The Modern Semantic Philosophies and Quranic Studies – V
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The Modern Semantic Philosophies and Quranic Studies – V

The element of the position of Allah the lord of the whole universe deprived all the other so-called Allahs (a’lihah) of all authority and tenacity accorded to them by the pagans

Post by on Friday, July 15, 2022

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For example the name of Allah, was not all unknown to Per-Islamic Arabs. This is evidenced by the fact that the name appears not only in Per-Islamic and compound personal names but also in old inscriptions. At least some people or some tribes in Arabia believed in an Allah called Allah and even seem to have gone to the extent of acknowledging him as the creator of heaven and earth, as is easy to see from some of the Qur’anic verses. This was a key-term which played a deceive role in the formation of the Qur’anic world-view. Allah in any way was not a new coinage. When the Islamic revelation began to use this and other words, it was the whole system, the general context in which they were used that struck the Meccan polytheists as something quite strange, unfamiliar and, therefore, unacceptable, and not the individual words and concepts themselves.


This age old system of religious values was gravely endangered when it was proclaimed by the prophet of Islam (SAW) that this supreme Allah was not only supreme in the relative sense of the highest in the hierarchy but absolutely supreme, and also unique i.e. the one and only Allah in existence, degrading thereby all other Allahs to the position of Batil, “false” as opposed to Haqq “real” in other words, “mere names”, without any reality, mere productions of fancy and imagination. If the Arabs were to accept this new teaching, the general situation would have to suffer a complete change and repercussions would not only make themselves felt in the relatively confined domain of religious ideas but practically in all spheres of life, both social and individual, would have to be thereby effected.


The element of the position of Allah the lord of the whole universe deprived all the other so-called Allahs (a’lihah) of all authority and tenacity accorded to them by the pagans. They were now “mere names”, not corresponding to any real entities existing outside of language. In the terminology of modern semantics, we should say that in this conception, the term ilah (pl.alihah), when applied to anything other than Allah Himself is nothing but ‘a word having connotation but no denotation’.


In Surah Yousuf, we read “That which you worship apart from him is nothing but names you have named, yourselves and your fathers. Allah has sent down no authority touching them.”

It is to be noticed that all these are but a small part of the universal rearrangement of concepts and redistribution of values brought about by the new teaching of Islam, which radically altered the nature of the Arab conception of the world. From a semantic point of view the cardinal belief and doctrine of Islam is the notion of Ilah and it needs a detailed analysis from etymological and semantic point of view. Because this term is the root of all the beliefs and doctrines of Islam. Therefore if this term is understood in its semantic context other such terms will become very clear as every other important term stands in direct or indirect connection with it.





To start with the root of ILAH word consists of the three letters, alif, Lam, and ha and the connotations of various derivations, as one finds in lexicons are as follows:

·         Became confused or perplexed.

·         Achieved peace and mental calm by seeking refuge with someone or establishing relations with him.

·         Became frightened of some impending mishap or disaster, and someone gave him the necessary shelter.

·         Turned to another eagerly, due to the intensity of his feelings for him. The lost offspring of the she-camel rushed to snuggle up to its mother on finding it.

·         Became hidden, or concealed.

·         Also, got elevated.

·         Adored, offered worship to.


If we reflect upon these original meanings, we can gain the necessary idea of how the verb came to mean the act of worship and the noun to denote the object of worship. There are four considerations to bear in mind in this connection: Foremost among the factors which engender a sentiment of some degree of adoration for someone is a person’s own state of being in distress or need. He cannot even conceive of worshiping someone unless he has reason to believe that someone to be in a position to remove his distress, to fulfill his needs, to give him shelter and protect him in time of danger, and soothe his troubled heart.


It goes without saying that the above belief is accompanied by a belief also in the superiority of the other in status, power, and strength. It is also a matter of fact that where any of the needs of a human being are met under the ordinary process of give and take, which takes place perceptibly before one’s own eyes, it leads to no sense of reverence, much less of adoration, for the other. For example, if I should be in need of money and, having applied for, and been given a job, am paid for it, since the whole transaction would take place within the full ken of my senses, and I would be fully aware of the circumstances or the reason for giving me the money, I would experience not the slightest desire to offer my employer any adoration. That sentiment arises only when there is some element of mystery surrounding the personality, the power, or the ability of the other to fulfill peoples’ needs or to influence events.


That is why the word chosen to denote an object of worship includes in its meanings the senses of mystery, perplexity, and superiority in status, etc. Lastly, it is only natural that if one believes another to be in a position to fulfill one’s needs, to provide shelter and protection, to soothe a disturbed heart and fill it with peace and calm, one turns eagerly to that person as a matter of course. We may therefore safely conclude from the above that the connotation of the word ilah includes the capacities to fulfill the needs of others, to give them shelter and protection, to relieve their minds of distress and agitation, superiority, and the requisite authority and power to do all these, to be mysterious in some way or hidden from men’s eyes, and the turning of men eagerly to him.





(The Author is Director International Center for Spiritual Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora Pulwama. Former Director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir Srinagar. He can be reached on

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