Allah (English pronunciation: //, // or //; Arabic: الله Allāh, IPA: [ʔalˤˈlˤɑːh] ( listen)) is the Arabic word for God (al ilāh, literally "the God"), referring to the God in Abrahamic religions. The word has cognates in other Semitic languages, including Elah in Aramaic, ʾĒl in Canaanite and Elohim in Hebrew.
It is now mainly used by Muslims to refer to God in Islam, but has been also used by Arab Christians since pre-Islamic times. It is also often, albeit not exclusively, used by Bábists, Bahá'ís, Indonesian and Maltese Christians, and Mizrahi Jews. Christians and Sikhs in West Malaysia also use and have used the word to refer to God. This has caused political and legal controversies there as the law in West Malaysia prohibits non-Islamic uses of the word.
The term Allāh is derived from a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- "the" and ilāh "deity, god" to al-lāh meaning "the deity", or "the God". Cognates of the name "Allāh" exist in other Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Aramaic. The correspondfing Aramaic form is Elah (אלה), but its emphatic state is Elaha (אלהא). It is written as ܐܠܗܐ (ʼĔlāhā) in Biblical Aramaic and ܐܲܠܵܗܵܐ (ʼAlâhâ) in Syriac as used by the Assyrian Church, both meaning simply "God". Biblical Hebrew mostly uses the plural (but functional singular) form Elohim (אלהים), but more rarely it also uses the singular form Eloah (אלוהּ). In the Sikh scripture of Guru Granth Sahib, the term Allah (Punjabi: ਅਲਹੁ) is used 37 times.
In Islam, Allah is the unique, omnipotent and only deity and creator of the universe and is equivalent to God in other Abrahamic religions. There are both similarities and differences between the concept of God as portrayed in the Quran and the Hebrew Bible. It has also been applied to certain living human beings as personifications of the term and concept.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, including Mecca, Allah was probably used by polytheistic Arabs as a reference to possibly a creator god or a supreme deity of their pantheon. In pre-Islamic Arabia, Allah was not used to refer to the sole divinity as it is in Islam. The notion of the term may have been vague in the Meccan religion. Muhammad's father's name was ʿAbd-Allāh meaning "the slave of Allāh". Pre-Islamic Christians, Jews and the monotheistic Arabs called Hanifs used the name Allah and the terms 'Bismillah', 'in the name of Allah' to refer to their supreme deity in Arabic stone inscriptions centuries before Islam.
As Hebrew and Arabic are closely related Semitic languages, it is commonly accepted that Allah (root, ilāh) and the Biblical Elohim are cognate derivations of same origin, as is Eloah, a Hebrew word which is used (e.g. in the Book of Job) to mean '(the) God' and also 'god or gods' as is the case of Elohim. Elohim and Eloah ultimately derive from the root El, 'strong', possibly genericized from "El", the Northwest Semitic word meaning "god" or "deity", as in the Ugaritic ’lhm (consonants only), meaning "children of El" (the ancient Near Eastern creator god in pre-Abrahamic tradition).
The Aramaic word for "God" in the language of Assyrian Christians is ʼĔlāhā, or Alaha. Arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews, use the word "Allah" to mean "God". The Christian Arabs of today have no other word for "God" than "Allah". (Even the Arabic-descended Maltese language of Malta, whose population is almost entirely Roman Catholic, uses Alla for "God".) Arab Christians, for example, use the terms Allāh al-ab (الله الأب) for God the Father, Allāh al-ibn (الله الابن) for God the Son, and Allāh al-rūḥ al-quds (الله الروح القدس) for God the Holy Spirit. (See God in Christianity for the Christian concept of God.)
Arab Christians have used two forms of invocations that were affixed to the beginning of their written works. They adopted the Muslim bismillāh, and also created their own Trinitized bismillāh as early as the 8th century. The Muslim bismillāh reads: "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful." The Trinitized bismillāh reads: "In the name of Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God." The Syriac, Latin and Greek invocations do not have the words "One God" at the end. This addition was made to emphasize the monotheistic aspect of Trinitian belief and also to make it more palatable to Muslims.
