanying them.

Further discussions on the syntax of proper names can be found in GKC or Gezenius Hebrew Grammar edited and enlarged by E. Kautazch and A.E. Cowley (Clarendon Press, 1910, reprinted 1983), pp. 401-403.

It is to be taken as a fundamental rule, that the determination can only be effected in one of the ways here mentioned; the article cannot be prefixed to a proper name, nor to a noun followed by the genitive, nor can a proper name be used in the construct state. Deviations from this rule are either only apparent or have arisen from a corruption of the text…Real proper nouns, as being the names of things (or persons) only once met with, are sufficiently determinate in themselves. Such names, therefore, as יהוה, דָּוִד, יַֽעֲקֹב, כְּנַ֫עַן, סְדֹם do not admit of the article, nor can they be in the construct state. [The Hebrew names here are Yahweh, David, Jacob, Canaan, Sodom]

Of course, we cannot change the word Allah in any sentence as we like it. We have to follow the grammatical rules! In the case of Allahumma, there is no personal suffix added, but it is given an emphatic expression, and therefore Allah remains. The same goes with Yah ‘llah! God is called at, but this is not given a different grammatical position.

Maybe Mr. Kristianto should read the Arabic Bible. If he thinks that “ilah” in English is “god”, this is only partly correct. It is “a” god, without determining article “the”. If you mean “the” (true”) god and not any god, then in Arabic you must also use the article as determinator, again as long as ilah is not terminated by another word of suffix.

I shall give some further clarifications since the original context of the article dealt with the translation of the word Allah in the Malay/Malaysian/Indonesian language.

The translation of Allah with “Tuhan” or “Lord” is not correct. Tuhan, in Arabic, means rabb, in Hebrew adonay, in Greek kyrios, while Allah is (ha-)elohim or (ha-)eloah, or ho theos. God (Allah) and Rabb (Tuhan, Lord) are quite different words with their own semantics. And if someone wants to extend the problem and includes that of the proper name, then the proper name of God in the Old Testament is YHVH.

Now take the case when we call a human being whose name is Ali. We call him Ali and not manusia or adam which in Hebrew means “human being”, although he is of course manusia, or adam. God’s proper name in the Old Testament was read aloud from the Hebrew text for theological reasons – lest it be pronounced wrongly and as such would amount to an abuse of God’s name. The word YHVH was substituted by adonay for the oral reading of the Hebrew text. It bears repeating: YHVH was substituted in the text by reading (not: writing!) adonay while the words related to elohim etc. remained untouched as they were, in reading and in writing.

Since YHVH which was given the equivalent adonay in Hebrew was translated by the word kyrios in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), it was natural to use the word kyrios as the equivalent of YHVH in the New Testament.

The confusion/problem with the translation of the word Allah and its cognates in the present controversy arises simply because Malay is not Arabic. While for any Arab – and Arabic is their native language, be they Muslim, Christian, Jew or what else – Allah is clearly perceived as a generic word following the grammatical rules. But for non-Arabic speaking people these unfamiliar terms may lose their original meanings and become a kind of enigma. Hence they understand Allah and its cognates as something of a proper name. This is, linguistically speaking, a misunderstanding of the Arabic words.

The understanding of “Allah” as a proper name reminds us of the perception of the Europeans when they first became acquainted with Islam. Because of their inadequate knowledge of Arabic they considered Allah “to be the name of the idol worshiped by the Mohammedans”. Every Muslim would, of course, feel offended by such an expression.

Unfortunately, such a misunderstanding persists precisely because some people continue to those hold the view that”Allah” is a proper name.
When these misunderstandings become inculturated in the new culture (in this case Malay), there arises additional difficulties when one tries to point out the original meaning given the sensitivity associated with the use of the word in religious discourse. Nevertheless, we should not perpetuate such misunderstandings by avoiding sensitive religious disagreements. It is important that proper instruction pertaining to the linguistics/semantics of the words be given to clear up the misunderstanding.

It is significant that because Allah is only one, he needs no other name. Saying “the” God (Allah) makes it clear who is meant. If he would need a proper name to distinguish him from other gods (âliha) then he would not longer be perceived as the only true one. If Allah is considered to be a proper name, this would imply that there are other gods with comparable proper names.

