We know he made the sky that you see above, the stars, all the animals, and even people-both black and white-but who Dywok actually is, no one in Shilluk can say. For no one has seen him. What we know is this: Dywok is there and made everything. Even if you cannot see him, yet he is there…like the breeze that blows.
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Even if no one can see the breeze, yet it blows. No one has doubts about that. The micro-religions are filled with telling names of God. Native Americans had many names for God. The Cheyenne called him "Creator of the universe" and "Lord of the entire heaven and earth.
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Ancient civilizations also bear witness to a primordial knowledge of the One. Although the pharaonic Egyptians were highly polytheistic, their language contained abundant names and attributions for the Supreme Being distinct from the personified gods of their pantheon.
But an ancient Chinese dictionary says of "Heaven" Ti'en : "The exalted in the highest of his exaltation. His ideogram combines two symbols, which mean 'the One, who is the most great. Therefore, we call him by the name of the place where he abides, which is 'heaven,' that is, ti'en on the analogy that 'the court' signifies 'the emperor. One of his names was simply "Who" Ka , signifying the one who is ultimately unfathomable and beyond finite description.
In later times, Ka was frequently used to designate the Supreme Being. The English word "God" is a unique linguistic and theological treasure.
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The Prophet said in a well-known Tradition: "Supplication is the essence of worship. The English word "God" in its present form is ancient and pre-Christian, having no hidden or implicit link with Trinitarian theology. Its earliest documented historical use is in the poem Beowulf , the oldest poem in the English language and the earliest European vernacular epic. Western scholars often find Beowulf paradoxical, because it lacks distinctive Christian references but speaks constantly of God's grandeur, taking every occasion to praise God and give him thanks.
The poem declares God's oneness explicitly and extols his wise and merciful governance of the world and its people; it rejects and ridicules paganism as the work of the devil, and the epic's hero, Beowulf-a brave and mighty but truly humble man of God-engages in constant combat with the diabolical forces of evil and destruction.
Not just in its many words for God but in general, the religious vocabulary of Beowulf expresses with exactitude the crux of the spiritual and theological vision which Muslims find so precisely expressed in the Arabic language. Beowulf is a testimony to the English language's unique richness and should inspire us, as English-speaking Muslims, with a deeper respect for our language and its inherent power to express not only our concept of the divine but the entire repertoire of primordial prophetic teaching.
But it rarely has that same effect on non-Muslim, non-Arab listeners, and few of them will develop our sensitivity for the word merely by being constantly bombarded by it. When we speak English, let us speak it intelligently, respectfully, and reverently. This partial translation is likely to create unwarranted barriers for the non-Muslim listener and induce a multitude of negative connotations.
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Yet shunning "God," even in the light of such commentary, needlessly gives the impression that "God" is somehow inadequate. Use of "God" emphasizes the extensive middle ground we share with other Abrahamic and universal traditions and provides a simple and cogent means by which Muslims may act upon the Qur'anic injunction to stress the similarities between us.
Failure to use "God" conceals our common belief in the God of Abraham and the continuity of the Abrahamic tradition, which are fundamentals of our faith.
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We must overcome our misgivings about "God" both because of the word's intrinsic, historical merit and because it empowers us to communicate with our Jewish, Christian, and other English-speaking neighbors in a meaningful way. Notes 1. These and similar references are readily accessible on the Internet. I am indebted, however, to an excellent New York Times editorial January 28, by John Kearney, written on the occasion of the Muslim pilgrimage, an Islamic ritual intimately linked with Abraham.
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One God, Many Names — The Oasis Initiative
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