The word 'Allah' in thuluth calligraphy

Allah (/ˈælə, ˈɑːlə, əˈlɑː/;[1][2][3] Arabic: ٱللَّٰه, romanizedAllāh, IPA: [ʔaɫ.ɫaːh] ) is the common Arabic word for God. In the English language, the word generally refers to God in Islam.[4][5][6] The word is thought to be derived by contraction from al-ilāh, which means "the god", and is linguistically related to the Aramaic words Elah and Syriac ܐܲܠܵܗܵܐ (ʼAlāhā) and the Hebrew word El (Elohim) for God.[7][8]

The word Allah has been used by Arabic people of different religions since pre-Islamic times.[9] The pre-Islamic Arabs worshipped a supreme deity whom they called Allah, alongside other lesser deities.[10] Muhammad used the word Allah to indicate the Islamic conception of God. Allah has been used as a term for God by Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab), Judaeo-Arabic-speaking Jews, and Arab Christians[11] after the terms "al-ilāh" and "Allah" were used interchangeably in Classical Arabic by the majority of Arabs who had become Muslims. It is also often, albeit not exclusively, used in this way by Bábists, Baháʼís, Mandaeans, Indonesian and Maltese Christians, and Sephardi Jews,[12][13][14] as well as by the Gagauz people.[15] Similar usage by Christians and Sikhs in Peninsular Malaysia has recently led to political and legal controversies.[16][17][18][19]


The Arabic components that make up the word "Allah":
  1. alif
  2. hamzat waṣl (همزة وصل)
  3. lām
  4. lām
  5. shadda (شدة)
  6. dagger alif (ألف خنجرية)
  7. hāʾ

The etymology of the word Allāh has been discussed extensively by classical Arab philologists.[20] Most considered it to be derived from a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- and ilāh "deity, god" to al-lāh meaning "the deity, the God".[20] Indeed, there is "the interchangeability of al-ilāh and allāh in early Arabic poetry even when composed by the Christian ʿAdī ibn Zayd.[21] The majority of scholars accept this hypothesis. A minority hypothesis, seen with more skepticism, is that the term is a loanword from Syriac Alāhā.[22][23]

Grammarians of the Basra school regarded it as either formed "spontaneously" (murtajal) or as the definite form of lāh (from the verbal root lyh with the meaning of "lofty" or "hidden").[20]

The use of Allah as the name of a deity appears as early as the first century. An inscription using the Ancient South Arabian script in Old Arabic from Qaryat al-Fāw reads, "to Kahl and lh and ʿAththar (b-khl w-lh w-ʿṯr)".[24]

Cognates of the name "Allāh" exist in other Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Aramaic.[25] The corresponding Aramaic form is ʼElāh (אלה), but its emphatic state is ʼElāhā (אלהא). It is written as ܐܠܗܐ (ʼĔlāhā) in Biblical Aramaic and ܐܲܠܵܗܵܐ (ʼAlāhā) in Syriac, both meaning simply "God".[26] The unusual Syriac form is likely an imitation of the Arabic.[27]

History of usage

Pre-Islamic Arabia

See also: Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia

Regional variants of the word Allah occur in both pagan and Christian pre-Islamic inscriptions.[9][28] According to Marshall Hodgson, it seems that in the pre-Islamic times, some Arab Christians made pilgrimage to the Kaaba, a pagan temple at that time, honoring Allah there as God the Creator.[29]

The syriac word ܐܠܗܐ (ʼĔlāhā) can be found in the reports and the lists of names of Christian martyrs in South Arabia,[30][31] as reported by antique Syriac documents of the names of those martyrs from the era of the Himyarite and Aksumite kingdoms[32]

In an inscription of Christian martyrion dated back to 512, references to 'l-ilah (الاله)[33] can be found in both Arabic and Aramaic. The inscription starts with the statement "By the Help of 'l-ilah".[34][35]

Archaeological excavation quests have led to the discovery of ancient pre-Islamic inscriptions and tombs made by Arab Christians in the ruins of a church at Umm el-Jimal in Northern Jordan, which initially, according to Enno Littman (1949), contained references to Allah as the proper name of God. However, on a second revision by Bellamy et al. (1985 & 1988) the 5-versed-inscription was re-translated as "(1)This [inscription] was set up by colleagues of ʿUlayh, (2) son of ʿUbaydah, secretary (3) of the cohort Augusta Secunda (4) Philadelphiana; may he go mad who (5) effaces it."[36][37][38]

