Interfaith Voices – The Word ‘God’ is a Linguistic Gem
Traditionally, God-consciousness paved spiritual enrichment, humility, and a unique sense of wisdom.
By Yosof Wanly
In Arabic, God is called by many names. However, the word most used by Arabic-speaking Jews, Christians, and Muslims is the all-embracing “Allāh.”
Allāh is derived, similarly, of the Biblical Semitic root, ‘Elohîm’ and the “hā-Elôh” of Moses (Pbuh). Furthermore, it extends out to the Aramaic ‘Alāhā,’ used by several of the Aramaic-speaking apostles.
The trivial variations between the above terminologies reflect the historical morphological shifts in each tongue: changes in pronunciation. They are analogous to the variants we find, for example, between the term “God” in Latin, Spanish, and Italian (Deus, Dios, and Dio). Furthermore, a similar example is found in English and German: God and “Gott.”
Central Linguistic Significance
Arabic is an early and remarkably rich form of Semitic speech, closely associated to Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac. According to one standard point of view, Elōhîm, Alāhā, and Allāh are all sister words springing from “LH”, a common Semitic root. The root “LH,” carries the consciousness of “to venerate.” Consequently, it is proposed, the central linguistic significance of the three Abrahamic usages for God (Elōhîm, Alāhā, and Allāh) is “The One venerated in truth.”
As mentioned earlier, the name “Allāh” is perhaps the most common divine name within Arabic scripture. And it carries unique sanctity, particularly for Arabic speaking Jews, Christians, and Muslims. According to conventional Arabic practice, Allāh is to be applied to the “Creator” and shouldn’t be dispensed to anything other: animate or inanimate, real or imaginary.
From the Qur’anic standpoint, Jews, Christians, and Muslims ought to have no trouble approving that turn to the same Deity, “The God of the Representatives”: Noah, Abraham, etc. Historical discussions between their faiths, according to my estimation, were never over what name to call Abraham’s God. For Muslims, there is a lasting continuity between the Ambassadors of the Almighty. As a result, the conception of the world, and everything within, is infused with some form of God mindfulness: instinctive awareness of the Supreme Being exists in Nature. Consequently, God is part of the human legacy. Furthermore, the “Abrahamic traditions” are not the sole receivers of the “heavenly” name(s).
Ruler of the World
Many of the world’s historical religions contain numerous designations for “God:” bearing witness to omnipotence, goodness, and justice. As proposed, there is an observable pattern within these traditions to regard the Supreme Being as the “spring of life.” The Nilotic tribes, for instance, share an ancient belief in “the Great God, who created humankind.” Also, the Native Americans had many appellations for God. The Californian Maidu would say “Ruler of the world.” The Cheyenne declared, “Creator of the universe” and “Lord of the entire heaven and earth.” The “Fox” acknowledged, “The Guide” and “The Good Spirit.” The Lenape, “Our Creator,” “You to whom we pray,” “Pure Spirit,” and “You to whom we belong.” Furthermore, the Ainu of Japan proclaimed, “The Divine Maker of the world,” “The Divine Lord of heaven,” “The Inspirer,” and “The Protector.”
The word “God” is a linguistic gem. According to one scholarly estimation, the English term “God” is prehistoric, deriving from the Indo European root gheu(∂), implying “to invoke” or “to supplicate.” Furthermore, “God” is constructed in the past participial format, “the one who is invoked” or “the one who is called upon.”
Knowing this, and knowing the cross cultural/theological similarities in sharing this linguistic treasure, one can only wonder, how has the term affected us? Traditionally, God-consciousness paved spiritual enrichment, humility, and a unique sense of wisdom. Now, unfortunately for many, the effects of the God concept have flipped, and turned into self-praise, self-arrogance, and self-righteousness.
(Yosof Wanly holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Islamic Studies from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In addition, he holds an M.S. in Sciences of Narration from al-Madina International University and a B.S. in Public Health from Oregon State University)