I have recently received a Qur’an in the mail along with a couple of booklets with some basic information about Islam. The booklet made an incorrect claim that stood out to me. It isn’t a fundamental doctrine to Islam, and I’m sure the author was not intentionally trying to mislead people, but he wrote:
Allah is the One and Only True God’s personal name […] It is interesting to note that Allah is also used for God in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, peace be upon him […]1
Arabic and Aramaic (along with Hebrew and a bunch of other languages) are Semitic languages, and have lots of similarities. One similarity that pops up across Semitics languages is their words for “god.” There tends to be “el” or “il” somehow related to the word for god in Semitic languages; some examples include ʾil in Ugaritic, ʾl in Phoenician, and ilu in Akkadian.
Aramaic is the language that Jesus spoke, and it’s also used in 269 verses in the Old Testament.2 As a Semitic language, Aramaic has similarities to both Hebrew and Arabic. In Aramaic, the word for God is elahh (אֱלָהּ). One of the quirky things about Aramaic is that instead of having an article like “the” in front of a word, Aramaic will put “a” (the letter, alef, א) at the end of a word, so that “the god” would be elaha3 (אֱלָהָ֖א). To be more precise, let’s talk about the Aramaic letter, alef (א). It’s the first letter in elahh, and has those five dots below it (אֱלָהּ). Alef is what we call a glottal stop. It restricts the airflow when you speak it. It’s like the hyphen in “uh-oh!” Those five dots below the aleph (אֱ) are called Hateph Seghol, and tell us that after the glottal stop, we make a sound like the “e” in “metallic.”4 With the article, there is an “a” with a sudden stop at the end, “elaha-” (the God), but without the article, the “h” just breaths away at the end, “elahh” (God or “a god”).
The Arabic word, allah, is actually a combination of two words: al ilah (الله, “the god”). Arabic articles come before the word, unlike the Aramaic suffixed article, so al is the first word, and it means “the.” The first letter in al is the Arabic letter, alif (ا), which is quite similar to the glottal stop in Hebrew and Aramaic, alef. After the glottal stop, the word, allah opens into an “a” sound (like in “father”) as opposed to elahh, which goes from glottal stop to reduced “e” sound (like in “metallic”). This is the first difference.
As noted earlier, articles are in the beginning of Arabic words and at the end of Aramaic words. What are Aramaic and Arabic speakers communicating as they pronounce “the god?” In Aramaic, it’s “elah (god)” “-a (the)” but in Arabic, it’s “al (the)” “lah (god).” Even the syllables carry different meanings. As one says “el,” he means “God,” while the other says “al” and means “the.” Not to mention Aramaic has a third syllable, “-a,” at the end.
If the Arabic word for God was taken without the article, then it would be ilah (إله), which would actually be closer to the Aramaic elah (אֱלָהּ), but they still sound different. More importantly, neither ilah nor elah (nor Allah, for that matter) is the proper name for God. His Name is Jehovah (יְהֹוָה).
- Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik, What is Islam? Who are the Muslims? Houston, TX: The Institute of Islamic Knowledge, 2008, 4.
- Gen 31:47; Jer 10:11; Dan 2:4-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26.
- Of course, sometimes grammar dictates otherwise. For example, if there’s a construct form, like “the hand of God” דִּֽי־אֱלָהָא) Dan 2:20) or “the God of Heaven” אֱלָ֙הּ שְׁמַיָּ֤א) Dan 2:44), things change a bit.
- If you say “metallic” quickly, the “e” sounds like it’s halfway between the “e” in “better” and the “i” in “bitter.”