Question: "Who is Allah? What is the origin of belief in Allah?"
Answer: Allah is an Arabic word that means “God” or, more accurately, “the God.” In Western culture, it is commonly believed that the word Allah is used exclusively by Muslims to describe their god, but this is not actually true. The word Allah is used by Arabic speakers of all Abrahamic faiths (including Christianity and Judaism) as meaning “God.” However, according to Islam, Allah is God’s proper name, while Christians and Jews know Him as YHWH or Yahweh. When Arabic-speaking Christians use the word Allah, it is usually used in combination with the word al-Ab. Allah al-Ab means “God the Father,” and this usage is one way Arab Christians distinguish themselves from Muslims.
Before the inception of Islam, most Arabs were polytheistic pagans, believing in an unfeeling, powerful fate that could not be controlled or altered or influenced by human beings. Muslims regard Muhammad as the last and greatest prophet, and they credit him with restoring to the Arabs the monotheistic faith of their ancestors. Islam and Judaism both trace their spiritual lineage to Abraham, but the God-concept of Islam is different from that of Judaism and Christianity in some significant ways. Yahweh and Allah are both seen as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and merciful. However, in both Judaism and Islam, God’s mercy is dependent, at least partly and many times fully, on man’s actions. The Islamic concept of Allah and the Jewish concept of Yahweh both deny the triune nature of God. They eliminate God’s Son, Jesus, and they also eliminate the Holy Spirit as a distinct Person of the Godhead.
Without Jesus, there is no provisionary salvation—that is, salvation is based on man’s effort rather than God’s grace. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no sanctification, no peace, no freedom (Romans 8:6; 2 Corinthians 3:17). Christians trust that by Jesus’ death and resurrection, along with the indwelling of His Spirit, sin is forgiven, the conscience is cleansed, and the human soul is freed to pursue God and goodness without the fear of punishment (Hebrews 10:22).
A Muslim may love Allah and wish to please Allah, but the question in his mind will invariably be “Is it enough? Are my works enough to merit salvation?” Christians believe that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to provide an answer to the question “is my work enough?” The answer is, no, our work is not enough (Matthew 5:48). This is shocking to anyone who has been trying on his own to appease God. But this was the point of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–48). The Jews that Jesus spoke to, just like the Muslims who follow Allah, were trapped by the knowledge that nothing they did would ever meet God’s perfect standard. But Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection did meet God’s standard (Hebrews 10:10; Romans 8:1–8). Jesus’ message to the Jews and His message now, to Muslims and everyone else, is “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). This does not mean “stop sinning” and “believe that God exists.” It means “turn from sin and stop trying to please God by your own ability” and “believe that Christ has accomplished everything for you.” The promise to those who trust Christ is that they will become the children of God (John 1:12).
Allah offers no such promise. Muslims believe Allah will be merciful to them based on his evaluation of their performance. But salvation is never sure; it is never a promise. When the Western world looks with horror on things like jihad and acts of Islamic terrorism, they get a glimpse of the powerful fear that Allah instills in many of his followers. Faithful Muslims are faced with a terrible choice: obey the violent commands of an omnipotent deity whose mercy is given only to the most passionate and devoted followers (and perhaps not even then), or give themselves up as hopelessly lost and headed for punishment.
Christians should not regard Muslims with hatred, but instead with compassion. Their god, Allah, is a false god, and their eyes are blinded to the truth (see 2 Corinthians 4:4). We should be praying for Muslims and asking God to show them the truth, revealing His promise of mercy and freedom in Christ (2 Timothy 2:24–26).