So Jewish, Christian, and Islamic understandings of the divinity originated in polytheistic contexts. Just like traditional Jews and Christians, however, Muslims believe that the religion of the first humans, Adam and Eve, was monotheistic. Because it was corrupted into polytheism, Allah sent prophets who all taught that there is only one god.

Islam took over from Judaism the notion that Abraham in particular was the one who (re)discovered monotheism and rejected idolatry. Thus Muhammad sought to restore the authentic monotheism of Abraham, from which even Jews and Christians had allegedly deviated.

Gods as human constructions

If he lived at all, which is doubtful, Abraham presumably flourished early in the second millennium BCE. Critical historians and archaeologists, however, argue that Israelite monotheism only developed about the time of the Babylonian Exile – well over a thousand years later.

The reason why there are different conceptions of God and of gods is surely not that humans have culpably strayed from an original revelation. Rather, these beliefs are human constructions and reconstructions that reflect our own rationalisations, hopes, fears and aspirations.

The latter include attempts by particular groups of people to defend their identity or even assert their hegemony over others on the grounds that they have been uniquely favoured by God with authentic revelation.

That seems to be why some Christians deny that Allah is just another name for God. It also explains Malaysian Muslim efforts to prevent Christians from referring to God as Allah for fear that legitimising the Christian understanding of Allah will threaten Islamic dominance in their country.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus