Paul Galloway on religious semantic and the notion of God

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SHAFAQNA – Paul Galloway is the executive director of the American Center for Outreach, an advocacy group for civic participation of Muslims in Tennessee. A tolerant man, a man of peace and reason, Mr Galloway offered an interesting position on the recent clash of religious semantics Christians in the US have held against Muslims.

“The idea that Muslims and Christians worship different Gods is not only false, it’s dangerous,” he noted.

Last month, a tenured Wheaton College Professor— who is Christian — was suspended for stating that Allah is God. Earlier that month, a California woman assaulted a group of Muslims in public and afterward stated, “their Allah … was not of God, was of the devil.”

Also, the Friday before Christmas, all the schools in Augusta County, Va., were shut down after an Arabic calligraphy assignment mentioning that Allah was God angered parents.

The sheriff and district administrators mentioned non-specific safety concerns as the reason. One parent opined: “This is so WRONG! There is only ONE GOD and HIS NAME is JESUS!”

Right here in Nashville, a talk show host, in his promotional spots for a recent anti-Muslim event, implied that it is wrong to believe that Christians, Muslims and Jews worshiped the same God.

“Do we really have to view God through the lens of us versus them?” asked Mr Galloway before offering his rationale.

“Allah equals God linguistically. It’s important to know that Allah simply means God. Arab Christians and Jews use the word Allah when praying or speaking of God. The bottom line is that even evangelicals use the word Allah when they translate the Bible into Arabic.

To really understand this point, let’s examine a common translation of the “shahada” (the first pillar of Islam) as it has appeared in recent news reports: “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

While technically correct, I argue that this translation is incomplete. Even when this translation is clearly understood as Islam’s creed, not translating the word Allah to God creates a lot of confusion. A better and more complete translation is as follows: “There is no deity other than God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

The reason that the word Allah is not always translated to God is that in Arabic Allah is used as the name and/or title of the one true God. This differentiates Allah from the English word god with a lowercase “g,” which in Arabic is the word “ilah.”

Allah equals the creator. According to Islamic theology, Allah is the term that refers to the deity that created the universe. Muslims, like Christians, believe in a single, all- powerful and all-knowledgeable God who created everything that ever existed. Therefore, unless you do not believe that the Christian God is the creator, then you have to acknowledge that both Christians and Muslims claim to worship the same God.

However, this line of argumentation is historically problematic as it took well over 300 years after Christ for the Council of Nicaea to debate, formalize and adopt the doctrine of Trinity.

Furthermore, disagreements among Christians regarding the Trinity persist today. This stance also necessitates the view that Jews also do not worship the same God.

Sadly, many evangelicals have recently said exactly that. The desire to emphasize one faith’s claim to exclusive truth is understandable, but it too often comes off as ugly and offensive.

It’s wrong — if not arrogant — for us to prioritize our conceptualization of God over the very station and greatness of God. The God of Abraham is the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; this truth should inspire bridge-building among the faithful, not more division and strife.”

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