Such would be the case among human beings: All are human, but all have their proper names because there are many. If there were only one human, it would suffice to call him just Adam (= human being). This one human then does not need a proper name.

[It should be instructive to note that in the Greek language –  whether a noun is definite or indefinite is not merely settled by the presence or absence of the article. This is particularly true for monadic – one of a kind – nouns like theos (God). I will post a discussion on this interesting grammatical issue later]

It should be stressed that sensitivity about religion is not the sole prerogative for Muslims. Muslims should also take into account the religious sensitivity of other religionists. Imposing a linguistic taboo that bans the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims is an act that offends the sensitivity of non-Muslims. The ban is even more unacceptable given the fact that the use of Allah is a long established linguistic phenomenon in the history of these Arabic speaking communities – long before even Muslims appeared on the stage of history. One may liken the present Muslim act to make it a taboo to use the word Allah as a magic symbol since it attempts to nullify a concrete historical tradition and render it non-existent by a decree/mantra.

17 thoughts on “Allah is Not a Personal Name”

  1. An excellent article on this issue. Dr Ng is certainly instrumental in guiding all Malaysians, not just Christians, to reason a way out from semantics. I had just posted a short note on my blog regarding similar issue few days ago, in Mandarin. Am certainly illuminated further by yours. Thanks. Keep up the good work!

  2. Good artikel but not entirely correct.

    Allah is both, a personal dan a generic name.

    Allah come from the Hebrew word, El, Elohim dan Eloah.

    El is one of the earlies personal nama of God in the OT (another is YHWH but the usesage of YHWH is more popular). El means the true, only God. El is translated as Allah. So, Allah/El in the OT can also mean Allah yg sejati, satu2-Nya Allah.

    Elohim and Eloah is a generic name. It is translated as Allah aslo.

    So, you see, Allah when it mean El, Allah is a personal name but when it mean Elohim dan Eloah, it is just a generic name.

  3. Cosmic Boy is confused about the words el and elohim and allah

    At its simplest el is just the singular word description for God, while elohim is the plural form of el. Both of these words are general words (in contrast to YHWH which is the one and only personal name of the covenant God of Israel.

    Of course given the plural ending of elohim – it can also refer generically to the ‘gods outside Israel, if the context evidently refers to these ‘gods’.

    But elohim in the Hebrew scriptures also takes a singular verb.

    This plural form that operates as a single subject is most enlightening. Some Christians see this grammatical peculiarity as an anticipation of the later fuller revelation of the Trinity

    Other Hebrew grammarians are more modest and view the grammatical construction as referring to a “plural of majesty.” GKC (Gesenius, Cowley and Kautzsch) Hebrew Grammar, the authoritative grammar on Hebrew calls it a “plural of deliberation”. Lastly, Bruce Walke and O’Connor in their Hebrew textbook, Introd to Biblical Syntax describe elohim 2500X as plural of honorific distinction or intensification

    From this little comment it can be seen that Cosmic Boy has missed the fundamental principle of lexicography which is that the meaning of a word is it’s immediate syntax (usage) rather than etymology and it is not just a simple correlation that his article seems to suggests.

    Having gotten his premises on the Hebrew words of el and elohim wrong it is natural Cosmic Boy’s discussion of the link Allah and el, elohim and eloah, remains unclear, if not confused (until he cites relevant linguistic references)

    I shall only give some short (incomplete) citations from some standard Hebrew lexicons which should be self-explanatory.

    A. TWOT (Theological Wordbook Old Testament by Harris, Archer and Walke)- Brief entry

    el noun common masculine singular absolute homonym 5
    elohim noun common masculine plural absolute

    0093elh (elh) Assumed root of the following.
    (93a) el god, God.
    (93b) eloah god, God.
    (93c) elohim gods, God.

    B. From William Holladay, A Concise Hebrew Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament – based on the most authoritative modern Hebrew Lexicon HALOT – Koehler, Baumgartner and Stamm’s The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament

    el noun common masculine singular absolute homonym 5
    Hol436 el
    V el: sf. elae (11 ×); pl. elim Ex 15:11
    1. distinct from Yahweh.: a) the high god El Ez 28:2, kôk bê el Isaiah14:13 el elyon Gn 14:18-22; b) pl. gods (subordinate to Y.) Ex 15:11, bene elim Ps 291

    elohim noun common masculine plural absolute
    Hol454 H;Ala/
    1. a God/god Psa 18:32, kœl-eloah any god Dn 11:37, lo eloah non-god(s) Dt 32:17; — 2. the true God Jb 3:4.

