Evidence that the term ‘Allah’ originated with Jewish and Christian Arabs
Rick Brown,1 19 October 2007
In talking with Muslims, it is essential to understand and affirm their names for God. In most languages spoken by Muslims, the term allâh is at least one of their names for God. Dudley Woodberry (1996a: 173) has pointed out that the name allâh “is of Christian Syriac origin and was in use long before Muhammad’s time.” Syriac-speaking Christians have always believed this, and scholars like Arthur Jeffrey (1938: 66) have noted this as well. But violent acts perpetrated by some militant Islamists in the name of allâh have led many people in the West to conclude that allâh must be someone besides God.2
For example, I was recently at an academic conference where one of the speakers was noting that each of the languages of Africa has an indigenous name for the Supreme Being, the lord and creator of the universe, and that this local name is used by the Christians in their worship and in their translations of the Bible.3 Suddenly, however, he was struck with some doubt, so he qualified his remark by saying, “Well, at least everyone south of the Sahara has a name for God.” He was uncertain whether the peoples of northern Africa had a name for God! This doubt stemmed from claims he had read that allâh, the Arabic word for God, does not refer to the Lord and Creator of the universe but to some demon or idol, such as the ancient Semitic moon god sīn. These claims are being made by a number of authors who have written that the term allâh denotes a pagan deity, and in particular a moon god. Their well-meaning but poorly substantiated claims have left many Western Christians fearful of the term allâh and opposed to its use.4 Some Western Christians have even removed the term allâh from translations of the Arabic Bible and from other materials.5
Dudley Woodberry, however, has long warned us about the dangers of such rejectionism. He entitled one of his articles “When Failure is Our Teacher: Lessons from Mission to Muslims,” and he made this observation (1996b: 122):
Many missionaries branded so-called Muslim forms of worship and religious vocabulary as wrong, without knowing that virtually all quranic religious vocabulary, including the name “Allah,” and virtually all the forms of worship, except those specifically related to Muhammad, were used by Jews and/or Christians before they were used by Muslims.
Phil Parshall (1989) makes a similar point. But when Muslims encounter Christian religious materials that have carefully avoided all mention of the name allâh, they often fear the materials are intended to lead them away from God. And if Western Christians “explain” to their Muslim friends that Muslims use the name allâh to invoke a demon or moon god, then they lose all credibility. And besides these fears and follies, there is the simple fact that if we are speaking to people in their own language yet reject the names they use to refer to God and the prophets, then we convey rejection of them personally. Such insults often prompt their rejection of our testimony before they have even considered it.6 Consequently, those who believe these myths regarding the term allâh are doomed to failure as witnesses to Muslims. Of course, missionaries who have lived closely with Muslims understand that the name allâh is simply one of the many names for God used by Muslims, but some of them encounter opposition to its use from people in their supporting churches or in their home offices, people who have misconceptions about the term.
Christians who are unaccustomed to religious diversity are often confused by the fact that different monotheistic religions teach different conceptualizations of God, and some Christians even suppose that adherents of different religions are referring to different gods, as if there were a pantheon to choose from. In the technical language of semantics, these people are confusing different “senses” (or “conceptions”) of a term with different “referents”. The referent is the person or entity to which one is referring, who in this case is God. The sense encompasses the characteristics that are attributed to God in their conception of Him. People can have different conceptions of the same referent. Even Christians differ among themselves in their conception of God.7 A person’s concept of God can change, but this does not happen simply by calling God a different name; it happens by grace when a person ponders the characteristics of God as He is presented in the Bible, and especially as He is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It happens when people hear the testimonies of believers, when they experience God’s grace in their lives, when they apprehend God in their inner life, and when they receive illumination from the Holy Spirit.
