Muslims generally call God Allah, which some have speculated is simply the Arabic word for God. We also believe in many other names of God including a list of ninety-nine names that includes ar-Rahman (the Most Merciful) and ar-Raheem.
Some Christians say: The word Allah just means “God,” and that is a title. The word Ar-Rahman is a description. It simply describes who God is. But, that doesn’t tell us what God’s name is. So, what is God’s name?
I will grant for the sake of this article that the word Allah just means “God” or “the God.”
Definition of Name
A name is usually understood as something that (relatively) uniquely refers to a certain person or entity.
Title and description are closely related words, and they are what Christians accuse Allah’s names of being.
Difference from Title
Let us consider a title. A title usually refers to a role, and it is distinct from a name because the title can change hands.
For example, King is a title because the person who is in the role of King changes. But, this cannot apply to Allah or God because the one who is God cannot change by definition. So, what basis is there to claim “God” is a title?
Some could argue: God is a title because different people call different entities God. The Greeks called Zeus God.
It is important to differentiate God with a capital ‘G’ from the noun “god.” The Greeks called Zeus god for sure, but that doesn’t tell us anything about this specific term “God” in English. It tells us even less about the term Allah in Arabic, which doesn’t even suffer from this ambiguity of similar spelling. The word for “god” in Arabic is ilah.
But, some further argue baselessly: Allah used to refer to a moon god according to some or all the Arabs.
First of all, it is well-known that this claim is entirely baseless and false. Secondly, even if it were true, that doesn’t affect anything. The thing about a title is that it actually passes between people. Being applied to someone else falsely does not make it a title.
Knowing that my name is Zaid, imagine someone falsely called another person Zaid. Does that now make Zaid a title rather than a name? Everyone would agree Zaid is still a name and not a title.
Difference from Description
I will argue that there is no difference between a description and name except its length and frequency of use. Since Allah is quite a short word and very frequently used, nothing makes it not a name.
Someone could argue: A description could apply to someone else as well while a name cannot!
Then, you are talking about an incomplete description. I am talking about a complete description that excludes anyone else. The descriptions of God like ar-Rahman (the most Merciful) can only apply to Him alone.
Also, the ironic reality is that a complete description is more unique than a name in most contexts. My name Zaid is shared by thousands of people, but my complete description (e.g. through exact location) is unique to me.
Someone else could argue: A description has meaning while a name does not have meaning.
This seems to arise from an English context where people do not know the meaning of their names. I can assure almost every reader of this article that their name has a meaning. They just don’t know it.
Even my name has meaning and even the name of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has meaning. Perhaps this person will deny that I have a name.
He could argue: A name might have a meaning but it is only applied to someone due to the agreement of people, not due to its meaning. Sometimes the meaning could apply and sometimes it could not apply. A description is applied to someone for the purpose of its meaning.
Here, I could dispute the claim that sometimes the meaning does not apply, but that might be complex to comprehend, so I will argue in a manner that is simpler.
If being a name depends on people agreeing, the Muslims agree Allah is the name of God, and they agree its meaning applies to Him. The Muslims also agree Muhammad is the name of the Prophet, and they agree its meaning applies to him.
Why do you say one of them is a name while the other is not a name?
Another could argue: A name is a group of letters or sounds that someone decides to give himself even if it has meaning. It does not depend on other people agreeing.
Allah in the Quran has called Himself Allah. So, as you say, it doesn’t matter whether it has a meaning. It is His name because He considers it His name. You cannot claim it is a description simply because it has meaning that also applies to Him.
Name of God in the Bible
Some people claim: God says His real name is YHWH in the Bible. The Quran doesn’t mention this, so the Quran must not know.
I have sufficiently shown that Allah is a real name, and there is no evidence for people to pretend Allah is only a title or description.
In addition, it is ironic that even many of the Christians and Jews give meanings to YHWH and say it means “I am” or something similar. Weren’t some of them just arguing that having a meaning makes it a description or title?
As for why the Quran does not mention the allegedly special name YHWH, there are two major options a Muslim could adopt:
- It is not more special than other names, and its supposed specialty is a corruption in the Bible.
- It is more special than other names. Perhaps, Allah has mentioned its equivalents in Arabic like هُوَ الْحَيُّ in 2:255. Perhaps, He has decided not to mention it in the Quran for whatever reason and mentioned His other names in the Quran.
None of this indicates the Quran doesn’t know of it. That is an assumption from absence, and it is a clear fallacy.