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A reply to Mark Durie

Reader comment on item: Is Allah God? - Continued
in response to reader comment: Response to zzazzeefrazzee

Submitted by zzazzeefrazzee (United States), Apr 25, 2008 at 00:22

"The arguments I present for YHWH being distinct from Allah of the Quran are based upon the Tanakh as much as the New Testament. The issue of the Trinity was not one of the principle points in my argument that YHWH s distinct in identity from Allah of the Quran."

"However, whilst it is open to Jews to argue that the Christian conception of God is alien to their scriptures, Christians have always argued the opposite. The idea that there was a different god in the Tanakh from the New Testament was rejected early in church history as Marionism. And as I said, I was careful to base my arguments re YHWH and Allah on consideration of the whole Bible, including the Tanakh."

When I asked about the comparison of YHVH to ALLAH, and the concomitant comparison of the view of he divine between Jews and Christians, I was not asking for solely a Christian perspective.  Yes, I do agree that Christian certainly feel that they are worshiping the same God.  Jews, however, do not agree with that position in the slightest.  Not only can one cite the work of contemporary Jewish thinkers and religious figures, but also historical philosophers such as Maimonides.

"I would be very grateful for an academic reference to inscription you refer to. Often when I read this claim that Christians or Jews in pre-Islamic times knew YHWH as 'Allah', and I follow the reference, it ends up at a dead-end. I would be happy to find a more solid source."

Please refer to: 

Rabin, C. " 'Arabiyya" Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online.

MacDonald, D.B. "Ilāh." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online.

Ory, S.  "Kitābāt: 2. In the Near East"  Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online.

A tri-lingual Greek, Syriac, and proto-Arabic inscription in Zabad (or "Zebed) dated to 512 in Aleppo states "With the help of God (الاله)! Sergius, son of Amat Manaf, and Tobi, son of Imru'l-qais and Sergius, son of Sa‘d, and Sitr, and Shouraih." 


Kugener, M. A. . "Nouvelle Note Sur L'Inscription Trilingue De Zébed", Rivista Degli Studi Orientali, 1907, pp. 577-586.

Grohmann, A.  Arabische Paläographie II: Das Schriftwesen. Die Lapidarschrift, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Philosophisch - Historische Klasse: Denkschriften 94/2. Wien: Hermann Böhlaus Nachf., 1971,  pp. 14-16.

Gruendler, B. The Development Of The Arabic Scripts: From The Nabatean Era To The First Islamic Century According To The Dated Texts, Harvard Semitic Series No. 43, Atlanta (GA): Scholars Press, 1993.  pp. 13-14.

"However, even a reference to 'al-ilah' in a Christian inscription does not demonstrate that Allah was used by Christians. al-ilah just means 'the god'. The contracted form would be the one to look for, but perhaps there is no way to determine if that was used from the inscription itself, if the letters for al-ilah and for Allah would have been the same. Nevertheless, I would be grateful for the reference, as it would help answer a question which I have been wanting answered for a long time."

Is stating that this VERY early use which predates all other known uses of th term so indicative of a distinct divinity?  Is stating that the contraction is so frightfully important here akin to stating that "don't" and "do not" refer to entirely different things? 

"I don't consider the Syriac 'alaha' strictly pertinent to this issue of pre-Islamic use of Allah by Jews or Christians. Alaha is a different language, and a different construction. It seems many people have the Syriac usage in mind when the say that Allah was used by Christians before Muhammad, but that is very sloppy linguistics."

Yes, agree that the use of the term "Alaha" in Syriac may be a "messy" transformation into "Allah", but in all honesty, are these issue really ever so clear cut?  After all, the scholarship on this issue is in no sense conclusive.  Many will hold out that both the contracted form and also the Syriac derivation are possible, and furthermore, a conflation of the two may even be possible.  It would appear that such conclusions are entirely premature, are they not?  So, if anything, what's sloppy are the hasty conclusions that some make stating that it must necessarily be one way or the other.  

"Yes, I imagine it was quite likely that pre-Islamic Christian Arabs did use the term 'alaha' to refer to YHWH, as they received their faith, as I understand, from Aramaic speakers."

My Arabic Christian friends ardently believe and maintain that they not only used the term "Allah" before the advent of Islam, but that this also goes along with their belief that the Qur'an based upon and even copied to some extent Arabic Christian documents.  Since such documents would confound the Islamic notion that the Qur'an was completely original, they feel that such evidence would have been necessarily destroyed under Muslim hegemony. 

Not only do we have the above inscription to consider, but in tandem with this, we also must allow for the existence of Pre-Islamic Arab Christian communities such as Nabataeans and Najranis, and the hegemony of the Ghassanid and Lakhmid dynasties.   Aside from article in the E. Islam on Hira, an excelent article on Hira was authored by C.Edmund Bosworth is published in the E. Iranica, which can be read online (Thankfully, they have just recently converted their site to Unicode):

Furthermore, some of these communities are responsible for famous Pre-Islamic Arabic poets a few of whose works do mention the name "Allah" (Imru'l Qays comes immediately to mind).  While the authenticity of these poems has come under scrutiny by certain scholars (principally Margoliouth who was cited by Taha Hussein) , not all are in agreement with that assessment.  AJ Arberry in particular scrutinized their criticism and effectively contradicted their positions.

Arberry, A.J. The Seven Odes: The First Chapter In Arabic Literature. London: Allen & Unwin, 1957.

A more recent analysis is given by:

M. Zwettler, The Oral Tradition Of Classical Arabic Poetry: Its Character & Implications. Ohio State University Press, 1978.

