The Trouble with Using the Word “God” And Avoiding “Allah”

As scholars past and present have stated, it is permissible to use words like God, Khuda, Almighty, the Lord, etc., to refer to Allah. This article is not meant to dispute that permissibility. 

That being said, we have to recognize trends and the larger impact of language choices in how we speak about Islam. The fact of the matter is, some Muslims are embarrassed to say the Name of Allah when speaking about religion to non-Muslims. Some of them have made it a habit to avoid using the Name of Allah entirely and instead use terms like “God” or “Almighty” exclusively. This is problematic.

Furthermore, such exclusive usage may seem neutral at first glance, but can turn out to be harmful in the long run in subtle (or not so subtle) ways.

Here are nine points to consider:

1. It is impossible to translate many terms in Islam accurately. We all know that much is “lost in translation” when translating Quran and hadith. The same goes for the Name of Allah.

2. The Name Allah is special and has baraka. We enjoy saying it and reading it. If I am speaking to Muslims, I use ism al jalala Allah, but if I am speaking philosophically or conceptually in context of atheism, etc., then I use “God” in order to avoid inadvertently saying anything inappropriate about Allah.

3. If I am speaking more generally to kuffar, then I also try to use the Name Allah but with a clarificatory remark at the beginning or with a phrase like “Allah, the Creator of all that exists.”

4. I don’t think that using generic translations like “God” or “the Almighty” in order to “appeal to a non-Muslim audience” makes any sense. Ism al-jalala is not a generic term; it is a “proper name” that is not interchangeable with whatever word, just like Muhammad is not a generic term but a proper name. We could go around and instead of saying Muhammad ﷺ say, “The Oft Praised One.” Why don’t we start doing that to appeal to non-Muslims and make them more comfortable with Islam? Clearly that would be ludicrous.

5. Non-Muslims deserve to hear the Name of their Creator. This Name does not “belong” to us as Muslims. His Name is not God or the Almighty. It is Allah.

6. The very idea that a generic translation can substitute for the Name Allah plays into an incorrect belief that all religions worship the same god but just have different names for him. This is utterly false. We do not worship the same god. They worship false gods of their own making and imagination and should not be given the incorrect impression to the contrary.

7. Even if the only consideration here were how non-Muslims react to the word Almighty vs. Ism al-jalala Allah, then even then it is far from obvious that the former has the most positive affect. Words have an effect on the heart and mind and the blessed Name Allah has a power to change and move that we cannot begin to imagine. Why deliberately avoid it?

8. Additionally, language itself affects thought. The way we think about Islam deeply depends on the language we use to speak about Islam. The exact nature of this connection is not always clear, though both secular academics and Islamic scholars have noted this. American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf was among the first in the modern West to articulate this thesis. Five hundred years before him, al-Shatibi claims in his al-Muwafaqat that Arabic is not an incidental characteristic of Islam, but that Islam is inexorably Arabic and without deep understanding of Arabic one could not deeply understand Islam. The structure of Islam and the structure of Arabic share an underlying logic that makes this the case.

9. All this being said, occasionally using the word God instead of the Name Allah is not a big deal. But it is noteworthy and a concern when there is a deliberate choice to exclusively use the generic translation, especially when the majority of one’s audience is Muslims. This is not unlike those who insist on using the term “ghayr Muslim” instead of kafir. Why? Why go out of one’s way to avoid the term kafir? The defenders of this argue that kafir has a negative connotation that “non-Muslim” or ghayr Muslim does not. Uh…Exactly! It is supposed to be negative! Why are you deliberately erasing that negativity? Is it because you have internalized the modern universalist notion that religious belief is just a matter of personal opinion and we can’t be judgmental about what people believe? Those who do think this way have a major aqida problem and their choice of words betrays that.

We call on Allah by His Most Beautiful Names to protect us and guide us.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent insight into the psychology of unconscious inferiority complex that drives some Muslims from embracing Islamic terms to avoid appearing too overtly Muslim.

