THE NAME "ALLAH"

Some Christians say that muslims (also spelled moslems), in worshipping Allah, are worshipping a false god, just as the Moabites, in worshipping Chemosh, were worshipping a false God. I think this is a misunderstanding.

Arabic and Hebrew are closely related languages. ("Salaam" in Arabic is equivalent to "Shalom" in Hebrew, for example.) "Allah" is the Arabic form of "Elohim" (or "El" or "Eloah"), the Hebrew word which you will usually find anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures where the English translation reads "God". (It is found in the name, "Elijah", meaning, My God is the Lord, and in the phrase, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani," meaning, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?) Arabic-speaking Christians -- and Arabic translations of the Bible -- regularly use it to refer to God. There is no more reason to suppose that the Arabic word "Allah" denotes a being different from God than there is to suppose that the Spanish word "Deos" denotes a being different from God.

Mohammed himself was quite clear in teaching that he was calling his hearers to the worship of the God worshipped by the Jews. Originally, muslims worshipped facing Jerusalem rather than Mecca. Devout muslims begin every prayer, and indeed every important activity, with the words: "Bismillah Arrahman Arrahim." Every chapter but one of the Koran begins with this same invocation, which may be rendered, "In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate." In fact the middle word there was originally Hebrew, and was the standard title by which Jews in Arabia in Mohammed's time denoted God. Mohammed used it, followed by its translation into Arabic, in order to make it clear that the God he worshipped was precisely the God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel.

The muslims teach that the Arabs are descended from Abraham through Ishmael, and the Koran is full of references to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and Jesus. Muslims, like Jews and Christians, worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like Jews (meaning non-Messianic Jews), they disbelieve in the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. Muslims do believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, and the Koran contains an account of the visit of Gabriel to Mary announcing the forthcoming birth. They vehemently deny that Jesus is the Son of God, but I think that they simply intend to deny that God came down and had sex with Mary, which is what they think that Christians believe. In other words, they are upset because they think that WE deny the Virgin Birth.

Instead of saying that Jews and muslims worship a false god, surely it would be more truthful to say that their understanding of the nature of God is incomplete (isn't everyone's?) and that it is through coming to know Jesus Christ that God can best be known.

Now someone may raise the following objection:

> But muslims do not believe in the Trinity. Therefore, they > obviously do not believe in the same God we do. To put the > point another way, muslims do not acknowledge Jesus as the Son > of God. Therefore, they do not acknowledge God. The Scriptures > plainly teach this. They say:

+ Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; + no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)

+ He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son + of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:12)

+ No one who denies the Son has the Father. (1 John 2:23)

I reply:

Consider what Paul writes of his non-Christian fellow Jews:

+ "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, + but it is not enlightened." (Rom 10:2)

How could this be said of worshippers of a false god?

Again, Our Lord, speaking to the Samaritan woman, says:

+ "You worship what you do not know; + we worship what we know, + for salvation is from the Jews." (John 4:22)

"We worship" here clearly means "we Jews worship." How can this NOT be taken to mean that at that time the Jewish people, considered as a community, worshipped the One True God?

Indeed, Paul takes the idea much further. He is prepared to include in the circle of those who worship the One True God not only non-Christian Jews, but even many pagans!! Speaking to the Council of the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:22-23), he says: "I have seen in your city an altar inscribed TO GOD THE UNKNOWN. He Whom you worship without knowledge, Him I declare."

Startling as it may seem, Paul was willing to grant that they were in fact worshippers of the One True God (many thoughtful pagans had embraced monotheism). He then goes on to say that they need to know more about Him Whom they worship, and that Paul is there to give them more knowledge.

Therefore, if anyone denies that muslims and non-Christian Jews (and indeed some other non-Christian monotheists as well) can be said to worship the One True God, let him note that the position has defenders far more formidable than myself.

Note that I am NOT saying that muslims, or Jews living since the time of Christ, or Jews living before the time of Christ, or monotheistic pagans at any time, simply by being worshippers of the One True God have all they need and that faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ is an optional extra. Clearly it is the saving action of Christ that reconciles us to God. But to tell men that they are worshipping a false god when they aren't is the wrong approach. If a man is bleeding from a gashed arm, you ought by all means to urge him to let you apply a tourniquet, and if the wound is severe, you might point out that he will die if he refuses your help. But to tell him that his arm has been cut completely off when it obviously hasn't serves only to undermine the patient's confidence.

Instead of telling muslims that they do wrong to worship God (Allah), we ought to tell them that they are right to worship God, to praise and bless Him for all the good things that He has done, and that they will be able to praise and bless Him even more fully when they have understood the good things that He has done for us all in the person of Jesus Christ.

ON CERTAIN MUSLIM BELIEFS

When I posted the above remarks earlier, one listmember wrote:

> Correct me if I'm wrong, but [muslims] worship a black rock. > That is a little different from Christianity, isn't it?

In the city of Mecca, there is a house of worship called the Kaaba. It is a plain square building with a flat top. It is believed by muslims that this building was originally constructed by Abraham and his son Ishmael as a temple to the One God. Over the centuries, they say, it has partly or completely fallen into disrepair and has been repaired, until only one stone remains of the original building. This is called the Black Stone.