In (Brown 2006b) I argued that allâh was never the name of a moon god, and that the crescent symbol used in modern Islam does not come from an ancient moon-god religion but from a medieval symbol of Ottoman political domination. Kenneth Thomas (2006b) followed up with an article showing that Arabic-speaking Jews, Christians, and Muslims have always referred to the one true God as allâh, while Massey (2003) and Cox (2006) have emphasized that Arab Christians call God allâh, and that the term is related linguistically to Hebrew terms for God. Imad Shehadeh (2004), director of an Arab Christian seminary, notes the oldest extant Arab Christian translations of Scripture use allâh, and that this practice is documented from ancient times until the present. This fact is well exemplified in the essays in David Thomas (2006a), especially (Kachouh 2006). Shehadeh notes the total lack of evidence that anyone ever used the term allâh as the name of a moon god. Quoting Montgomery Watt, he says the claim that “Christians worship God and Muslims worship Allah” is as sensible as saying “Englishmen worship God and Frenchmen worship Dieu”. He goes on to say that “Muslims and Christians…believe in the same God as subject [but] the nature of God as conceived by Islam is not at all identical to the nature of God within the Judeo-Christian faith” (p. 26) The need, then, is for Muslims to encounter the nature of allâh as presented in the Bible.
These articles, however, have not assuaged the concerns of some who think that the term allâh has its origin as an Islamic invention or as a pre-Islamic demon or idol, and some people remain worried by the apparent similarity of the name allâh with that of the pagan goddess allāt.8 So following Luke’s example, it seemed good to me to investigate these things carefully, and to present in this article detailed evidence to support what Dudley Woodberry wrote, namely that allâh was the term used by Arab Christians for the God of the Bible before the rise of Islam and that it has its origin in the Aramaic term for God, which Jesus Himself would have used. In that sense the term allâh is freer of pagan history than is the Hebrew word ’el, which was used by the Canaanites as the name of the chief deity of their pantheon,9 or the English word ‘God’, which comes from a generic term for middle-rank Teutonic deities.10 I will argue that Christianity pervaded all parts of Arabia prior to the rise of Islam, that most Christian Arabs used Aramaic Scripture and liturgy in which God was called alâh(â), that they borrowed this term into Arabic as allâh, and that even non-Christian Arabs identified allâh as the God of the Bible, the supreme being, who is creator and lord of all and above any other gods. I argue that in languages like Arabic where allâh is the normal term for God, its avoidance by Western Christians is unjustified. Similarly there is no reason to avoid calling our Lord Jesus Christ by his well-known Arabic epithet, kalimat allâh, the eternal “Word of God”, incarnate as a man, the visible image of the invisible God and the Lord and Savior of humankind.
Pre-Islamic Arab Christians Referred to God as allâh
In what follows I show first of all that Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians lived throughout Arabia for centuries before Islam. Therefore they would have had a term for referring to God. I then note the existence of pre-Islamic Christian names that incorporated the term allâh. I also show that ancient Arabic Bible translations and the Qur’an itself reflect pre-Islamic Jewish and Christian usage of allâh to refer to God. The conclusion is that pre-Islamic Jews and Christians referred to God as allâh.
Arabic-speaking Christians lived throughout Arabia for centuries before Islam
Although Muslim historians emphasize the paganism and depravity of pre-Islamic Arabia, this is actually an overstatement. It serves to exaggerate the religious transformation effected by the prophet of Islam on Arab culture. A more accurate description is that Judaism had been in Arabia from ancient times, with several tribes having converted, and this had been followed by a wave of conversions that made Christianity the dominant religion in most of Arabia.
Prior to the rise of Islam, there were Jewish tribes in Arabia. The town of Yathrib (later called “Medina”) had long been settled and dominated by Jews (Winder 1999). In the south of the Arabian Peninsula, the populations of Najran and Yemen included large numbers of Jews and proselytes (Shahid 1971). The witnesses of Pentecost included Arabic-speaking Jews and proselytes (Acts 2:11), and they would have taken the Gospel back to their homelands. Paul made a trip to Arabia as well (Gal 1:17), probably the kingdom of Nabataea, meaning “the peoples of the towns and villages that existed throughout the whole region east of a line from Aleppo to the Dead Sea” and including Sinai (Trimingham 1979: 72). So Judaism was present in Arabia before Christ was born, and the Gospel entered Arabia soon after His resurrection.
