Daily Archives: Saturday, 9 January, 2010

Malaysia Supreme Court: Catholics Can Call Allah “Allah” Again

February 2008 I blogged about the Malaysian government’s forbidding a Catholic newspaper to use the name “Allah” to refer to God.

On December 31st the Malaysian supreme court ruled that a Catholic newspaper in Malaysian can use the word “Allah” to refer to God in its Malay-language newspaper. When I read about this in 2008 I didn’t realize the newspaper was Malay-language. Malay has a perfectly good word for God, “tuhan,” which is what the Malaysian government wanted the Catholic paper to use.

Apparently Malaysia is much like the United States, except that the entrenched religion is Islam. It’s still a head-scratcher to me that people insist that Islam’s god and Christianity’s god are different. Anyway, according to the crack New York Times reporting, “the government” of Malaysia (apparently one solid mass, entirely in agreement, except for the pesky supreme court) is protesting the court’s decision and there has been some rioting.

Wow, this makes sense, huh?

Ethnic and religious politics have grown more intense since the government suffered severe losses in a general election last March. Much of the reverse came at the hands of minority voters who were disturbed by the government’s increasingly conservative Islamic tone.

So “the government” suffered severe losses…so that means there is significantly less government now? Because so much of it was lost?

My vote is that everyone say “God” in the language they are speaking.

Found this around the web, one hard-bitten gumshoe’s thoughts on the Allah-God linguistic and theological debate:

Okay fine — not my line — not my deal at all. But it’s all so stupid, I just gotta say something.
Y’see: Folks, they all got these languages. Like, your grandmama spoke Italian, and mine spoke — well, we never knew my dad, and my mom skipped town, but anyhow, somewhere, back in the Old Country, back in the day, great-great-grandfather Patrick and great-great-grandmother Molly were chatting away there in Irish. Capisc’?

So take French. My fans will know this as the frog-talk that I spoke, a little, to such tremendous effect, in one of my famous cases (“Murphy on the Mount”). So like, you & me, we say: “sh*t”; and in France they say, “merde” — pardon my French, it’s actually the only French word I know. So help me out here, dictionary.
Right. We say, “doggie”, and they say, “chien”. And we say, “table”, and they say — well how about that, they say “table” too, only they pronounce it funny. And– here, key point: we say, “God” (like when we’re praying — you gotta not take this name in vain), and the French say — when they’re praying — …. “Dieu”.
Different words — same idea.

— Only, you say: Reeelly? Is it the same idea reeeally?

Well listen, back in Ireland, we got Catholics and we got Protestants, and they both say “God”, but the stupid ones hate each other, and each says the other
guy got his head up his… (checking out the dictionary now — they was French, they’d say “cul”), and if the other guy says “God” (probably not praying, he just hit his thumb with a hammer), he probably means some purple moon-god with three heads or something; but anyhow, no way those bums know what they are talking about.

And in fact they don’t. And we don’t. I mean, How could we? God is infinite — on top of and at the bottom of and behind of, all things. And us? We’re just us, just doing our best, scraping by. And when any one of us says, “God”, it is really just a prayer: saying, “Thou — there — up there, somewhere — Do thou help us to comprehend…” (My Greek buddies got a word for this: Eleison, Kyrie.)
So we do, most of us, mostly the best that we can; but of “God” we got only the vaguest idea. So we just keep on, keeping on — slipping and sinning and screwing things up, century after century; until one day, God gets fed up, and he sends down his only, lonely, begotten son, to straighten things out. — Least that’s what us Catholics believe; the Protestants, I don’t know.
So where was I? — Yes! — You got, probably, somewhere in your bloodlines, your great-great-great-great-….grandmother Fatima, back from when the Crusaders were over there, laying about them with cutlasses; but after a hard day of crusading, a man’s mind turns to other matters; and lo, behold, that dark-haired beauty, her eyes like almonds, her eyes like diamonds — shy, yet inviting — drawing water from the well. And she’s from the other camp, the bad guys; but that ewer is so heavy, and you you’re a knight, right? and a knight does not leave a damsel to her distress, no no no, Saracen or no Saracen; so maybe he will offer her his services, and maybe later she will offer up a cup of the purest, to his parched lips… Anyway, that’s the story of your great-great-etcetera-grandmother Fatima.
So what did Fatima say; and what does her great-great-(you get the idea)-granddaughter, say today, when praying?
They say: “Allah”. Allah! Meaning it, whatever it means.
And they don’t understand what exactly it does mean, any more than we do, any more than you do, any more than that preacher-man who thinks he does know the real deal and you don’t — any more than does any of us, when we say “God”.
But it’s the same prayer…..

More wisdom from Murphy here at his blog.


Filed under arabic, arabist, church and state, Islamic relations, language