The Semantics of the Word ALLAH

In the religion of the pre-Islamic Arabs, the word Allâh is used to denote the highest god among the other gods who each has a name. But the word Allâh itself is not a name, as explained earlier. Therefore, 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 does not begin in Al-qur’ân Al-karîm. From the standpoint of linguistics, it is an ordinary Arabic word which is not specifically linked to a particular religion.

Many thanks to friends for their encouraging response the article “Mengenali Kata Allah” written by a guest writer. You can now read the English translation given below:

The Semantics of the Word ALLAH

This article discusses the word “Allâh” from the point of view of linguistics. The word “Allâh” comes from two words: al, and ilâh. Al is a definite article (comparable to the in English), 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. Already in the pre-Islamic age, al-ilâh were combined to become Allâh. In the religion of the pre-Islamic Arabs, the word is used to denote the highest god among the other gods who each has a name. But the word Allâh itself is not a name, as explained earlier. Therefore, 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 does not begin in Al-qur’ân Al-karîm. From the standpoint of linguistics, it is an ordinary Arabic word which is not specifically linked to a particular religion. Continue reading “The Semantics of the Word ALLAH”

‘Allah’ is for all Malay Speaking People in Nusantara

The article written in Malay refutes the assumption that a few million Muslims in Peninsular Malaysia have the exclusive right and final authority to define how the Malay language may be used for religious purposes.

Sudah di masa pra-Islam, al-ilâh disambung menjadi Allâh. Dan dalam agama orang-orang Arab pra-Islam, kata ini digunakan untuk menunjuk pada dewa yang paling tinggi di antara dewa-dewa yang lain yang masing-masing mempunyai namanya sendiri. Namun kata Allâh itu sendiri bukan nama, seperti di atas diterangkan. Dengan demikian, kata Allâh sudah ada dalam bahasa Arab sebelum Islam dalam zaman jahiliyya atau zaman politeis. Kata itu bukan ciptaan orang Islam, ia juga tidak baru muncul dalam Al-qur’ân Al-karîm, melainkan, dari sudut bahasa, ia merupakan kata biasa dalam bahasa Arab lepas dari ikatan dengan salah satu agama tertentu.

To download PDF version of Article: Click on title “Mengenai Kata ALLAH”

Mengenai Kata ALLAH (Download PDF File)

‘Allah’ is for all Malay Speaking People in Nusantara (Malay Archipelago)

Recently, the Malay media has printed several articles that insist non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah to describe the supreme God they worship. One such article, written by the Director-General of IKIM (Institute of Islamic Understanding), appears in the following site: http://www.utusan.com.my/utusan/info.asp?y=2008&dt=0106&pub=Utusan_Malaysia&sec=Rencana&pg=re_03.htm

It is a pity that this article is printed only in the Malay press. Its assertion that only Muslims have exclusive authority to decide how Bahasa Malaysia may be used for religious purposes would certainly draw a vigorous response in the English media (though certainly not in the censored mainstream English newspapers). Perhaps the article is intended more to ‘educate’ Malay readers even though readers of the Malay press show little interest in the issue. Political scientists may also be interested to note that the Government issued a gag order to prevent further discussion of the topic only after Muslim scholars were first allowed to express their views in the press. Continue reading “‘Allah’ is for all Malay Speaking People in Nusantara”

Analogy in Theological Language (Part 3): A Model of the Trinity

In Greco-Roman mythology there is said to stand guarding the gates of Hades a three-headed dog named Cerberus. We may suppose that Cerberus has three brains and therefore three distinct states of consciousness of whatever it is like to be a dog. Therefore, Cerberus, while a sentient being, does not have a unified consciousness. He has three consciousness.

For Part 1 – Analogy in Theological Language

For Part 2 – Analogical Language in God-Talk –Special Reference to Unity and Diversity in the Trinity

Given below is an analogy or model of the Trinity taken from the book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. You may note that the model is a description of how the Trinity could be coherently conceived. It does not constitue a logical proof. The alert reader would also recognize that Moreland and Craig are merely defending one of several possible models of the Trinity. Continue reading “Analogy in Theological Language (Part 3): A Model of the Trinity”

Analogy in Theological Language (Part 2)

Let us then investigate how analogical language plays a prominent role in Christian theology.

First, some words about the language of God talk: Talk about God can be univocal, equivocal or analogical.

Univocal language – When a term is used univocally it is being given exactly the same meaning in two different contexts, e.g., we would say of both a dog and a cat that each is a mammal.

Equivocal language – This is to give a word two completely different and unrelated meanings. It is purely accidental that the word sounds the same in each case. Thus the word ‘bat’ can be used of an object in the game of cricket and of a flying animal.

Any attempt at God-talk faces the following dilemma. We must use language derived from everyday experience. If we refer to God without qualifications, we make God part of the finite world. If we dichotomize human language from a God who is totally other, we empty our God-talk of meaning. As Frederick Ferré expresses it, ‘If univocal, then language falls into anthropomorphism and cannot be about God: if equivocal, then language bereft of its meaning leads to agnosticism and cannot for us be about God’ (p.105).

Analogical Language in God-Talk –Special Reference to Unity and Diversity in the Trinity

For Part 1 – Analogy in Theological Language

For Part 3 – Analogy in Theological Language: A Model of the Trinity

Analogical Language in God-talk
Let us then investigate how analogical language plays a prominent role in Christian theology.

First, some words about the language of God talk: Talk about God can be univocal, equivocal or analogical.

Univocal language – When a term is used univocally it is being given exactly the same meaning in two different contexts, e.g., we would say of both a dog and a cat that each is a mammal.

Equivocal language – This is to give a word two completely different and unrelated meanings. It is purely accidental that the word sounds the same in each case. Thus the word ‘bat’ can be used of an object in the game of cricket and of a flying animal.

Any attempt at God-talk faces the following dilemma. Continue reading “Analogy in Theological Language (Part 2)”

Analogy in Theological Language (Part 1)

Islam is well known for its resolute rejection of 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, Allah has a face, hands and eyes:

Analogical Language in Islamic Theology

Islam is well known for its resolute rejection of 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, Allah 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).

(Allah) 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 Allah is firmly seated on His throne … We confess that Allah has two hands, without asking how … We confess that Allah has two eyes without asking how … We confess that Allah has a face … We confirm that Allah has a knowledge … hearing and sight … and power [Arberry A. J., Revelation and Reason In Islam, George Allen & Unwin, p. 22].

But, the use of these images describing God seems to confirm the criticism raised by Spinoza long ago – a triangle would think of God as a super-triangle, and not surprisingly, humans imagine their gods using exaggerated language. In other words, one may be forgiven for extrapolating from these verses the conclusion that the Quranic God has a super face, super hands and super feet, whatever these means. Continue reading “Analogy in Theological Language (Part 1)”