The church quickly grew. Origen, the third-century theologian and commentator, gave theological lectures in Petra in 213 or 214 at the invitation of the governor (Preuschen 1953 : 268–273). Origen returned again to “Arabia” to correct Beryllus, bishop of Bostra,11 and returned again in 246 to settle theological disputes in the Arab church synod, which was “of no small dimensions”.12 In the introduction to his Hexapla edition of the Old Testament, Origen wrote that he consulted Bible translations in several languages, including Arabic (Beeston 1983: 22). This suggests that at least portions of the Old Testament had been translated into Nabataean Arabic by the third century, presumably using Nabataean script, although it is possible that it was a translation into Nabataean Aramaic. In 244 AD an Arab Christian, Philip the Arab, became emperor of Rome, indicating the degree to which Arab Christians were involved in the Roman Empire.13 Their status in the church is indicated by the presence of Arab bishops at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and at the later councils as well.14
By the early fourth century, northern Arabia and the Arabian Gulf were ruled by the Christian Arab King Imrul Qays (288–328 AD), whose capital was the town of Hira in Mesopotamia and who ventured as far south as Najran. His Lakhmid dynasty of Christian Arab kings continued until 602, when their kingdom was destroyed by the Persians. According to Bellamy (1990), it was this Christian Lakhmid kingdom that fostered the development of the Arabic alphabet and the writing of Arabic poetry, some of which survives. He notes that according to Arab traditions, three Christian Arabs, Muramir, Aslam, and ‘Amir, developed the Arabic alphabet from the Syriac alphabet and taught it to the people of the Lakhmid kingdom. It is said that the alphabet was brought to Mecca by Bishr ibn ‘Abd al-Malik. Prior to this the Meccans and South Arabians had used the Musnad alphabet, but it was very different from the Syriac script to which people in the rest of Arabia had become accustomed.
As for north-western Arabia (modern-day Syria and Jordan), it was ruled by the Arab Nabataean kingdom. In 106 it was annexed to the Roman Empire and became the province of “Arabia”. Then from 363 this whole region was ruled by a succession of Orthodox Christian Arab Monarchs who were outside the empire but were federated with it. Māwīya, Queen of the Saracens, ruled 363–378 AD, and she lobbied successfully for the appointment of Moses of Sinai as bishop of the Saracens (Langfeldt 1994: 53).15 Moses was famous for the miracles that attended his ministry/ He evangelized the bedouin and was later recognized as a saint. Māwīya was eventually succeeded by King Zokomos (Dhuj‘um), who converted to Christianity in response to an answered prayer. Zokomos began a dynasty of Christian Arab kings (Shahid 1989: 3–8), with the result that according to Langfeldt (1994: 53), “The indigenization of Christianity among Arabian tribes proceeded rapidly from the late fourth and early fifth centuries.” By the sixth century, the Christian Arab Ghassanid kingdom covered most of Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, and extended south almost to Yathrib (Medina). It competed with the Christian Arab Lakhmid kingdom in Mesopotamia and the Gulf.
As for the people in southern Arabia and Yemen, which the Romans called “Arabia Felix,” they had converted to Judaism in the fourth century, but by the sixth century large numbers of them had become Christians. The church building in Najran was so large that their Jewish persecutors were able to force 2000 people inside before burning it down (Shahid 1971; Tardy 1999) and (Brock & Harvey 1998: chap. 4, esp. p. 105). In Sanaa (Yemen) there was an even larger cathedral, built by King Abraha (Guillaume & Ibn Ishaq 2002 : 21), the site of which remains to this day.
