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Why Is Allah “He” Rather than “She” in Quran?

 Why Is Allah “He” Rather than “She” in Quran?

How is it that Allah is referred to as “He”? Is that to say that He is “masculine”?  Alternatively, is Allah more ‘masculine’ than ‘feminine’?  Is Allah actually both feminine and masculine? Or, perhaps ‘He’ is neither?

Let not this issue be a hang-up for Muslims —in this modern feminist-friendly world, where male dominance  in religious communities generally, and elsewhere, is seen as a mark of female repression and oppression.

Backlash: a Feminist Identification for Deity?

Should it bother us that we speak of Allah as He”; would there be anything wrong with speaking of Allah as “She”? Some Feminists have done just that. Maybe you have come across the Feminist-inspired slogan that reappears from time to time: “Pray to God—She will answer you”—suggesting a maternal protection and caring emotional bond. But do we really want to imply that God is female or feminine rather than male/masculine?

Why not look for—or create—a suitable pronoun reserved only for the unique Allah, something more dignified or “royal” than the “neuter” pronoun “it”—meaning belonging to a category neither masculine nor feminine. This might have the merit of avoiding implications of being male rather than female. Or vice versa! But frankly, our replacement term would still have to be a pronoun reserved for the single Deity alone. Otherwise, it would have the same unwanted associated gender implications—which is the perceived current situation with “He” and “She.”

Of course, we do have the English language convention of capitalizing “He” in reference to God—just as we capitalize “God” to mean the singular, unique, One Deity, as opposed to a false or man-made “god.” But this capitalization of “He” and “God” falls short of addressing an implied gender orientation in which the Creator, Allah/ Eloah/ God, is associated with a perception of an ordained patriarchal domination in human affairs and a divinely-approved domineering male half of society, oppressing the female other half.

While the Arabic language does not have capitalization so as to distinguish the divine “He” from the human male “he,” it does distinguish Allâh (the unique, sole Deity) from Ilâh (a god or goddess) as conceptualized in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Interestingly, ilâh (“god,” “goddess”—an idol or a personified force of nature [1]) is a feminine noun in Arabic grammar, in contrast to the noun Allâh which is replaced with a masculine pronoun, huwa هو, “he”—making the two terms maximally distinct in grammar.

As Muslims we do not talk about Allah except in accordance with the ways that He is Self-revealed to us. The Quran freely refers to Allah using the Arabic pronoun, huwa هو (which translates as “he”), never hiya  هي (translating as “she”). In polytheistic systems of religion there are posited both ‘male’ gods and ‘female’ goddesses.  In pre-Islamic society, hiya would have been appropriate to refer to any of the alleged goddesses like Al-Lât, Al-ʿUzza and Manât, whom people thought of as ‘daughters’ of Allah, with Allah being recognized as their supreme Creator

 :قال تعالى 

أَفَرَءَيْتُمُ ٱللَّـٰتَ وَٱلْعُزَّىٰ . وَمَنَوٰةَ ٱلثَّالِثَةَ ٱلْأُخْرَىٰٓ .أَلَكُمُ ٱلذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ ٱلْأُنثَىٰ . تِلْكَ إِذًۭا قِسْمَةٌۭ ضِيزَىٰٓ. إِنْ هِىَ إِلَّآ أَسْمَآءٌۭ سَمَّيْتُمُوهَآ أَنتُمْ وَءَابَآؤُكُم مَّآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَـٰنٍ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا ٱلظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى ٱلْأَنفُسُ ۖ وَلَقَدْ جَآءَهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ ٱلْهُدَىٰٓ 

النجم ايه 19:23

Have you then, ever considered [what you are worshipping in] Al-Lât and Al-ʿUzza, as well as [in] Manât, the third and last [of this triad]?  Why – for yourselves [you would choose only] male offspring, whereas to Him [you assign] female [offspring]: that, lo and behold, is an unfair division! 

These [allegedly divine beings] are nothing but empty names which you have invented—you and your forefathers—[and] for which God [Allah] has bestowed no warrant from on high.  They [who worship them] follow nothing but surmise and their own wishful thinking—and right guidance has now indeed come unto them from their Sustainer. [Sûrat Al-Najm, 53:19-23]

The common Western misconception of Islam as a male-dominated religion and of Islamic law as an authoritarian straight jacket, stifling the female contribution to Muslim society and to the family cannot be laid at the feet of the use of “He” هو (huwa) in the Arabic Quran for Allah—nor for the use in English of “He” for God in the Jewish and Christian Bibles.