When muslims pray, they face Mecca. Within Mecca, they face the Kaaba. If close enough to the Kaaba for it to make a difference, they face the Black Stone. If accused of idolatry, they reply that no one has ever supposed the stone to be anything but a stone. They take the Kaaba as the oldest house dedicated to the worship of God, and Abraham as the spiritual ancestor of all present-day monotheists, and they all face the Kaaba and pray at the same time (ignoring time zone differences) as a sign that all believers in God are a community, a united family. They would point out that the Jews by Divine command made the Tabernacle and later the Temple the central point of their worship, and that Daniel prayed facing Jerusalem, so that there is nothing suspicious about the idea of expressing religious unity by praying toward or at a central shrine. For a time, during the life of Mohammed, muslims prayed toward Jerusalem, but later Mohammed changed the practice.

A muslim on pilgrimage will kiss the Black Stone. This does make some muslims uncomfortable. An early Caliph (I forget which one) said, "I would never consent to kiss the stone had I not with mine own eyes seen Mohammed doing so." The question of what is permissible in the way of gestures of greeting, affection, or respect directed to some tangible symbol of an idea is one on which thoughtful Christians continue to differ. If we are talking about a statue or other symbol of a false god, such as Kali or Molech, then of course a respectful gesture toward a statue is wrong, because respect for Molech or Kali is wrong. But what of the traveller returning to the United States who blows a kiss to the Statue of Liberty as his ship enters New York Harbor? Presumably he is under no illusions that the statue is anything but a statue. Any problems? What about a Christian who is looking at his calendar, and spontaneously leans over and kisses the date of Good Friday? What of a happily married man who does the same for the date of his wedding anniversary? I once had a man complain to me about how some Christians will actually kiss a crucifix, which he thought was outright idolatry. I pointed out that I had that very evening seen him kiss the photograph of his betrothed. He said, "That's different!" I asked, "How?" He said, "It just is, that's all!" My only advice on this matter on the spur of the moment is: 1) Be charitable in judging others, and give them the benefit of the doubt. 2) Beware of giving to any picture you have of God, and that includes your verbal pictures and your ideas and beliefs about Him, the kind and degree of loyalty that you owe to God Himself. Remember that our understanding of God will always, at least in this life, be inadequate to the reality. 3) Beware lest symbolic or formalized gestures of obedience and worship, faithfully carried out, lead you to assume lightly that you are giving God due loyalty, and keep you from asking whether there are other things which He is asking of you.

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On the same question, another listmember writes:

> Allah is an impersonal God. He remains distinctly separate from > the muslims. He requires many rituals and arbitrary "rules" > for them to follow that we would find very strange, including > the inability to swallow spittle during their fast at Ramadan, > and the inability to set the Koran down lower than waist-level. > There are many others.

About a month ago I asked the local imam whether strict muslims refrain from swallowing their spittle during the Fast. He grimaced and said: "We are told to abstain from food and drink during the Fast. There are muslims who interpret that to forbid swallowing one's saliva, and I can think of a word to describe them, but 'strict' is not it!"

I might add that a similar tendency can be seen in other groups. Some Christians I know, for example, begin with the Scriptural (and common-sense) prohibition on drunkenness, and extract from it a rule against drinking, or even talking about, root beer or ginger ale.

It is true that many muslims make a point of never carrying the Koran lower than the waist, never placing another book on top of the Koran, etc. As far as I know, these rules are not in the Koran, but have developed as customary signs of respect for the Koran. Judaism has developed similar customs. No devout Jew put a copy of the Scriptures on the floor and use it as a seat or a doorstop, or even place it on a table and use it as a beverage coaster. Indeed, I know devout Christians (strict Protestants, not at all given to the use of religious pictures or statues), who would show a similar respect for a Bible. Many Americans would hesitate to use an American flag as a blanket at a picnic. I do not think this is necessarily a bad tendency, but I would warn the American (for example) not to judge harshly those whose flag code differs from his own, and not to suppose that the fact that he always stands for the National Anthem means that he is a Good American, and can neglect the question of whether he has any other civic duties that he needs to work on.

The same listmember goes on to say:

> Allah is not a merciful God. Allah does not have grace. Allah > teaches that to get to Paradise, one must counteract bad works > with good works, and even if you have more good works than bad, > there is still no guarantee of getting into heaven.

Here I am reminded of a story (told, if I remember aright, by Mohammed, but not in the Koran). A certain man had always lived an extraordinarily devout life, keeping all the commandments and praying constantly. When he died, God asked him, "Will you be judged according to your merits, or according to my Grace?" He said, "According to my merits." God took a scale, and placed on one side all the good things that the man had done for God, and on the other side just one good thing that God had done for the man, in giving him the sight of his right eye. The latter side completely outweighed the former. The man saw the point, and called out that he had changed his mind, whereupon he was promptly admitted to Heaven, by the Grace of God, and not through his own merits.

Every chapter of the Koran (except one), and every muslim prayer, opens with the words, "In the name of God, the Merciful...."

> They have added a great deal of excess baggage to their religion....

So have the Jews. So have many groups of Christians (not my group, of course). This is always a problem, and a temptation.

> They really need our prayers.

Amen. I would never suggest that it makes no difference whether one is a muslim or a Christian. But I do not think that a muslim who becomes a Christian will be disposed to say, "I see that I was worshipping a false god until now." I think that he will rather say, "I have always been taught that God made me, and that He loves me. But until I came to know God through Christ, I had no idea how much He loved me."