Refutation of Muslim Scholars’ Arguments in the Allah Controversy. Part 2/3
Allâh is Certainly Not a Proper Noun/Personal Name
Introduction: Allâh and Other Loan Words in the Quran for God
The fundamental and contested presupposition in the present dispute on the use of Allâh is whether there are words so exclusively defined by a single linguistic system that their usage is reserved for that linguistic system alone. In this regard, scholars like Dr. Mohd Sani Badron, Prof Khadijah Mohd Hambali and Mohd Aizam operate on the assumption that Quranic Arabic and subsequently, Bahasa Malaysia have sole proprietorship over certain words (especially the word Allâh) since these words been ‘purified’ (Islamicised) for the purpose conveying Islamic truths. As such, they call for Christians to be banned from using the word Allâh as improper usage of the word by Christians will lead to corruption of revealed truth.
Such an assertion is intellectually dubious. It is evident that there is no such thing as a pure language which would presuppose a self-contained and self-sufficient linguistic community, hermetically sealed from interaction with neighboring linguistic communities – a historical impossibility by any account. Indeed, the Arabic language coexisted and dynamically interacted with other cognate Semitic languages like Nabatean, Hebrew and Aramaic (Syraic) in its early history. We only need to point out the phenomenon of loan words in (Quranic) Arabic to prove the point. As the Encyclopedia of the Quran puts it,
From the earliest period of Islam down to the present day, attentive readers have observed that there are words in the Quran which appear to be of non-Arabic origin. (See the entry, “Foreign Vocabulary” written by Andrew Rippin found in Encyclopedia of the Quran vol 2 E- I ed., Jane Dammen McAullife (Brill 2002), pp. 226- 237). An extensive analysis of these loan words that includes zakat, salat, jizyah, hikma, taba, shakina, malik, malak, miskat, masjid, miskin, nabi, wahyu, falak (firmament) etc is found in Arthur Jeffrey,The Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran (Cairo. Oriental Institute Baroda, 1938), pp. 43 – 29.
The word Allâh comes from two words: al, and ilâh. Al is the definite article, and ilâh means strong, god. In Semitic languages, this word refers to a power which is beyond the reach of human beings, a power that belongs to the gods. The words al-ilâh were already combined to become Allâh since the pre-Islamic age. In the religion of the pre-Islamic Arabs, the word was used to denote the highest god among the other gods, each of whom possessed his own name. However, it should be noted that the word Allâh itself is not a name, as will be explained later. It is clear then that the word Allâh was already in use before the arrival of Islam, i.e., even during the so-called ‘time of ignorance’ or the days of polytheism. The word is not a creation of the Muslims and its existence did not begin in Al-qur’ân Al-karîm. From the standpoint of linguistics, it is an common Arabic word which is not specifically linked to a particular religion.
Toshihiko Izutsu remarks that it is precisely because the name Allâh was common to both the pagan Arabs and the Muslims that gave rise to the heated debates that arose between Muhammad and his adversaries. Likewise, Muhammad addressed his adversaries in the name of Allâh without bothering to explain what this name meant, given their common understanding of Allâh as referring to the supreme God [Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Quran, , pp. 100-117].
In the light of the undeniable historical interaction and mutual borrowing of terms between Semitic languages, we can only conclude that Islam cannot exercise monopoly on certain religious terms. One cannot copy-right what was borrowed in the first place.
For fuller discussions please read the following articles:
1) Allâh and Linguistic Hegemony LINK
2) The Semantics of Allâh LINK
3) Allâh is Not a Personal Name LINK
4) Foreign Vocabulary and Loan Words in the Quran: Historical Facts LINK
Refutation of Arguments by Dr. Mohd Sani Badron and Prof. Khadijah Mohd Hanbali
Allâh is Certainly not a Proper Noun/Personal Name
One central pillar in the call for the ban on Christian using the word Allâh is the claim that it is a personal name, that is, it is a name uniquely associated with the God of Islam.
Mohd Sani goes on the offensive with a paragraph under the section, “Beberapa Kesilapan Fakta” in “Nama Khas Allâh .”
