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.
Will Evangelical Attitudes Toward Muslims Continue to Harden?
The purpose of this post is not to beat up on evangelicals but to help us stay focused on the mission of God. We may never understand what motivates Muslim militants, but what we do know is that Islam is reeling. Humanly speaking, the future is bleak for the Middle East and much of the Muslim world. One hundred years ago, Samuel Zwemer advised against stereotyping Muslims and urged Christians to “awaken sympathy, love and prayer on behalf of the Islamic world until its bonds are burst, its wounds healed, its sorrows removed, and its desires satisfied in Jesus Christ.” “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
During the 5th Crusade St. Francis undertook what most considered a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. So radical was the Sultan he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. He was “treacherous, brainless and false hearted,” but where others saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior and compassion welled up inside of him.
As Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato walked onto the battlefield, they were caught, beaten and brought to the Sultan who was happy because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” said Francis, “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” Thus he proclaimed the Triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. The Sultan did not convert for it was he who retook Jerusalem. By God’s grace St. Francis was not killed but that possibility did not deter him.
In these perilous times, when radical Islam is carrying out horrific acts of violence, Christians must reach out to Muslims with courage and compassion. We must understand their concerns and engage with them in witness. Most Muslims wake up with no church, no Bible, and no one to tell them about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Five times a day from countless minarets in their midst, they hear God is great, but who will tell them God is love?
I have just returned from an amazing conference in the far East! There were approximately 1000 people present. The most gripping moment was the simple testimony of a little woman (non-white), serving in what may be Central Asia’s dirtiest, darkest and most dangerous country. Dressed in the garb of a village Muslim woman (for security, only eyes showing), she told of a few converts who had believed, despite the cost. One day a friend and fellow worker wept, asking God how these people would ever know He loved them. Shortly thereafter, she and her family were martyred. This little woman was warned her family was next on this list, so she prayed: “God, if that’s your will, we are also willing to die.” One daughter (age 14) said, “Mom, we can’t leave; my best friend has not yet accepted Jesus.” It was a family decision to stay. She was on her way back and asked for more workers. Seven young people got up from their seats and went forward (5 women, 2 men)—all from the same city. By now many (myself included) were in tears.