Thank you Dr. Volf. I get tired of how often I have to have this conversation. Proof, again and again that reading comprehension or understanding simple concepts cannot be assumed. And as to Mohler… this indicates he’s better suited to the role of a talking head on radio and certain news outlets than the president of an academic institution. And how presumptuous is it for him to tell these Christian communities of not only much older lineage, but which have endured such persecution, to change their practices because he thinks they’re confusing? To paraphrase someone… if a person is foolish in a very little, they will also be foolish in much….
“Surprisingly, Malay Islamic hardliners find soul mates among some Christian theologians. R. Albert Mohler, the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, strenuously disagrees with the idea that it is appropriate for Christians to pray to “Allah” (as they do in some Malaysian churches). The key condition for Christians’ calling God “Allah” is that “Allah” must refer to the same God as is revealed in the Bible. But that is not the case, according to Mohler. He writes:
“From its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim – the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father. If Allah has no Son by definition, Allah is not the God who revealed himself in the Son. How then can the use of Allah by Christians lead to anything but confusion … and worse?”
Rather than examining what Christians mean when they speak of “God’s Son” and what Muslims mean when they contest the claim that “God has a son,” as, for instance, Nicholas of Cusa has done in his Cribratio Alkorani, Mohler takes Christian and Muslim claims in their surface sense and concludes that Muslims and Christians worship two different gods. If so, then it would be confusing to designate them with the same name.
“Allah” and the Christian God
So should Christians reject “Allah” as a term for God? Should they insist that “Allah” is the Muslim god whereas Christians worship “the Father of Jesus Christ” or “the Lord God,” as Mark Durie claims? They should not.
**Allah is simply Arabic for “God,” just as Theos is Greek for “God” and Bog is Croatian for “God.” A slightly different way to make the same point is this: Allah,” like “God,” is not a proper name but a descriptive term. “Barack Obama” is a proper name; “the president” is a descriptive term. “Zeus” and “Hera” are proper names; theos (Greek for “god”) is a descriptive term. For the most part, we don’t translate proper names; “Obama” is “Obama” (transliterated) in all languages. We translate descriptive terms; “the president” is “predsjednik” in Croatian. “God” is Allah in Arabic and Allah is “God” in English.
Even more important than the meaning and the character of the word “Allah” is the millennia-long practice of Christians: “Arabic Christians and Arabic-speaking Jews since long before the time of Muhammad have used the name ‘Allah’ to refer to God … Thus all Arabic Christian Bible translations of John 3:16 say, ‘For Allah so loved the world …'” Up to this day, all Arabic Christians use “Allah” for God.
The Copts are a good example, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world going back to the first century. Living as they do in Egypt and speaking Arabic, they use “Allah” for God. Witness, for instance, what happens in a Coptic ceremony after a cross has been tattooed onto a wrist of an infant child as a sign of religious and ethnic identification in a predominantly Muslim and Arab society. The whole assembled congregation shouts “Allah!” Are they betraying Christian faith by that shout by invoking a foreign god? They are unmistakably affirming the Christian faith, and they are doing so by exclaiming the same word for God as their Muslim compatriots do.
The whole heated discussion about the proper designation for God is a bit futile. Those who insist that Christians and Muslims must use different designations for God generally think that the two groups worship different deities. But a different word for God, obviously, does not mean that God is different. You can use different words to refer to the same thing. Inversely, the mere fact that Muslims and Christians use the same word for God does not mean that their God is the same.”
Whether “Allah” can refer to the Christian God is not just a burning question in Malaysia; it drives relations between Islam and Christianity globally. There can be no shared future without a right answer.