Published in German in factum 1/2010
Letter to the editor regarding Mark A. Gabriel’s statement in the 8/2009 issue of factum that “Allah” has only been found in Arab-Christian literature since the 19th century
In an interview in the 8/2009 edition of factum, Mark A. Gabriel asks for donations to finance a new Arabic translation of the Bible which does not use “Allah” for God but rather “Al-Elah.” Allegedly “Allah” was first introduced into Arab-Christian literature in the 19th century by the Bible translator “Van Dycke.”
In my booklet “Is it appropriate that Arab Christians call God Allah?” (MBS-Text 142, Bonn: Martin Bucer Seminar, 2010, available here), I go into detail regarding the fact that long before Mohammed the word “Allah” was the Christian designation for God in Arabic. In light of the interview I have again spoken with several experts and rechecked my information. The conclusion I came to is that I could find no one who shares or confirms Gabriel’s opinion and that my remarks are still up-to-date: “Allah” is not derived from the moon goddess “Al-Lat”; rather, it corresponds to the general Semitic word for God, which we know to be “El” or “Elohim” in the Old Testament. Prior to Mohammed, the word was also used for centuries by Christians to refer to the Christian Creator God.
We have at our disposal Arabic texts from the Council of Nicea in the 4th century, in which six Arabic bishops participated. These texts include the confession of faith (“I believe in God . . .”) where God is rendered “Allah.” The translator was Bishop Marutha of Maiperkat, who died in 420 A.D. Twenty Arab bishops participated in the Council of Chalcedon, who also called God “Allah.”
There is yet another example: On the island of Malta a mixed Arabic dialect is spoken. The Maltese population is 100% Christian and generally known to have a centuries long history of rejecting Islam. For centuries they have prayed to God in every worship service using the word “Allah” and not “Al-Elah” or other terms.
I then called Arab Chrstians and asked that they look in their old, inherited family Bibles from the time prior to van Dycke. There as well one finds “Allah” and not “Al-Elah.” By the way, it should be remembered that the Old and the New Testaments use terms for God (“Elohim” in the Old Testament and “theos” in the New Testament), which were common in the region at that time and simultaneously by which completely different deities were designated. The New Testament does not use a word for God that only Christians use. As I demonstrate in my article, the German word “Gott” (God) has a very odd Germanic history as a genderless designation of a deity or a demon, and it is a word that we nonetheless use.