    1. gods, kol elohe misrayim Ex 12:12, °lohe ha elohim God of gods Dt 10:17, elohim aherim(64 aher beneha elohim Gn 6:2 sons of the gods (oth.: sons of God) Jb 16:21 387, †, cf. bene elim — 2. as a sg.: God, Deity; a) fm. the form, occasionally construed as pl., hitu elohîm Gn 20:13, °elohîm hayyîm living God Dt 5:23; b) construed as sg., yhwh hû° ha elohîm it is Y. who is God Dt 4:35; occurs both w. & w/o def. art. w/o difference of mng.; euphony & free choice?

  4. But why only now Christians are really serious to search for the name of God? You did have about 600 years before the incoming of Muhammad (after Jesus onward till Muhammad) to utilise this word – ‘Allah’ as god, but why only after Muhammad has declared Allah as the personal name of God then you start to demand that name? Where is your pride?

  5. I have posted my response to Cosmic Boy alias Ego Eimi at the following post –

    Really their comments is not much worth responding, but I have used to occasion to offer more historical evidence to those interested to do more research in this issue

    A quick technical check shows that Cosmic Boy and Ego Eimi is the same person – how interesting.

    By the way, anyone who uses the name ego eimi as a self-designation commits blasphemy. Exodus 3:14 and some verses from Isaiah, like 45:22 show how stupendous Jesus Christ’s claim was in John 8:58. The hostile Jews would not believe that Jesus was God. For them, Jesus was committing blasphemy when he used the word ego eimi. They naturally sought to stone Jesus. You can see the connection clearly from the Greek text of the Septuagint. Is Cosmic Boy etc acting out of sheer ignorance or deliberate blasphemy? I can tolerate provocative rudeness, but blasphemy?…

  6. Hello Kam weng,

    I doubt that you are doctrate……… Your writing shows that you are fool enough.

    So many people in the Bible are using the word ‘I am’ (“EGO EIMI” in koine Greek), for example Sarah, she says, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ (Genesis 18:13), question, did she commits blasphemy?

    How about Abraham? Read this:

    [ The Offering of Isaac ] Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ” Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:1)

    Abraham too commits blasphemy?????

    Beside these 2 figures, there are so many others are using the same word, ‘EGO EIMI’ and Kam Weng said they are committed blasphemies:

    Esau (Genesis 25:32), Jacob (Genesis 27:11), Isaac (Genesis 27:32), Joseph (Genesis 45:3), Moses (Exodus 3:11, 6:12), they are blasphermous?

    And if ‘EGO EIMI’ reflects God, so you have to take Pontius Pilate as ‘God’ as well when he said ‘EGO EIMI’ in (Matthew 27:24)?

    Remember this! Exodus never use the word ‘EGO EIMI’ as “I AM” but Greek word “hO ON”, (pls refer to LXX), therefore the word “EGO EIMI” in John 8:58 does not have any connection with “I AM” in Exodus, otherwise the scribe/grammarian will use the same to word to reflect the same, but no! Christians are bias on this, they will try everything to upgare Jesus as God…..start from the council of Nicea onward you are creating your own God…….would you be saved?

    BTW, “EGO EIMI OU COSMICBOY” (in Greek – translate “I AM not a COSMICBOY”), once again you make fool of yourself!

    Comment from Kam Weng
    To read my response read the following post

  7. I read with interest which slowly turned to dissapointment as the discussion between Kam weng and cosmic boy turned from literary to personal.
    The tone of discussion is not doing our God much fame.
    I believe all discussions should be conducted in kindness and loving correction. Exchanging bitter personal criticisms is an act we should rise above in order to truly shine as His disicples.

  8. This article would have been worth reading if the dear doctor actually didn’t interchange the words Al-ilah and Allah as though they are the same. I live in the Arabic world and know the rules of the language. Dude, you twisted this one way too much to suit your theory.

    It may have been the case that Al-ilah got corrupted into the word Allah but now when you want to break apart Allah, you can’t because Allah is not a correct word to begin with.

