By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani
The Arabic word “Allah” can be rendered into English using two words, either “god” which stands for any deity, and “Allah” which stands for the One and Only God, the Creator of all creation, the Creator of all the worlds and beyond. Many Muslim writers, including the present writer, insist on using the word “Allah” instead of god or even God (with an initial capital letter) as the former is peculiar to the concept of God in Islam which is totally different from the understanding of God in other faiths.
First of all, the word “Allah” does not have a feminine form; while “god” has “goddess”. In a similar vein, the word “Allah” has no plural form while “god” can be made plural such as in “gods”.
However, this does not mean that Muslims worship a special god who is different from the god of all other people. But, it emphasizes the real concept of God in Islam which is distinct and distinguished from the other concepts held by the adherents and followers of other faiths as is mentioned above.
Interestingly, all speakers of Arabic be it Muslims, Christians and Jews, use the term “Allah” to refer to God. On the first page of one Arabic version of the Bible the word “Allah” is mentioned 17 times.
The most concise description of the concept of Allah can be found in the Qur’anic verse which reads what means,
“The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He hath made for you pairs of yourselves, and of the cattle also pairs, whereby He multiplies you. Naught is as His likeness; and He is the Hearer, the Seer.” (Al-Shura 42:11), and
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (This lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon light, Allah guides unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaks to mankind in allegories, for Allah is knower of all things.” (Al-Nur 24: 35), and
“Say: He is Allah, the One! Allah, the eternally Besought of all! He begets not nor was begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him.” (Al-Ikhlas 112: 1-4)
From the above Qur’anic ayahs (verses), it is clear that the Islamic conception of Allah (God) is unique and it emphasizes Allah’s absolute uniqueness and perfection.
Added to that, from a phonetic perspective, the mechanism of articulating the name “Allah” using the human speech system or organs is unique and has many manifestations as well. As all the letters comprising the name “Allah” are articulated or produced in the oral cavity without any involvement of any of the two lips. The lips are not involved in the articulation of the word “Allah” as it has neither labial or bilabial sounds such as /p/, /b/, /f/ or /th/.
Amazingly, this means that if anyone wants to do Dhikr (remembrance of Allah), he can do it while sitting with others and they will not realize or notice what he is doing as he lips are not moving in any way. So, one can do Dhikr and gain lots and lots of good deeds and divine rewards because of that without being noticed by any of the surrounding persons. What an amazing thing!
In a similar vein, if any letter of the word “Allah” is omitted, the name remains the same and the meaning thereof never changes.
If the initial letter “Alif” is omitted, the name becomes “lillah” which means “for Allah or Allah’s”. This can be understood from the Qur’anic ayah which reads what means,
“Allah’s are the fairest names. Invoke Him by them.” (Al-A`raf 7: 180).
If the “Alif” and “Lam” (Al) are omitted, the name becomes “lahu” which means “for Him, or His” that stands for the divine entity. This can be understood from the Qur’anic ayah which reads what means,
“His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth.” (Al-Nisa’ 4: 171).
If the “Alif”, “Lam” and “Lam” are omitted, the “Haa” letter remains and still it denotes the divine entity as can be understood from the Qur’anic ayah which reads what means,
“He it is who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse” (Al-Tawbah 9: 33).
Finally, if the first “Lam” is omitted, the word “Ilah” meaning “God” remains and this can be understood from the Qur’anic ayah which reads what means,
“Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal.” (Al `Imran 3: 1).
Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation, Kulliyyah of Languages and Management (KLM), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was Assistant Professor and worked for a number of international universities in Malaysia and Egypt such as Al-Madinah International University, Shah Alam, Malaysia (Mediu) and Misr University for Science & Technology (MUST), Egypt; Former Editor-in-Chief of the Electronic Da`wah Committee (EDC), Kuwait; Former Deputy Chief Editor and Managing Editor of the Living Shari`ah Department, www.islamOnline.net; Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS); and member of the World Association of Arab Translators & Linguists (Wata). He is a published writer, translator and researcher. You can reach him at [email protected].