Who has the right to 'Allah'?

Good news just in. The Herald is now allowed to use ‘Allah’ in its Malay-language publication. Well, as long as the newspaper makes it clear that its material is not for Muslims, The Star reports. Hhmm. Fair enough.

There was a brouhaha some months ago when “The [Malaysian] government argued that Allah is an Islamic word and its use by others might confuse Muslims, who might think Allah refers to their God.”

The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s main newspaper in Malaysia, has already started printing “For Christianity” on its cover, said its editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew.

The Herald publishes weekly in English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay with an estimated readership of 50,000. The ban on “Allah” concerns mainly the Malay edition, which is read mostly by indigenous Christian tribes in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak. The other three editions usually do not use “Allah.”

Andrew said although the order “makes things easier” for the Herald, the paper will not drop its legal challenge against the ban. A court is due to hear arguments in the case on Friday. The Herald is arguing that the Arabic word is a common reference for God that predates Islam and has been used for centuries as a translation in Malay.

Andrew said the new order is still a violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution because Christians will not be able to use any literature that does not carry the statutory warning on the cover, including a lot of imported material. He said most Malay-language Bibles in Malaysia are imported from Indonesia, where the language is more widely spoken.

“If this (order) is enforced, it will be difficult to possess materials … from Indonesia, and thus practicing our religion will not be easy. This goes against … the Constitution,” he told The Associated Press. Andrew said the order also prohibits the use of three other Arabic words “solat,” or prayer, “Kaaba,” a holy site in Saudi Arabia, and “baitullah,” or house of God without the statutory warning.

Read the rest here.

Jacqueline Ann Surin  at the The Nutgraph argues that the ban indicated some deeply-set religious insecurity among Malays-Muslims in Malaysia:

What strikes me the most about the government’s insistence on restricting the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims is sharp, irrational fear.

Fear that Malay-Muslims in Malaysia may lose their faith and flock instead to other faiths that also have the same name for the Almighty. Fear that perchance, the state has one less area where it can control Malay-Muslim thought and experience about diversity and similarities in different cultures and faiths in Malaysia.

Read the rest here.

It’s obvious that at the time of the ban, those in the Malaysian Home Ministry did not do their homework. In their zeal, not only did they not know that ‘Allah’ is a pre-Islamic name for The Almighty, but also the fact that it is widely used by other Abrahamic religions and even Sikhism.

All that talk about racial and religious cohesion that Malaysia and its ‘Truly Asia’ nonsense are so proud of is purely lip service. This is where Malaysians of different religions can feel some sense of inclusivity – through a shared use of language, even if it is the Malay language.

5 thoughts on “Who has the right to 'Allah'?

  1. I know that the Arabic language has a special place at the heart of Islam, and that non-Arabic-speaking Muslims struggle to learn the language to deepen their religion, but long before the coming of Islam there were Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians who used the word الله in their prayers, and still do today. Throughout Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, churches are full of people praying to الله. For the Malaysian government to ban Malaysian Christians from using the word is misguided, absurd and displays a total lack of knowledge. It always surprises me how ethnic and religious majorities get to feel so threatened by their weaker minorities.

  2. It struck me as weird when I first heard it myself. I picked up some forms of expressions from my Muslim friends, and realized that it was offending them because they thought it was religious. So I stopped. When I grew older, I realized it was just Arabic. How does this fact escape Malaysians?

  3. I seriously do not understand your point here. Either you and the 2 people commenting in your post are totally ignorant of your religion/s, or maybe you both are just ignorant of how history goes.

    In case you have not read this, here is the link, people have been talking/debating/rationalizing about the history of the Bible, the language of the Bible and how the Christians pray and other angle of the topic that can be debated:

    ** Link removed by moderator **

    1. The word Allah is Arabic, yes. That is correct. But the Christians pray in so many languages, they pray in the language of their mother tongue, therefore why would a Malay whose mother tongue is B. Melayu wants to say the word Allah in Arabic if he were to pray as a Christian, why would a Chinese/Indian/other races who are Christian wants to use the word Allah which is in Arabic? Muslims use Allah because they pray in Arabic all over the whole wide world. Muslims are consistent, Christians are not being consistent, one time they pray in other different languages, and suddenly now they wanna “import” Allah into their prayer. You are not being fair to the language and also you are not being consistent. If you really want to pray to this supreme being Muslims call Allah, then by all means sign the petition to the Pope and get it over and done. But still only a small number of Christians in Malaysia who are so stubborn to fight this cause, I wonder why? Can you explain to me why? The Christians in the West are against this, I wonder why?