    Allah, even for many centuries before Islam, has been used as a proper name for the highest deity of Mecca. That is where the Islamic war-cry-prayer-call “Allah-hu-Akbar” comes from which means not “Allah is great” but “Allah is greater” to signify that Allah is the cheif diety, greater than the rest.

    If you had said that Al-ilah means the God, I wouldn’t have any disagreement with you but when you come around saying that grammatically and from the root words you can deduce that Allah means the God, then you have a real problem in your own research.

    You might want to hit the books again doctor. You’ve been duped by your own research.

  9. @ Kam Weng,

    Ist, I am NOT Ego Eimi. We are not the same person. How can you make such a conclusion. Be honest, check my IP dan his/her.

    2nd, I am a Christian. I studies theologies.

    3rd, I am not saying the Allah swt of moslem is the same as the Christian. Yes, El is the name of the God of the OT Patriarchs. When translate to Al-Kitab Indonesia/Malay, Allah. But we also must remember that Elohim & Eloah is also translated Allah. Between El as Allah and Elohim as Allah there is much differences. El is the name of the OT Patriarchs God where else, Elohim is just a generic name. Now, this name El was replace by another name, YHWH as a God of the nation of Israel. YHWH which is a proper name became more popular that El. I did not say that the Patriarchs worship Allah, btw they worship El as a true God. I just say that El was translated as Allah in bhs Indonesia and Malay, do you agree?

    4th, I do agree that Allah is not a personal/proper name as far as the Bible theologies is concern. Allah is just a generic name. The Jews who spoke Arabic, the Arabic Jews and Arabic Christian before Muhammad/Islam used Allah as a generic name, equivalent to elohim of the Hebrews and theos of the Greek koine as well as GOD of the Anglo-Saxon. It is the moslem/Muhammad who changes Allah from generic name to proper name. But this is also not true historically and theologicallly (I mean Islamic theology), why? Because there are no consensus yet among moslem schorlars regarding the name Allah, some agree Allah is moslem God personal name, some disagree! Thatis why some moslem schorlars still translate Allah of the Quran to God in English. In fact, the Hebrew Quran, Allah was translate as Elohim, likewise the Greek Quran, Allah is Theos!

    Sorry, I to reply your article/comments a year latter.

    Jesus Bless You.

  10. I think that the tower of Babel did suceed to prove that it exists in the language differences.
    Dear people, know Him from whom comes Life and Peace and is love/life /peace itself, all names you will understand are indicative of qualities of the Divine or attributes.
    Try to know Him and all language BUT LOVE will fall away speechlessness and lack of utility as inadequate. Why break your head the TRUTH will set us all free.
    His Grace is enough for us.
    My own take is that according to the Qur’an, that says the Jews did not kill him at all is right because the Romans did under the Roman law (misused of course as evidence was not supported for the alleged crime). However, the one who sins is equally guilty. Do not judge therefore as we will be judged by the same measure. Rather seek the K.O.G. first and all will be added unto you.
    Finally the Judgement will decide who is in – the one who obeys God alone; and (follows Yeshua/Jesus/Isa) not wears the badge alone will receive their reward.
    Fear Not therefore little ones, Let the Father decide.
    Praise God!

  11. If the differences between the Bible and the coran were merely semantic, then all discussion about a proper name would be useless. However, the fact is that, NOT ONLY the Bible differs from the coran : I am YHWH (Yehova, also Yahweh), the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jakob (Israel). COntrast this with the illaah of the coran, whose name is Allah, and who never identifies with Abraham, and neither with Isaac, and even less with Jakob-Israel. Clearly, YHWH of the Bible is not the Allah of the coran.

  12. Allah is all about Monotheism or ONE GOD! Jews and Muslims pray to Allah. Thats why they use the word Allah when praying in their synagogues or mosques.

    And of course for Christian, the word Allah can be used by them if they reject Son of God and Holy Ghost. Therefore, stop using Allah to refer to God-Father.

    History tells that Paul’s version of Christianity distorted the One God YHWH/Allah. Kyrios (κύριος) was used to identify Jesus and the word Kyrios replaces the word YHWH (One God) pretty often in Greek scriptures. Kyrios is essential in explaining Trinity. Christians should cease saying YHWH/Allah as God-Father for such believe was not taught by any Israeli prophets in the past.

    “I am the first, and I am the last, and beside Me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).

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