Irfan Shahîd quoting the 10th-century encyclopedic collection Kitab al-Aghani notes that pre-Islamic Arab Christians have been reported to have raised the battle cry "Ya La Ibad Allah" (O slaves of Allah) to invoke each other into battle.[39] According to Shahid, on the authority of 10th-century Muslim scholar Al-Marzubani, "Allah" was also mentioned in pre-Islamic Christian poems by some Ghassanid and Tanukhid poets in Syria and Northern Arabia.[40][41][42]

Different theories have been proposed regarding the role of Allah in pre-Islamic polytheistic cults. According to the Quran exegete Ibn Kathir, Arab pagans considered Allah as an unseen God who created and controlled the Universe. Pagans believed worship of humans or animals who had lucky events in their life brought them closer to God. Pre-Islamic Meccans worshiped Allah alongside a host of lesser gods and those whom they called the "daughters of Allah."[10] Islam forbade worship of anyone or anything other than God.[43] Some authors have suggested that polytheistic Arabs used the name as a reference to a creator god or a supreme deity of their pantheon.[44][45] The term may have been vague in the Meccan religion.[44][46]

According to one hypothesis, which goes back to Julius Wellhausen, Allah (the supreme deity of the tribal federation around Quraysh) was a designation that consecrated the superiority of Hubal (the supreme deity of Quraysh) over the other gods.[9] However, there is also evidence that Allah and Hubal were two distinct deities.[9] According to that hypothesis, the Kaaba was first consecrated to a supreme deity named Allah and then hosted the pantheon of Quraysh after their conquest of Mecca, about a century before the time of Muhammad.[9] Some inscriptions seem to indicate the use of Allah as a name of a polytheist deity centuries earlier, but nothing precise is known about this use.[9] Some scholars have suggested that Allah may have represented a remote creator god who was gradually eclipsed by more particularized local deities.[47][48] There is disagreement on whether Allah played a major role in the Meccan religious cult.[47][49] No iconic representation of Allah is known to have existed.[49][50] Muhammad's father's name was ʿAbd-Allāh meaning "the slave of Allāh".[46] The interpretation that Pre-Islamic Arabs once practiced Abrahamic religions is supported by some literary evidence, being the prevalence of Ishmael, whose God was that of Abraham, in pre-Islamic Arab culture.[51][52][53]

Islamic period

Main article: God in Islam

See also: Names of God in Islam

In contrast with pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism, as stated by Gerhard Böwering, God in Islam does not have associates and companions, nor is there any kinship between God and jinn.[54] Pre-Islamic pagan Arabs believed in a blind, powerful, inexorable and insensible fate over which man had no control. This was replaced with the Islamic notion of a powerful but provident and merciful God.[12] According to Francis Edward Peters, "The Qur’ān insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews (29:46). The Qur’an's Allah is the same Creator God who covenanted with Abraham". Peters states that the Qur'an portrays Allah as both more powerful and more remote than Yahweh, and as a universal deity, unlike Yahweh who closely follows Israelites.[55]

Since the first centuries of Islam, Arabic-speaking commentators of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faith used the term Allah as a generic term for the supreme being.[56] Saadia Gaon used the term Allah interchangeably with the term ʾĔlōhīm.[57] Theodore Abu Qurrah translates theos as Allah in his Bible, as in John 1:1 "the Word was with Allah".[58] Muslim commentators likewise used the term Allah for the Biblical concept of God. Ibn Qutayba writes "You cannot serve both Allah and Mammon.".[59] However, Muslim translators of the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia rarely translated the Tetragrammaton, referring to the supreme being in Israelite tradition, as Allah. Instead, most commentators either translated Yahweh as either yahwah or rabb, the latter corresponding to the Jewish custom to refer to Yahweh as Adonai.[60]

Most Quran commentators, including al-Tabari (d. 923), al-Zamakhshari (d. 1143/44), and al-Razi (d. 1209), regard Allah to be a proper name.[61] While other names of God in Islam denote attributes or adjectives, the term Allah specifically refers to his essence as his real name (ism'alam li-dhatih).[62] The other names are known as the 99 Names of Allah (al-asmā' al-ḥusná lit. meaning: 'the best names' or 'the most beautiful names') and considered attributes, each of which evoke a distinct characteristic of Allah.[13][63] All these names refer to Allah, the supreme and all-comprehensive divine name.[64] Among the 99 names of God, the most famous and most frequent of these names are "the Merciful" (ar-Raḥmān) and "the Compassionate" (ar-Raḥīm),[13][63] including the forementioned above al-Aḥad ("the One, the Indivisible") and al-Wāḥid ("the Unique, the Single").

