My understanding is that 'Allah' is simply a transliteration of the Arabic word for God. So why is the Arabic word used even in English, instead of simply 'God'?
Is the use of 'Allah' universal in other (non-Arabic, non-English) languages as well?
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The word "God" does not convey the meaning encompassed by the arabic word "Allah". The origin of the word "Allah" is "Al-Ilaah"[The only one worshipped in Truth]. "Al-Ilaah" and "Allah" are one and the same. In the word "Allah", the hamza was deleted for ease of pronunciation, so "Al-Ilaah" became "Allah".
So the meaning the word "Allah" conveys is "The Only one who is worthy of being worshipped [alone] without associating any partners."
Source: Audio of Shaikh Saalim At Taweel (HafithahuAllah)
Muslims in every language use "Allah," be it Japanese, French, Chinese, etc.
The word "God" in English is quite deficient. For example, you can pluralize it (gods), feminize it (goddess), and so on.
In Arabic, the name "Allah" conveys none of that. The form of the name itself implies singularity, which fits in with our beliefs.
Also, in Arabic, all words derive from their root verbs; so you can tell something about the meaning based on the letters used. In the case of "Allah," there is difference of opinion about which root word is the main one.
In any case, one of the stronger opinions is that it comes from the same root as "Al-Elah." "Elah" means something that is worshipped (broadly speaking about worship). That does fit well into the meaning that Allah is the only one we worship in any way.
This is more of strict code of conduct followed by more religious Muslims. They take special care when referring to God because the most fundamental belief in Islam is to believe in one God and that is Allah, not necessarily God.
God is a general word which can be used for any God such as
they consider the moon as their God, or
They worship the sun and consider it one of their gods. The use of the name Allah is precise. It is used for nothing else but the Almighty God who is the creator of the Universe. Hence this is more appropriate name.
God has plural as in Gods. But Allah does not have any plural. There is only one God and we must refer to him by his real name. For Muslims it is the most important thing to recognize God therefore they will not use any other name.
The use of the word God can create a possibility where it can mean something other than the actual God himself. This is highest possible crime in Islam and is called "shirk". Meaning the person does no believe in one God.
Speaking of a little bit history, this is not a unique name. It was believed to be used before Islam. In fact one of the main deity in Makka was named something similar. Some say it was named as "Al-Ilah". Prophet Muhammad father name himself is "Abdullah" (ab-dul-lah) which basically means servant/slave/bondsman of God. So the use of name Allah was in existence even before Islam although in slightly different way.
A word meaning "god" is distinct from a name of the God. Allah is both. Before Islam, Allah was one of many gods. For example, in the famous sentence لا إله إلا الله, La illaha ila Allah meaning "There is no god but Allah", "god" is spelled "Alif, lam, heh", while Allah is "alif, lam, lam, heh" - it's essentially the same word. See Wikpedia article on this and other similar Semitic words.
Names are generally not translated into other languages, only slightly adapted, e.g., "Theodore" is an adaptation of the Greek name "Theodoros", while a translation would have been "Godsgift".
This explains why saying both "God" and "Allah" would be correct. I don't know why Muslims prefer "Allah", probably initially they told foreigners something like "We worship Allah" (as opposed to other gods).
You might wonder why this is different from what Christians and Jews do. Jews are simply not allowed to pronounce God's name. I don't know about Christians.
It is to prevent shirk. 'Allah' is Al(The) + Ilah(God) but it is formed in such a way that you can not drop 'The'. If you see what I mean, this special phrase that points to Him indicates oneness of God in itself. It is the same with the word 'God' in English. You do not say 'The God', because the name 'God' indicates 'the' and oneness in itself. So 'God' is a good match for 'Allah' and you may use it. However;
You can always use God liter instead of Allah liter while you mean the only god, who created all thing we understand and all thing we can not imagine, indeed God's name is sacred in any language and you must ablute (wodhu) before touching to a written God's name.
Beside that Allah is a special liter that have clear meaning. We also refer to that Jalale liter (لفظ جلالة)
In verse 7:180, Quran says:
وَلِلَّهِ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا ۖ وَذَرُوا الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي أَسْمَائِهِ ۚ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
The best names belong to God: so call on him by them; but shun such men as use profanity in his names: for what they do, they will soon be requited.
And in verse 7:110, Quran says:
قُلِ ادْعُوا اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُوا الرَّحْمَٰنَ أَيًّا مَّا تَدْعُوا فَلَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ وَلَا تَجْهَرْ بِصَلَاتِكَ وَلَا تُخَافِتْ بِهَا وَابْتَغِ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ سَبِيلًا
Tell: "Call upon 'Allah', or call upon 'Rahman', by whatever name ye call upon Him, (it is well), for to Him belong the best names. Neither speak thy Prayer aloud, nor speak it in a low tone, but seek a middle course between."
God has many names and it is clear from Quran that 'Allah' is the same as God worshiped by Christians and Jews. So using those names for him are also fine.
