Backgrounder on the word “God” in Arabic and English

Joachim Martillo

Posted Jan 20, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Backgrounder on the word “God” in Arabic and English

by Joachim Martillo

Some Christians claim that Muslims do not worship the same god as Christians do even though Arab Christians routinely use the following terminology:

الله الآب, Allah al-Ab, i.e., God the Father,
الله الابن, Allah al-Ibn, i.e., God the Son,
الله الروح القدس, Allah al-Ruh al-qudus, i.e., God the Holy Spirit.

Allah, which is a God-name like Yahweh, is not exactly equivalent to God, which is the English word for god generically.

To be specific, the phrase “the God” is perfectly normal English but an Arabic phrase like al-Allah or a Hebrew phrase like ha-Yahweh is neither normal Arabic nor normal Hebrew.

English and most other European languages do not have a native God-name equivalent to Allah or Yahweh.

The generic Arabic word for god is ilaah (إله or إلاه ), which is comparable to Hebrew eloah or to Aramaic elah (אֱלָה) or to Syriac alah (ܐܰܠܳܗ).

אֱלָהָא is the determined form in Aramaic
ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ is the determined form in Syriac.

Targum Onkelos (Jewish Aramaic translation) for Psalms 18:32 contains the phrase:

Leyt elaha (אֱלָהָא) ela Yahweh.

La ilaaha illa allahu (لا إله إلاَّ الله) is the Arabic equivalent.

Thus, the first half of the Islamic Statement of Faith (the Shahada), “There is no god but God (Allah),” is, in fact, Biblical.

[Leyt (Aramaic for existential negation) requires a determined nominative where la (Arabic for not) requires an undetermined accusative.]