Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's in a Name?

I've been noticing a trend among some Muslim writers. In magazines. Online articles. Books.

Allah swt is being referred to simply as "God."

The other day, my copy of Yahiya Emerick's "A Journey Through the Holy Qur'an" arrived. I was very excited to receive it because it has received great reviews by some Muslims. May Allah swt reward Brother Yahiya because his effort was almost 10 years in the making.

Brother Yahiya's books about Islam have helped a lot of Muslims, especially new Muslims. A quick review of his new effort reveals that "A Journey Through the Holy Qur'an" will probably help a lot of Muslims to understand the Qur'an. It is written in very simple English.

But he refers to Allah swt as "God."

This, I don't like.

Why do Muslims do this? Allah swt does not refer to Himself as God. He refers to Himself as "Allah," i.e., Al-Lah. The God. The One. The Unique. There is none like Him. He is different from any God or god(s). This is the essence of tawheed and Islam.

So why use a name for Him that is like the name that others use to refer to their Higher Power?

What's the big deal you may ask. Some claim it's good dawah. Others claim the use of "God" is simply English translation. But I disagree.

We are Muslims. Why not call Him what He calls Himself in the Qur'an?

Have you ever heard an imam refer to Allah swt as "God?"

Have you ever heard a khutbah where the name "God" was used for Allah swt?

So why, I wonder, do some Muslims have no problem using "God" when writing?

I knew a Muslim sister who had a son named Yacoob. When he started pre-school, she told the teacher that his name is Jacob. Why name your kid Yacoob if you're going to have everyone call him Jacob? Why not name him Jacob in the first place? Jeez.

Brother Yahiya does encourage everyone to learn Arabic and to read the Qur'an in Arabic to get the full and rich meaning. But I just don't understand why he chose to use "God" instead of Allah swt?

Maybe I'll ask him :)


AlabasterMuslim said...

You know what gets to me? When people who have perfectly wonderful MUSLIM names go from Kamal or Ahmed to Mikie and Eddie. What the heck?

Stacy K. said...

As you would know from your Jewish background, God also has a unique Hebrew name. The name YHWH has so much more depth of meaning than the English God.
In the same way, the term Allah includes all of his attributes in the Quran and the 99 names.

أبو سنان said...

I understand where you are coming from. BTW.....I have heard God used by Imams and in Khutbas.

NeverEver said...

I live in a place where most people are not Muslim, so when I am speaking to a person who is not Muslim I will usually say God. I always feel like it is better to show what we have in common when people are first introduced to Islam so that they are not turned off by all of the foreign words they don't know. If they seem interested, I would start to stick in some of the Arabic where appropriate and explain the meanings.
However if I am writing or talking to a Muslim audience, I prefer to say Allah subhana wa ta'ala as this really does convey better the true essence of who He swt is. Of course NO word could ever compare to His true essence, but it is the best that we can do.
And of course Allahu alem.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Everyone:

@AlabasterMuslim - I agree. Lol, I'm sure some people feel like we have "perfectly wonderful" birth names and we change them to Muslim ones, lol.

@Fahiima - Alhamdulillah. Some Jews won't even MENTION His Name, Subhan'Allah.

@Abu Sinan - you have got to be kidding me. Now I've heard it all. That makes me REAL sad Abu Sinan.

@NeverEver - yes, I'm in rural PA in the USA where Muslims are a minority. When I speak at interfaith events or with nonMuslims, I use the word "Allah" and in practically the same breath, I add that "Allah" is the Arabic name for the same One they believe in. He is not different from Who they believe in. Funny, I said this at a church not too long ago, and the newspaper reporter included it in the article. Whoever read the paper that day learned that "Allah" is the Arabic name for the Almighty, the Same in Whom they believe!

Anisah said...

I don't really see how it's a big deal, esp. if your native language isn't Arabic. Don't Christian Arabs use Allah to refer to God too? Does one have to forget their native language and be Arabized?

Just my 2 cents.


eyes serene said...

Assalamu alaikom,
I disagree, too. Sorry! Even Christian Arabs say "Allah", it's not unique to Muslims. I don't see how we English-speaking Muslims are using an inferior word when we say "God" instead of "Allah." I use both, by the way.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Anisa and Eyes Serene:

Wow, now you sisters have given me something to think about - the Christian Arabs. Insha Allah when I get a chance (am going to Istanbul next week Insha Allah) I am going to look into it more.

Jazaka Allahu Khayrn for your thought-provoking comments :)

Anonymous said...

WOW this thing takes a while to get my comments published. I have to write it more than once so here goes again:

In Da'wah training courses, they tell us to refrain from using words that might be unfamiliar to the person and instead use common terminology like God, but I actually like what you are saying. It is the most perfect way to invoke Allah because He calls Himself with this.

It IS a big deal because we are always striving to be like the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)and this is the word he used as well. IF the QUran was revealed in English for example, Allah would use a different word that would be the perfect way of invoking Him in English and that is what we would use.

It is not about "Arabicizing", but it is something which unites all Muslims globally.

InshAllah, I am going to use Allah when communicating with my friends from now on and let them know why=)

jamicam said...

I respectfully disagree. Have a look at this site and scroll down to find the article "One God, Many Names" -- very much worth reading.

jamicam said...


Oops! Forgot the link.

American Muslima Writer said...

Hmm Good Question, update us when you get an answer from the Brother and after you've thought it out in Istanbul.

As for my personal preferance. I DO use GOD.
It came from my Mother's looks everytime I said ALLAH. She's like WHo is that.

Think abou tit this way, if a Hindu person began talking about SHIVA you'd feel probably not much understanding abou tthe subject and most likely confused. Yet had that person said "my God Shiva..." it would be more clear.

It is a form of Dawa. My mother feels uncomfortable (and many other poeple) when hearing these "forign" words and can't relate. But the use of GOD always makes her feel like I'm not so far from her after all. I use it as hope someday she will realize the Beauty of Islam and come to know the better word ALLAH.

Which by the way my e-mails to my parents are riddled with insha'Allahs Masha'Allahs and Alhamdulillahs so I'm getting them used to it slowly.

Very interesting thoughts though.