A Dutch Catholic priest, Tiny Muskens, argues that Christians should begin calling God, “Allah.” Why? To ease Christian-Muslim tensions. What might God think about this? According to Muskens God is above such bickering over what He is called.
Muskens was a missionary in Indonesia for 30 years, and points out how Christians in Indonesia call God “Allah.” In their language, that is the generic reference for God, equivalent to the English “God.” If they can do it, and no one has a problem with it, why can’t we do the same as well?
I think Muskens’s suggestion is misguided for three reasons. First, I don’t think one can make a Biblical case that God is unconcerned with what we call Him. He has chosen to reveal Himself to us with certain names and titles. We cannot just ignore those, or interchange them with some other name if it suits our fancy to do so. For example, we can’t call Him “Xenon” because we think that’s a cool name. That is disrespectful to the God who has revealed Himself, and His name, to man.
Having said that, I understand that the English word “God” is just an English translation of the Hebrew elohim. There is nothing special about the English word “God.” We could just as well use the French word Dieu, or the Italian Dio, or the German Gott…and would do so if we spoke French, Italian, or German, because that is the equivalent word for elohim in those languages. But we do not speak those languages. Likewise, we do not speak Arabic, or live in countries where Muslim influence has made it so that the only term that exists for God in the native language is “Allah.” So there is no reason for us to use “Allah” to refer to God.
Second, I think Muskens’s suggestion would have the opposite effect He envisions. It is one thing for Christians to call God “Allah” in a nation whose language has no other name for God, but it a whole other matter for those who have an alternative name to begin using “Allah” to identify their God. In the former case the usage is necessary; in the latter it is not. Most Christians are Trinitarian. The triune God of Christianity is repugnant to Muslims. To call that God by the same name as the Muslim God when it is not necessary to do so, is likely to be seen as blasphemous, for it would associate Allah with a false God. That will hardly help Muslim-Christian relations!
Thirdly, even if Muslims would not be offended by our change from “God” to “Allah”, what makes us think this change would ease Muslims-Christian tensions? Does Muskens think Muslims won’t be privy to the fact that the change in terminology has nothing to do with a change in our beliefs? Their problem with Christians is not that we do not call God “Allah”, but that we do not follow Islam. Calling the Christian God “Allah” will do nothing to change that fact, and thus it can do nothing to ease Muslim-Christian tensions.
One final thing to consider…. Why is it that Christians need to change the word we use to refer to the Supreme Deity? Why isn’t Muskens calling on Muslims to start calling Allah, “God”? I would venture to say it is because he knows they would never do so. They would likely see it as an affront to Islam, and may resort to violence and killing like they did in the case of the Danish cartoons. It’s much easier and safer to tell Christians to change their language. Muskens knows Christians are tolerant, even of those who disrespect their religion.