Langfeldt provides further detail on the extent of Christianity (1994: 53):
A brief summary of the 4th–7th centuries shows a great many of the tribal groupings in the areas now called Jordan, Syria and Iraq becoming Christian, including the Tanukhids, the Kalb confederation of tribes, the Tamim, the Taghlib, Banu Ayyub, and the majority of the tribes in the Hijaz, Nafud, Najd, Yamama and Bahrain sections of present day Saudi Arabia. A large portion of the Kinda tribe, having left the Yemeni Hadramawt in the 4th C and migrating to the Najd, by the 5th C, had forged alliances with the Ma’add; this “federation” stretched from a point two day’s journey east of Mecca, north and east to include the entire heart of central Arabia. As part of an alliance with the Byzantine Empire in the opening years of the 6th century the Kinda federation adopted Christianity. Many of the Yamama centering in the area of modern Riyadh were Christian (since the middle of the fourth century), as was the great tribal grouping of the Bakr ibn Wa’il in the central and eastern regions.
South west Arabia had a strong Christian enclave in Najran where some 2000 believers were massacred in A.D. 523. There was also a Christian presence in the Hijaz. In the process of hurling invectives at the Umayyad poet Jamil ( ca. 701), a Christian of the ‘Udra tribe, Ja‘far ibn Suraqa testified to Christian monks living in the Wadi al-Quara near Medina. The ‘Udra were Christianized, probably by the 5th century, and maintained that faith well into the Islamic period. There is evidence of Christian monasteries located at strategic locations on the caravan routes and functioning as caravanserai. The writings of al-Muqaddasi, al-Azraqi and other Islamic sources record a) a Christian cemetery (Maqbarat al-Nasara) and Christian stopping place (Mawqif al-Nasrani) in or very near Mecca, and b) the mosques or praying places of Maryam (Masajid Maryam) outside of Mecca on the road to Medina – quite likely a church turned mosque since the Qur’an accepts the Virgin Mary. In the Ka‘ba itself in 630 when Muhammad captured the city, paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus occupied positions on the pillars along with Abraham and the prophets.
So as Langfeldt observes, Christianity dominated the Arab religious scene in most of pre-Islamic Arabia and was “the primary religious allegiance of the vast majority of the population”, even after the rise of Islam (Ibid.).
Daniel Potts concludes his two-volume history of The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity with a similar observation (1990: 353):
As we have seen, Christianity was widespread both amongst the tribes of northern Arabia and in the settled communities along the coast.
It is not incorrect to say that, in one sense, the Nestorian Church, for the space of over three centuries, united a region which secular rulers from Sargon to Šapur had never mastered so completely.
So by the time Islam appeared, Christianity was present throughout Arabia, and Christians dominated the major kingdoms into which Arabia was divided: Ghassanid, Lakhmid, Himyarite (Yemen) and Kindite (Southern Arabia). Christians had the weakest presence in the towns that fell outside these kingdoms, notably Mecca and Yathrib (Medina), the very places that gave birth to Islam. Yet the ‘Udra tribe in Mecca was Christian, and in Yathrib (Medina) there were three or more Jewish tribes. Since Christianity was widespread across the various Arab tribes and Judaism was present as well, their name for the God of the Bible, the creator of the universe, would have been well known to all of the Arabs. In what follows we will discover what name they were using for God.
Pre-Islamic Christian names incorporated the term allâh in reference to God
There has been speculation that some of the pre-Islamic Arab churches would have developed an Arabic-language liturgy and lectionary in the fourth or fifth century. Irfan Shahid (1989: 528f.) entertains this as a likelihood. He affirms with confidence, however, that there was pre-Islamic Christian Arabic poetry, as does Kenneth Cragg (1991). Trimingham (1979) lists five of the poets by name.16 These pre-Islamic Arab Christians would of necessity have had a word for God that they used when speaking Arabic; the poetry that survives, from Nābigha al-Dhubyānī, shows that he used the term allâh.
