Allah Is Not GodFeatured, Social Justice — By M. Morford on July 14, 2010 at 7:00 am
“Allah is not God.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this term. You may have even used it a few times. But what does it mean? What do we really mean when such a catchy slogan jumps out?
In any grown-up conversation we should start with the basics; what is the literal agreed upon, dictionary definition of any given word, what are its origins and what was its original meaning and what has it come to mean? Easy slogans say nothing – in fact they suffocate mature, intelligent discussion.
I had a student a few years ago in my college level English class who interrupted the flow of discussions with abrupt, barely relevant stock phrases. He rarely, if ever, had a coherent or complete thought or any documentation for his opinions – he just made these (usually political) pronouncements. He sounded like he had some kind of disability or brain injury – or something like Turrette’s syndrome. He was clearly unaware of the process of sustained, civil, adult conversation. He just had slogans. I found out later that he was, in fact, a very intelligent and charming young man. He had somehow become enamored with the slogan- thinking, shout-down mentality of talk radio. He could think and express himself coherently, he just chose not to.
“Allah is not God” is a typical slogan in that the user presumes that it is a statement of ultimate political (if not theological) truth. But what does it mean? When we say “Allah is not God” I think we are attempting to say something like “The Muslim god is not the Christian God.” We may agree or disagree, but what we are really saying with “Allah is not God” is “The Arabic word for God is not the English word for God.” That is clearly true, but not very insightful. After all, the Arabic word for “shoe” for example or any thing is not the English word for “shoe” or any other object. Americans, especially American Christians it seems, are eager to seize any opportunity to display their ignorance. This is no exception.
Here are a few facts as a reality check:
The Arabic language predates Islam. The word “Allah” was in use centuries before Islam.
The apostle Paul, immediately upon his conversion experience, went to Arabia for three years (see Galatians 1:16-18). Arabs were among the first converts to Christianity (see Acts 2:11).
As of 2010 there are believed to be more than 40 Million self-identified Arab Christians worldwide. In Syria, Christians made up just under 15% of the population (about 1.2 million people) under the 1960 census. Current estimates put them at about 10% of the population (about 2,000,000). Lebanon has the largest number of Christians in the Arab world in proportion to its population. They made up around 55% of Lebanon’s population before the Lebanese Civil War but their percentage today may be as low as 40% now (about 1,800,000). About 75,500 Palestinians live in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The nation with the highest Muslim population is not in the Middle East. It is Indonesia.
I have friends who rage against Shari ‘a Law. These are Christian friends who miss the irony that virtually all of Shari ‘a law is Old Testament law. To blur Islam/Arab/terrorist is an act of intellectual laziness that is not worthy of us. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines “Allah” by a link to “God” which they define as: “the supreme or ultimate reality: the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.” Surely, with that crucial territory as common ground, we should be able to practice grace towards one another. What we have in common is far richer, deeper and enduring than what keeps us apart.
There are differences to be sure, between the religions “of the book,” but perhaps we could cross those divides, not with ignorance and implicit racism, but with wisdom, grace and discernment. Perhaps then, and only then, might we know the Shalom that passes all understanding.