Monday, August 20, 2007

Should We All Call God Allah?

Christians should begin to address God as Allah in order to improve relations with Muslims, suggests Dutch Catholic Bishop Matinus "Tiny" Muskens. "God really doesn't care how we address him," he said, noting that we shouldn't be divided over such terminology and that God is above such "bickering."

Bishop Muskens pointed out that Christians who speak Arabic already use the word "Allah" to refer to God. According to Wikipedia "Allah is the standard word for 'God' [in Arabic]." The article notes that "Arabic-speakers of all faiths, including Christians and Jews use the word 'Allah' to mean 'God.'" So, does the Bishop have a point here?

Not so quick. How one refers to the true God is more than just a semantic exercise. The implications of what names and titles mean are far-reaching when it comes to differentiating the essential differences between religions. In the English-speaking world the name "Allah" is firmly linked with the Muslim concept of deity. Thus, for a Christian to use the name "Allah" in the context of the Christian faith would be to confuse, not enlighten. For the Muslim idea of deity is completely opposed to that confessed by the Christian, namely, that God is triune.

Some make the argument that Arab-Christians have been using "Allah" for God for generations. They further point out that this word predates the Muslim usage. It is a generic word for God in the Arabic tongue.

Which brings us to a dilemma even Christians face with their own generic English word "God." In our post-modern society with its emphasis on civic religion, God has become the all-embracing designation for deity to encompass all expressions, including the deistic concept held by some of the early founders of this nation. Thus, even the English word "God" is not without its problems in making a clear confession.

Not having any experience in Middle-Eastern missions, I will refrain from being critical of the usage of Allah in Arabic-speaking countries among Christians. Yet to embrace the bishop's suggestions that Christians everywhere begin to use this name is simply not tenable. For to use this name in the Christian west is at once to invoke in the minds of many a concept of God that comes from the Qu'ran, not the Bible. One cannot avoid that since the name Allah is firmly established in the western mind not just as another word for deity, but as the personal name by which a Muslim calls in prayer to his god.

Furthermore, to do this simply to "improve relations with Muslims" is to risk the clarity of our own confession for mere public relations. No, Bishop Muskens, I'll pass on this one....

1 comment:

Steve Newell said...

Even in the US, the word "God" does not necessarily mean God the Father. It can refer to a generic god that fits the many belief systems. Even in the Church, we don't refer to God as God the Father, just God. This can create confusion inside and outside of the Church.

For Arab Christians, they call God the Father "Allah". Does that make them less Christians than those in the English speaker world call God the Father "God"? I don't believe so. However, we must define who this God is to the world.