This article will look at four questions: Why are the names Allah and Jehovah beginning to be used interchangeably by some Christians in this country? Why are those two deities not the same God at all? Why does it matter? What can be done? Footnotes are provided at the end to document the argument and conclusions on this vital distinction.
Many Arab Christians in America are now referring to Jehovah, the God of the Bible, as "Allah." Using the same name for different gods serves the objectives of the interfaith movement which is focused on political correctness and the unity of a one world religion. This lapse in linguistic rigor has helped contribute to the fact that 40% of evangelical Christians now believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. (1)
A partial Arabic translation of the Bible, for liturgical purposes, is often traced back to the 8th century A.D.(2) (after Mohammed established the regional presence of Islam) but no definite evidence exists on the date of those liturgical verse translations. The entire Bible was not translated into Arabic until the 19th century by British missionaries to complete the few verses that had been translated into Arabic for liturgical purposes earlier. (3)
We know that post-Islamic missionaries (from Great Britain, etc.) came to the Middle East after Arabic Bible translations were completed but they were reluctant to evangelize under the name of Jehovah because they feared Islamic reprisal due to Mohammed's history of violence and conquest. (4) British missionaries came to the Middle East when Muslims ruled the land. They had to appease the political rulers and used the name "Allah" in an attempt to avoid violence. The Christian Arabs typically used "al-Rub" not "Allah" before that time. (5)
It's important to understand that the name of Allah originated in polytheism and long before Islam ever arose. Mohammed was born in 570 and began preaching about his new religion of Islam (with Allah as its god) around 610. He gained 150 converts in his first 13 years of evangelism in Mecca and then went to Medina where he pursued physical, or combat, jihad while acquiring 100,000 converts up until his death in 632 A.D. using the name of Allah. (6) However, the god name Allah had existed several centuries before Mohammed co-opted it as the god of Islam. Allah was a truncated form of Al-Ilah, one of the 360 pagan deities worshipped by the nomadic pagan and polytheistic Arabs at the Kaaba in Mecca before, during, and after the time of Christ.(7) Mohammed's father was also named Abdullah (meaning "slave of Allah".) A tribe of Jews was called Abdullah bin Salam in the Bukhari Hadith. (8)
The Christian church exploded in growth in the first century A.D. Christian missionaries came through the Middle East/Africa regions in the late 2nd century and, in an effort to evangelize the polytheistic Arabs, sought a way to get these Arabs to understand the one true God of Jehovah. The missionaries may have used the name "Al-Ilah" (understood by the polytheistic Arabs as the one god higher than the other 359) in an effort to evangelize the Arabs at that time. Although we do not have archaeological, manuscript, inscription, mural, sermon, theological writings, or similar evidence of Christian missionaries using Al-Ilah as a reference to Jehovah in pre-Islamic history, many speculate that Arab Christians in pre-Islamic history used Allah as a reference to Jehovah. (9) If true, Christian missionaries, through lack of discernment, might have used Al-Ilah, a god that the polytheistic Arabs were familiar with as being the supreme god of the 360 gods worshipped by polytheistic Arabs at Mecca and throughout the region as an evangelical tool.
As Arabs converted to Christianity, some may have referred to Jehovah as Allah while the pagan Arabs referred to Allah as one of the 360 gods worshipped by the polytheistic Arab community. This concession to naming expediency on the part of Christian missionaries to reach polytheistic Arabs may have started the problem that we find today with two groups (Arab Christians and Muslims) using the same name of Allah to refer to two different gods. Al-Ilah was shortened to Allah. The problem is that the missionaries may have conflated two gods into one name in their zeal for evangelism. Some of these early Arab converts, e.g., Ghassanids, Lakhmids, Banu Judham, and Hamadan, etc. may have begun calling Jehovah "Allah" post 300 A.D., and 300 years before Mohammed created the Islamic "Allah." Mohammed used "Allah" as the means to bring Arabs out of polytheism and into Islam. The Jews and Christians of that time rejected his teaching as false (they were also familiar with the Al-Ilah becoming Allah) and Mohammed ultimately became a physical jihadist to compel conversion. Forced conversions to Islam (and Allah) continue to this very day. Unlike Islam, Christianity (as taught from the Bible) does not condone forced conversions. These are two very different religions with two very different gods. It makes no logical or theological sense to have these two different gods share the same name.
Here's why this matters so much: The contemporary problem is that some places (Mauritania) still use Allah as a reference to Jehovah while others (Mali) culturally reject that notion. (10) Riots erupted in Malaysia when some Christians used the name Allah to refer to Jehovah. (11) This is now becoming a problem in the United States as Arab Christians, among others, come to America and call Jehovah "Allah." Our culture, unfamiliar with this history, is ill equipped to reconcile this naming aberration. Consequently, we are seeing Christians say that they worship the same God as Islam. Sadly, this may have started with over-zealous Christian missionaries in the 2nd and 3rd centuries who chose a naming expediency in their efforts to lead polytheists into monotheism.
There is ambiguity among Muslims with respect to the Allah naming convention because Allah is the name of their God, and it, through colloquial use, is becoming a generic name for God. However, this contradiction confounds the Muslim when encountering other religions such as Hinduism, a polytheistic religion of 900 million adherents. (12) "When asked, does Hinduism have thousands of Allahs, Muslims say no, because there is just one Allah. The Muslim response is that Hindus worship idols." (13)
The lack of discernment in pre-Islamic evangelism and the lack of courage in post-Islamic evangelism on the part of Christian missionaries has corrupted the use of Allah as a name for Jehovah. Further, there is an interfaith effort (of questionable theological origins) called Chrislam that seeks to bring these two disparate faiths together. This constitutes heresy as Islam rejects Jesus as God and Savior while Christianity rejects the Allah of Islam as a means to salvation outside of Jesus Christ.
The Allah of Islam has 99 names, only one of which includes love, the primary character attribute of Jehovah, God of the Bible. (14) An extreme example illustrates the point of having one name for two different persons. Imagine naming a child Adolf Hitler in a remote tribal region yet when he grows up to be an international businessman, he finds social outrage when conducting business in the West. Those familiar with the German tyrant would see this as a horrendous offense to society while those who were ignorant of who Hitler was would be indifferent to such a naming convention. This, in an overly dramatic way, resembles the challenge to Christians who neither understand the origins of the name Allah in polytheistic Arab culture nor the co-option of the name Allah by Mohammed in promoting Islam.
What then can be done? The failure of discernment on the part of pre-Islamic Christian missionaries in the Middle East and the lack of courage (or fidelity to truth) on the part of post-Islamic Christian missionaries in the Middle East has contributed to the current problem of one name (Allah) being used to represent two different gods. American Christians today should be understanding of the global cultural confusion regarding the use of Allah for Jehovah but discourage the use of Allah for Jehovah by Arab Christians, and others, in the United States.
These two monotheistic faiths make separate and conflicting truth claims regarding salvation for eternity. Those that use the same name for the different gods of these two faiths serve the interests of ignorance, deception, or error. Discerning Christians and Muslims already acknowledge the differences in faith, the differences in the gods they serve, and the differences in the names of those gods. It is now the task for followers of each respective faith to preserve those differences in the public arena without succumbing to the political correctness of the interfaith movement while retaining a civil discourse and respecting the sincerity of each others faith.
Accepting the same name for two different gods as part of "political correctness" accelerates the onset of Chrislam efforts, increases the likelihood of apostasy, ignores the historical truth, and denies the reality of the two largest religions asserting competing truth claims. It appears that Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation, was prophetic when he said "It is better to be divided by truth than united in error."