Posted by: sean | April 7, 2008

"Allah" vs. "God"

I’ve written before about the western media’s use of Allah:

Every time there’s a suicide bombing or some sort of an anti-American rally being reported on, the press seems to translate most everything, with the glaring exception of the word Allah (oftentimes in the phrase Allahu Akbar).

It seems like an innocuous omission on the surface, but I’m convinced that it has fairly sizeable consequences. I imagine the average evangelical Christian from Wisconsin hearing the word Allah and immediately conjuring up pictures of bearded and Turban-clad terrorists wielding Kalashnikovs or improvised explosive devices. “Their god is not my God,” the Midwesterner thinks to himself. However, anyone who knows even a smidgen of Arabic knows that Arabophone Jews, Muslims and Christians all use the name Allah. Furthermore, on a theological level, we know that each of these faiths submits to the same God of Abraham: the details may differ, but in the end, they’re all praying to the same god.

Yesterday, though, the Lebanese writer Rabih Alameddine had very similar things to say on the op-ed page of the LA Times:

Allah means God.

In Arabic, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians all pray to Allah. In English, however, Christians and Jews pray to God, and Allah is the Muslim deity. No one would think of using the word “Allah” to talk about any other religion. The two words, “God” and “Allah,” do not mean the same thing in English. They should.

…We never say the French pray to Dieu, or Mexicans pray to Dios. Having Allah be different from God implies that Muslims pray to a special deity. It classifies Muslims as the Other. Separating Allah from God, we only see a vengeful, alarming deity, one responsible for those frightful fatwas and ghastly jihads — rarely the compassionate God. The opening line of every chapter in the Koran is “Bi Ism Allah, Al Rahman, Al Rahim“: In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. In the name of Allah. One and the same.

…In these troubled times, creating more differences, further parsing so to speak, is troubling, even dangerous. I suggest we either not use the word Allah or, better yet, use it in a non-Muslim context.

Otherwise, the terrorists win.

One nation under Allah?



  1. spot on, mate. while this wording detail seems to derive more out of a say-the-way-we’ve-always-did custom than out of some western conspiracy theory, it does set the waters apart when trying to reconcile creeds.

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