Sebegitu dijaga istilah “Allâh ” itu sebagai nama khas, hingga ia tiada gantinya bagi umat Islam sedunia, dari awal sampai bila-bila. Sama ada dalam dialek-dialek Arab, bahasa Farsi, Turki, Cina, Urdu, Eropah, Melayu atau sebagainya, tiada ditemui perkataan yang setara; mencerminkan tiada Hakikat yang setara. “Allâh ” boleh diperikan sebagai “God” contohnya, tetapi “God” tidak boleh diterjemah sebagai “Allâh “. Ini selaras dengan peraturan, nama khas boleh diperikan dengan nama gelaran dan sifat, tetapi nama am tidak boleh sewenang-wenangnya diterjemah kepada nama khas sebagai kata-ganti setara.
Mohd Sani claims unequivocally that Muslims all over the world use the word Allâh exclusively. However, his claim is misleading. Muslims naturally use the word Allâh , especially in Quranic citations and in liturgical phrases. But Mohd Sani ignores the fact that in daily life, Persians and Pakistanis, and some Turks use the Old Persian word Khudâ (Khoda) to refer to God, a term that is shared by Christians and believers of other religions in these regions. That is to say, both Christians and Muslims in these regions continue to use the name for God that originated from their local contexts even though Muslims use Allâh in Quranic citations and liturgy.
A similar phenomenon can be observed in how new religions in the Nusantara adopted local terms for their religious discourse. For example, Malay was the lingua franca of the Buddhist kingdom of Sri Vijaya. When Buddhism spread it accepted many loan words from Sanskrit. Indeed, present day Muslims have no problem using such loan words like dosa, dukha and syurga and have not make an issue when Malay speaking Christians and Buddhists use these words.
Questionable Claim that Allâh is a Personal Name Based on Arabic Usage
Dr. Mohd Sani Badron claims lexicographical support that Allâh is a proper noun in his article “Nama Khas Allâh ”:
Sebagai nama khas Tuhan Yang Esa, “Allâh ” adalah istilah universal melampaui bangsa, dan bukan bahasa kebangsaan mana-mana bangsa. Sebab itu kamus-kamus yang muktabar mengenai bahasa Qur’ani merakamkan pandangan yang sahih, bahawa istilah “Allâh ” bukan perkataan terbitan daripada bahasa Arab. (Lihat sebagai contoh Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun, 1: 139.)
The thought is repeated in his English article, “Heresy Arises From Words Wrongly Used”:
Last but far from least on the “correct usage” and “authentic meaning” of the term Allâh , al-Tahanawi (d. 1745), in his dictionary of technical terms relating to metaphysics, the Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun, stated that “it is inspired to His servants that the name Allâh is a proper name of the Essence….The verifiers (al-muhaqqiqun) hold that the name Allâh is a non-derivative word; indeed, it is an extemporized proper name (ism murtajal) as it can be described but does not describe.”
Of course, Mohd Sani preceeded al-Tanahawi with a citation of Al-Zabidi, “in his Taj al-‘Arus, remarked that “the most sound view on the name Allâh is that it is a proper noun given by the Essence, the Necessary Being. The name Allâh combines the attributes of Perfection altogether, it is a non-derivative word.”
First, I offer a transliteration and translation of the paragraph of al-Tanahawi that Mohd Sani refers to. On page 321 it is quoted: …Allâhu laisa min al-’asmâ’ ’alatî yajûzu fîhâ ishtiqâq kamâ yajûzu fî r-Rahmân wa-r-Rahîm. Wa-rawâ al-Mundhirî ‘an Abi al-Haitham annahu sa’ala ‘an ishtiqâq ismi llâhi fî l-lughat fa-qâla: kâna haqquhu ’ilâha udkhilat al-alif wa-l-lâm ta’rîfan, fa-qîla: al-’ilâhu (ﺍﻹﻵﻩ), thumma hadhafat al-‘arab al-hamza istithqâlan lahâ, fa-lamma tarakû al-hamza hawwalû (p. 322) kasratahâ fî l-lâm alatî hiya lâm at-ta’rîf, wa-dhahabat al-hamzatu aslan fa-qâlû ’alilâhu ( ﺃﻟﻼﻩ ) fa-harrakû lâm at-ta’rîf alatî lâ takûnu ilâ sâkina, thumma ltaqâ lâmân mutaharrikatân, wa-adghamû al-ûlâ fi th-thâniya fa-qâlû: Allâh ( ﺍﷲ), kamâ qâla llâhu ‘azz wa-jal: lâkinna huwa llâhu ( ﭐﷲ ﻫﻮ) rabbî (Su. Al-Kahf 38; note: the alif of Allâh is alif wasla!).
