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Islam Is Repackaged Polytheism: Documentation

Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings, Allah p 326

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Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings, Allah p 326

ALLAH is the proper name of God among Muslims, corresponding in usage to Jehovah (Jahweh) among the Hebrews. Thus it is not to be regarded as a common noun meaning 'God' (or 'god'), and the Muslim must use another word or form if he wishes to indicate any other than his own peculiar deity. Similarly, no plural can be formed from it, and though the liberal Muslim may admit that Christians or Jews call upon Allah, he could never s Peak of the Allah of the Christians or the Allah of tire Jews. Among Christians, too, a similar usage holds. In the current Arabic Bible versions, 'God' is uniform' rendered Allah, but when 'the Lord God' occurs, it is rendered ar-rabbu-l-ilahu, the Lord, the Ilah,' where `the Ilah' is an uncontracted form, retaining its force of a common noun with the article, from which Allah has been shortened through usage. The Muslim, too, who usually derives and explains Ilah as meaning ' worshipped,' uses it and its plural Tliha in the broadest way, of any god, explaining that such is possible because worshippers believe that their has a claim to worship, and ' names follow beliefs, not what the thing is in itself (Lisdn, xvii. 358). But more ordinarily, in referring to the gods of the heathen, a Muslim speaks simply of their images or idols, asnam, authan. The origin of this goes back to pre-Muslim times, as Prof. Noldeke has shown below (art. ARABS [RELIGION OF THE ANCIENT]). Muhammad found the Meccans believing in a supreme God whom they called Allah, thus already contracted. With Allah, however, they associated other minor deities, some evidently tribal, others called daughters of Allah. Muhammad's reform was to assert the solitary existence of Allah. The first article of the Muslim creed, therefore, La ilaha illa-llahu means only, as addressed by him to the Meccans, ' There exists no God except the one whom you already call Allah.' Naturally, this precise historical origin is not clear to the Muslin exegetes and theologians. But that Allah is a proper name, applicable only to their peculiar God, they are certain, and they mostly recognize that its force as a proper name has arisen rough contraction in form and limitation in usage.

At-Tabari (d. A.H. 310=A.D. 923), the greatest commentator on the Qur'an of the old traditional school, seems to have very little on the word. [Allah] He gives only one derivation, namely, that it means 'the worshipped, the served,' and contents himself with proving the existence of such a root in Arabic and the possibility of the contraction of al-ilah to Allah (Tafsir, i. 40). Apparently neither the etymological nor the metaphysical question had become important for his time. It is very different in the next greatest Qur'an commentary which we have, that by ar-Razi, the great systematic theologian, who died in A.H. 608 (=A.D. 1209) He deals with it [Allah] twice, in one passage considering whether God can have a known proper name (Mafatih, al-ghaib, i. 61), and in another, the meaning, derivation, etc., of Allah (t. 83 ff.) The first position, he says, the earlier philosophers denied. The object of a name was to distinguish the thing named from other things; but if the thing named could not be known, as in the case of the peculiar essence of God, there was no use for the name. Certainly, if God gave knowledge of Himself to some particularly chosen beings, He might have a name for them. As this name, then, would be the greatest of all names, he who knew it could control all things and beings, material and spiritual. It would be, in fact, the Most Great Name of God, the ineffable name of the Jews, by which miracles could be wrought, and of which Muhammad had evidently heard. That such a name exists ar-Razi believes; traditions from Muhammad assert its existence among the names given in the Qur'an, but are vague and contradictory as to which it is; and as it cannot be a name involving a quality, but must be the name of God's essence, it can be nothing else than Allah, God's proper name.

His consideration, then, of Allah he divides into five sections (i. 83ff.)

1. The preferable view is that Allah is a proper name of God and has no derivation; this he defends with arguments based on the undoubted usage of the Qur'an and the impossibility of making a common noun apply to an individual only.

2. The various derivations alleged by those who hold that it comes from a common noun. Eight of these are given, with theological and metaphysical refutations of an a priori kind ; the facts of the language have little consideration.

3. The linguistic possibility of derivation. Some held that it was from Hebrew or Syriac; but it was known by the Arabs in the time of Muhammad as a plain Arabic word, and as such most accept it. Of the others, those who say it is a name need no derivation, and those who derive it are of two schools, on which a reference to Lane, Lexicon, pp. 82bff., will suffice.

4. Broadly, Allah is used of the true God only, as also, in the first instance, al-ilah ; but the latter can by extension be applied to any god, as Allah Himself applies it in the Qur'an. [This, of course, is a complete reversal of the historical fact.]

5. Certain peculiarities of this Divine Name which distinguish it from all other names of God ; e.g. as letter by letter is cut from it, the remainder continues significant for God, and the formal confession of the Muslim faith can take place only through this name, and not through any of the descriptive epithets, such as the 'Merciful One,' 'the Holy One, etc.


"In any case it is extremely important fact that Muhammad did not find it necessary to introduce an altogether novel deity, but contented himself with ridding the heathen Allah of his companions subjecting him to a kind of dogmatic purification." (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, I:664.)

(Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings, Allah p 326)

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