“What’s in a name?” the English bard, William Shakespeare, had quipped, a rose by any other name will smell as sweet!” But, then, names have an origin including that of the Almighty!
The three most popular religious factions of the Western world,–or cults, if you prefer – the Jews, Christians and the Muslims–are like squabbling sisters; sharp claws unsheathed to rip one another to shreds… for oblique causes! Apart from originating in extremely harsh and hostile conditions in merciless deserts, they have a common ancestry, reflected in the Old Testament. Or, the Torah as it is known to the Jewish people. They are bound by strict norms, breach of which can result in publicly being censured and punished, or even being rusticated from the fold– apart from being socially ostracized! The Eastern doctrines like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Jainism, have been formed in green, fertile lands; peaceful surroundings and placid people. They are far more temperate, accommodating and flexible. One can be a Hindu even if one relishes pork, beef, or savours dog meat! Even if one is an atheist, one can still a Hindu. It is a way of life. There are no rigid bindings.
The term “God” has evolved from the ancient Germanic “Godth”, meaning “The Good Spirit”. In those pre-historic times, people could not understand the changing moods of Mother Nature and their environment. The best way to appease these was to appeal to The Good Spirit in every which way possibly, since that unknown hugely, temperamental energy had the ability to grant them a bountiful harvest, or if angered, famine, diseases and floods et al. The priest class took advantage of these fears and exploited them to the maximum (mis) interpreting the dispositions and natural phenomena, as they saw fit, to get maximum personal benefits from them. This crafty exercise continues even until date! The (whimsical) Good Spirit or “God”, is called” Elohim” (Hebrew) or “Eli” (Aramic) by the Jews, (including Jesus), “Jehovah”, by the Christians and” Allah” by the Muslims. How did the title “Allah “evolve?
To the Jews, God is known as “YHWH”. Or, when pointed with the correct vowels, as “Yahweh.”, which translates as “The Self-Existent One”, derived from the Hebrew “háwáh” meaning “to exist”. As ‘Allah’ is the name of God in the Muslim Holy scriptures, the Koran (or Quran), so’ “Yahweh” ‘is the name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah or the Bible. What, however, is particularly interesting and significant, is the fact that “Yahweh” never appears as the name of any deity outside the Torah (Old Testament or the Bible). There is no record anywhere of any other tribe or religion which worshipped”Yahweh”. The Hebrew name of” God” is unique to the Bible- and to the Jews- who consider themselves as “The Chosen People!” . The name “Allah” does not appear even once in either the Old or New Testaments. The only time God is referred to by name in the Old Testament is either as” YAHWEH” (meaning “He who is”) or as a contraction, “YAH”.
Avram aka Abraham aka Ibrahim, the resolute wanderer, it appears, constructed a tabernacle or ‘kaaba” in Mecca, dedicated to “Elohim” alias “God” en route his search for the Promised Land,” Canaan”. According to one lot, he was assisted in this venture by his eldest born, Isaac. The other faction insists that it was Ishmael, Ibrahim’s son from his Egyptian wife, Hagar, who helped his dad in this arduous task, performed under the unsympathetic desert sun. Quite unfairly, God decided to put the old man’s faith in him to the ultimate test, by directing him to sacrifice his son. However, an unfortunate sheep, caught in a bramble bust near the sacrificial altar, became the scapegoat, quite literally, starting an indiscriminate ritual slaughter of such beasts, by slitting their throats as being “kosher” or “halal”! The real reason was, by far, less dramatic. It was to prevent the laity from consuming old corpses of animals, with contaminated flesh, which would cause sickness. Cutting the animal’s throat not only ensured that the meat was fresh, but also that it was tender, because it took some time for rigor mortis to set in .While Avram continued on with his search, he left behind Hagar and the child, Ishmael, who became wards of the Good Spirit aka God !
Mecca was the centre of the international trade routes of the ancient world with an insatiable appetite for lucre and power, the priests, of all hues, installed idols revered by travelers of diverse faiths in the Kaaba, to reap rich benefits from the worshippers. The deity of Baal stood beside that of Shiva, and that of Aphrodite with Venus, Thor and Mars. There were 365 such idols in the Kaaba, of whom there was an all-powerful one, known as “Allah.” Like Zeus, he was the Big One! Muslim scholars have, of course, gone to great lengths to try and prove that the Arabic “Allah” is, in fact, the same as the Hebrew “Eloah”,—- which is not a proper name .It simply translates as “God”. The words “El” and “Elohim” also translate the same way, and appears far more numerously than” Eloah,” There is another “El”-derived word for “God” in the Old Testament, which sounds similar to “Allah”. That is, “Elah”. It was only used by the Prophets Ezra, Daniel and just once by Jeremiah, to the best of my knowledge. It is, again, not a proper name, and actually means an “oak tree” .It was ,thus ,also used by animists as a title for their tree deities, i. e. spirits.(. or “kami” as the Shinto in Japan consider). The Christians have changed it to “Jehovah” There is even a church called the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” (which is indigestible to any self-respecting orthodox “Elohim”- worshiping Jew, who might consider it sacrilegious; even blasphemous!)
The word “Allah” comes from the compound Arabic word, “al-ilah”. “Al” is the definite article “the” and ilah is an Arabic word for “God”, i.e. the God (“Sateen”, corrupted to “’Satan”, in Arabic means, “the Objector”). The Arabs, before the time of Prophet Mohammed, accepted and worshipped, after a fashion, a supreme God called “Allah”, who the most powerful of the Meccan deities, as reflected above.