Translation: … “Allâh ” does not belong to the nouns (asmâ’, plural of ism) which need an etymological explanation like ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim. Mundhiri reported (transmitted) from Abu l-Haitham that he asked for the etymology of the noun “Allâh” according to the language. He answered: In fact, alif and lâm (al-) as the definite article was added to ’ilâh, and it was pronounced: al-’ilâh; then the Arabs omitted the hamza (of ’ilâh) because it disturbed them, and when they withdraw the hamza they moved its “i” to the “l” (lâm) which is the “l” of the definite article, and the hamza became (part of ) the root, and they pronounced it ’alilâhu, thus they vocalized the lâm of the article which (originally) had no vowel, then they combined the two vocalized “l” and integrated the first one into the second one, and then they pronounced it: Allâhu, as God (Allâh) powerful and glorious has stated: lâkinna huwa llâhu rabbî! (Sura al-Kahf 38)
I think Mohd Sani confuses the meaning of the word ism as a noun with the meaning of name. Hence the strange suggestion of translating “ism murtajal” which literally can be translated as “extemporized [proper, sic] name” This sounds like an artificial grammatical category invented on the spot (extemporized indeed!). The best I can make of this convenient category is to compare it with the case of a noun being used as vocative (extemporized) and this is none other than just an appellative (common) noun. Just because a noun is extemporized doesn’t make it a proper name. Indeed, the whole passage from al-Tahanawi cited by Mohd Sani actually actually describes how the noun(not name) “Allâh ” was developed step by step linguistically from al-’ilâh. The passage cited provides no support for the claim that Allâh is a proper name.
Some Muslims may argue that anyone who comments on this issue should be professionally competent in Arabic before he can give an opinion. I think this argument is just an excuse to preclude anyone from challenging any opinion from them so long as their opinion includes some details in Arabic. The fact of the present case is that so long as an accurate translation of the Arabic text is available (we have here a translation of al-Tahanawi’s passage cited by Mohd Sani), anyone can just read and conclude that the prima facie meaning of the translation text contradicts the Mohd Sani’s claim that Allah is a proper noun/name. Indeed, if anything, al-Tahanawi’s discussion makes clear that Allâh behaves like a common noun.
Prof. Khadijah writes,
Selain itu, istilah Allâh adalah mushtaq iaitu kata nama khas. Ini kerana sekiranya istilah Allâh digandingkan dengan istilah “Ya” dalam bahasa Arab yang bermaksud kata seruan “Wahai”, istilah Allâh tetap kekal. Huruf “alif”, “lam” dan “lam” sebagai konotasi nama khas tidak boleh dibuang. Ia tidak boleh disebut sebagai “Ya Lahu”. Ini berbeza dengan kalimah “Al-Rahman” yang meupakan antara sifat Allâh iaitu pengasih/penyayang. Apabila ia digandingkan dengan istilah “Ya”, alif lam makrifah (kata nama khas) wajar dibuang dan menjadikannya sebagai “Ya Rahman”. Ini membuktikan bahawa istilah Allâh adalah kata nama khas atau mushtaq. (Ibn Manzur, t.t.) Khadijah (5.6).
This citation seems impressive with its reference to Arabic. If only Khadijah hears an Arab pronouncing “yâ ‘llâha” she might reconsider her dubious claim! The letter “alif” is quite obvious an “alif wasla”, which means an alif which is assimilated by the preceding vowel; more examples will be given in later discussion (baitu ‘llâh, etc.). If she reads more carefully the Qur’an in Arabic, she would realize in all of the 980 times in which Allâh is mentioned in the Qur’an, there is not a single time when the alif is treated as alif hamza (pronounced as ‘a), and in all other occurrences where the alif-lam (article) of Allâh has to disappear it is due to grammatical reasons so that ilâh remains (like “ilâh Ibrâhîm”, “ilâhunâ” [our God], “bi-s-mi ‘llâhi” etc. see below for more discussion). The Qur’an also does not give a single evidence to support the claim that “Allâh” is a proper name, and therefore the alif should be an alif hamza. If she has any doubt she may well consult any concordance of the text of the Qur’an, e.g. the Concordance of Abdul Baqi, published in Cairo several decades ago, and then check one by one of the occurrences of “Allâh ” to see whether she can find a single instance that uses alif hamza.
Further Discussion on Allâh as an Appellative Noun
The claim by Mohd Sani, however, is also questionable on grounds of linguistics. Linguistically, Allâh is a common noun though sometimes it can function as an appellative title.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines an appellative noun as follows:
“A general appellative (i.e., a common noun) capable of being used in reference to a whole class of entities can also be used with an individual reference. For instance, if an inhabitant of Austin, Texas, says, “Let’s go swimming today, not in the pool but in the river,” there is no doubt that the word river has a unique, individual reference to one single river, namely, the Colorado. This fact, however, does not make a name out of it; “river” is here a common noun, but its reference is specified by the extra-linguistic context” (LINK http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/402224/name/61158/Names-and-appellatives).
The New Oxford Dictionary of English describes an appellative noun as “a common noun, such as ‘doctor’, ‘mother’, or ‘sir’, used as a vocative.
To give a further example, the word ‘father’ is a common noun. But it becomes an appellative noun when a child expresses appreciation for his parent on Father’s Day, “Father, you are the best father in the world.” In the same way, Christians sometimes pray, “Heavenly Father”. Finally, someone can pray in desperation, “God, save us!”
In these cases, the appellative usage of the words ‘father’ or ‘God’ takes on the characteristics of a proper noun by connotation (an idea or feeling which a word invokes in addition to its primary meaning). Similarly, the word Allâh may be used in an appellative sense, but it would be wrong for Mohd Sani and Khadijah to claim Allâh a proper noun, much less a proper name.
Let me give a simple (obviously limited) illustration taken from the English language. Compare the following two statements:
(1) God save the Queen
(2) God save Elizabeth
Undoubtedly, when an Englishman utters those sentences he is referring to the same lady. Obviously, the word ‘Queen’ in (1) is a generic noun even though for English people there is only one queen (a monadic, one-of-a-kind noun) with the personal name (Elizabeth) in (2).
The limitation of this illustration lies in the fact that the word Queen remains the same in the English language, but the words el, Allâh or theos would be inflected/declined when used in different syntactical relations in a sentence.
This illustration shows that both Mohd Sani Badron and Khadijah are confused when they appeal to a subjective meaning (connotation) to override the primary meaning of Allâh as a common noun. At best, they may argue that Allâh can subjectively connote a specific reference, but objectively it denotes just a supreme God without any exclusive reference or exclusive description.
It is significant that because Allâh is only one, he needs no other name. Saying “the” God (Allâh) makes it clear who is meant. If he needs a proper name to distinguish him from other gods (âliha) then he would not longer be perceived as the only true one. If Allâh is considered 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 (equals human being). This one human then does not need a proper name.
Put in the context of historical linguistics, the word Allâh – along with other Semitic words like Hebrew (el, élöhîm) and Arabic (Allâh) – is fundamentally a general term that refers to God. That is to say, Allâh is not a personal name. In linguistic terms, the morphology of the word Allâh follows the grammatical rules of a common noun. Thus the words el and Allâh show morphological inflections/declensions (e.g., depending on whether the word is used as a nominative, accusative, genitive case, etc).
Allâh is not a Personal Name Based on Arabic Morphology
The changes entailed when the word Allâh is used under different grammatical usage in Arabic make it more obvious that it is not a personal name:
If Allâh were a name then it could not be changed under different grammatical usage. This includes the case of the Alif in the beginning, where it should be an alif-hamza (‘), and then it should be pronounced e.g., bismi Allâh (in the name of God), or al-hamdu li-Allâh.
However, this is not the case in actual usage: it is bismi-llah, or al-hamdu li-llah. Why? because the alif is alif wasla, assimilated to the preceding vowel, and that identifies it as the alif of the article which is always alif-wasla.
