Use of name Allah and its correct concept

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 23 September 2022

“… And some people dispute (or argue) about Allah without knowledge or guidance or a Book giving light. …

And if you ask them who created the heavens and the earth, they will say: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them do not know.” — ch. 31, v. 20, 25

 وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنۡ یُّجَادِلُ فِی اللّٰہِ بِغَیۡرِ عِلۡمٍ وَّ لَا ہُدًی وَّ لَا کِتٰبٍ مُّنِیۡرٍ ﴿۲۰﴾

 وَ لَئِنۡ سَاَلۡتَہُمۡ مَّنۡ خَلَقَ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضَ لَیَقُوۡلُنَّ اللّٰہُ ؕ قُلِ الۡحَمۡدُ لِلّٰہِ ؕ بَلۡ اَکۡثَرُہُمۡ لَا یَعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿۲۵﴾

“And if you ask them, Who created the heavens and the earth, they will say: Allah. Say: Do you then see that those you call upon besides Allah, would they, if Allah desire to afflict me with harm, remove His harm? Or if He desire to show me mercy, could they withhold His mercy? Say: Allah is sufficient for me. On Him do the reliant rely.” — ch. 39, v. 38

وَ لَئِنۡ سَاَلۡتَہُمۡ مَّنۡ خَلَقَ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضَ لَیَقُوۡلُنَّ اللّٰہُ ؕ قُلۡ اَفَرَءَیۡتُمۡ مَّا تَدۡعُوۡنَ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ اِنۡ اَرَادَنِیَ اللّٰہُ بِضُرٍّ ہَلۡ ہُنَّ کٰشِفٰتُ ضُرِّہٖۤ اَوۡ اَرَادَنِیۡ بِرَحۡمَۃٍ ہَلۡ ہُنَّ مُمۡسِکٰتُ رَحۡمَتِہٖ ؕ قُلۡ حَسۡبِیَ اللّٰہُ ؕ عَلَیۡہِ یَتَوَکَّلُ الۡمُتَوَکِّلُوۡنَ ﴿۳۸

I am continuing this week with the topic of the use of the name Allah. The pre-Islamic Arab idol-worshippers, being Arabs, used the word Allah for God. The first verses which I recited tell us that the Arab idol-worshippers disputed with the Holy Prophet Muhammad about the concept of Allah that he presented through his revela­tion. They themselves possessed no knowledge, no guidance and no book giving them light. It is stated there, and in several other places in the Quran, that they recognised Allah as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. For example: “And if you ask them, Who created the heavens and the earth and made the sun and the moon subservient, they would say: Allah. … And if you ask them, Who is it that sends down water from the clouds, then gives life with it to the earth after its death, they will say: Allah” (29:61, 63). But then, due to not having knowledge, they considered their idols to be partners of Allah. This is what the second verse tells us. They believed that Allah could not function by Himself as God without the support of these partners, so it was essential for worshippers to call upon these partners for help. But the Holy Prophet taught them that Allah was suffi­cient and you should rely on Him only. The point to remember here is that just because some people use the word Allah as the name of God, it doesn’t mean that they are following the concept of Allah as taught in the Quran.


In another place the Quran says about the Arab idol-worshippers: “And most of them do not believe in Allah without setting up partners (with Him)” (12:106). Yes, they believed in Allah, and used the name Allah for God, but they insisted on including others with Him as His partners. Here the Quran says that the only way in which these people believe in Allah is by making other things and beings as His partners in the running of the world. The Quran also tells us that they falsely ascribed sons and daughters to Allah while He is above requiring any progeny (6:100).


The Quran also says: “Now surely sincere obedience is due to Allah (alone). And those who choose protectors besides Him (say): We serve them only that they may bring us nearer to Allah” (39:3). The Arab non-Muslims of the Holy Prophet’s time also wanted to be nearer to Allah; but they chose the wrong way of doing this by going through idols or priests as intermediaries.


The Christians in Arabia at the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad also called God by the name Allah. But the Quran tells us that they also said: “Allah, He is the Messiah, son of Mary” (5:72), “Allah is the third of the three” (5:73), and “The Messiah is the son of Allah” (9:30). This was the concept they had in mind when they used the name Allah. They used the name Allah because this was the name of God in their language, Arabic, but at the same time they were attributing characteristics to Allah which are totally rejected by Islam. There are even Muslims themselves who, while using the name Allah for God, indulge in practices, such as calling upon saints to answer their prayers, which are against the concept of God as presented in the Quran.