The Creation of Mankind and the Individual as a Responsible Soul

The Quran stands stanchly against credence in all elemental deities, male or female (or even neuter)—just as it stands for the value of all children, female as well as male. Furthermore, the Quran presents to us a Creator Who brings into being everything by His command—not through an elemental female power in the natural world.  Accordingly, the Creator is not to be identified with, or remotely associated with, a Mother Goddess who reigns over procreative functions. The fact that an individual soul is enabled to enter this world through a process of biological interaction between a particular male and a particular female has social, psychological and political implications.

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱتَّقُوا۟ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍۢ وَٰحِدَةٍۢ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًۭا كَثِيرًۭا وَنِسَآءًۭ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ٱلَّذِى تَسَآءَلُونَ بِهِۦ وَٱلْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًۭا ١

O mankind! Reverence your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate, and from the two has spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Reverence God, through Whom you demand your rights of one another, and family relations. Truly God is a Watcher over you. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:1]

Contrary to the reasoning of atheists, the biological relationship amongst the members of a family does not do away with the existential “need” for a Creator who has engineered the biological process and who implants a soul into each viable fetus at a particular stage of biological development.

مَّا خَلْقُكُمْ وَلَا بَعْثُكُمْ إِلَّا كَنَفْسٍۢ وَٰحِدَةٍ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ سَمِيعٌۢ بَصِيرٌ ٢٨

And your creation or your resurrection is in no wise but as an individual soul…  [Sûrat Luqmân, 31:28]

 . أَيَحْسَبُ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنُ أَن يُتْرَكَ سُدًى . أَلَمْ يَكُ نُطْفَةًۭ مِّن مَّنِىٍّۢ يُمْنَىٰ . ثُمَّ كَانَ عَلَقَةًۭ فَخَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ فَجَعَلَ مِنْهُ ٱلزَّوْجَيْنِ ٱلذَّكَرَ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰٓ

Do people think they will be left without purpose? Were they not once a sperm-drop emitted?  Then he was a blood clot; whereupon He created, then fashioned, and made from it the two genders, male and female. [Sûrat Al-Qyamah, 75:36-39]

On the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn Masood who said: The Messenger of Allâh and he is the truthful, the believed, narrated to us:

Verily, each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid. Then it is a clinging object for a similar [period]. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like it has been chewed for a similar [period]. The angel is then sent to him and he breathes into him the spirit. He is also commanded to issue four decrees: to record his sustenance, his life span, his deeds and [whether he will be] unhappy [by entering Hell] or happy [by entering Paradise]…. (Bukhâri and Muslim)

Adam and Hawa ءادم وحواء – the First Couple

One of the most widely known Biblical stories is that of Adam, the first human being, brought into being by an act of God; subsequently, by a further act of God, a second human was formed from the same biological material of the first. In the Biblical account, Adam, meaning “man” was formed from earth: [2] that is, from watered rock-soil, jump-started with air-breathing life (Genesis 22:6-7); as for the second human, referred to as a “woman,” [3] Eve (Arabic, Ḥawwâ’), she was formed from bone and flesh sourced from the biological material of the first (Genesis 2: 21-23). Many Quranic âyât reference the stages of the process through which the human fetus progresses before it can exit its mother’s womb. In the Biblical account, we take the pair to be what we recognize as a human male as distinct from a human female in that they are referred to as a “man” and his “wife” (Genesis 2: 24) and in that they had sexual relations resulting in pregnancy and children (Genesis 4:1-2, 17, 25; 5:1). Accordingly, male and female human beings seem to have existed from the initial creation of humanity in the Biblical narrative.

Some interesting details arise when we look at careful wording of the Quranic text concerning Allah’s creation of humanity as a single kind of being:

“A single soul” has been understood as “Adam,” and “its mate” as Eve. Interestingly, “soul” (Arabic nafs) is grammatically feminine—even though it refers to the first male human being (Adam); just as intriguing, “mate” (Arabic zawj)—even though it refers to the first female human being—is grammatically masculine. Again, the grammatical gender in language is not set up always to reflect biological gender.

