A Rose by Any Other Name?
Bishop Martinus Muskens of Breda in The Netherlands has called upon Christians to begin calling God “Allah”. Bishop Muskens is confident this will promote better relations with Muslims and, after all, “God doesn’t really care how we address Him.”
We are not amused…or are we? On the one hand, the bishop’s suggestion is absurd. On the other, it calls for a response before people start defending and explaining it. After all (rally ‘round the bishop), “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God”. So when Bishop Muskens says that Arabic Christians already call God “Allah”, maybe he has a point.
Except he doesn’t. Whatever may be the connotations of “Allah” for those who have been raised in an Arabic culture, everywhere else on earth the term “Allah” refers very specifically to the Muslim deity. And the Muslim conception of God differs greatly from that held by Christians. The change in terminology would inevitably both signal and foster a change in belief.
The conception of God referred to by the name “Allah” is not Trinitarian. There is no Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor is this Allah incarnational. There is no Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. Nor has Allah revealed the deep connection of suffering with redemptive love, let alone acted upon that understanding. Allah has not taught us the way of the Cross. Rather, there is every evidence that he rejects it. In every other language but Arabic, “Allah” does not mean what Christians mean when they speak God’s name.
A distinction, of course, is in order. We can recognize that when a Muslim prays to “Allah”, he is praying to the only God there is, however imperfect his understanding. We can respect his prayer. We can applaud his effort to serve. But we cannot take a word now universally used to describe the Muslim conception of God and use it as our own. For us, this would be a betrayal. The only friends this would win would be those eager to see us deny Christ.
I have a suggestion for Bishop Muskens. Instead of obscuring our witness to the distinctiveness of the Christian God, let’s stop witnessing to secularism, materialism and hedonism. Let’s stop our self-indulgence and our failure to stand for truth. Let’s quit going along to get along. We’re far more likely to win the approval of Muslims if we do, and we’ll certainly win God’s approval, which is all that really matters, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
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