    A true Muslim knows he possesses Dinul Haq and should be eager to announce it to the world

  2. The name Allah is very very special. Dr. Bilal Phillips has a very beautiful series of the names of Allah.
    https://youtu.be/uPL79EdIA98

    I can understand someone’s claim that using other names for particular instances to appeal to someone when giving Dawah. That should be when done one on one , case by case. Default should always be Allah. No question!

  3. It is ***exclusively*** used by perennialists, orientalist “Muslims” and western university academics as a neutral word so as to present oneself more palatable to their tastes. Another substitute that infuriates me is when such bozos use the word “The Divine”. They do it oftentimes when they’re superimposing one religious “tradition”s mores onto another one’s in perennialist exercises. Oh look, we just also discovered the new chick word to say religion. These perennialists also tend not to use the word “religion” and rather use “tradition” in order to cushion the otherizing process as much as possible between people of different faiths.

    The most bizarre thing is all these people also for some reason spell Quran as “Koran”. That’s one that I never understood. I can understand replacing one word with another to distort the meaning or message, but just how exactly does altered transliteration for Qur’an or Quran or Qur^an to Koran work?

    Speaking of “lost in translations”, the same group of people employ similarly sneaky sleights of hand in translating verses, ahadith, texts, and rules.

    Example: Mark Hanson lists out the x # of steps that need to be followed before a mufti/qadi can declare takfir of “a person”. Takfir is a very serious matter.
    Sleight of hand: The fiqh rule he is talking about is about takfir of “A MUSLIM” or a person who claims Islam – and there is some saying or action that needs detailed analysis and interpretation to call him a kafir (apostate) or not.
    The fiqh rule in question does not apply to open kafirs like Christians. But that is exactly what Mark Hanson tries to convey – that a mufti or qadi needs to follow x # of steps before calling Ted Cruz for example, a kafir!

    By the same token, these same kind of shayatin mistranslate “Muslim” or “Mumin” in the Arabic text to “believer” or “a person” when it suits them rather than leaving “Muslim” intact.

    Take this hadith which states unequivocally that the sanctity of A MUSLIM’S LIFE is more than that of the Ka’bah.

    عن عبد الله بن عمر قَالَ رَأَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَطُوفُ بِالْكَعْبَةِ وَيَقُولُ مَا أَطْيَبَكِ وَأَطْيَبَ رِيحَكِ مَا أَعْظَمَكِ وَأَعْظَمَ حُرْمَتَكِ وَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لَحُرْمَةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ أَعْظَمُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ حُرْمَةً مِنْكِ مَالِهِ وَدَمِهِ وَأَنْ نَظُنَّ بِهِ إِلَّا خَيْرًا

    Munafiqeen world over translated that to ‘the sanctity of a HUMAN’s life’ in order to beg and plead to their kafir masters – when? When some vigilantes attacked the blasphemers in Europe! Such are their levels of shame!

  4. You’re very right to repeat the saying of the Sahabah and the greats of the ummah that Islam is inherently Arabic and without Arabic, knowledge of Islam will be lost.

    Love of Arabs is from iman and holding a grudge against Arabs is from hypocrisy.

    On the topic of replacing “kafir” with “nonMuslim” – it’s not just to cushion the impact of the word… there are actual liberal democracy compliant “fiqh rulings” by western puppet “imams” such as Mark Hanson that “nonMuslim and kafir are two different things, not every nonMuslim is a kafir”. Why? ‘Coz the mufti must follow those steps before he declares “someone” a kafir! It’s sick and pathetic.

  5. Honestly when I hear someone like Ben Shapiro refer to the Torah as the Bible when sitting with non-muslim guests, he sounds like such a phoney (not that he doesn’t most of the time anyway). We know he doesn’t believe their bible and his Torah are the same, and they know we don’t beleive Allah and the god they believe in are the same.

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