Clearly, in the Quran, the mate is of the same nature as the original single soul, and clearly there is a reciprocity between the first pair of humans. But whether we can say that the nafs and its zawj were, at that initial stage, fully distinct male and female in the present biological sense, that would be a trail-blazing topic for modern-day genome researchers to take on—perhaps eventually tracing our genetic material back to mankind’s beginning! Was that initial nafs neither male nor female in the current biological sense? Did a male vs. female biology come into being with the fashioning of the “mate”? Or perhaps the bifurcation into male and female began only with the children of Adam and Ḥawwâ’? I do not pretend to know the answer to such questions, but the Quranic text does not seem to have closed the door to such “outside-the-box” possibility.

The point for us to realize here is that our present-day notion of masculinity vs. femininity does not reflect the nature of our Creator, Who is not a participant in the male-female reciprocity that He has built into the nature of our world—whether done instantly or in stages. Maleness and femaleness are reciprocal elements of humankind, like the positive and negative electrical charges that make up the matter of the physical world in which we exist, including the make-up of our physical bodies. Allah created a biological reproductive mechanism for the proliferation of life forms on earth, but He Himself is independent of that created system:

Say, “He, God, is One, God, the Eternally Sufficient unto Himself.  He begets not; nor was He begotten. And none is like unto Him.” [Sûrat Al-Ikhlâṣ, 112: 1-4]

But we have not yet exhausted our observations on gender in relation to Allah, His Revelation and the world He created and fashioned.

Here we focus on gender as a feature of language and how this insight clears away the concerns of feminists regarding an inferred connection of biological gender in association with Allah.


So, if it is true that there is no biological gender bias detectible on the part of Allah, then why would ‘Allah’ be referred to in the Quran as ‘He,’ ‘Him,’ ‘His,’ and ‘Himself’ –using masculine gender words and never using words denoting the feminine gender:  ‘She,’ ‘Her,’ ‘Herself’?

Some would reason: Doesn’t that usage of the masculine pronoun ‘He’ (Arabic: huwa) PROVE that Allah is more male than female? Or that He leans more favorably to men than to women? Or that the primacy of men is intended in the family or in society because the man is more like Allah in His universal domain than are women? After all, Allah is quite flexible in the Quran, with self-references sometimes also employing the pronouns ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ ‘Mine,’ or the plural forms ‘We,’  ‘Us,’  ‘Our. ‘

Verily, I am Allah: There is no god but Me; so serve Me (only)…  [Sûrat Ṭâ Hâ, 20: 14]

But this flexibility does not extend to using a feminine pronoun, ‘She’ (Arabic: hiya). In fact, the Quran is perfectly clear: None of us, men or women, are at all ‘like’ Allah in any sense:

Say, ‘He, God, is One, God, the Eternally Sufficient unto Himself.  He begets not; nor was He begotten. And none is like unto Him.’ [Sûrat Al- Ikhlâṣ, 112: 1-4]

So why the common use of ‘He’ and never the use of ‘She’?


If the Arabs who first heard the new revelation were no longer to give credence to their presumed gods and goddesses—male and female deities—how was the one God to be categorized if He is neither male nor female in the sense that each individual human being—biologically and socially—belongs to one category or the other? Well, for one thing, the Arabic noun ilâh, ‘god’/’goddess,’ has what looks like a grammatically ‘feminine’ noun ending {-ah}.

Perhaps the one true God, Allah, needed to be maximally differentiated from ilâh, a false god or idol, by which I mean that the NOUN Allah should be grammatically masculine rather than grammatically feminine. Was this a deliberate choice in order to reject, or to avoid confirming, the cultural favoritism to female-ness in deity? Even the name ‘Allah’ has what looks like a ‘feminine’ grammatical ending {-ah}, which one could presume to indicate female associations. How to disassociate the name Allah from the Arabian goddesses (Al-Lât, Al–CUzzâ and Manât in Sûrat Al-Najm, 53:19-21 and Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:117)? Perhaps by referring to Allah using the grammatically ‘masculine’ PRONOUNS, ‘He’, ‘His,’ ‘Him,’ ‘Himself.’

Could it be that the grammatically ‘masculine’ pronoun, ‘He,’ is a calculated choice (or possibly a purposeful displacement of “She”) in order to avoid some of the implications of female-ness in traditional Middle East religion? Not only was there the Mother Goddess (see Part 1), commonly found more widely throughout polytheistic religions around the world, but polytheistic forces were commonly associated with female persons (a prophetess, an oracle) and processes (an oracular delving into the unseen world – ‘divination‘)—to be addressed elsewhere.

Of course, the impetus for this avoidance in the Qur’anic scheme of things is merely my speculation—suggested by the fact that it was notably females who were employed as prophetic oracles and as the major deity in many pagan cultures. Maybe one of our readers can speak to this point more authoritatively in regard to ancient Arabian society.


