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The name "Allah" is the Arabic word that refers to the one true God who created the heavens and the Earth – the God of all the Prophets from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
The word Allah comes from the Arabic word “ilâh” meaning “deity, god, divine being” combined with the definite article “al”. Put together, they make “al-Ilâh” or literally “the God” which is then elided together as “Allah”.
Essentially, "Allah" is the literal Arabic equivalent to the English word "God" with a capital "G" while the Arabic word "ilâh" is the literal equivalent of the English word "god" with a lower-case "g".
The Qur'ân uses the name Allah consistently when referring to the message of all of the prophets and to the various beliefs of all of the people.
Even when the Qur'ân quotes people of other religions saying false things about the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the word Allah is used.
We have, for example, where certain Jews are quoted as saying: "And the Jews say: 'The hand of Allah is tied up!' Their hands shall be shackled, and may they be cursed for what they say. Nay, both His hands are spread out, He bestows as He pleases." [Sûrah al-Mâ'idah: 64]
We have the Christian doctrine of the trinity conveyed in the following verse: "They surely disbelieve who say: 'Lo! Allah is the third of three' when there is no god but the One Allah. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve." [Sûrah al-Mâ'idah: 73]
We also have in the Qur'ân: "And the Jews say: 'Ezra is the son of Allah', and the Christians say: 'The Messiah is the son of Allah'." [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 30]
These verses are in Arabic and use the Arabic name Allah. The fact that the Qur'ân does not shy away from using this word even when it speaks about the falsehood of the people of unbelief shows that the name "Allah" is truly universal, and can be used by anyone to refer to the true Creator of the heavens and the Earth.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) always referred to God as Allah when he discussed the beliefs of the Jews and Christians with him. They did so as well.
We have the challenge between the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to the Christians of Najran about their false belief in the divinity of Christ. The Arabs of Najran were Arab and were certainly speaking Arabic.
We read in the Qur'ân where Allah commands His Messenger: “If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge hath come to thee, Say: Come! Let us gather together, our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: then let us earnestly pray. And invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie.” [Sûrah Âl-`Imrân: 61]
The people of Arabia all referred to the Creator of the heavens and the Earth as "Allah", whether they were Jews, Christians, or pagans. This is the reason why, in pre-Islamic times, many people of all three faiths already carried the name `Abd Allah.
They included the Prophet's father `Abd Allah b. `Abd al-Muttalib who died before the Prophet (peace be upon him) was born, as well as the Prophet's cousin `Abd Allah b. Abî Umayyah who only accepted Islam shortly before the conquest of Mecca.
They included the prominent Jewish rabbi of Madinah, `Abd Allah b. Salâm, who became one of the most eminent of the Prophet's Companions. Of course, he had been given the name `Abd Allah by his Jewish family long before Islam.
The measures that have recently been taken in some countries to bar non-Muslims from referring to God as "Allah" in their religious publications are quite unfortunate. The publications is question are ones written in languages where the name used for the Creator of the heavens and the Earth is the name "Allah".
The purpose behind these restrictive measures is the fear that those publications will confuse Muslims who speak those languages and who might read those publications. Be that as it may, the confusion on a global scale which is being caused by the restriction is far worse.
Islamic workers who try convey the message of Islam to Jews and Christians have been struggling against the widely held belief idea that the god of the Muslims is some exotic deity other than the one who sent Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them all). It has been a long and uphill effort. These recent measures in some countries to ban non-Muslims form using the name Allah have resulted in confirming and entrenching those false suspicions among non-Muslims.
It is the duty of Muslims today to redouble their efforts to teach the people of the world that there is only one true God who created the heavens and the Earth; that all of the prophets and messengers were sent by Him with the same essential teaching: to worship the Creator alone and not set up partners with Him; that Allah is the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus – and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
And Allah knows best.
Prepared by the Research Committee of IslamToday