According to Islamic belief, Allah is the most common word to represent God,[54] and humble submission to his will, divine ordinances and commandments is the pivot of the Muslim faith.[12] "He is the only God, creator of the universe, and the judge of humankind."[12][13] "He is unique (wāḥid) and inherently one (aḥad), all-merciful and omnipotent."[12] No human eyes can see Allah till the Day Of Judgement.[65] The Qur'an declares "the reality of Allah, His inaccessible mystery, His various names, and His actions on behalf of His creatures."[12] Allah does not depend on anything.[66] Allah is not considered a part of the Christian Trinity.[67] God has no parents and no children.[68]

The concept correlates to the Tawhid, where chapter 112 of the Qur'an (Al-'Ikhlās, The Sincerity) reads:[69]

۝ Say, God is one God;
۝ the eternal God:
۝ He begetteth not, neither is He begotten:
۝ and there is not any one like unto Him.[70]

In a Sufi practice known as dhikr Allah (Arabic: ذكر الله, lit. "Remembrance of God"), the Sufi repeats and contemplates the name Allah or other associated divine names to Him while controlling his or her breath.[71]

Present day


Medallion showing "Allah Jalla Jalaluhu" in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Allah script outside the Old Mosque in Edirne, Turkey
Silk textile panel repeating the name Allah, North Africa, 18th century

The Islamic tradition to use Allah as the personal name of God became disputed in contemporary scholarship, including the question, whether or not the word Allah should be translated as God.[72] Umar Faruq Abd-Allah urged English-speaking Muslims to use God instead of Allah for the sake of finding "extensive middle ground we share with other Abrahmic and universal traditions".[73]

Most Muslims use the Arabic phrase in shā’a llāh (meaning 'if God wills') unstranslated after references to future events.[74] Muslim discursive piety encourages beginning things with the invocation of bi-smi llāh (meaning 'In the name of God').[75] There are certain other phrases in praise of God that are favored by Muslims and left untransalted, including "Subḥāna llāh" (Glory be to God), "al-ḥamdu li-llāh" (Praise be to God), "lā ilāha illā llāh" (There is no deity but God) or sometimes "lā ilāha illā inta/ huwa" (There is no deity but You/ Him) and "Allāhu Akbar" (God is the Most Great) as a devotional exercise of remembering God (dhikr).[76]


The Christian Arabs of today have no other word for "God" than "Allah".[77] Similarly, the Aramaic word for "God" in the language of Assyrian Christians is ʼĔlāhā, or Alaha. (Even the Arabic-descended Maltese language of Malta, whose population is almost entirely Catholic, uses Alla for "God".)

Arab Christians have used two forms of invocations that were affixed to the beginning of their written works. They adopted the Muslim bismillāh, and also created their own Trinitized bismillāh as early as the 8th century.[78] The Muslim bismillāh reads: "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful." The Trinitized bismillāh reads: "In the name of Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God." The Syriac, Latin and Greek invocations do not have the words "One God" at the end. This addition was made to emphasize the monotheistic aspect of Trinitarian belief and also to make it more palatable to Muslims.[78]


The word Allāh is generally pronounced [ɑɫˈɫɑː(h)], exhibiting a heavy lām, [ɫ], a velarized alveolar lateral approximant, a marginal phoneme in Modern Standard Arabic. Since the initial alef has no hamza, the initial [a] is elided when a preceding word ends in a vowel. If the preceding vowel is /i/, the lām is light, [l], as in, for instance, the Basmala.[79]

As a loanword

English and other European languages

The history of the name Allāh in English was probably influenced by the study of comparative religion in the 19th century; for example, Thomas Carlyle (1840) sometimes used the term Allah but without any implication that Allah was anything different from God. However, in his biography of Muḥammad (1934), Tor Andræ always used the term Allah, though he allows that this "conception of God" seems to imply that it is different from that of the Jewish and Christian theologies.[80]

Languages which may not commonly use the term Allah to denote God may still contain popular expressions which use the word. For example, because of the centuries long Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula, the word ojalá in the Spanish language and oxalá in the Portuguese language exist today, borrowed from Andalusi Arabic law šá lláh[81] similar to inshalla (Arabic: إِنْ شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ). This phrase literally means 'if God wills' (in the sense of "I hope so").[82] The German poet Mahlmann used the form "Allah" as the title of a poem about the ultimate deity, though it is unclear how much Islamic thought he intended to convey.