We do know that Arabic has special categories of usage involving the feminine form—for example, in Arabic grammar: collectives of irrational living beings—and [those] from which nouns of unity ending in { ة } (Arabic: tâ marbûṭa) cannot be formed—are feminine [in grammatical ‘gender’] e.g.,  khailun,’horses ‘; ibilun,  ‘camels. ‘  [1]

So, perhaps the masculine category, by default, would have to be the correct choice for anything not in the special [feminine] grammatical category, in the case of wanting to avoid negative associations with nouns belonging to the basic feminine grammatical gender. (I’m credentialed as a linguist, not as an Arabist, so I can only make a linguistically reasonable extrapolation…) This assignment of the name ‘Allah’ to the masculine grammatical gender would thus constitute a case of avoiding overuse of the special-use ‘feminine’ grammatical category. Again, I am hazarding an ‘educated guess.’


The Semitic languages (most prominently Arabic and Hebrew) have a grammatical category called the Royal We, or the Plural of Majesty. ‘We’ indicates a dignity that is deserved of the [singular] speaker by reason of some unique characteristic. This grammatically plural form ‘We’ is used for a restricted category of speakers speaking in reference, each to himself alone: persons in power, like kings, or in management positions. In the case of Allah, of course, He is maximally unique in every way when compared with His creation—something which we can never afford to minimize. This plural form is sometimes used in the Quran—as in the Bible—for Allah / God to refer to Himself. There is sometimes even a shift within the same verse or passage among forms of ‘He,’ ‘We,’ and ‘I.’


And indeed, [O Prophet,] even before thy time did We send [Our apostles] unto communities of old — and never yet came an apostle to them without their deriding him… [Sûrat Al-Ḥijr, 15:10-15]

And God has said:  ‘Do not take to worshipping two [or more] deities.  He is the One and Only God:  hence, of Me, of Me alone stand in awe!’  And His is all that is in the heavens and on earth, and to Him [alone] obedience is always due:  will you, then, pay reverence to aught but Him? [Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:51-52]

Thus, indeed, have We given in this Quran many facets to every kind of lesson [designed] for [the benefit of] mankind. [Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:54]

Verily, We create man in the best conformation… [Sûrat Al-Tîn, 95:4]


Then God said, ‘and now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. … He created them male and female…  [Genesis 1:26-27]

‘We’ is an alternative to using the singular ‘He’ or ‘I.’ The royal ‘We’ represents dignity and power, not ‘distribution’ of deity (as Trinitarian Christians sometimes argue out of grammatical ignorance).

For those who are put off by the use of huwa (‘He’) هو in Arabic because of what they assume to be God’s preference for his male creatures, perhaps this use of ‘We’ and ‘I’ can serve to reassure them –if still not convinced—that Allah is neither a biological ‘He’ nor a male-favoring ‘He.’


In the light of the slack in grammatical gender categories, would it be appropriate in English to refer to God as ‘It,’ and thus to avoid the unwanted association with biological gender? Probably not, since we feel that the ‘neuter’ pronoun ‘it’ is appropriate generally for inanimate items; thus, using ‘It ‘ for the unique, Living and Life-Giving Creator would have the effect of lowering the regard given to a Being like Allah, Whom we experience as having the dignity much above and beyond that owed to a human ‘person.’

In any case, Arabic has no third gender category as an option for ‘Allah’; English does have a third grammatical gender category (‘It ‘), but considers it demeaning and inappropriate to use in reference to ‘God’/ ‘Allah.’ Modern feminists who refer to God as ‘She’ are likely implying that men have made a mess of the world and women would do a better job at fixing` it—and that therefore God is better honored with the ‘feminine’ pronoun to identify with their personal concerns.  Even feminists are not likely to opt for ‘It’ as opposed to ‘He’ in reference to Deity.


As for inventing a new pronoun for talking exclusively about Allah—so as to avoid cultural  implications of biological gender, both male and female—how would we deal with the fact that the Quran has used the grammatically ‘masculine’ pronoun  huwa—given that the Quranic Text is not open to change?!

So then, what about pursuing an Allah-unique pronoun in other languages, to be used in translations of the Quran?  It would be gratifying to find a ready-made Allah-specific pronoun, maybe in ancient ‘Proto-Semitic’ language forms, or in any other language. But until then we might just want to stick with the Arabic pattern or with whatever pattern each target-language of translation already has in place.

