Most think of Allah as the god of Islam. And yet there are many Eastern and Middle-Eastern Christians who call God “Allah.” Is this wrong? Recently a reader sent in this question:
I love your newsletter and also the freedom to comment, so that I can read others people believe too…
Anyway, the reason I sent you this email is that I would like to ask you about something. In Indonesia, there are some Christian people who are trying to tell people it is wrong to call God “Allah.” They say we should use God’s original name, YHWH. The reason they say this is because Allah is the name used by Muslim’s for their god.
Personally, I do not mind using the name Allah, since I know which Allah I am talking and praying too… I pray to the Allah who sent Jesus to redeem us…
Would you maybe talk about this? Have you heard about this before?
As with most of my attempts at answering theological questions, I want to approach this question somewhat backwards.
The Traditional Answer is NO. You cannot call God Allah.
The traditional way of handling the difficult question of whether or not it is okay to call God Allah is by comparing Christianity and Islam, and then saying that since the religions are so different, it would be wrong to name the Christian God Allah.
For example, here is an article where Albert Mohler says pretty much this very thing. Here is a quote:
“If Allah has no son, Allah is not the father of our Lord Jesus Christ…This is no mere ‘discussion and bickering.’ This is where the Gospel stands or falls,” the theologian concluded.
Then there is this informative article which shows all the differences between the God of the Christianity and Allah of Islam.
In some ways, I am in agreement with those two articles. To say that God can be called “Allah” risks causing a lot of confusion in the minds of many people. There are vast differences between the God of the Christian Bible and the Allah of the Muslim Quran.
Furthermore, can you imagine asking a Muslim to name their god Yahweh? Of course not! Imagine the outrage!
Can you imagine asking Muslims to accept the idea that Allah had a son, or became flesh in Jesus Christ? Never!
So if Muslims know and recognize that Allah and Yahweh are so radically different, isn’t it odd that some Christians are willing to call God Allah?
This is the traditional way of answering this theological question about whether or not it is right to call God Allah. The traditional answers have a lot going for them.
My Backwards Way of Answering…
(Here we get into the backwards way of answering this question about whether or not you can call God Allah… you’ve been warned).
I often think that one of the problems with a lot of theological debates centers not around the various opinions, but in how the question itself is asked. The way a question is asked often frames the debate.
The question for this debate is asked this way: “Is it wrong to call God Allah”?
Those who say it is wrong point to all the questionable activities and commands that Allah gave in the Quran. They say that Allah could not have had a son. That Allah could not have become flesh. That Allah is not a Trinity.
So let me ask the question a completely different way, to see if we can get a different answer.
Is it wrong to call God Yahweh?
Before you answer, I invite you to think through all the violent and questionable commands and activities of Yahweh in the Old Testament. I invite you to consider whether or not a Jewish person would think that Yahweh could have a son. I invite you to consider what a Jewish person would think about Yahweh becoming flesh. I invite you to think about what a Jewish person would say about Yahweh being a Trinity.
If we are completely honest with ourselves (and with the Old Testament text), I think the answer we give to the question “Is it wrong to call God Allah?” should be the same answer we give to the question “Is it wrong to call God Yahweh?”
Can I put it bluntly? The God depicted in the Old Testament often seems more bloody, devious, and vengeful than any depiction of Allah in the Quran.
But what about Jesus? What about the New Testament? Jesus looks nothing like Allah!
Yes. that is true. But again, if we are honest, Jesus doesn’t look a whole lot like Yahweh either.
(I should say at this point that I am currently writing a book about how Yahweh looks exactly like Jesus, but only when viewed through the lens of Jesus dying on the cross. But the book is less than half-way finished… and if I cannot prove the thesis to my satisfaction, I see no way out of the dilemma about how to reconcile the love of Jesus with the violence of Yahweh other than to say that in some way or another, the Old Testament is wrong in its portrayal of God. Anyway, stay tuned for more about this book…)
Yahweh vs. Jesus vs. Allah
If we can say that Jesus reveals Yahweh to us when Yahweh looks nothing like Jesus, I don’t have too much difficulty saying that maybe Jesus reveals Allah to us as well, even though Allah looks nothing like Jesus. When it comes to both Yahweh and Allah, I would say that there seems to be both good things and bad things about both, but Jesus came to show us what God is really like… and to help us separate the truly divine nature from the blood-bathed human trappings we have clothed God in.
Does this mean that Yahweh and Allah are the same? No! Nobody can logically make that comparison. Sure, there are a few similarities, but their differences are too vast.
So while I would never ever ask a Muslim to call Allah “Yahweh,” so also, I would never ask a Jewish person or a Christian to call Yahweh, “Allah.”
Is it wrong to call God Allah?
I invite all Christians, whether they are Western, Eastern, or Middle-Eastern Christians, that when they pray to God, they picture Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the center of our faith and practice, and (more importantly for this question), Jesus reveals God to us!
Jesus says that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (John 14:7). Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) and that in Jesus dwelt all the fullness of God (Col 1:19). The book of Hebrews says that Jesus is the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3).
So if, when you think about God, you picture the God revealed in Jesus Christ, but use the name Yahweh, I have no problem with that. It might be confusing to Jewish people, but we are not asking them to picture Jesus when they talk about ha shem (the way they pray and speak about Yahweh). But if they ask if you are Jewish, you can say no, that you are a follower of Jesus.
And if, when you think about God, you picture the God revealed in Jesus Christ, but use the name Allah, I have no problem with that. It might be confusing to Muslim people, but we are not asking them to picture Jesus when they talk about Allah. But if they ask if you are Muslim, you can say no, that you are a follower of Jesus.
And if, when you think about God, you picture the God revealed in Jesus Christ, but use the generic name “God,” I have no problem with that either. Most people might wonder which God you are referring to, and if they ask, you can point them to Jesus.
What are your thoughts on this? Is it wrong for Christians to call God Allah?
Note: After I wrote this post, I decided to search the internet to see what others might be saying about this topic, and discovered, much to my dismay, that violence is erupting in Malaysia because Christians want to call God Allah. I imagine that maybe this is why someone sent the question in to me…
Ironically, this changes my answer somewhat. Though theologically, I stand by what I have written above, from a practical standpoint, I am not sure calling God Allah is worth dying over… If Muslims are offended by us referring to the God revealed in Jesus Christ with the name “Allah,” but Christians feel it is our “right” to refer to God however we want, I echo Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:7: “Why not rather be wronged?”
Of course, having said that, many early Christians were killed and persecuted by Jewish people (Read the book of Acts) because they equated Jesus with Yahweh… but the Christians thought the risk of arrest and death was worth it… And yet, the biblical case for equating Jesus with Yahweh is much stronger than the case for equating Jesus with Allah (there is no biblical case for it).
So what is my NEW final (tentative) answer? It’s this: Follow your own conscience and the leading of the Holy Spirit and the wise counsel from other mature Christians in your local community of believers…