Some Muslims leave the name "Allāh" untranslated in English, rather than using the English translation "God".[83] The word has also been applied to certain living human beings as personifications of the term and concept.[84][85]

Malaysian and Indonesian language

Main articles: Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Menteri Dalam Negeri and 2010 attacks against places of worship in Malaysia

The first dictionary of Dutch-Malay by A.C. Ruyl, Justus Heurnius, and Caspar Wiltens in 1650 recorded Allah as the translation of the Dutch word Godt.
Gereja Kalam Kebangunan Allah (Word of God Revival Church) in Indonesia. Allah is the word for "God" in the Indonesian language - even in Alkitab (Christian Bible, from الكتاب al-kitāb = the book) translations, while Tuhan is the word for "Lord".
Christians in Malaysia also use the word Allah for "God".

Christians in Malaysia and Indonesia use Allah to refer to God in the Malaysian and Indonesian languages (both of them standardized forms of the Malay language). Mainstream Bible translations in the language use Allah as the translation of Hebrew Elohim (translated in English Bibles as "God").[86] This goes back to early translation work by Francis Xavier in the 16th century.[87][88] The first dictionary of Dutch-Malay by Albert Cornelius Ruyl, Justus Heurnius, and Caspar Wiltens in 1650 (revised edition from 1623 edition and 1631 Latin edition) recorded Allah" as the translation of the Dutch word Godt.[89] Ruyl also translated the Gospel of Matthew in 1612 into the Malay language (an early Bible translation into a non-European language,[90] made a year after the publication of the King James Version[91][92]), which was printed in the Netherlands in 1629. Then he translated the Gospel of Mark, published in 1638.[93][94]

The government of Malaysia in 2007 outlawed usage of the term Allah in any other but Muslim contexts, but the Malayan High Court in 2009 revoked the law, ruling it unconstitutional. While Allah had been used for the Christian God in Malay for more than four centuries, the contemporary controversy was triggered by usage of Allah by the Roman Catholic newspaper The Herald. The government appealed the court ruling, and the High Court suspended implementation of its verdict until the hearing of the appeal. In October 2013 the court ruled in favor of the government's ban.[95] In early 2014 the Malaysian government confiscated more than 300 bibles for using the word to refer to the Christian God in Peninsular Malaysia.[96] However, the use of Allah is not prohibited in the two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.[97][98] The main reason it is not prohibited in these two states is that usage has been long-established and local Alkitab (Bibles) have been widely distributed freely in East Malaysia without restrictions for years.[97] Both states also do not have similar Islamic state laws as those in West Malaysia.[19]

In reaction to some media criticism, the Malaysian government has introduced a "10-point solution" to avoid confusion and misleading information.[99][100] The 10-point solution is in line with the spirit of the 18- and 20-point agreements of Sarawak and Sabah.[19]

National flags with "Allah" written on them


The word Allah written in different writing systems

The word Allāh is always written without an alif to spell the ā vowel. This is because the spelling was settled before Arabic spelling started habitually using alif to spell ā. However, in vocalized spelling, a small diacritic alif is added on top of the shaddah to indicate the pronunciation.

In the pre-Islamic Zabad inscription,[102] God is referred to by the term الاله, that is, alif-lam-alif-lam-ha.[33] This presumably indicates Al-'ilāh = "the god", without alif for ā.

Many Arabic type fonts feature special ligatures for Allah.[103]

Since Arabic script is used to write other texts rather than Koran only, rendering lām + lām + hā’ as the previous ligature is considered faulty which is the case with most common Arabic typefaces.

This simplified style is often preferred for clarity, especially in non-Arabic languages, but may not be considered appropriate in situations where a more elaborate style of calligraphy is preferred.