In ancient Arabia, the Sun-God was viewed as a female Goddess and the Moon, as the male God. “Allah” was the Moon God. Numerous other titles were also given to him.
“Allah” was married to the Sun Goddess. Together they produced three Goddesses, who were called ‘the daughters of Allah’. These three Goddesses were Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat. “The daughters of Allah, along with “Allah”, and the sun Goddess, were viewed as “high” Gods. That is, they were looked upon as being at the top of the pantheon of Arabian deities. It is a well-known fact, archaeologically, that the Crescent Moon was the symbol of worship of the Moon God both in Arabia and throughout the Middle East in pre-Islamic times. Archaeologists have excavated numerous statues and hieroglyphic inscriptions in which a crescent moon was seated on the top of the head of the deity to symbolize the worship of the Moon-God. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerian God, “Nanna”, named “Sîn” by the Acadians, was worshipped in particular in Ur, where He was the chief God of the city, and also in the city of Harran in Syria, which had close religious links with Ur. The Ugarit texts have shown that there a moon deity was worshipped under the name” Yrh.” On the monuments, the God is represented by the symbol of the crescent moon. At Hazor in Palestine, a small Canaanite shrine of the late Bronze Age was discovered, which contained a basalt image depicting two hands lifted, as if in prayer, to a crescent moon, indicating that the shrine was dedicated to the Moon God.
The Quraysh tribe into which Prophet Mohammad was born, was particularly devoted to Allah, the Moon God, and especially to Allah’s three daughters, who were viewed as intercessors between the people and Allah. The worship of the three goddesses, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat, played a significant role in the worship at the Kaaba in Mecca. The literal Arabic name of Prophet Muhammad’s father was Abd-Allah (beloved of Allah). His uncle’s name was Obaid-Allah. (Servant of Allah) These names reveal the personal devotion that Prophet Muhammad’s family had to the worship of Allah, the Moon God .Since the idol of their Moon God, Allah, was at Mecca, they prayed towards Mecca.
Prophet Mohammed was a posthumous child. His father Abd-Allah, died before he was born to his mother, Ameena. The young Mohammed was a very pensive man, who has the reputation of being scrupulously honest, under any circumstances. He would accompany his maternal uncle and his grand-father, Abu Talib on trading missions with their caravans, which belonged to a wealthy widow, Khatija, fifteen years his senior, who he, subsequently, married. Prophet Mohammed was prone to spending thirty days, during the month of heat (Ramadan) in a cave at Mount Heera. Here he would meditate and contemplate on the corruption of the priests at the Kaaba. He wanted to put an end to it. One day, when he was around forty years old, while Prophet Mohammed was in deep thought, God’s angel, Gabriel, appeared before Him and bade Him to read in the name of Allah. Mohammed was an illiterate man. He could not read! But the miracle happened. He was able to do so and the reading or recitation is known as the Koran (Quran), which is the Holy Book for Muslims, as the Torah is for the Jews and the Bible for Christians.
“There is no god but Allah!” was the cry taken up by this pious man to dislodge the remaining 364 minor deities from the Kaaba. This, so that under a single God-head, the tribesmen could be united. Like the ploy used by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, over 300 years after Jesus’ death, to unify his people when he made Christianity the State Religion. (Jesus, of course, lived and died as a Jew!). It was a political strategy.
.For thirteen years, Prophet Mohammed and his new converts, the first of whom were his wife, Khatija, and his freed slave, Zayed, were relentlessly persecuted by the Meccans. They imagined he was ruining their business by wanting to destroy all the other minor deities. Then, in 622 CE, Prophet Mohammed fled to Medina, ruled by the Yatrib tribe. He was first welcomed and given refuge by the Jewish people of that city. The rest is history. Prophet Mohammed not only returned victorious to Mecca, but He has established a mammoth following, who are a force to reckon with in every country in the world.
But how does it, really matter as to the origin of the title “Allah”? Or whether “Elohim Eli” or “Jehovah” truly exist? Did God create Man .Or was it the other way around? The Jews, Christians and Muslims, however, are all obsessed with Death, which, in a way binds them together. They have greater faith in the Hereinafter- the goodies–or, in the alternative, the Fire that awaits them–than they do in the present! All assurances given to them by their Prophets can be gathered only in the afterlife. So much so, that they seem inclined to totally discount the present; go hammer and tongs at one another–to reap hallucinatory “rewards” after life has ebbed away!
The need of the hour in the Middle East, is for these warring groups to set aside their delusions, which have been thrust upon them, and the inferno of hatred stoked wilfully by astute politicians towards furthering their own personal, selfish schemes; oil being the pivotal issue and learn to co-exist.
Please Note: The above are my own opinions. There is no intention to insult or annoy anyone or hurt their sentiments. In any event, no explanation is needed for those who believe. And, no explanation will suffice for those who do not!
Author: AMIT KUMAR BHOWMIK
Amit Kumar Bhowmik is a lawyer based in Pune. He has his practice including in the Bombay High court as also other High courts as well as he appears as Counsel in the Supreme court. Although essentially having his practise on the criminal side he is an all-rounder having taken up matters in the matrimonial courts as well. He is a prolific writer and an unabashed champion of women rights.