Some archaeological excavation quests have led to the discovery of ancient pre-Islamic inscriptions and tombs made by Arabic-speaking Christians in the ruins of a church at Umm el-Jimal in Northern Jordan, which contained references to Allah as the proper name of God, and some of the graves contained names such as "Abd Allah" which means "the servant/slave of Allah".
The name Allah can be found countless times in the reports and the lists of names of Christian martyrs in South Arabia, as reported by antique Syriac documents of the names of those martyrs from the era of the Himyarite and Aksumite kingdoms.
In an inscription of Christian martyrion dated back to 512, references to Allah can be found in both Arabic and Aramaic, which called him "Allah" and "Alaha", and the inscription starts with the statement "By the Help of Allah".
In pre-Islamic Gospels, the name used for God was "Allah", as evidenced by some discovered Arabic versions of the New Testament written by Arab Christians during the pre-Islamic era in Northern and Southern Arabia.
Pre-Islamic Arab Christians have been reported to have raised the battle cry "Ya La Ibad Allah" (O slaves of Allah) to invoke each other into battle.
According to Islamic belief, Allah is the proper name of God, and humble submission to his will, divine ordinances and commandments is the pivot of the Muslim faith. "He is the only God, creator of the universe, and the judge of humankind." "He is unique (wāḥid) and inherently one (aḥad), all-merciful and omnipotent." The Qur'an declares "the reality of Allah, His inaccessible mystery, His various names, and His actions on behalf of His creatures."
In Islamic tradition, there are 99 Names of God (al-asmā’ al-ḥusná lit. meaning: 'the best names' or 'the most beautiful names'), each of which evoke a distinct characteristic of Allah. All these names refer to Allah, the supreme and all-comprehensive divine name. Among the 99 names of God, the most famous and most frequent of these names are "the Merciful" (al-Raḥmān) and "the Compassionate" (al-Raḥīm).
Most Muslims use the untranslated Arabic phrase in shā’ Allāh (meaning 'if God wills') after references to future events. Muslim discursive piety encourages beginning things with the invocation of bismillāh (meaning 'in the name of God').
There are certain phrases in praise of God that are favored by Muslims, including "Subḥān Allāh" (Holiness be to God), "al-ḥamdu lillāh" (Praise be to God), "lā ilāha illā Allāh" (There is no deity but God) and "Allāhu akbar" (God is greater) as a devotional exercise of remembering God (dhikr). In a Sufi practice known as dhikr Allah (lit. remembrance of God), the Sufi repeats and contemplates on the name Allah or other divine names while controlling his or her breath.
Some scholars[who?] have suggested that Muḥammad used the term Allah in addressing both pagan Arabs and Jews or Christians in order to establish a common ground for the understanding of the name for God, a claim Gerhard Böwering says is doubtful. According to Böwering, in contrast with pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism, God in Islam does not have associates and companions, nor is there any kinship between God and jinn. Pre-Islamic pagan Arabs believed in a blind, powerful, inexorable and insensible fate over which man had no control. This was replaced with the Islamic notion of a powerful but provident and merciful God.
According to Francis Edwards Peters, "The Qur’ān insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews (29:46). The Qur’an's Allah is the same Creator God who covenanted with Abraham". Peters states that the Qur'an portrays Allah as both more powerful and more remote than Yahweh, and as a universal deity, unlike Yahweh who closely follows Israelites.
As a loanword
English and other European languages
The history of the name Allāh in English was probably influenced by the study of comparative religion in the 19th century; for example, Thomas Carlyle (1840) sometimes used the term Allah but without any implication that Allah was anything different from God. However, in his biography of Muḥammad (1934), Tor Andræ always used the term Allah, though he allows that this "conception of God" seems to imply that it is different from that of the Jewish and Christian theologies.
Languages which may not commonly use the term Allah to denote God may still contain popular expressions which use the word. For example, because of the centuries long Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula, the word ojalá in the Spanish language and oxalá in the Portuguese language exist today, borrowed from Arabic (Arabic: إن شاء الله). This phrase literally means 'if God wills' (in the sense of "I hope so"). The German poet Mahlmann used the form "Allah" as the title of a poem about the ultimate deity, though it is unclear how much Islamic thought he intended to convey.
