What is Ilah?

Ilah (إله‎; plural: آلهة ʾālihah) is an Arabic term meaning “deity” or “god“. The feminine is ʾilāhah (إلاهة, meaning “goddess“); with the article, it appears as al-ʾilāhah – الإلاهة. The Arabic word for God (al-Lāh) is thought to be derived from it. Ilah is cognate to Northwest Semitic ʾēl and Akkadian ilum. The word is from a Proto-Semitic archaic biliteral ʔ-L meaning “god” (possibly with a wider meaning of “strong”), which was extended to a regular triliteral by the addition of a h (as in Hebrew ʾelōahʾelōhim). The word is spelled either إله with an optional diacritic alif to mark the ā only in Qur’anic texts or (more rarely) with a full alif, إلاه.

Ilahs - gods in pre-Islamic mesopotamia.jpg

Ilahs – gods in pre-Islamic mesopotamia.jpg

The term is used throughout the Quran in passages discussing the existence of God or the beliefs in other divinities by non-Muslims. Notably, the first statement of the šahādah (the Muslim confession of faith) is

“There is no god (ʾilāh) except God (al-Lāh).”

From theconversation.com:

Allah and the god of the Bible

Allah is usually thought to mean “the god” (al-ilah) in Arabic and is probably cognate with rather than derived from the Aramaic Alaha. All Muslims and most Christians acknowledge that they believe in the same god even though their understandings differ.

Arabic-speaking Christians call God Allah, and Gideon bibles, quoting John 3:16 in different languages, assert that Allah sent his son into the world.

Addressing Christians and Jews, the Qur’an declares,

“Our god and your god are one” (29:46).

The names Allah and al-Rahman were evidently used by pre-Islamic Jews and Christians for God, and the Qur’an (5:17-18) even criticises Christians for identifying Allah with Christ and both Jews and Christians for calling themselves children of Allah.

Allah is not a trinity of three persons and has no son who was incarnate (made flesh) as a man. Some Christians therefore deny that Allah is the god they acknowledge. Yet, they seem sure that Jews worship the same god despite similarly rejecting the trinity and the incarnation.

Claiming that the Qur’an’s god and the Bible’s god are different beings is rather like arguing that the New Testament’s Jesus and the Qur’an’s Jesus (who is not divine and was not crucified) are different historic individuals. Some will reply that while there are competing interpretations of the one Jesus, God and Allah have different origins.

Shahada or declaration of faith. It is recitation of la ilaha illallah muhammadur rasulullah.

Shahada or declaration of faith.
It is recitation of la ilaha illallah muhammadur rasulullah.

Polytheistic origins

Indeed, Allah was recognised mostly by polytheists before the revelation of the Qur’an. Muhammad’s own father, who died before the Prophet was born, was called Abdullah (Servant of God).

But the argument that Allah cannot be God because he was originally part of a polytheistic religious system ignores the origins of Jewish monotheism (and its Christian and Islamic derivatives).

Biblical writers identified the Canaanite high god El with their own god even though he originally presided over a large pantheon. The closely related plural form elohim is used more often in the Bible, but both derive from the same Semitic root as Allah.

El and elohim, the New Testament theos (hence theology), the Latin deus (hence deism), and the pre-Christian, Germanic god can all refer both to the Judeo-Christian god and other supernatural beings.

So Jewish, Christian, and Islamic understandings of the divinity originated in polytheistic contexts. Just like traditional Jews and Christians, however, Muslims believe that the religion of the first humans, Adam and Eve, was monotheistic. Because it was corrupted into polytheism, Allah sent prophets who all taught that there is only one god.

Islam took over from Judaism the notion that Abraham in particular was the one who (re)discovered monotheism and rejected idolatry. Thus Muhammad sought to restore the authentic monotheism of Abraham, from which even Jews and Christians had allegedly deviated.

References

  • Georgii Wilhelmi Freytagii, Lexicon Arabico-Latinum. Librairie du Liban, Beirut, 1975.
  • J. Milton Cowan, The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. 4th edn. Spoken Language Services, Ithaca (NY), 1979.
  • Zeki Saritoprak (2006). “Allah”. In Oliver Leaman (ed.). The Qur’an: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 34. ISBN9780415326391.
  • Vincent J. Cornell (2005). “God: God in Islam”. In Lindsay Jones (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion5 (2nd ed.). MacMillan Reference USA. p. 724.
  • Who is Allah? Understanding God in Islam

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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