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Allah (Arabic allāhu الله) is traditionally used by Muslims as the Arabic word for "God" (not "God's personal name", but the equivalent of the Hebrew word El as opposed to YHWH). The word Allah is not specific to Islam; Arab Christians and Arab Jews also use it to refer to the monotheist deity. Arabic translations of the Bible also employ it, as do the catholics of Malta who pronounce it as "Alla" in Maltese, a language derived from and most closely related to Arabic, as well as christians in Indonesia, who pronounce it "Allah Bapa" (Allah the Father).
Although the name "Allah" is most commonly associated with Islam, it was also used in pre-Islamic times. It was used by Arab Christians in the pre-Islamic Umm al-Jimal inscription (6th century). The father of Muhammad, Islam's prophet, had the name "Abdullah", which translates "servant of Allah". The Hebrew word for deity, El (אל) or Eloh (אלוה), was used as an Old Testament synonym for Yahweh (יהוה). The Aramaic word for God is alôh-ô (Syriac dialect), which comes from the same Proto-Semitic word (*'ilâh-) as the Arabic and Hebrew terms; Jesus is described in Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46 as having used this word on the cross (in the forms elô-i and êl-i respectively). One of the earliest surviving translations of the word into a foreign language is in a Greek translation of the Shahada, from 86-96 AH (705-715 AD), which translates it as ho theos monos, literally "the one god".
Many linguists believe that the term Allāh is derived from a contraction of the Arabic words al (the) + ilah (male deity). In addition, one of the main pagan goddesses of pre-Islamic Arabia, Allāt (al + ilāh + at, or 'the female deity'), is cited as being etymologically (though not synchronically) the feminine linguistic counterpart to the grammatically masculine Allah. If so, the word Allāh is an abbreviated title, meaning 'the deity', rather than a name. For this reason, both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars often translate Allāh directly into English as 'God'; however, some Muslim scholars feel that "Allāh" should not be translated, because it expresses the uniqueness of God more accurately than "God", which can take a plural "Gods", whereas "Allāh" has no plural. This is a significant issue in translation of the Qur'an. This also explains why Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians freely refer to God as Allāh.
From the point of view of traditional Islamic theology, Allah is the most precious name of God because it is not a descriptive name like other Ninety-nine names of Allah, but the name of God's own presence. The Islamic concept of mankind's place in the universe hinges on the notion that Allah, or God, is the only true reality. There is nothing permanent other than Him. Allah is considered eternal and "uncreated", whereas everything else in the universe is "created." The Qur'an describes Him in Sura 112: "Say: He is Allah, Singular. Allah, the Absolute. He begetteth not nor was begotten. And to Him have never been one equal." (see Tawhid for more). The Qur'an condemns and mocks the pre-Islamic Arabs for attributing daughters to Allah (sura 53:19.)
Muslims believe that the name of Allah has existed since the time of Adam, since they believe their deity to be the same one worshipped by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and other prophets of Islam. In Islam it is perceived that there is only one God and Muhammed is the last messenger.
The emphasis in Islamic culture on reciting the Qur'an in Arabic has resulted in Allah being used by Muslims world-wide, regardless of their native language (unlike the word "God", which is only used in the English-speaking world, and various Jewish divine appellations such as Adonai which are only used by Hebrew speakers). Out of 114 Suras in the Qur'an, 113 begin with "Bismi 'llāh ar-rahmān ar-rahīm" (بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم) which means "In the name of Allah, the most kind, the most merciful". Also the cognate Aramaic term appears in the Aramaic version of the New Testament, called the Pshitta (or Peshitta) as one of the words Jesus used to refer to God, e.g., in the sixth Beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see Alaha." And in the Arabic Bible the same words (Mt 5,8): "طُوبَى لأَنْقِيَاءِ الْقَلْبِ، فَإِنَّهُمْ سَيَرَوْنَ الله" The Qur'an also uses the related name Allāhumma, which may be an Arabic rendering of Elohim, a word for 'God' or 'deity' used in the Hebrew Bible.
Muslims, when referring to the name, often add the words "Subhanahu wa Ta'ala" after it, meaning "Glorified and Exalted is He" as a sign of reverence, or "Az wa Jal" (عز و جل). The entire religion of Islam is based on the idea of getting closer to Allah. Although commonly referred to as a "He", Allah is considered genderless, but there is no neuter gender to express this in the Arabic language. When Greek or other polytheistic deities are discussed in Arabic, it is customary to use the expression ilāh, a "deity" or lower-case "god."
Allah is considered by Muslims to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is said to be "in Heaven" (Qur'an 67:16) and "in the heavens and the earth" (Qur'an 66:3), but also said to be "nearer to him [man] than his jugular vein" (Qur'an 50:16); He constantly watches all that goes on in the world, and knows all things.
Muslims do not try to draw or depict Allah in any way, according to Islamic belief it could lead to idol worship. Instead, they focus on His 99 "Attributes" that are stated in the Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslims. Nearly one third of the book is used describing Allah's attributes and actions. Also, "hadith qudsi" are special recorded sayings of Muhammad to Muslims where he quotes what Allah says to him. The ninety-nine "Attributes" are frequently written in calligraphic Arabic as a permissible decoration, which adorns mosques and homes of Muslims.
There are many phrases with Allah's name in it:
- Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر) (Allah is greater [than to be described])
- Bismillah (بسم الله) (In the name of Allah)
- Insha'Allah (إن شاء الله) (Allah Willing)
- Ya Allah (يا الله)(Oh Allah)
- may be the origin of the Spanish exclamation "¡Olé!".
- Masha Allah (ما شاء الله) (Allah has willed it)
- Subhan Allah (سبحان الله) (Glory be to Allah)
- Alhamdulillah (الحمد لله) (All praise be to Allah)
- Allahu A`alam (الله أعلم) (Allah knows best)
- Jazaka Allahu Khairan (جزاك الله خيراً) (May Allah reward you for your deeds)
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