We create an enormous barrier to communication if our starting point is, “You Muslims are worshipping a different god from the God we worship. We worship the true God; you are therefore worshipping an idol or something that doesn’t exist.” Even if we don’t state it quite as bluntly as this, if we assume it and communicate it, there is a huge barrier to overcome. How much better to start with…
Every language has its word for “God” which is used in translation of Scripture and within any particular culture and language. Allah is the Arabic word for the English “God” just as “Dios” is in Spanish. It is the word that has been used for centuries by Jews and Christians in the Middle East and actually pre-dates the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Bibles translated in predominantly Muslim countries into local languages such as Indonesian, Malay and Bengali use Allah as the biblical reference to the sovereign creator God.
To not use “Allah” for God would require the use of a foreign word that would not be understood in the local language. Ironically, the word “Allah” comes from the same root word of “Elohim” of the Old Testament, while our English word “God” has no etymological relationship to the biblical YHWH or Jehovah. In fact, it comes from the German “Gott” and was derived from the name of a pagan viking deity!
Use of Allah in Muslim literature refers to the God who created the world. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Ishmael), and other prophets known in the Old Testament. To introduce another identity than the monotheistic sovereign creator deity of the Bible and known as Allah by Muslims would create a formidable barrier to communicating biblical truth.
The concern is understandable that if “Allah” is used in Christian witness that the theological distortions of Muslim understanding will be carried over, resulting in syncretism or heretical concepts of God shaped by ones Islamic background. Certainly, this requires adequate teaching and discipling just as it does in our own culture. And we should be confident that when one comes in genuine repentance and faith to Jesus Christ that God is able to reveal Himself in spirit and truth to a new believer.
Is there more than one God? No, there is only one God, and He can be known only through Jesus Christ. We must not confuse cultural and linguistic bridges of communication in seeking to transcend diverse worldviews.
Christian Heritage and the Rise of Islam in Somalia
The idea that Christianity is the white man’s religion exported to Africa recently is a vast misconception that is deeply detrimental to missionary efforts across the continent. Very early Arab sources indicate a Christian presence in Somalia beginning in the 10th century. It is speculated that Christianity remained in Somalia as late as 1500 until Islam overtook and became the religion of the nation.
Religious ceremonies affect home life very much and therefore involve women particularly. Even Muslim families unaccustomed to practicing daily prayers and other religious duties will celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha just as Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. They are social as well as religious occasions. Muslims and Christians generally show considerable interest in each other’s festivals. These festivals and the interest they generate can be bridges for understanding and communication between the communities.