Allah Has No Gender

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That Allah has no gender should be obvious to all Muslims, for the Quran makes it clear that the Creator does not procreate, is neither created nor begotten, nor is there anything whatsoever similar to Him. He created male/female in His creation, but Allah has no equivalent and, as exemplified by the great names Al-Rahman, Al-Raheem, which, like the concepts of yin and yang, comprise both power and receptivity (in an abstract sense, female and male principles) in one Supreme Being.

So the use of a male gender pronoun in reference to Allah is due to the limitations of our language rather than indicative of actual gender per se. In fact, in the Quran, Allah refers to Himself frequently in the plural, as “us.” This is not to indicate multiple beings as some may simplistically presume (one of so many reasons the Quran emphasizes its appeal to reason and thinking), but to express the lack of gender applied to Allah. Otherwise the male gender is used, as it is customary in Arabic to use the male pronoun to refer to someone of unspecified gender such as a “person.”

And since the Arabic language uses male/female pronouns (as well as other parts of speech) in reference to inanimate objects, it is clear that pronoun usage is not in itself an indication of gender per se, except when used to indicate such. Much ado is being made these days with reference to pronouns and gender identity, and a number of pronouns have been suggested in English to indicate neutral or unspecified gender, among them plural pronouns given a singular usage, as for example “themself.” Usage of a plural pronoun to indicate gender neutrality, then, has a precedent in English. It is possible that one of the reasons Allah (swt) refers to Himself in the plural is to indicate His encompassing nature, not confined to or by gender. At the same time, use of the male singular pronoun serves to emphasize that Allah is One, not plural. And since the male pronoun “he” can be used for ideas and inanimate objects, it clearly is not gender-confined. (Arabic does not use capitalization, thus “He” and “he” are written the same.)

It is also important to note that the Quran never states that Allah created humankind “in His own image” as in the English translated Bible. In fact, the Quran is adamant that there is and can be NO “image” of any kind for Allah. No comparative likeness of any kind whatsoever. What is mentioned is that humankind was created “in the best likeness.” Most likely the words “in His own image” was a mistranslation of something closer to the Quranic expression regarding Adam’s creation.

And it is largely because in Christian church dogma, Jesus, a human and prophet of God, is worshipped as divine, as God, that the confusing issue of gender for God must be addressed. In polytheistic religions, gods are many and are taken from parts of creation, be it human or animal or otherwise. Therefore they are naturally, being part of “creation,” assigned genders. In reaction to the assigning of a male gender to the Christian god-man, the mythic (as opposed to the “real” and historical) Jesus, it has become popular to refer to God as “she,” as if this would “balance out” the seemingly erroneous or unfair male-gender divinity, particularly in a monotheistic context. And in fact, if there is only one God, why are all His supposed “incarnations” (a concept that is anathema in Islam) clearly male? Jesus was, after all, a man. So Christians put maleness on a level with divinity, worshipping an unequivocally male “god” in terms of literal belief, contrary to their professed promotion of women’s equality, especially as they would contrast themselves with what they think of as Islam on this issue.

In fact, the use of “she” in reference to God only further confuses the issue, since the male pronoun can traditionally be used for gender-unspecified persons, whereas the female pronoun cannot. Since Christians limit themselves to one God, assigning either a masculine or feminine gender to that God would limit God to only one gender, just as all created things are limited, thus diminishing His omnipotence.

In Islam, this entire controversy should not exist, and doesn’t for the most part. However, the fact that Arab society is highly patriarchal and that women in Islamic culture are more role-restricted than in certain modern societies, and certainly follow a significantly more restrictive dress code (the hijab and niqab), it is useful to remind Muslims that Allah does not represent “maleness” in the sense one might think of (having authority, being warlike) per se, because that would be imposing a creation-based limit on Him (swt). Rather, Allah is comprehensively Creator and encompassing both authority/ power/conquering and receptivity/compassion/patience. For those who have faith, for whom this makes deep and transformative sense, there should then follow equal respect for both sides, yin and yang, power and mercy, conquering and compassion. To do any less would be to worship Allah in a way that is tainted by self-referential comparison. And surrender to Allah alone demands surrender of that very ego, the one that wants a male God or a female God, or that believes male-associated qualities are necessarily superior to female-associated qualities. True worship then must be reflected in one’s attitude towards others and toward the whole of creation, with the understanding that Allah being comprehensive would want our attitude to hold equal respect for both male and female, and for in fact His creation and its intricate balance. Respect is also indicated by reverence for the rights and separate good of others. Imagine if we humans did that, how much better a world this would be.

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