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I was watching a khutba on youtube and the Imam referred to Allah (SWT) as "him". If you need a context to go with this the sentence was, "Allah (SWT) doesn't need us, we need him." I sometimes feel awkward when talking about my mom and referring to her as "she" so I was wondering if it is rude/haram to refer to Allah (SWT) in a term we use to refer to one another? Or is it that I'm just thinking too deep into it since no one is really trying to commit shirk?

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Allah himself has referred to Himself as Him several times in Quran, He is neither He nor She, but it's only a way to refer to him in word. He is like nothing that we know or we can know, so we should be able to refer to Him in a way and that's his names (attributes) and words like Him. –  owari Dec 15 '12 at 18:49
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[Surat al-Ikhlaas]
Say, "He is Allah , [who is] One,
Allah , the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent."

Using common pronouns to refer to God

The first line of the above surah is one of many examples where God refers to Himself using the simple pronoun "هو" (He), the same pronoun used by Arabic speakers around the world to refer to each other. Not only does He use it thus in His own holy scriptures, but in this case it is an explicit command — as per the imperative "قل" (Say) — to use the same term when referring to Him (at least in this context).

Similarly, the fourth line includes the pronominal suffix "ه" (Him), again the same suffix used by Arabic speakers everywhere.

So in the case of Arabic, at least, there is no reason to believe that referring to God by such common pronouns is in any way disrespectful, much less haram.

English is not Arabic

In Arabic, a gendered pronoun doesn't necessarily indicate that the noun it's replacing is somehow "male" or "female". While nominally male, the pronouns "هو" and "ه" are also regularly used for inanimate objects with no discernible gender at all, such as "قمر" (Moon) or "كتاب" (Book). As such, even though God is referred to as "هو", it doesn't necessarily mean that He is male like a human or an animal is male. God is, of course, above all of His creation, and there are none like unto Him.

In English, however, the male pronoun does not work like that; "He" typically refers to a noun that has a clear physical gender, whereas "It" is used for those with no gender. As Shaykh Hamza Karamali from the SunniPath Academy explains in a relevant article,

The presence of the neuter gender in English and its absence in Arabic (or French) causes linguistic mismatch. A consequence of this mismatch is that in English, if one uses the masculine or feminine pronoun to refer to something that is without natural gender, one is representing the thing as a person, usually for powerful rhetorical effect. This rhetorical device is called personification, and is often used by poets.

This concept of "personification" is, I feel, the crux of OP's problem: By using the masculine pronoun "He" in English, it implies that God is somehow comparable to mere mankind, and that He is Himself somehow male. However, using the gender-neutral "It" can be seen as demeaning; while "He" runs the risk of personification, "It" runs the opposite risk of depersonification, of treating the referenced noun as naught more than a mere object.

Gender-neutrality (or lack thereof) in English

As this problem of personification is a direct result of using a gendered pronoun, one way of getting around this issue in English would be to use the singular pronoun "They", which is gender-neutral. This however introduces yet another potential avenue of misinterpretation: that of plurality (God forbid). I feel this is, and will remain, a major factor in it not being adopted among English-speaking Muslims to refer to al-Wahid.

The universal "He" has historically been used for cases of gender-neutral or gender-inconclusive nouns, and much like the Arabic "هو" it didn't necessarily imply actual maleness. However, recent movements forwarding gender equality have brought attention to the inherent masculinity of this pronoun, and left no true gender-neutral pronoun in its place — a problem that has been plaguing editors and writers (at least those overly concerned with political correctness) for a while now — and while there have been attempts to introduce new pronouns to the English language to fill this void they have yet to achieve significant mainstream support.

One common practice (adopted, I believe, from the Christians in their earlier English works) is to capitalize the pronoun "He" whenever it directly refers to God; despite having no Islamic basis, this particular construction is well-established among the English-speaking world as referring to a deity rather than a regular person. While the word would still be pronounced exactly the same as the common "him" in spoken language, capitalizing it as one would a proper noun communicates a completely different meaning (similar to the difference between "god" and "God") which is not otherwise seen in English.

In conclusion

The use of "him" — especially when capitalized as "Him" — to refer to the Almighty has a history of use in English that doesn't necessarily imply personification or masculinity, and no other pronoun has stepped up to take its place yet. Short of abandoning pronouns altogether and always referring to God by name (despite the fact that pronouns are clearly condoned in Arabic), the English language does not really provide any alternatives.

Never forget that God is al-Aleem, so regardless of the words you use or the limitations of the language you speak, God knows best whether you mean to glorify or to offend Him.

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amazing explanation. Thank you for the clear and concise explanation –  Newbie Feb 24 at 6:38
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