Once in a while a story comes along that is so outrageous that reports of chin injuries skyrocket. These injuries occur when a sensible person reads a report that is so daft, so outrageous, that the reader’s chin strikes a hard surface following an uncontrolled jaw drop. Such was my reaction after being confronted with this headline from Catholic News Service from August 14, 2007: “Pray to Allah, Dutch Bishop Suggests.” Apparently, Roman Catholic Bishop Martinus (“Tiny”, yes, that’s really his nickname and it fits) Muskens of Breda has suggested that Christians should refer to God as Allah as a way of promoting better relations with Moslems. He further predicted that, in a century or two, Dutch Catholics would be addressing prayers to “Allah.”
It’s very hard to take a report like this seriously, but I think it is highly instructive that we do so in order to understand why no thinking Christian could ever refer to God as “Allah.” As a first step, we have to understand that Muslims use the term Allah because they consider God to be utterly transcendent and unknowable. The title “Allah” is not God’s name, but is, rather, a derivative of the Arab word for “Lord”, something closely akin to the Hebrew elohim. God cannot be known for the Moslem unless and until the world has been made pure for him and this can only occur after people do one of three things: (1) convert to Islam, (2) agree to live under sharia (Islamic Law) in dhimmitude, or (3) die. Only then will Allah reveal himself to his creation.
Christians have a very different view. We believe in a God who is not only knowable, but also desires to be known by his creation. He yearns to share his love with his people and stands steadfastly by them. In juxtaposition to our Islamic friends, we do know the name of God. In Exodus, Moses asks the Lord for his name and God replies, “I am who am.” The Hebrew language has a word for it that translates YHWH (Hebrew has no vowels). To this day, faithful Jews will not pronounce the name of God and evidence for this can be found in the Bible. You may note in the King James and other versions that you will see the word LORD in small capitals. This denotes a reference to YHWH and acknowledges the Jewish practice of substituting the word elohim for the name of God. Notice that devout Jews and Christians know the name of God but only use elohim as a sign of respect.
Now let’s move forward to the New Testament. We know the name of God in the New Testament. God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ, the second Person of the blessed Trinity. God has given us this name and Jesus tells us that through him we see and know the Father. He further states that through Him (Jesus), the Father knows us. Jesus goes on elsewhere to give us another name for God. In the Lord’s Prayer, he refers to the Father (and instructs us to do this as well), as Abba, or “Daddy.”
We could expand any one of these references, but I think the point is clear. For a Christian under any circumstances to refer to God as “Allah” is unthinkable in that it is a rejection of basic Christian doctrine which is founded both in the Bible and in the Tradition of the Church. We are blessed and privileged to know the name of God and to be marked as His own forever. Perhaps Bishop “Tiny” needs to revisit a theology text instead of the dessert bar.