Allah — The Unique Name of God
Research into the Names of God in over 150 Languages and their Meanings
by Maulana Abdul Haq Vidyarthi
Chapter 1: Introduction
The Holy Quran does not begin with the genealogy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, nor does it begin with the geology or creation of the heavens and the earth in a space of six days. A book of God as it is, it very appropriately begins with the name of God:
بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ
“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”
His attributes Beneficent and Merciful comprise the embodiment of His greatness and glory, and ascribe to Him the possession of all attributes of perfection. Through His Beneficence evolved the creation of the heavens and the earth and through His mercy do our deeds flower into results. Thus we have, on the one hand, an expression of His perpetual generosity and sustenance and, on the other, an expression of His infinite and vigilant mercy and favour.
The first verse of the Holy Quran tells us that the Creator of this universe is a beneficent God, that He is not the revengeful Nemesis of the Greeks who holds man as a plaything in her hands. The Arabic word for the Beneficent is Ar-Rahman, for which we have no word in the English language. It denotes that not only His love and mercy are unbounded, but that He blesses us with gifts of untold proportions both for and in spite of meritorious service on our part. He has granted to all of His creation those indispensable provisions necessary for their existence, sustenance, growth and development: space, forces, time, atmosphere, earth, sun, water, law — to name but a few — which comprise an inconceivably small proportion, all of which, however great or small, are still subservient to His will. We are obliged, therefore, to acquire knowledge of all things, be they in the heavens or on the earth. But in our search for knowledge, we should always be conscious of our Benefactor, to Whom we owe our efforts, to Whom we owe the results of our efforts, and to Whom we look for prototype.
In the Arabic language the proper name of God is Allah, for which again we find no English equivalent and we are forced to interpret it as God. But Allah is the proper name of the Deity and is, at the same time, more definite in its application and more profound in its meaning than the term ‘God’. God, in the English language, is more often than not applied to other than the One Supreme Being, besides being continuously used in malevolent and abusive oaths. In Webster’s English Dictionary we find:1
- A being conceived of as possessing supernatural power, and to be propitiated by sacrifice, worship, etc.; a divinity; a deity; an object of worship; an idol.
- The Supreme Being; the eternal and infinite Spirit, the Creator, and the Sovereign of the universe; Jehovah.
- A person or thing deified and honored as the chief good; an object of supreme regard.
- Figuratively applied to one who wields great or despotic power.
Allah, however, has from time immemorial been applied only to the Supreme Being, the possessor of all attributes of perfection; it has no plural number and no feminine gender.2
The world-renowned late Agha Khan, when asked by a friend, “Is it true that people in India believe you to be God?”, humorously replied: “People of India worship cows and calves as gods; it does not matter to them if they believe me to be God”.
Saint Paul writes:
“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords)”.3
We also find reference in the Bible that there were stolen gods taken by Rachel:
“Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s. … And Laban said to Jacob: … but why did you steal my gods?”4
The use of the word ‘god’ in the Bible and in Christian lands is a proof that this term does not apply to the Supreme Being alone.
Allah being the proper name of God, it should not be translated into any other language, futile as the attempt shall be, for we all know that proper names of cities and persons are not translated. Hence Muslims all over the world, regardless of their native languages, refer to the Supreme Being as Allah, and begin their affairs by uttering Bismillah — “In the name of Allah”.
There does not seem to have been a period of history when mankind did not believe in a supernatural Author and Ruler of the universe; even the most primitive nations have some idea of God or Supreme Being.5 There is no language or nation on the earth which is without the name of God. We have stated that there is no equivalent of Allah in the English language nor in any other language of the world. Of course, different languages have different names for the Divine Being, but none of them connotes what the term Allah does; while they are general or descriptive of a particular expression of His nature, it is only the proper name Allah that entirely embodies descriptive names, i.e. He Who possesses all the attributes of perfection. We have in the Holy Quran:
وَ لِلّٰہِ الۡاَسۡمَآءُ الۡحُسۡنٰی
“And Allah’s are all the excellent names.”6
Again, we have:
اَللّٰہُ لَاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّا ہُوَ ؕ لَہُ الۡاَسۡمَآءُ الۡحُسۡنٰی
“Allah — there is no god but He. His are the very best names.”7
We conclude, therefore, that the names of God in all other languages are merely expressions of particular attributes, and this the author intends to prove. It would be useful if we now study the concepts of God among different nations of the world.
- Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, version published 1913. ↩
- Edward William Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, ‘Allah’. ↩
- 1 Corinthians, 8:5. ↩
- Genesis, 31:19. ↩
- James Hastings, Editor, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, article ‘God’, vol. vi, p. 243. ↩
- The Holy Quran, 7:180. ↩
- The Holy Quran, 20:8. ↩