Daily Archives: Tuesday, 26 February, 2008

Malaysia Muddies the Waters in God-Allah Name Issue

I am one of those people who insists that “God” is the English word for “Allah” and vice-versa, and I always translate الله as God.
But there are lots of people who disagree, for various reasons.
Of course, there are many other languages in the world and some of them have yet more names for various degrees of deities. Take the Malay language, for example.
The government of Malaysia, according to this article from early January, has ordered a small, Catholic newspaper to stop using the word “Allah” when referring to God and to use a different Malaysian word.


Here’s a headline to get the little gray cells puzzling: The Malaysian government has “reminded” — that is, ordered — a Catholic newspaper published in the country not to use the word Allah.
Why not? “To avoid confusion.” See if you think it succeeded.

One more important fact to know: In Malaysia, you need a government permit to publish a newspaper, even a little 12,000-copy tabloid like The Herald, which prints 28 pages of Catholic-themed news and features in four languages: Malay, English, Tamil and Chinese.
As you can imagine, a Catholic newspaper often has occasion to refer to God, which would appear to pose no problem in three of those languages. In Malay, however, it has long been the practice for Christians to use the same name for the deity that Muslims do: Allah. And that has to stop, the government has decreed.
After seeming to renew The Herald’s permit without conditions last Sunday, it told the paper today that the warnings it issued late last year to switch to using another Malay word ( “Tuhan”) still stood, and that “Allah” was henceforth reserved strictly for the Muslim deity.

First of all, aren’t the Judeo-Christian and Muslim deities one and the same, even if worshiped in very different ways? That seems to be the near-universal opinion; Muslims the world over refer to Allah as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And “Allah” — that’s originally an Arabic word, one that even predates the foundation of Islam. Christians in Arabic-speaking countries use “Allah” for their God all the time, and nobody seems befuddled.

Ha! See?! I am vindicated.

And yet, Agence France-Presse reports that Abdullah Mohamad Zain, a Malaysian government minister, was quoted in Friday editions of The Star, a Malaysian paper, saying “The use of the word Allah by other religions may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims.”

Interesting to see the shoe on the other foot. I’m more accustomed to uptight Christians complaining that the Muslim deity is some moon god and not the real god.

If you find the topic fascinating, read the comments. They run the gamut from helpful Christians “explaining” why Allah is not God; to Muslims pointing out that Muslims worship the one God, while Christians worship a trinity; to this anonymous person, who I have to agree with here (at least for the most part):

With each successive story such as this (or Muhammad, the teddy bear) I fantasize increasingly about a glorious day when moderate people of faith and secular individuals unite globally to ship all the Christian Evangelists, Militant Zionists and Islamist Extremists off to a new country, all their very own: The United States of Fanatica. There, they these rigidly religious types can radicalize to their hearts’ content, & try to impose THEIR abolutists ways upon themselves and one another — and in the process, hopefully, destroy themselves once and for all. THEN, when these “Supreme G-dly Beings of the World” have brought about the Armageddon they so richly desire & deserve, the rest of us could look forward to continuing to live together in varying degrees of peace & tolerance (however grudging that might be at times!).

— Posted by Hypocrite Buster, NYC

Bolding mine, because I love the name and the sentiment.

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Filed under arabic, arabist, Islamic relations, language, names