Who Is Allah?

Who Is Allah?

Who Is Allah?

Who Is Allah?


This vivid introduction to the heart of Islam offers a unique approach to understanding Allah, the central focus of Muslim religious expression. Drawing on history, culture, theology, politics, and the media, Bruce B. Lawrence identifies key religious practices by which Allah is revered and remembered, illuminating how the very name of Allah is interwoven into the everyday experience of millions of Muslims.

For Muslims, as for adherents of other religions, intentions as well as practices are paramount in one's religious life. Lawrence elucidates how public utterances, together with private pursuits, reflect the emotive, sensory, and intellectual aspirations of the devout. Ranging from the practice of the tongue (speaking) to practices in cyberspace (online religious activities), Lawrence explores how Allah is invoked, defined, remembered, and also debated. While the practice of the heart demonstrates how Allah is remembered in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, the practice of the mind examines how theologians and philosophers have defined Allah in numerous contexts, often with conflicting aims. The practice of the ear marks the contemporary period, in which Lawrence locates and then assesses competing calls for jihad, or religious struggle, within the cacophony of an immensely diverse umma, the worldwide Muslim community.


Who Is Allah? is the product of a lifetime engaged by Islam and subjects relating to Islamic thought and culture, society and politics, across centuries in myriad contexts. It is aimed at a popular audience, as well as regular readers of books in the Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series published by the University of North Carolina Press. The conventions of Arabic are kept to a minimum, with just the hamza and ʿayn used to reflect the distinctive accents of Arabic—or Persian or Turkish or Urdu—names and technical terms. In many instances English translations of common words are used after their first introduction in both Arabic and English.

A major exception is the name Allah. It is not enough to say Allah=God if one seeks to acknowledge the complexity, and also explore the mystery, of Muslim performance of Allah. In this study, Allah is center stage at every level and in every chapter. And so, in order to stress the prevalence of Allah, I will occasionally parse words that combine Allah and another word into one that takes an Allah-specific form. Hence, at times bismillah will be written bismi(A)llah (“in the name of God”), and inshallah (“if God wills, of God willing”) will appear as inshaʾ(A)llah. For Arabic speakers, this convention may seem redundant, but for those who are innocent of any knowledge of Arabic, it will be a constant reminder of how Allah is implanted in the deepest recesses of the Muslim imagination—across time, space, race, gender, and geography.

You will also find sidebars. They are included to provide readers with focused information about places, persons, and issues that until now have been dimly known but are relevant to the evidence and argument of this book.

Finally, there is the ubiquitous Internet. In many instances the Internet has provided references and resources that are readily available to twenty-first-century readers. The surfeit of their presence requires judicious selection on each topic relating to Allah. I have attempted to harvest the best, while avoiding the worst. Each reader must decide for . . .

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