Some Muslims leave the name "Allāh" untranslated in English.
Malaysian and Indonesian language
Christians in Malaysia and Indonesia use Allah to refer to God in the Malaysian and Indonesian languages (both of which are standardized forms of the Malay language.) Mainstream Bible translations in the language use Allah as the translation of Hebrew Elohim (translated in English Bibles as "God"). This goes back to early translation work by Francis Xavier in the 16th century. The first dictionary of Dutch-Malay by Albert Cornelius Ruyl, Justus Heurnius, and Caspar Wiltens in 1650 (revised edition from 1623 edition and 1631 Latin-edition) recorded "Allah" as the translation of the Dutch word "Godt". Ruyl also translated Matthew in 1612 to Malay language (first Bible translation to non-European language, only a year after King James Version was published), which was printed in the Netherlands in 1629. Then he translated Mark which was published in 1638.
The government of Malaysia in 2007 outlawed usage of the term Allah in any other but Muslim contexts, but the Malayan High Court in 2009 revoked the law, ruling that it was unconstitutional. While Allah had been used for the Christian God in Malay for more than four centuries, the contemporary controversy was triggered by usage of Allah by the Roman Catholic newspaper The Herald. The government appealed the court ruling, and the High Court suspended implementation of its verdict until the appeal was heard. In October 2013, the court ruled in favor of the government's ban. While in early 2014, the Malaysian government confiscated more than 300 bibles for using the word to refer to the Christian God in Peninsular Malaysia. However, the use of Allah does not prohibited in the two Malaysian state of Sabah and Sarawak. The main reason it is not prohibited in these two states is that usage has been long-established and local Alkitab (Bibles) have been widely distributed freely in East Malaysia without restrictions for years. Both states also do not have similar Islamic state laws as those in West Malaysia.
As a reaction to some media criticism, the Malaysian government has introduced a "10-point solution" to avoid confusion and misleading information. The 10-point solution is in line with the spirit of the 18- and 20-point agreements of Sarawak and Sabah.
In other scripts and languages
- Assamese, Bengali: আল্লাহ Allah
- Bosnian: Allah
- Chinese (Mandarin): 阿拉 Ālā, 安拉 Ānlā; 真主 Zhēnzhǔ (semantic translation as "the true master"), 胡大 Huda (Khoda, from Persian language)
- Czech, Slovak: Alláh
- Greek: Αλλάχ Allách
- Filipino: Alā or Allah
- Hebrew: אללה Allah
- Hindi: अल्लाह Allāh
- Malayalam: അള്ളാഹ് Aḷḷāh
- Japanese: アラー Arā, アッラー Arrā, アッラーフ Arrāfu
- Latvian: Allāhs
- Maltese: Alla
- Korean: 알라 Alla
- Polish: Allah, also archaic Allach or Ałłach
- Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian: Алла́х Allakh
- Serbian, Belarusian, Macedonian: Алах Alah
- Spanish, Portuguese: Alá
- Thai: อัลลอฮ์ Anláw
- Punjabi (Gurmukhi): ਅੱਲਾਹ Allāh, archaic ਅਲਹੁ Alahu (in Sikh scriptures)
- Turkish: Allah
The word Allāh is always written without an alif to spell the ā vowel. This is because the spelling was settled before Arabic spelling started habitually using alif to spell ā. However, in vocalized spelling, a small diacritic alif is added on top of the shaddah to indicate the pronunciation.
- الاه : This reading would be Allāh spelled phonetically with alif for the ā.
- الإله : This reading would be al-Ilāh = 'the god' (an older form, without contraction), by older spelling practice without alif for ā.
Unicode has a codepoint reserved for Allāh, ﷲ = U+FDF2, in the Arabic Presentation Forms-A block, which exists solely for "compatibility with some older, legacy character sets that encoded presentation forms directly", which is discouraged for new text. Instead, the word Allāh should be represented by its individual Arabic letters, while modern font technologies will render the desired ligature.
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