The hardest pre-Islamic evidence comes in the form of stone inscriptions that bear theophoric Arab names, i.e., Arabic names that incorporate a word for deity. The word one finds most often in the surviving inscriptions is ’lh, pronounced [ałłâh],17 and sometimes the shortened or Hebraic form, ’l.18 There is no evidence for a significantly different term for God used in place of this, such as Greek theos or Hebrew adonai or elohîm, although Yhwh is found on occasion, probably as part of a Jewish name.19 Harding’s Index and Concordance of Pre-Islamic Names and Inscriptions includes the following observation (1971: 907): “A feature which emerges very clearly from these lists [of theophoric names] is the overwhelming popularity of ’l, ’lh.” So while many inscriptions bore theophoric names that incorporated the names of pagan deities, there was an “overwhelming” number of theophoric names that incorporated ’lh [ałłâh] and the shortened form ’l. The widespread usage of these terms in the two centuries before Islam correlates with the well-documented spread of Christianity throughout most of Arabia that during that same period (Guillaume & Ibn Ishaq 2002 : 18).20
The Arabs used a number of scripts, but what we now call “Arabic” script was not developed until the fifth or sixth century. The earliest dated Arabic-language inscription in this “Arabic” script is the Zebed inscription. It was inscribed onto a Christian martyrion in 512 AD, where the texts are in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic.21 The Arabic text includes a name or statement in which God is referred to as alâh or allâh.22 This shows that pre-Islamic Christians were using this term in reference to God in Arabic, just as they used alâh(â) to refer to God in Syriac.
This archaeological evidence is corroborated by historical sources as well. For example, a leader of the Christians who was martyred in Najran in 523 AD is said to have been ‘Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad. Not only does he bear a theophoric name that means “servant of allâh”, he is also said to have worn a ring that said “allâh is my Lord” (Guillaume & Ibn Ishaq 2002 : 18). Similarly when four of the leading pre-Islamic men of Mecca pledged to renounce idolatry, worship God alone, and seek the true religion, it was allâh whom they acknowledged, and three of them found Him in Christianity (Ibid. pp. 99–100).23)
Of course, pagans might give their children Christian names, so the existence of theophoric names like ‘Abdullah and Daniel does not imply that their bearers were necessarily named by Jewish or Christian parents. Muhammad’s father, for example, was named ‘Abdullah, and there is no reason to think that the one who named him, his father ‘Abdul Muttalib, was a monotheist rather than a polytheist or henotheist. There is evidence, however, that henotheism had become widespread among the pagan Arabs, i.e., that they acknowledged that the God of the Bible was the Lord and Creator of the universe, while continuing to fear and appease lesser beings instead of God alone. This is reflected in the Qur’an in verses like ‘Ankabūt 29:61, 63, which speaks of pagan Arabs who refused the message of Muhammad:
If indeed thou ask them who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law), they will certainly reply, “Allah”. How are they then deluded away (from the truth)? … And if indeed thou ask them who it is that sends down rain from the sky, and gives life therewith to the earth after its death, they will certainly reply, “Allah!” Say, “Praise be to Allah!” But most of them understand not. (Yusuf Ali translation)
In summary, there is epigraphic evidence that the pre-Islamic Arab Christians were using allâh as the name of God, and there is no evidence that they were avoiding this name and using some other name instead. As Bob Cox (2006) has noted, allâh is the only word in Arabic for God, it is cognate with the Hebrew and Aramaic terms used in the Bible, and it has been used by Arabic speaking Jews and Christians to refer to God for as long as we have records.24
Arabic Bible translations reflect pre-Islamic Christian usage of allâh to refer to God
Bruno Violet (1901) published a fragment of Psalm 78 [77 in LXX], discovered in Damascus, in which the Greek text is in one column and the parallel column contains an Arabic translation in Greek characters. Michael Macdonald, a palaeographer and an expert on Ancient Arabic, makes the following evaluation of this text (2004: 50):
Following a detailed study of this text I am convinced that it is pre-Islamic. This is the most valuable text in Old Arabic so far discovered since the Greek transliteration seems to have been made with great care and consistency from an oral source, and thus is uncomplicated by the orthographic conventions of another script.25
In this fragment, the Greek term for God, ho theos, is found in verses 22, 31, and 59. It is translated there into Arabic as αλλαυ (= Arabic allâh) (where the Arabic /h/ has been transliterated with a Greek upsilon, as is the custom in this manuscript). This provides further evidence that pre-Islamic Arab Christians were using allâh to refer to God. One also notes that the Greek letter lambda is doubled; this demonstrates that the Arabic letter lām must have been pronounced double by this time as well. Given the practice in ancient Arabic of not writing doubled letters twice or an internal /ā/ vowel at all (Macdonald 1999b: 271), this Greek evidence provides further support for Winnett’s claim (1938) that ’lh in the epigraphic evidence was pronounced as allâh.