The practice of using 'Allah' in translated text seems to be partly a result of the original language of the speakers (Arabic). For example in Turkish it is translated to "Tanrı", in Persian it is translated to "خدا" and so on in other languages.
Keeping the word 'Allah' is not a general practice. In fact it can be quite awkward not to translate the word 'Allah', e.g. I have never heard "بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ" translated to "به نام اللّه بخشنده مهربان" in Persian, either people use the full Arabic phrase or completely translate it to "به نام خداوند بخشنده ی مهربان".
It can also be result of a desire by some Muslims to distinguish themselves from other religions and this goes both ways, i.e. they are also unhappy when a Christian uses 'Allah' to refer to God worshiped by Christians (This was an issue last year in Indonesia), they don't want people confuse the 'God' worshiped by Chrisitians with 'Allah' worshiped by Muslims, although Quran clearly is against this kind of behavior, e.g. verse 3:64 says:
قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ ۚ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَقُولُوا اشْهَدُوا بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ
Say: "O People of the Book! ascend to the common words between us and you: That we worship none but 'Allah'; that we associate no partners with him; that we do not take from among ourselves patrons other than 'Allah'." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we submitter [to God]".
Or in verses 23:51-23:53 where Quran says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الرُّسُلُ كُلُوا مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَاعْمَلُوا صَالِحًا ۖ إِنِّي بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ عَلِيمٌ
وَإِنَّ هَٰذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاتَّقُونِ
فَتَقَطَّعُوا أَمْرَهُم بَيْنَهُمْ زُبُرًا ۖ كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ
O ye messengers! eat pure [food] and do good, for I well-know what ye do.
And verily this nation of yours is a single nation, and I am your cherisher: thus be pious.
But people have cut off their affair (of unity) between them into sects, each group rejoices in that which is with itself!
However one should remember that translating words often doesn't preserve the full meaning of the original word, particularly when there are other attributes associated with the translation (but this also applies to other names of the God). A translation is after all a translation, it is a mean to understand Quran for those who cannot read it in Arabic, but it cannot replace Quran itself which is God's message in his own words and is the miracle of our prophet.
In pre-Islamic times, the word AllĀh was understood by the Arabs as referring to a certain deity among numerous deities, sometimes also identified as the one responsible for the creation and maintenance of heaven and earth. But He was, after all, but one of the gods worshipped by the pagan Arabs. With the coming of Islam a profound change of far-reaching consequences was brought to this conception. The QurāĀn introduces AllĀh as the absolutely supreme (aĂlĀ) and unique (aĄad),
This suggest that Allah is proper name, therefore, it shouldn't be translated.
Arif, Syamsuddin. "Preserving The Semantic Structure Of Islamic Key Terms And Concepts: Izutsu, Al-Attas, And Al-Rāghib Al-Iṣfahānī." Islam & Science (17037603) 5.2 (2007): 107-116. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Oct. 2012.
Asalamu wa alaikum,
In the Qur'an God is referred to as Allah, and since the state Allah is known throughout the Islamic world, it is used more. But if you use God or Jehovah or Yawayh or any of the names of Allah/ God that is from other languages or your own language it does not take away the meaning behind the words, which is pointing to One God. I hope you understand.
Allah (الله) is actually Al-ilah (ال + اله), "Al" implies "the" and "ilah" (which comes from either Alaha اَلَهَ or valaha وَلَهَ) implies "god", a being that is worshipped or is so wonderful that we will at most be perplexed in. Therefore, "the god" is "God" and as you said Allah is God, but on the other hand it is a name, not a reputation, it is different than the God's other names like Rahman and Rahim, this addresses most the godness of God while those commonly address His reflection to His created world, if there is no created world then there would be no meaning to say Ar-Rahman for example or Al-Ghafoor and etc. as well. Allah is somewhat more general than the Husna names, also more intrinsic as is not specific in the sense the others are. It is so much like the names John, Robert and etc., these are not translated so that Allah is better not to be translated either! In a Shia Hadith there is a statement for the meanings of the three alphabets used in Elah (ا+ل+ه), but that would get-off the subject and Sunni Muslims may not agree upon either, so let me skip it.
However, Allah is not still the best word referring to God, I mean the intrinsic name of Him; but the best way to point to His very nature is to point to Him only through "He" (هو) and you can find nothing that can describe Him better! A secret without a key to resolve it. He is then the only one who knows who He is, and thus can speak about it, in one level by giving attributes to it (but being the infinite limit of a sequence made by each attribute as He has no alike) and in one highest level by calling Himself "I" (me: انا). The highest level of Unitarianism is to know and believe in He, a He with no attribute, according to a Hadith from Imam Ali, peace be upon him. This can help you understand better when He states in His book:
Say: He is Allah, the One and Only [112:1]
He is Allah, than Whom there is no other god;- Who knows (all things) both secret and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful./ He is Allah, than Whom there is no other god;- the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory to Allah! (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him./ He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. [59:22,23,24]
but to Him He is I:
"Verily, I am Allah: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise. [20:14]
Note that "is" and "am" are not the very common equalities in math, they are not two-sided relation between the left hand side and right hand side of the equality!