After all, is there any longer a problem here with huwa—now that we know that languages have word classes and that the noun class (grammatical ‘gender’) representing the biological male gender happens to overlap with the grammatical word class chosen for thousands of other words, including the name ‘Allah’ (when Allah, Himself, has no biological gender)?

The key information here is that the two functions—biological gender and grammatical gender— are neither identical nor co-extensive.  We simply have a choice of two sets of pronouns—(a) ‘he – his – him – himself’’ and (b) ‘she – her – herself’— doing double-duty, meaning that they are used ambiguously—used both grammatically and biologically. Can’t we live with that, now that we understand something of linguistic structure?

IN SUM: Grammatical Gender vs. Biological Gender

So, now to summarize in answer to our main question, Why is Allah a ‘He’ and not a ‘She’? Allah is not—as we first presumed—to be identified as ‘a He.’ He is not a biologically-male Being, nor is He closer to male human beings than He is to female persons.

‘He’ when applied to Allah is not about matching biological gender: For Allah begets not; nor was He begotten—and beyond that, ‘He’/ ‘Allah’ is unlike any being in ‘His’ creation (Sûrat Al-Ikhâṣ 112:3-4), whether male or female. The use of ‘He / His / Him’ is about the fact that the name ‘Allah’ in Arabic, as in many other human languages —by necessity— must belong to one particular noun/pronoun class and not to another. In Arabic, the name ‘Allah’ belongs to the grammatical gender category labeled ‘masculine’—and not to the other, the one labeled ‘feminine.’

We have looked at possible grammatical reasons for the choice of the pronoun huwa (‘He’) over hiya ( ‘She’) to stand in for the noun ‘Allah’ in Arabic. We explored the special usages of the ‘feminine’ class and found that the special uses of the feminine noun class in Arabic did not include any language categories appropriate for the name Allah. Thus there was lack of reason to assign ‘Allah’ to the feminine class based on special usage.

On the other hand, there were cultural reasons to avoid assignment to the regular feminine grammatical class in which pagan female religious figures have been associated — female humans in the role of ‘prophetess’ or ‘seer’ or ‘oracle’ (inshâ’Allah, to be addressed elsewhere)—as well as the associations  of the ‘feminine’ grammatical class with a pagan [female] goddess.

These factors may have counted in terms of pressure away from the assignment of the noun ‘Allah’ to the regular ‘feminine’ grammatical gender—even though the noun ‘Allah’ ends in {-ah} and thus looks like a feminine noun. Accordingly, the noun ‘Allah’ would be left, by default, to be assigned to the regular, ‘masculine’ noun grammatical class (= “masculine gender”).

Recall that in Arabian society, people thought of the alleged goddesses like Al-Lât, Al–CUzzâ and Manât, as ‘daughters’ of Allah (Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:51-57). With Al-Lât being the Arab equivalence of the Mother Goddess, one could imagine an urgency for distancing the concept of true Deity away from the awe-inspiring female reproductive force in nature. Allah creates—He does not beget (Sûrat Al-Ikhlâṣ, 112: 3); thus, He has neither ‘sons’ nor ‘daughters,’ contrary to Arabian concerns.

It is not Allah who belongs to a ‘masculine’ gender—meaning association with a human biological gender. It is His name, the noun word ‘Allah,’ that belongs to the grammatical gender labeled ‘masculine’—rather than to the grammatical gender labeled ‘feminine.’

This grammatical gender of the name of Allah should not be a red flag for those self-identified ‘feminists’ among us, or for anyone else, once we understand how language works: The existence of noun grammatical categories (‘genders ‘) has forced choice from among a set of predetermined categories, which are often not as logically structured as the analytical descriptions we try to make for them—due to the ongoing development of language over the centuries and due to its uneven change.

It is unfortunate that the same term, “gender” is employed in both a biological sense and a grammatical sense, thus suggesting that the two have some innate sameness or connection. It is true that male human beings are referred to as he – his – him -himself.’ And it is also true that maleness goes with masculinity, and that “Masculine” is the name of the grammatical category that normally includes biological males and excludes biological females. Here is what is not true: Not all grammatically masculine nouns refer to biologically masculine objects. This should become crystal clear in Part 3.

There could well be other, relevant historical-linguistic factors that Arabists and Qur’anic scholars could bring to bear on this subject, other than what I have come up with here. There might also be interesting implications of huwa as applied to Allah that would be of interest to our community. Perhaps some of our readers would be willing to take up this challenge.

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