The New Testament or parts of it were translated many times into Arabic. Kachouh (2006; personal correspondence) has compared 210 different ancient and medieval translations, and he discerns among them 22 different translation traditions. The extant manuscripts date from the post-Islamic period, but there is evidence for pre-Islamic translations of the Gospel, although scholars disagree on the matter.26 It is said that Waraqah ibn Nawfal translated the Gospel and other portions of the Bible into Arabic in Mecca in the sixth century, which is well before John of Sedra (see note 40). Ibn Isḥāq (died 761) wrote that in 570 AD one of the stones of the Ka‘ba was found to have writing on it, and the words he quotes are clearly taken from Matthew 7:16 (Guillaume & Ibn Ishaq 2002 : 86). Irfan Shahid (1971: 249–250) presents evidence that before 520 AD the Christians of Najran had the Gospel in their language, meaning their dialect of Arabic, written in Musnad script. Trimingham (1979: 225) cites Michael the Syrian’s 12th century Chronicle to the effect that John of Sedra, Patriarch of Antioch, arranged in the early 7th century for “the first translation of the four Gospels” into Arabic for use by Muslim scholars. The Patriarch’s translation does not survive, except perhaps, for a passage from John that is “quoted” by Ibn Isḥāq.27
Many translations were lost, largely due to the destruction of monasteries, but copies of many translations have survived and can be viewed in various libraries and museums. The following chart lists the principal ancient and medieval Arabic translations that I have examined,28 showing the dates of the surviving manuscripts and the evident origin and source language of each translation.29 The translations that appear to be earliest in origin are presented first:
|Name of Arabic Version||Source Language||Place of Origin||Date of Origin||Date of ms|
|The Palestinian Gospels30||Greek||Palestine||prob. pre-Islamic||9th to 11th|
|The Elegant Gospels31||Syriac||Uncertain||pos. pre-Islamic||10th|
|Vatican Arabic 13 Gospels32||Syriac||Uncertain||pos. pre-Islamic||8th or 9th|
|Vatican Arabic 13 Gospels||Greek||Uncertain||prob. post-Islamic||9th|
|Treatise on the Triune God33||Palestine||776||9th|
|Mt Sinai 15134||Syriac||Damascus||867||867|
|Vatican 7135||Greek & Syriac||Damascus||10th century||11th century|
|Abdullah ibn al-Tayyib36||Syriac||Baghdad||980||many|
|Mt. Sinai 76 (Sinai Family B)||Greek?||uncertain||uncertain||13th|
|Lectionary of Abdishu38||Syriac||Levant||1299||many|
Years ago I tabulated the key terms used in these translations in a comparative fashion. They exhibit such a diversity of wording that one is forced to conclude that they represent several independent traditions of translation. In other words, the earliest ones seem to have been translated independently of one another by different churches in diverse locations from different source texts. One of the things they have in common, however, is that they all use the word allâh to refer to God. Since the Arab Christians were spread over a vast region and belonged to diverse and warring churches long before the rise of Islam, the fact that all of them used allâh to refer to God in the earliest surviving translations is an indication that the term allâh must have been in widespread use by Arab Christians in pre-Islamic times.39
More recently Hikmat Kachouh has studied Codex Sinaiticus Arabicus (Sinai Arabic New Finds 8 & 28 Parch), a newly discovered Arabic manuscript of the Gospels. He shows in an article forthcoming in Novum Testamentum that it represents a translation made from a Greek vorlage whose unique text-type lies between Sinaiticus and Beza. Since it is highly unlikely that a translator would base his work on a source text that was no longer in use, and since by the sixth century the Byzantine/Syrian text-type of the Gospels had become the standard in the Middle East and had replaced the previous text-types, this Arabic translation must almost certainly have been made before then, at a time prior to Islam. Since the translation uses allâh for the name of God, it is another witness to the usage of that term by Arabic-speaking Christians.
