The way we perceive the world is influenced by the language we use to describe it. The languages we speak are a linguistic filter, which affect our ability to define what we see and understand from our surroundings. Language is our operating system so to speak. Inevitably, we are often led into thinking that our own language is the best and most efficient. Much like the smugness of an Ubuntu user who has evaded the clutches of Microsoft Windows!
All languages are best equipped to serve the particular needs of their own speakers. They are the product of the specific history and culture of the people who use it and are uniquely equipped for the needs of that community.
But why am I speaking about linguistics? Where does the Viking come in to it all?
I began to reflect on the semantics of certain words after I was challenged about my flippant tendency to use the word God and Allah interchangeably. I was informed that I was wrong. The God of Islam and the God of Christianity are two separate entities and I should stop trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and come clean about it.
So here I am. Telling it how it is.
The word God is the most commonly used word for the Divine but the word is actually relatively new in the context of Judeo-Christianity. ‘God’ certainly wouldn't have been a word uttered in the Holy Land back in the days of the Pharaohs, Israelites, and Romans.
Jesus (peace be upon him) certainly wouldn't have used an Old English word like ‘God.’ Unless of course he had somehow stumbled across a time-travelling Viking who happened to be strolling by the sea of Galilee! As extraordinary as that would have been, I think we can safely rule it out.
According to Mark 15:34, Jesus used the word “Eloi” when he called out from the cross. “Eloi” is simply the Hebrew translation of the Aramaic “alaha.” Take away the ‘a’ and there you have it! Jesus himself referred to God using a word that was only one vowel away from the Arabic ‘Allah.’
On the other hand, 'God’ is a relatively new kid on the block. It evoloved from from an indo-european word meaning "that which is invoked" in the sixth century and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from its German cousin, ‘Gott.’
And while ‘God’ was finding its feet in the West, millions of Christians in the Middle East continued to use the more established word, ‘Allah.’ It is even used in Arabic Bibles to this day.
God encapsulates the sensation of a Divine Creator for many Christians. But Christianity doesn’t have the monopoly. It would be equally ludicrous for a Muslim to get up in arms about an Arab Christian using the word ‘Allah’ in their services.
The erroneous belief that Allah and God are somehow two separate entities is the one of the misconception which saddens me most. That seemingly small distinction digs a vast canyon between Christians and Muslims. It sets Muslims apart as the foreign ‘Other’ and sows the seeds of potential conflict.
Muslims are not immune to this way of thinking either mind you and often propagate this myth all by themselves. It’s disheartening to hear Muslims say “the Christian God is not the same as Allah.” A concept which is in stark contrast with the history and context of Islam.
Converts are in a unique position to help bridge the gap, regardless of which particular direction they've taken. Former Muslims who become Christians and Christians who become Muslims often use ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ interchangeably. Whether you believe Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy or that Islam is the most recent revelation from God – we can at least be united in our worship of one God.
That change begins with the language we use.
So I implore you, if you hear someone saying that ‘Allah’ and ‘God’ are not the same, be brave - jump in and politely set them straight. It might seem insignificant but a single word can make all the difference!
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Links of the Day
Rachel Pieh Jones speaks about reactions to the use of the word 'Allah' in: Gift of Allah
Finally, if you missed yesterday's post, please check out Nye Armstrong & Rebecca Minor discussing their fund-raising project for Charity:Water and help them reach their goal this Ramadan.