As a verse which I quoted last week says: “And Allah’s are the best names, so call on Him thereby and leave alone those who violate the sanctity of His names” (7:180). We can call on Him by any of His names, providing that the concept in our minds, of what is God, is not in violation of how the Quran presents Him. When the Holy Prophet Muhammad appeared, the true and perfect belief in God being One and only One had long ago disappeared from the world, both in Arabia and outside it. The Quran revived that belief and presented it in its most perfect form, which the world had never known before. For example, every nation believed that God was their God and that He favoured their nation over other nations and helped it to victory over others. According to the Bible, the Israelites sang a song in which they said: “He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a man of war; The Lord is His name. … Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?” (Exodus, 15:2–3, 11). But the Quran begins by declaring: “Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds,”, not my Lord, or my people’s Lord who is greater than everyone else’s god. The Holy Prophet Muhammad is commanded to declare to people of other religions: “I believe in what Allah has revealed of the Book, and I am com­manded to do justice between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. For us are our deeds, and for you your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will gather us together, and to Him is the eventual coming” (42:15).


To know all this about Allah, what is required is guidance from Him and a “light-giving” Book. Just using the name Allah to refer to God does not make anyone go on the right path, whether he is a Muslim, or he is an Arab of some other religion, in whose language (Arabic) God is called Allah. Last week I recited the verses “Call on Allah or call on the Beneficent. By whatever (name) you call on Him, He has the best names” (17:110) and “And Allah’s are the best names, so call on Him thereby” (7:180). This calling on Allah does not simply mean mentioning His name in front of people, or praying to Him by saying Allahumma or Rabba-nā, or memorising and reciting the various names of Allah. It also means that we show the same qualities ourselves in our own behaviour which we admire in Allah. In this connection the Quran tells Muslims to say to others: “Allah’s colour, and who is better than Allah at colouring, and we are His worshippers” (2:138). In other words, we want to imbue ourselves with the colour that we see in Allah, and that is the best colour to be seen in. Just as those two verses about “best names” use the words al-asmā’ al-ḥusnā, this verse says that Allah is the most aḥsan of all, best of all, in colouring. Just like there are numerous colours in the world, so are there numerous names of Allah.


After this verse, the Quran tells the Holy Prophet to say to the followers of previous scriptures: “Say: Do you dispute with us about Allah, and He is our Lord and your Lord, and for us are our deeds and for you your deeds; and we are sincere to Him?” (2:139). While we have differences with the followers of previous scriptures as to the attributes of God, whether He is God of particular nations, or whether He sent His son to appear in the world, yet He is still the Lord and Judge of us all. And how He evaluates and assesses us is not on the basis of these differences as such, but on the basis of our actual deeds. What did your belief in God lead you to do in the world?


There is a similar verse in another place in the Quran which tells Muslims: “And do not argue with the People of the Book except by what is best, save such of them as act unjustly. But say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him we submit” (29:46). Arguing “by what is best” means presenting the best arguments and evidences and doing so in the best behaved, polite manner, showing consideration for the feelings of others. An argument which is conducted in the “best” (aḥsan احسن) manner is not a heated, emotionally-charged argument, not one in which we relieve our frustration at the other side, not one in which foul-mouthed and sarcastic language is used, not one intended to humiliate our opponent, not one whose aim is to score debating points. It is conducted rationally, calmly and politely, with an exchange of views, and with a sincere desire to show truth to the others and to guide them to the right way.


It mentions here that you should always argue only in the best way except against those who “act unjustly”. Acting unjustly means that they stubbornly refuse to accept any truth or validity at all in your arguments even after realizing that there is some truth in it, or that they use unfair and dishonest tactics and tricks, etc. To have argu­ments with such people is fruitless. This verse advises Muslims to start by establishing a common ground with the followers of the other religions, by saying that we accept their scriptures as having been revelations from God, and that the God Who revealed those is the same Being Who has revealed the Quran, “our God and your God is One”, as this verse says.


So may Allah enable us to learn and realise the real teachings of Islam and to act on them, and to spread peace and harmony in the world between different nations and religions, not discord and disharmony. — Ameen.