If Allâh were a name that is unchangeable, one should fine the reading: Allâh Ibrahim. Note here the name remains unchanged! But the phrase in common usage is ilah Ibrahim. Why is this the case? It is because a noun can have only one determinator: either the article (at-ta‘rîf, or: al-), or a personal pronoun (“my”), or another noun. In the case of “the God of Abraham”, “Abraham” is the determinator. And that means any other determinator has to be omitted, in this case the article. The rule of the language demands that the article al- has to be omitted from Allâh, and then ilah remains.Thus the God of Abraham becomes Ilah Ibrahim. No Muslim would conclude that the ilah Ibrahim is not Allâh, the only One.
Of course, there is no direct possibility of using Allâh in the plural. It is a word in the singular, just like “man” is also a singular. But at any time you can change it into the plural when using its plural form. The plural form of “man” is “men”. Likewise, when expressing the plural form of “Allâh”, the word “Allâh” goes back to its original form, al-ilah, and the plural is al-âliha.
Consider two common examples where the word ‘Allâh’ undergoes change in grammatical usage, thereby refuting the claim that “Allâh” is a proper noun/personal name. Every Muslim would have violated basic Arabic grammar several times daily if the claim were true. They use expressions like “Al-hamdu li-llah” and “bi smi-llah.”
If Allâh is an unchangeable name, then Muslims would have to say: “Al-hamdu li-Allâh”, “bi smi-Allâh” because in these cases, the “A” in the beginning must not be changed. Put in terms of Arabic grammar: it must be “alif hamza.” A similar rule is found in the Greek language (spiritus lenis- smooth breathing) before every vowel opening a word. But the “A” in these cases is not “alif hamza.” Moreover it is “alif wasla”, an alif which is assimilated to a preceding vowel and that is the case of the alif in the article (“al-”). Thus, the alif of the article disappears (is assimilated), and only the “l” remains: bi smi-llah. This grammatical change proves that the first “A” in Allâh belongs to the article al-, and that Allâh is nothing else than al-ilah (>Allâh).
This is the explanation given by the Muslim scholar al-Tahanawi (12th century) in his work Kashshâf. Again, the word Allâh has to be adjusted to the rules of grammar, like any other common noun. In contrast, a personal name would have to be maintained without any change.
It is evident that Allâh is not a personal name and as a generic word/common noun. It follows the grammatical rules of other generic words in Arabic. Whenever a noun becomes connected to some determinator (e.g., personal pronoun, or another noun as “mudaf ilaihi”) 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”. Likewise, it is bait al-âb and not: “al-bait al-âb”.
Now consider the case of Allâh = al-ilah: in: “Abraham’s God”, God (”the God”, “Allâh = al-ilah” is determined by Abraham and therefore has to lose its article as well. This means Allâh is used without the article, that is, ilah: ilah Abraham. As such, “Allâh Abraham” is impossible, or grammatically incorrect. You will not find it in any Arabic translation of the Bible or any where else.
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 word Allâh is a singular, like al-ilah, and when there is need for a plural form, it goes back to its root (ilâh) and becomes al-âliha
[Side Remark: The above discussion on morphology illustrates how linguists cross the boundary between languages to highlight some general linguistic principles, in this case how vowels may be assimilated under certain circumstances (because of phonetic necessity; the tongue just glides over certain sounds to avoid awkwardness in pronunciation). This exercise is quite common when linguists comment on similarities between cognate languages. For this reason, linguists often make comparisons between Arabic and Hebrew
Note: Only for those interested in the grammatical parallels between Hebrew and Arabic
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/élöhîm. 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
Obviously, the rule applies for common nouns and not personal names and it applies on how ilah/Allâh is used, it is then a common noun.
The purpose of this side-remark is to assure the reader that he can still make sense of the discussion related to an aspect of morphology (in Arabic/Hebrew) based on linguistics. Precisely, because he can make sense of the discussion across languages by using relevant principles of linguistics, he can reject the common maneuver deployed by Islamic scholars who couch their claims with sprinklings of Arabic to render them immune to critical analysis by outsiders – on the ground that only professionally competent Arabic users may comment and criticize on their claims.
Indeed, the whole discipline of comparative linguistics enables linguists to make sense of different languages under general linguistic principles. If following the strictures of the Islamic scholars, Christians cannot comment on Islam because they don’t use Arabic then by the same token Muslims should not comment on Christianity since they don’t use Hebrew, Greek or Latin; as such, Muslims cannot understand Christianity and a fortiori should not attempt to legislate on how Christians express their beliefs and practice their faith].