    2. You have a point where you mention there are Arab Christians who calls God as Allah. But you have to remember in point 1 i had mentioned, Christians pray in so many languages, when they say Allah, do they mean the same supreme being that the Muslims believe in? Do they? If they do believe in the same supreme being, then why is it difficult for them to just accept Islam as their religion? What, because Muslims do not believe in Jesus? Nope, Muslims believe in Jesus too, and regard him as the mighty messenger of Allah. Nothing more, he’s not God, not even the son of Allah. Go to the Quran: Chapter 19 Maryam (Mary) and read about Jesus in there.

    http://www.islamicstudies.info/tafheem.php?sura=19

    3. The original manuscript of the bible were written in Greek, therefore the original language of the bible is Greek, and so the word for God in Greek is actually “Hotheos”, which is the proper noun for God. So why do Christians do not want to follow what was originally in the manuscripts? They are again being inconsistent here. They claim they have the original source of the bible, but they refuse to follow it. The same goes to the fact that in the bible as well women are told to cover their heads (veil), but do the Christians ever read and practice what’s in the bible? Nope…not 100%.

    4. In the Bible, Jesus never mentioned even a single sentence that he himself, claims clearly to be God, or to be the son of God. Go look up in the bible, and show me the verse that states such a thing, I can guarantee you none. Here’s a link of the bible, and please show me where:

    http://www.bibleontheweb.com/

    By that I end my comment.

  4. Dear garden,

    It’s easy to recognise a rant when we see it, and the blog posts you point to as ‘references’ clearly have little weight beyond the personal opinion of others. Your comments about Christianity display a lack of real understanding of the religion, just a few snippets of information you seemed to have picked up. The divinity of Jesus is not clearly stated in the New Testament (be aware that the Bible has a Hebrew Old Testament and a Greek New Testament: that’s basic knowledge), but has been something that has been greatly debated throughout the two millennia of Christian history.

    I can understand where you are coming from; it will be a surprise to many West Malaysians that there are thousands of Christians in Malaysia (especially East Malaysia) and Indonesia who speak Malay or Indonesian, respectively, as their main language of communication, and use that language in which to pray and worship. They have been using the word ‘Allah’ to pray to God for the last couple of centuries: there are Bibles and hymn books that consistently use this word. So, it’s really not a question of why are they suddenly doing this, but why did they choose the word ‘Allah’ over ‘Tuhan’ a couple of centuries ago. The most reasonable answer is that ‘Tuhan’ was rejected as having links with former animistic religion, and that, through the Islamicisation of Malaysia and Indonesia, ‘Allah’ had gained popular currency as a word to describe a monotheistic creator God. In this linguistic climate, the choice of word is a natural one. I can understand that this might be news to a West Malaysian, as the Malay and Arabic languages have often been claimed as the property of Muslims. Today, being a Sunday, millions of Christians worshipped Allah in Malay, Indonesian and Arabic throughout the world.

    Although the word ‘Allah’ means a lot to those who use it in their prayers, whatever their religion, the word itself is not linguistically outstanding. Cognates exist in every other Semitic language: Hebrew has ‘Elohim/Eloah/El’ and Aramaic has ‘Alaha’ for example. Before the advent of Islam, Arabia was a religious mix of polytheists, Jews and Christians speaking North Arabic and Southern Arabian and praying to ‘Allah’ using that word or a Semitic cognate.

    Any attempt to hide or distort the well-known history of these things must surely come from a place of insecurity and paranoia. I would hope that Malays, being a strong and ruling majority in Malaysia, would feel comfortable and confident enough in their culture and Islamic faith not to feel threatened by the much smaller Malay-speaking Christian community, who simply wish to keep on doing what they have quietly done for centuries.

  5. I have, in the last few years, witnessed the steady Arabicisation of certain religious words. The animistic term for pray and prayer, ‘sembahyang’ for example is gradually being diluted out of the Malay language. The more often used ‘solat’ has now taken its place.

    There is definitely a sense of ownership over certain words that Malays jealously protect. It has nothing to do with this so-called ‘consistency’ of Arabic used in our prayers, because without knowing it in Malay and in our native languages, its Arabic words simply lose its meaning and spirit.

    Insecurity of one’s own faith, language, culture, and identity has a lot do with it. I can understand where this is coming from. It is scary when you lose the potency of your language in scientific scholarship, literature, and on the world stage in general. It is scary when one’s special privileges are threatened to be stripped away. What is there left and precious enough to hold on to? The power of religion and its place in language.

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