SIL International[104]


Unicode has a code point reserved for Allāh, ‎ = U+FDF2, in the Arabic Presentation Forms-A block, which exists solely for "compatibility with some older, legacy character sets that encoded presentation forms directly";[105][106] this is discouraged for new text. Instead, the word Allāh should be represented by its individual Arabic letters, while modern font technologies will render the desired ligature.

The calligraphic variant of the word used as the emblem of Iran is encoded in Unicode, in the Miscellaneous Symbols range, at code point U+262B (☫). The flags that include the word are also present in the regional indicator symbols of Unicode: 🇮🇶, 🇸🇦, 🇦🇫, 🇮🇷, 🇺🇿.

See also



  1. ^ "Allah". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Allah". Oxford Learner's Dictionaries.
  3. ^ "Definition of ALLAH". 18 March 2024. Retrieved 8 April 2024.
  4. ^ "God". Islam: Empire of Faith. PBS. Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2010.
  5. ^ "Islam and Christianity", Encyclopedia of Christianity (2001): Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews also refer to God as Allāh.
  6. ^ Gardet, L. "Allah". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Online. Retrieved 2 May 2007.
  7. ^ Zeki Saritoprak (2006). "Allah". In Oliver Leaman (ed.). The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-415-32639-1.
  8. ^ Vincent J. Cornell (2005). "God: God in Islam". In Lindsay Jones (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 5 (2nd ed.). MacMillan Reference USA. p. 724.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Christian Julien Robin (2012). Arabia and Ethiopia. In The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. OUP USA. pp. 304–305. ISBN 978-0-19-533693-1.
  10. ^ a b Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow (2004). "Allah". The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend. Facts on File. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-4381-2685-2.
  11. ^ Merriam-Webster. "Allah". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on 20 April 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Allah." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica
  13. ^ a b c d Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa, Allah
  14. ^ Willis Barnstone, Marvin Meyer The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition Shambhala Publications 2009 ISBN 978-0-8348-2414-0 page 531
  15. ^ Carl Skutsch (2005). Encyclopedia of the World's Minorities. Routledge. p. 480.
  16. ^ Sikhs target of 'Allah' attack, Julia Zappei, 14 January 2010, The New Zealand Herald. Accessed on line 15 January 2014.
  17. ^ Malaysia court rules non-Muslims can't use 'Allah', 14 October 2013, The New Zealand Herald. Accessed on line 15 January 2014.
  18. ^ Malaysia's Islamic authorities seize Bibles as Allah row deepens, Niluksi Koswanage, 2 January 2014, Reuters. Accessed on line 15 January 2014. [1]
  19. ^ a b c Idris Jala (24 February 2014). "The 'Allah'/Bible issue, 10-point solution is key to managing the polarity". The Star. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  20. ^ a b c D.B. Macdonald. Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed, Brill. "Ilah", Vol. 3, p. 1093.
  21. ^ Sinai, Nicholas (2019). Rain-Giver, Bone-Breaker, Score-Settler: Allāh in Pre-Quranic Poetry. Atlanta, GA: American Oriental Society. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-948488-25-9.
  22. ^ Gerhard Böwering. Encyclopedia of the Quran, Brill, 2002. Vol. 2, p. 318
  23. ^ Reynolds, Gabriel Said (2020). Allah: God in the Qur'an. New Haven: Yale university press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-300-24658-2.
  24. ^ Sinai, Nicholas (2019). Rain-Giver, Bone-Breaker, Score-Settler: Allāh in Pre-Quranic Poetry. Atlanta, GA: American Oriental Society. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-948488-25-9.
  25. ^ Columbia Encyclopaedia says: Derived from an old Semitic root referring to the Divine and used in the Canaanite El, the Mesopotamian ilu, and the biblical Elohim and Eloah, the word Allah is used by all Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians, Jews, and other monotheists.
  26. ^ The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon – Entry for ʼlh Archived 18 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Sinai, Nicholas (2019). Rain-Giver, Bone-Breaker, Score-Settler: Allāh in Pre-Quranic Poetry. Atlanta, GA: American Oriental Society. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-948488-25-9.
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  31. ^ James of Edessa the hymns of Severus of Antioch and others." Ernest Walter Brooks (ed.), Patrologia Orientalis VII.5 (1911)., vol: 2, p. 613. pp. ܐܠܗܐ (Elaha).
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General and cited references

Further reading