Another interesting argument supporting these views can be found in the writings of Fr. Louis Cheikho, who asserted that some of the poets may have been Christian.  See:

Cheikho, Louis.  Kitāb shuʻara' al-Naṣrānīyah. Beirut: Matba`atu l-Aba'i l-Mursalina al-Yasu`iyyun, 1890.

In all fairness, Cheikho's findings were in turn criticized by Hechame Camille in his work:

Louis Cheikho et son livre le Christianisme et la Littérature Chrétienne en Arabie avant l'Islam: Etude Critique. Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1967.

In addition, we also have the account of St Simeon Stylites communications with Arab communities before the advent of Islam to consider.  Also, there is the persistent issues of the influence of Unorthodox Christians.  This doesn't even begin to broach the topic of the influence of Christians in Hijaz during Muhammad's lifetime, most notably Waraqa, who is attributed with having translated the Gospels into Arabic. 

While our oldest dated evidence for Arabic Christian texts is much later, it also is necessary to effectively prove that any reference to Allah in these texts is necessarily due to "Islamization".  Is the circumstance fo r the provenance alone really a valid justification for this conclusion?  It would seem to me that a thorough review of said evidence is entirely in order prior to making such a statement, is it not?

See Atiya, Aziz S. "The Monastery of St. Catherine and the Mount Sinai Expedition", by  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1952 for a discussion of Codex Arabicus, an early Arabic palimpsest of the Book of Job, , Codex 72- of the Gosepls, Codex 151- Acts and Pauline Epistles, and Codex 589, the Arabic Version of IV Ezra.  The latter of which has been explored in detail by Adriana Drint.  Also the British Museum Arab. 1475 [Add. 26116], the oldest Arabic version of Job. 

Furthermore, traditions prevail that the 9th c Hunayn ibn Ishaq, a native of the Christian community of Hira, also translated the Tanakh and New Testaments into Arabic. 

Muslims who support Qur'anic inerrancy support the idea that the Bible was never written in Arabic before the advent of Islam.  Arabic Christians who support the notion of Qur'anic "borrowing" which Muslims are intent to deny, support the idea that such a text did in fact exist, but was subsequently destroyed by Muslims to prevent any evidence for Qur'anic "borrowing" from coming to light.

By denying that the term "Allah" has Christian precedence, wouldn't you also thereby undermine the notion that portions of the Qur'an were "borrowed" rather than "revelaed"?

"I don't believe that Christian Arabs blaspheme when they use the term 'Allah'. Indeed I feel this is really an unhelpful and rude thing to say."

Thanks, and I very much agree with that sentiment, and feel that it is equally rude of those who claim to be "concerned" for the "theological correctness" of Arabic speaking Christians.  They don't really care about the people; they only want to ensure that their absolutist position is imposed on their "backwardness".

Sadly,  I find that the motivation for this argument is almost entirely derived from the works of "Dr." Robert Morley, whose publications are universally cited among evangelicals and have been further popularized by the likes of tract writer Jack Chick.  Needless to say, Morley's work poses its own set of problems (largely sloppily cherry-picked archaeological evidence, and a conflation of Allat with Allah).  Of course, my Arabic-speaking Christian friends stridently deny and deeply resent Morley's "scholarship".  They are quite sick and tired of having insinuations made that they are collectively guilty of blasphemy. 

" However the Arab Christians would usually be referring to a different identity that when the same term is used by Muslims."

Thank you, I fully agree, and that is my whole point in the first place.  I often use an analogy that in Persian, the word Khuda, which does have ancient roots in Zoroastrianism, is used today by Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Iran (The name "Allah" is not always universally used by all Muslims in all instances).  Obviously these very different religions use this same term with reference to VERY different concepts of God.  Is the use of "Khuda'  parallel to the usage of "Allah" by Arabic speaking Christians?

" Likewise when early Germanic peoples took the pagan work 'god/guth' and applied it to YHWH of the Bible, this was not blasphemy, but translation. I don't begrudge the Christian Arabs their linguistic usage, but would personally prefer they had used a different term, just as they (mostly) use a different term for Jesus, one derived from Aramaic, instead of the Arabic Isa."  One of the reasons that  There is a complex and subtle continuuum of considerations here between valid enculturation on the one hand, and the Islamization of Christian discourse on the other.

But isn't this interesting?  Why would they use "Allah" for "God" and then also use "Yesu" for "Jesus"?  If the usage of the term were in fact derived from Islam, would they not be using 'Isa and not "Yesu"?  Can this usage be proven to be "Islamic" in origin?  Or is the evidence basically "circumstantial" in a very literal sense. 

Conversely, is it possible that my Arabic Christian friends' position could be just as correct?  If i is theoretically possible, isn't it hasty for Westerners to place judge and even condemn this practice? 

"If someone however does assert that the god of the Quran, encompassing all his attributes as laid out in the Quran, does assert that this is the same identity as the God of the Bible - then yes this could be considered an insult to God's majesty, because it is attributing false attributes to God. I believe that God is not happy about this. This is different from just using the word 'Allah': you can do this and still not believe that the deities are the same. (I don't like the term 'blasphemy', because it is loaded down with so many meanings.)"

Is the God of the Christian Arabic Injeel- "Allah al Ab, Allah al Ibn, wallah ar Ruh al Muqaddas" the same as "Allah" of the Qur'an? Obviously these religions do hold entirely different views and perceptions of the divine. 

Finally, I should mention that while my mother is an ordained priest, I do not believe that any of these scriptures are in any way "revelaed", "infallible", or "inerrant".  God did not write them; humans did.  The perceived difference in the nature of the divine is a human expression, not a divine one. 


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