The Qur’an reflects pre-Islamic Christian usage of allâh to refer to God
Prior to his mission, Muhammad interacted with a number of Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews, notably the Jordanian monk Bahira (Guillaume & Ibn Ishaq 2002 : 89–91) and the Meccan Nestorian monk Waraqah ibn Nawfal, who was an older cousin of Muhammad’s wife Khadija.40 He also attended lectures by an unnamed Christian teacher near Mecca.41 After the commencement of his mission he often debated with Jews and Christians, including a delegation of Christians from Najran. The participants in such discussions must have used mutually intelligible names for God. During the initial stage of the prophet’s mission, as reflected in the Meccan suras of the Qur’an, he presented his Qur’anic prophecies as an affirmation of the Bible and as a continuation of the Jewish and Christian prophetic tradition. He could not have made this claim if he had been proclaiming in allâh a different god or if he had been using radically different terminology from that used in the Arab Christian tradition that he claimed to be affirming and continuing.
There are also scholars who argue that many of the Meccan suras are based on pre-Islamic Arab Christian hymns. This is based in part on the presence of Syriac words that were used by Christians but were not used or understood by non-Christian Arabs. Luxenburg (2004) and Lüling (2003) show that when the words are interpreted in accord with their meaning in Syriac, it is possible, with some further editing, to recover fragments of Christian hymns and poetry. It is also based on similarities between pre-Islamic poetry and verses of the Qur’ān, as shown by (Abul Kasem 2007). Lüling (2003: 1) states the thesis of his book quite forcefully: “The text of the Koran as transmitted by Muslim Orthodoxy contains, hidden behind it as a ground layer and considerably scattered throughout it (together about one-third of the whole Koran text), an originally pre-Islamic Christian Text.” It might be noted that medieval Christian sources claim that parts of the Qur’an were written by the Nestorian monk Bahira (Abel 1999). If many of the Meccan suras were indeed drawn from Christian poetry, then their terminology, including the name allâh, would seem to have its origin in Christian Arab sources.
In later stages of his work, the prophet of Islam faced increasing resistance and disputation from Christians. There are a number of passages in the Qur’an that cite these disputes. Some of these passages quote statements made by the Christians, and it might be noted that the Christians are quoted as using the term allâh. Examples include their claim that “allâh is Jesus” (Al-Ma’ida 5:17), that Christians are “sons of allâh” (Al-Ma’ida 5:18), and that Jesus is a “son of allâh” (At-Tawba 9:30). Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any indication that Arab Christians and Jews referred to God by a name different from those used in the Qur’an. All of the disputation passages reflect situations in which the same God is in view and is referred to in the same basic ways.
In light of this evidence from inscriptions, historical documents, and Arabic translations of the Bible, we can conclude that allâh was the term used by pre-Islamic Jewish and Christian Arabs to refer to God.42 In the next section I will argue that Jews and Christians introduced this term themselves into Arabic from Aramaic