I would like to point out another problem facing the Muslim who insists that Allâh is a personal name. Ism in Arabic (Hebrew: shem) may have the meaning “name”; but it may also mean “noun”. Used as a noun, ism may have different aspects (the reader may consult the Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Ism”). In this case, it could be an “ism al-jins”, a “common noun” referring to a group of things with a particular identity. Thus as ism al-jins, ilah refers to anything “divine”. But since according to Islamic theology, only One is of Divine nature, this noun also refers only to the One. I have in mind similarities with the case of a common noun been understood in a monadic sense, like “The Sun” or “The Highest Mountain”.
A personal name could be related to other “persons” of the same kind, or jins. And that is precisely what happened in pre-Islamic times with the word ilah when different deities had additional proper names attached to them, for example, Hubal, al-‘Uzza, Manat etc. They were ilah know by his/her name (as specified). The same phenomenon is also found in Hebrew: when ilah (el or eloah) is used, it may be fixed to the name of a worshipper (el Abraham / ilah Ibrahim etc., but we never find the phrase ha-el Abraham or Allâh Ibrahim), but it should be stressed that in these contexts ilah or eloah etc is not itself a name.
If Allâh is a proper name, that is, bearing the meaning of “personal” name, then it would contradict Islamic theology which does not speak about God as a “person” (shakhs). Indeed, this was one of the criticisms directed by classical Muslim theologians against Christians applying the term to God! (in Christian dogmatics the term used is “uknum”, which was derived from Aramaic which finally appeared in the Malay-Indonesian language as oknum = person, individual, personality). But Muslim theologians rejected this term since Allâh cannot have a name attach to him in the manner a name is attached to a person.
It should be noted that precisely because Allâh is not a personal name that it does not appear in the list of the 99 most beautiful names of Allâh (al-asmâ’ al-husnà), that is, the word “Allâh” itself is not mentioned among them. It is only in tasawuf (mystical) Islam with its great exponent Ibn Arabi, that it is sometimes said that “Allâh” is actually God’s 100th name, which embraces all the other 99 names. But this is the emotional language of piety, adoration or worship prominent among some Sufis; it is not the logical language of the dogma of Tawhid. While each of these names of God points to one of His attributes, the word Allâh points to His essence and therefore it cannot be a personal name. For this reason, Muslim theologians have consistently criticized the Christian doctrine of God which understands God as a person. For these Muslim theologians, God is not a ‘person’. Not being a ‘person’, God also cannot have a personal name.
Based on these linguistic observations, Christians are justified in using the word Allâh to translate the word ‘el’/‘élöhîm’ in the Bible as both words are morphologically generic. They are not personal names. In short, since Allâh is not a personal name, it cannot be the sole preserve of Islam.
It is noted that Christians use the word ‘TUHAN’ to refer to the personal name of God YHWH (LORD). Historically, the Hebrew personal name for God, YHWH was translated with the word, ‘kurios’(LORD) for Greek Christians, which in turn was translated into ‘Rabb’ for Arabic Christians. The early Malay Christians naturally used the word ‘Tuhan’ (LORD) when they refer to the personal name of God while retaining the word Allâh for generic references to God.
In actually fact, Christians are precise and purposeful when they carry out their translation. Their ultimate source of reference and authority is not any Islamic words or literature, but the Hebrew and Greek texts. When Christians in Malaysia use the word Allâh, they do indeed use it as an appellative noun. Christians use the word TUHAN as a reference to the LORD, or TUHAN ALLÂH for the LORD God.
Classical Islamic Theology Reject Claim That God Has Revealed His Personal Name
Finally, writers like Mohd Sani Badron have departed from classical Islamic theology when they insist that Allâh is a proper noun/personal name. It is well known that classical Islamic theology does not accept any teaching that God has revealed his personal self, much less his personal name.
For example, Al Ghazali, Muslim philosopher par excellence, in his magnum opus Ihya’ ‘Ulum Ud-Din warns against taking the language literally since the analogy does not have to agree in every way with that which it resembles. Indeed, classical Islamic scholars insist that God transcends all linguistic reference.
