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One God, Many Names

Mostly I read Metafilter for silliness, but sometimes I find gems there. Like One God, Many Names by Dr. Umar Faruq abd-Allah, a paper published by The Nawawi Foundation.

The paper begins by explaining the Islamic teaching (often misunderstood by outsiders) that the God worshipped by Muslims is the same one worshipped by Christians and Jews. Dr. abd-Allah does an excellent job of showing the shared linguistic root of the Arabic "Allah," Hebrew "Elohim," and Syriac "Alaha" (the term for God used by John the Baptist).

I was struck by the beauty of an excerpt from an Islamic list of divine names: "He is God, other than whom there is no god: Knower of the unseen and the manifest. He is the All-Merciful, Bestower of special mercy..." It put me in mind of our Yom Kippur prayer which begins Adonai Adonai el rakhum v' khanun, "The Lord, the Lord God is gracious and compassionate..." The paper also features divine names from a range of non-Abrahamic traditions, and explores the etymology of the English word "God."

In closing, the paper addresses the resonance that the word "Allah" has for Muslims (and some of the baggage it may hold for non-Muslims), and argues that love of this particular Arabic word should not keep Muslims from using other Arabic divine names -- or from using the English word "God." That clicked with me because I favor liturgical inclusion of a range of Hebrew divine names (if we stick with "Adonai," Lord, all the time, our conception of God may calcify and limit our understanding) -- and I also wrestle with a simultaneous love of Hebrew words and prayers, and a desire to open up Jewish worship to those who need the vernacular.

"One God, Many Names" is an excellent read; I recommend it highly.