Tuesday, November 20, 2007


First, some disclaimers. I don't know Judeo-Arabic, and I don't know Arabic that isn't Judeo, and my knowledge of Hebrew is very minimal.

Now on to the story. You may have heard that the god of the Jews is not the same as the god of the Muslims. Our god is God, and their god is Allah. You may also have heard someone reply that "Allah" is simply Arabic for "God" and is used by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians.

Mr. Mississippi F. MacDowell's always excellent blog On the Main Line (at least it's always excellent when it isn't over my head) recently published a 9th- or 10th-c. passage in Judeo-Arabic with English translation. It's in Hebrew script. Take a look at the second word from the right in the second line. It appears to be "Allah," and it appears to mean "God." This "appears to" stuff isn't meant to be snide--I actually don't know, so I don't want to make a more definitive statement. But I'm reasonably confident about it.

As always, comments are invited, and comments from those of you who actually have a clue on this are especially welcome.

Thank you.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Quite right.

What's more is that in Judeo-Arabic 'halakhah' is 'al-sharia,' a responsum is a 'fatwa,' and rabbis are sometimes called 'shaykh' or 'ulema.'

Also, you missed that the (Hebrew) Bible is called al-qur'an (אלקראן)!

Thanks for the kind words. :)

Michael Koplow said...

Thank you, Fred. Interesting, as always. I didn't know about sharia, fatwa, and shaykh.

I didn't miss al-qur'an, but I decided not to mention it for a few reasons. First, one of the commenters to your post already mentioned it, which isn't much of a reason. Second, it didn't really surprise me, since it made sense in terms of Hebrew roots, and in fact miqra' (with the same root) is a Hebrew word for biblical text. Also not much of a reason. Finally, it would have been a little bit off topic (and, as you know, I don't digress).

And speaking of fatwas, watch this space for a forthcoming (B"N) post titled "Salman Rushdie and the Sanhedrin."

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

الله (Allah) is the exact cognate of הָאֱלוֹהַּ

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I feel like the people who say that "Allah" isn't our god are probably the same people who say that "God" is the Christian god, and that our god is just "Hashem".

Michael Koplow said...

Point well taken, Steg.

Let me point out (as I should have in the original post) that this doesn't mean that the god of the Jews is the god of the Muslims. They may well be the same; my only point was that the word "Allah" doesn't prove they're not the same. Whether they're one and the same (well, I mean obviously they're one, what with us all being monotheists, "la ilaha illa Allah" and all that, but you know what I mean), and where was I before I interrupted myself? Right--the question of whether God and Allah are the same is too deep a question for me.

And speaking of cognates, every word of the Islamic declaration of monotheism looks to me like a cognate of Hebrew. (And sorry if I got the geminations wrong.)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

And speaking of cognates, every word of the Islamic declaration of monotheism looks to me like a cognate of Hebrew. (And sorry if I got the geminations wrong.)

That's okay, we never learned it in my Arabic class ;-) , so you could be right or wrong.

The second half, on the other hand, includes rasūl "messenger", which is not cognate with Hebrew.

Saleneleh said...

You may find this article interesting.

Malaysian row over word for 'God'

Sorry it's from the BBC...

Good Shabbos!

Michael Koplow said...

Interesting article. Thanks, Saleneleh.

I hope your shavua is going tovly so far.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I can't really see any reason to think that the God of Reconstructionism is the same as the God of Chasidism, or that the God of the Methodists is the same as the God of the Ukrainian Pentecostals. But on the other hand, God is One. L’havdil fits in here somewhere, too, I think. But I'm a Baptist.

Michael Koplow said...


Surprising and good to hear from you.

When you're talking comparative religion, there's no such thing as saying "l'havdil" too often.

I think these gods (or Gods) you mentioned are the same, but I don't know. And I don't actually care. My only point was that the fact that Muslims use "Allah" doesn't mean that they're God is different from any others. It's just the Arabic word for "God."

If I were an evil performer of contextomies and a bigot, I'd quote you as saying "I think. But I'm a Baptist." But since I'm not either of those things, I won't quote you as saying that.

Thanks for writing.