Fadlou Shehadi summarized Ghazali’s as follows – God is Utterly Unknowable:
If God is a unique kind of being unlike any other being in any respect, more specifically, unlike anything known to man, it would have to follow by Ghazali’s own principles that God is utterly unknowable. For, according to Ghazali, things are known by their likenesses, and what is utterly unlike what is known to man cannot be known. Furthermore, God would have to be unknowable, completely unknowable, not only to ‘the man in the street’, but to prophets and mystics as well. This is a conclusion that Ghazali states very explicitly and not infrequently. It is also a view that is often stated independently of its logical relation to God’s utter uniqueness. Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1964), pp. 21-22.
Fadlous Shehadi adds,
The end result of the knowledge of the `arifin [knowers] is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him.” Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God, p. 37.
The absoluteness of divine transcendence leading to the conclusion that God has only revealed his will but not his nature (or personality/name) becomes clear in Isma`il al-Faruqi’s dialogue with Christian theologians Kenneth Cragg and Lamin Sanneh in 1976:
al-Faruqi: You spoke of God “willing and wanting to reveal Himself to man”. God does not reveal Himself. He does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will. Remember one of the prophets asked God to reveal Himself and God told him, “No, it is not possible for Me to reveal Myself to anyone.”
Cragg: Do you make this distinction absolute? Is not the will expressive of the nature?
al-Faruqi: Only the nature in percipe. In other words, the will of God is God in percipe — the nature of God in so far as I can know anything about Him. This is God’s will and that is all we have — and we have it in perfection in the Qur’an. But Islam does not equate the Qur’an with the nature or essence of God. It is the Word of God, the Commandment of God, the Will of God. But God does not reveal Himself to anyone. Christians talk about the revelation of God Himself—by God of God — but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam. God is transcendent, and once you talk about self-revelation you have hierophancy and immanence, and then the transcendence of God is compromised. You may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time.
Ismail al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Da`wah: Proceedings of the Chambèsy Dialogue Consultation [held 1976 in Chambèsy, Switzerland], (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1982), pp. 47-48. Available from the Web at Ismail Faruqi Online, “Appendix: Dialogue on the Nature of Islamic Da’wah” LINK– http://www.ismailfaruqi.com/articles/appendix-dialogue-on-the-nature-of-islamic-dawah/
For this reason Islam is resolute in rejecting any attempt to represent God with images. It is therefore a surprise when one comes across passages in the Quran describing God in human terms. Thus, Allâh has a face, hands and eyes:
But will abide (for ever) the Face of thy Lord,- full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour (Quran, 55:27).
(Allâh) said: “O Iblis! What prevents thee from prostrating thyself to one whom I have created with my hands? (Quran, 38:75)
Now await in patience the command [O Muhammad] of thy Lord: for verily thou art in Our eyes (Quran, 52:48).
Muslims accept the Quranic verses that speak of God sitting and coming, and of God’s hands, face and eyes without asking `how’ (bela kayf). In the words of the Muslim scholar al-Ash’ari:
We confess that Allâh is firmly seated on His throne … We confess that Allâh has two hands, without asking how … We confess that Allâh has two eyes without asking how … We confess that Allâh has a face … We confirm that Allâh has a knowledge … hearing and sight … and power [Arberry A. J., Revelation and Reason In Islam, George Allen & Unwin, p. 22].
Classical Muslim theology developed a form of compromise solution in effect inclining to the negative answer. There developed the idea of Al-Mukhalafah, “The Difference.” Terms taken from human meanings – and there are of course no others – were said to be used of God with a difference. They did not convey the human connotation but were used in those senses feasible of God. When the further question was pressed: What then do they convey as applied to God? No precise answer was capable of being formulated. Islam here falls back upon a final agnosticism. Terms must be used if there is to be religion at all. But only God knows what they signify. Muslim theology coined the related phrases Bila kaif and Bila Tashbih. We use these names “without knowing how” they apply and without implying any human similarity. Kenneth Cragg, Call of the Minaret (OUP 1956), p. 55.
Whatever the ‘difference’, bila kaif regarding the names of God, classical Muslim theologians cannot accept Allâh as a proper noun/personal name for the God of the Quran. Writers like Mohd Sani Badron and Khadijah cannot be granted exception to the prohibition set by classical Muslim theology – Allâh is not a personal name. Period.
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