There’s a lot of talk out there about this Muslim god named Allah. For many Americans, the name strikes notes of fear and anger. His name is the last word on the lips of terrorists, suicide bombers and killers, who shout “Allahu akbar!” (god is great!) just before they wreak their deadly havoc.

Who is this Allah? Why is he so violent and vicious? The twisted answers to that question lie in the pages of the Quran and the example of Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad (see for example, Quran 2:191-193).

Christians are right to reject a doctrine of God that rejects the trinity, the incarnation, and the supreme commandments of Christ to love God and love our fellow man. But these rejections still beg the questions, “Who is Allah?” and “Where does he come from?”

Many answers have been suggested: He is the fabrication of Muhammad’s fertile imagination. He is a Babylonian moon god. He is a demon posing as God.

A cardinal rule of communicating with others is to speak intelligently to them. If we try convincing our Muslim friends that they are worshipping a moon god, well, we’re not going to get very far.

Calling the god of Islam a moon god or a demon may be well received by an audience that is predisposed to dislike Islam, but it hardly works when we want to communicate with Muslims. The crescent moon symbolism in Islam, though historically ambiguous, appears to be tied to the rise of Islam among central Asian Turkic tribes, who long held the symbol of the moon in their pre-Islamic iconography.

While it is true that the name Allah may have pre-Islamic roots in words that trace back into antiquity, we can’t honestly attribute those ancient origins to Muslims today. Instead, we have to take them at their word or words found in the Quran. There’s plenty in those words to impeach the Islamic doctrine of Allah without resorting to ancient slanders.

The Quran is very clear on this point:

“And of His signs are the night and day and the sun and moon. Do not prostrate to the sun or to the moon, but prostrate to Allah, who created them, if it should be Him that you worship” (Quran 41:37).

So why do Muslims use the name “Allah?” It was the only word they had for God. Long before Muhammad was born, both Jews and Christians living in the Arabic-speaking world worshipped God with the only word that Arabic contained to depict the God of creation, the God who sustains and relates to mankind. That name was “Allah.”

Even today, the Arabic Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning, Allah created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and the Gospel of John continues with the declaration that, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with Allah and the Word was Allah” (John 1:1).

Where did Allah come from? Muhammad took the name from the local Jewish and Christian communities. In every Arabic-language biblical reference to God we can find Muhammad’s source for the name of Allah. But then he took it in a new direction with the teachings of the Quran.

The Islamic doctrine of Allah is quite distinct from the Judeo-Christian teaching of God found in the Old and New Testaments. Make no mistake about it: Muhammad rejected the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition that he encountered. He reshaped Allah (of Islam) into a god that better suited his own vision.

Today, many millions of Christians around the world worship the true and living God with the name Allah. Christians from such diverse origins as the Arab world, the Hausa-speaking people of West Africa and the Christians of Indonesia all worship the triune God with the name Allah.

Christians have much to differ with Muslims, but let us be honest and fair, and set aside the criticism that Muslims worship the moon. Then we can begin to communicate with Muslims in an intelligible way and introduce to them the God who offers them salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.

So how do we answer this complicated question in a complicated world with Muslim combatants on one front and Muslim neighbors on the other?

First, we must avoid simple, sound-bite answers. Sound bites are better for evoking emotions than for producing clarity and understanding.

Second, it is important for us to know what Muslims believe and reject about the one true and living  God of the Bible. As we speak with them about God, we must be careful not to sacrifice the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s greatest revelation of Himself to mankind.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A fuller version of this article was originally published at