Allah, the unique name of God
The word Allah, according to several Arabic lexicons, means "the
Being Who comprises all the attributes of perfection", i.e. the
Being Who is perfect in every way (in His knowledge, power etc.), and
possesses the best and the noblest qualities imaginable in the highest
degree. This meaning is supported by the Holy Quran when it says:
"His are the best (or most beautiful) names." (17:110;
20:8; and 7:180)
Contrary to popular belief, the word Allah is NOT a contraction
of al-ilah (al meaning 'the', and ilah meaning 'god').
Had it been so, then the expression ya Allah ('O Allah!') would
have been ungrammatical, because according to the Arabic language when
you address someone by the vocative form ya followed by a title,
the al ('the') must be dropped from the title. For example, you
cannot say ya ar-rabb but must say ya rabb (for 'O Lord').
So if the word Allah was al-ilah ('the God'), we would
not be able to say: ya Allah, which we do.
Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon (which is based on classical Arabic
dictionaries), says under the word Allah, while citing many linguistical
"Allah ... is a proper name applied to the Being
Who exists necessarily, by Himself, comprising all the attributes of
perfection, a proper name denoting the true god ... the al
being inseparable from it, not derived..."
Allah is thus a proper name, not derived from anything, and the
Al is inseparable from it. The word al-ilah (the god) is
a different word.
The word Allah is unique among the names of God in all the
languages of mankind, in that it was never applied to any being other
than God. The pre-Islamic Arabs used it to refer to the Supreme Being,
and never applied it to any of the other things they worshipped. Other
names of God used by mankind, such as "lord", "god",
"khuda", etc. have all also been used for beings other than
God. They have meanings which refer to some particular attribute of
God, but "Allah" is the name which refers to the Being Himself
as His personal name.
The Holy Quran itself refers to the uniqueness of the name Allah
when it says:
"Do you know anyone who can be named along with Him?"
Arabic is the only language, and Islam is the only religion, that
has given the personal name of God (as distinct from attributive names
such as lord, god, the most high, etc.) There are clear prophecies in
previous scriptures (the Bible, the Vedas etc.) about the man who will
come and give the name of God, which in previous religions was regarded
as a secret.
- David prophesied:
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the
Lord" (Psalms 118:26).
This is also repeated in the Gospels (Matt. 21:9, etc.), and was fulfilled
by the Holy Prophet Muhammad whose first revelation was "Read
in the name of thy Lord" (the Quran, 96:1).
- Zechariah prophesied:
"And the Lord shall be king over all the earth,
in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one."
All Muslims, anywhere on the earth, speaking totally different languages,
recognise the name "Allah", thus fulfilling this prophecy,
"his name one". (All Christians, to take an example, do
not recognise a single name of God, and therefore do not fulfil this
- Isaiah prophesied:
"And in that day shall you say, Praise the Lord,
call upon His name." (Isaiah 12:4)
So Muslims say repeatedly exactly this: al-hamdu li-llah, and
call upon His name Allah.
An objection answered.
The following objection has been raised regarding the name Allah:
Al -'The', lah - 'God'. It means the God. It
was one of the gods worshipped by the Arabs. His female equivalent was
Allat, al- 'the', Lat 'goddess'. Muhammed's followers
did not like the concept of worshipping a female diety.
"Allah" was NOT "one of the gods" of the pre-Islamic
Arabs, but was recognised by them as the supreme, abstract God. There
was no idol which they called "Allah". The Quran quotes the
idol-worshippers as presenting the argument that:
"We worship them (i.e. the idols) only so that they
may bring us nearer to Allah." (39:3)
Obviously then, "Allah" was not just one of the gods.
It is also entirely wrong to say that Al-Lat was a feminine
form of Allah. Besides Allah, the different tribes of the Arabs
believed in their tribal gods. "Al-Lat" was the tribal god
of the Thaqeef tribe who lived in the city of Taif (where there was
a shrine with an idol of Lat). The Quraish worshipped Uzza as their
tribal god, and similarly with other tribes.
So it is simply incorrect to say that the Arabs regarded Lat as being
a female equivalent of "Allah". "Allah" was, as
said above, regarded by them as their supreme God. Lat, Manat etc. were
believed in as tribal gods.
Moreover, Lat, Manat and Uzza were believed by them to be daughters
of Allah, as the Quran says:
"Have you then considered Lat and Uzza, and the third,
Manat? Are the males for you and for Him the females" (53:19-21).
The Quran is here pointing out the contradiction in their beliefs, that
they ascribed daughters to Allah, but preferred to have sons themselves!
So Lat being believed as a daughter of Allah, could not possibly be regarded
by them as the female equivalent of Allah.
In Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon the words ilah (god) and Allah
occur under the root A-L-H, but the word Al-lat is given
under an entirely different root L-T. Therefore, "Al-lat"
is not the feminine form of the word Allah (for in that case
it would occur under the same root as for "Allah"), but is
derived from a completely different root with a totally different meaning.
The root from which al-lat comes means (among other things)
"to moisten". Lane quotes several reports on how the idol
came to be so called. It is named after a man called Al-Lat.
Sometime before Islam, there was a man who used to give pilgrims a barley
meal (known as saweek), moistened with either water or clarified
butter. He thus became known as Al-lat. After he died, the rock
where he was buried came to be worshipped and was known by his name.
And thus there came to be the idol named Al-lat.