Question: There are three things that I’m not quite settled on: 1) Are the Arabs truly descendants of Ishmael; 2) Though “Allah” is said to be another name for God, it seems that it would be clearer to use the word “Allah” in speaking about the Muslim god, and if speaking of the biblical God to simply use “God”; 3) Why does the Qur’an use the third person plural, “we,” instead of I, when Allah is speaking? Any information you can give me on these issues will be greatly appreciated.
Answer: The Arabs have Ishmaelite blood in them, but they are not of pure descent from Ishmael (as Jews are from Isaac and Jacob). The descendants of Ishmael were a nomadic people prone to take wives of those with whom they traded. They populated a broad region across North Africa, eventually settling in the Arabian Peninsula, where they became known as Arabs. They intermarried with the Midianites so that sometimes the designations “Midianites” and “Ishmaelites” are used interchangeably (Jgs 8:1,12,22,24). They also intermarried with Esau’s Edomite descendants (Gn 28:9), who intermarried with the Hittites (Gn 26:34,35).
After Islam became the official Arab religion, imposed by the sword, there was a further dilution of Ishmaelite blood through Arabs taking to themselves wives from the many nations they conquered and enslaved in the Muslim conquest from France to China. Nevertheless, Arabs are looked upon generally as the descendants of Ishmael.
Allah is not just “another name for God”! (See Q&A in TBC for April & July 2003, etc.) Allah is a contraction of al-ilah, meaning “the chief god.” There were more than 300 gods in the idol temple in Mecca, known as the Ka’aba. Allah was the chief god, the god of the Quraish tribe that controlled Mecca and made a fortune from the pilgrims who came to visit their various gods in the Ka’aba.
Yes, it would be proper to use “Allah” when speaking of the god of Islam. You may use “God” for the God of the Bible. But “Allah” is the name of a specific god, whereas “God” is not the name but a generic term. His name is Yahweh, as He declared to Moses (Ex 3:14-16). (See Index to Reprints).
As for why the Qur’an uses the third person plural when Allah is speaking, I have asked Muslims and have never received an explanation. Since the Qur’an is very explicit that Allah is a single entity, this is simply one more contradiction to add to the many others in that book.