The universal Being who created the universe called God, has a name in each of the world’s languages. This article discusses Allah, God’s name in Islam, and its linguistic origins for the purpose of removing misconceptions.
He is God in English, Yahweh in Hebrew, Eli in Aramaic, Onyame in Twi, Woso in Busanga, Allah Ubanjiji in Hausa, Nyonmo in Ga, Mawusi in Ewe, just to mention some few. These are irrefutable evidences that God is universal and is not God of any particular tribe nor nation. Some Christian sects have ever referred to Allah as some god or deity that was imported into Arabia and worshipped in the Ka’bah. In refutation we assert that Arabia, throughout its history, has only known the word Allah for God from genesis up to date. Like the African (Twi) proverbs “Onyamefiritete”, meaning the name of God originates from ancient times. Thus not withstanding the fact that Arabs throughout their long history have had a fair shade of idol worship up to the time of the advent of Islam in 612AD, they used only one word for God. Tracing the history of the word Allah there are conclusive proofs and evidences that this very name originated in the time of Adam or even beyond when he and his offsprings were taught the worship of One God by God himself. Thus in the time of Yarid, one of Adam’s offspring, when idol worship began (Tabari) they still used this word. In the time of Noah when idol worship proliferated and became the norm rather than the exception, they continued to use the name ALLAH. The Quran 71:24 mentions the names of some of the prominent idols worshipped by the people of Noah as. Wadd, Suwaa, Yaguth, Ya’uq and Nasr. According to HadratIbnAbass, may Allah be pleased with him, these were names of some righteous people from the period of the Prophet Adam on whom be peace. When they died their people erected monuments for their remembrance. In the beginning, they were mere monuments, but with time the latter generation began to worship them. After the devastating floods, these idols were worshipped by the Arabs. The Quraish, tribe of the Holy Prophet, worshipped in particular these three powerful idols Allat, Al-Uzza and Al-Manat. Notwithstanding the multiplicity of idols worshipped, the Arabs made great distinction between Allah and their idols. The following Quranic verses as evidences to that effect. “If you were to ask them ‘Who sent down rains from the heavens that revives the earth back to life after its death, they will certainly say ALLAH” (Quran 29:61 – 63). Elsewhere we read; “And if you were to ask them, Who created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon into service, they will say ALLAH” (Quran 29:63). By the pronoun they is meant the pre-Islamic Arabs.
Concerning the rational for engaging in idol worship we read from the Quran; “We do not worship them (idols), but for the purpose of bringing us closer to Allah”. Allah will surely judge them concerning that which they worship” (Quran 39:4). These utterances are not different from what our local fetish priests tell us that God, being so far away, they need the gods as intermediaries to take their requests fast to Him. In short the problem with the Arabs before Islam was that they, like other people, found it absolutely impossible to worship the One God (ALLAH) without the intermediary idols (gods). “Have you come to us, so that we may worship One God alone and leave what our forefathers used to worship(god)?” (Quran 7:71). That was on the occasion when the Prophet Hud invited his people, the Aads, to the worship of One God and they objected.
So far so good for a brief history of Allah amongst the Arabs. In Islam there are two schools of thought concerning the name ALLAH. Those who are of the view that this word is not derived and those who share the view that the name is derived. There is ample justification that Allah is a derived noun basing argument on the following verses: “Allah is He who is in the heavens and Allah is He who is in the earth”. Compare this verse to the following verse; “He it is who is in the heaven as “Ilah” (A god) and in the earth as “Ilah” (a God)”.
It becomes crystal clear that “Allah”, Who’s the God in the heavens and earth, is the same God as “Ilah”. Elsewhere in the Quran we read; “A God “(Ilah)” of mankind” (Quran 114:4). From these facts etymologists argue that the word “Ilah” is the root name of God, meaning “A God”. The Quran is profuse with verses in which “Ilah” is also used for idols beside, Allah.
The difference between “Allah” and “Ilah” therefore lies in the introduction of the definite particle “Al” to “Ilah” as the following argument clearly point at; “According to Sebawaih, the root of Allah is Ilah. By prefixing the definite article (Al) to “Ilah”, the “I” in “Ilah” is omitted, like “Al-Naas” that is derived from “Inass by the prefixing of Al to the latter”. According to others the rood of Allah is Al-Ilah. The I in Ilah is then omitted to become Allah. Due to the doubling of the I(lam), shadda (intensification sign) is put on it. In this form Allah becomes magnified and distinguished (see fig 1). Concerning the verbal origins of Allah and Ilah all are agreed that they derive from “Allaha” to deify, and “Ta’Allah” to be deified.(IbnKathir, volume 1)
We have an analogous example in Twi. When you say Nyame, it can mean God or god or even used for a human being. But when you say Onyame, by adding the definite article “O” it becomes Onyame, used exclusively for God the creator of the universe (see fig 2).
The Arabs throughout history have known and used only one word for God and that is Allah.