Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Quid for Apocryphalist's Quo

Jebat Must Die recently posted an article written by Apocryphalist on the issue of non-Muslims (specifically Christians) using the name "Allah" to refer to God.

Of course, this issue of has been raging in Malaysia for some time now. The case is still in court but our Home Minister saw fit to act ultra-vires and decreed that the Catholic newsletter, the Herald, be banned from using the name "Allah" - with such fllimsy justification as "confusing the ummah". But, that's another story la.

With the top guns in UMNO jumping into the fray, I guess that gives permission to other similar-minded Muslims to unleash their thoughts. I felt that I should make a reasoned response, seeing that issues such as these usually stir up a hornet's nest, with angry accusations flying from both sides.

You can click on the title below to read the article. I suggest you do to catch the context of this discussion.

The Name Allah: Quid Pro Quo on the Christian Community


My response to him (awaiting approval):

In that case, using the same vein of logic, it would also be similarly beneficial to get all Muslim authorities in the world to agree on a fatwa that all references to Nabi Isa in the Quran be changed to "Jesus Christ". The followers of Christ came before Muhammad s.a.w., so by way of seniority, they should have rights to how Jesus is referred to, no?

Nah...let's not go down that path shall we? Wars have been fought over things of much less significance. I'd rather have peace and a "live and let live" policy. Wouldn't you?

First, why is this issue even an issue? Well, the short explanation is: from common roots in Arabia, where Muslims, Jews and Christians shared the same word for "God" ("Allah") the 3 major religions and their adherents have diverged over the millennia to where we are today - intolerant of each other even mentioning what is perceived to be each one's exclusive rights to names and languages.

So the REAL issue here is not the name of God per se. It is the attempted monopoly of languages and names by people who feel that others have no right to use. I mean, isn't it attempted monopoly, when one group demands another group not use certain terms/names/phrases/etc because they claim exclusive rights to it?

Let's approach this issue without the religious/political baggage. Let's drop our coloured lenses and examine this issue with EYES WIDE OPEN and without bias. And let's see the (il)logic of this whole issue. To identify the roots of this contentious issue, let's take a short trip through the land of Etymology in our trusted vehicle, Logic.

(I'm not a Muslim, so I am not qualified to pursue the Muslim line of reasoning. But I can pursue the line of reasoning based on logic. And as logic is not slave to religion, I would suppose that this line of thinking is free from any bias either way.)

If we really logically took this argument about exclusive use of names and language seriously, there would be no end to the debates. What If the Indians decided that they want their words back? Then what would we use in place of "almari"? Or the Hokkien/Chinese decided that it's time they got back exclusive use of the word "kuih"? Or the Portuguese decided that we had used their word "bangku" long enough?

Woh...that last one will open up a whole other can of worms as the Portuguese language has its roots in Latin. Although Latin is a dead language, its birth place is Italy, which is still very much alive! So where will all this legalistic wrangling lead us?

In the same vein, if Christians were not given permission by Muslims to use the word "Allah" and must be confined to only referring to the Divine Being as "God" - then, who do we have to ask permission from to use the name "God"?

You see, the word “God” is not a Hebrew or Greek word. It does NOT appear in the original Hebrew or Greek Bibles. “God” is actually an old English word, which in turn developed from an Indo-European word which simply means “that which is invoked.” So by that, Christians also have no exclusive rights to use the word "God"!

Now let's look at what the basis is for some Muslims' demand that Christian be disallowed to use the word "Allah"? To make sure that a demand has merit, we have to examine the roots of such a demand, don't we? If we went to court with a demand but we have no evidence to back it up, it will be thrown out of court! So if Muslims all over the world decide to demand the exclusive use of the name "Allah", we shall similarly have to examine the merits of such a demand, right?

The Christian contention has been that the name "Allah" is a generic term used widely in the Arabic world long before Muhammad s.a.w. came into the picture. Proof? Is not Muhammad's (s.a.w.) full name Muhammad ibn Abdullah? His FATHER was named "Servant of ALLAH" - long before Muhammad founded Islam!

To explore further, let's look at even more ancient roots of the word "Allah".

Now, the Hebrews had several referances to "God" - the most revered one being Yahweh (the name revealed by God Himself). More common references include Elohim/Eloah, which actually DON'T specifically refer to the concept of "God" as we normally understand it today!

To split hairs, Elohim actually means “Strong One.” So, technically, I can actually refer to someone like Hulk Hogan as Elohim. But the usage over the years has embedded this word with a meaning all of its own, so that the understanding of the word has become "The Divine Being That Is All Powerful".

However, the root-meaning of the word is unknown. It is generally thought that the same divine name is found in Arabic (Ilah as singular "a god", as opposed to Allah meaning "The God" or "God") and in Aramaic (Elah).

So, we can actually now see that the name "Allah" was originally NOT conceived with the meaning that it carries today, it was widely used in the Arab world to refer to "God" by people of Muslim, Jewish AND Christian faiths.

So why the big bruhaha now about Muslim exclusive use? And Christians having to petition the Pope and sign declarations and issue fatwas, ostensibly with the aim of arm-twisting them to accept the usage of Allah only if it conforms to the Muslim connotations of the name?

Actually, this whole thing basically boils down to the attitude of people, whose thinking is that - "this belongs to me, you can't use it anymore!" (Hmmm....I wonder where you and I have heard such phrases before?)

But as Shakespeare famously said: "A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet!" If a true seeker of God found his Divine Being in a person called "Josh", of what significance is the name? Does God mind what name He's called? Do you know for sure? I mean, God is Spirit is He not? In the final day of reckoning, is not the attitude of the hearts of man more important than the meaningless sounds tumbling forth from our mouths?

So let's not get so caught up in pedantics about names of God. If God was really so important to us, shouldn't we be spending our time and energy seeking Him than belittling and begrudging our fellow man on our journey towards Eternity?


  1. "in that case, using the same vein of logic, it would also be similarly beneficial to get all Muslim authorities in the world to agree on a fatwa that all references to Nabi Isa in the Quran be changed to "Jesus Christ". The followers of Christ came before Muhammad s.a.w., so by way of seniority, they should have rights to how Jesus is referred to, no?"

    erk??!! your mind twisted ar?? its the way round, rite?? kalau kami mahu tukar kepada Jesus Christ, d=then kalau nak meroyan pun baru kami tak kisah.. ada faham?? tak faham bahasa melayu??

  2. Anon,

    Listen carefully ah... I will try to make it as simple as possible so your feeble brain can get it. I try not to use words that have more than two syllables (oh, sorry...i mean, "word parts"), ok?

    I also make it as easy as 1,2,3 so even tadika brain like you can understand.

    Apo says...

    1) Only Muslims can use "Allah"...because only Muslims worship the "One True God"

    2) So...all other religions cannot use "Allah"...because they don't worship the "One True God"

    3) if some Christians want to use "Allah", we must ask the Pope to agree that ALL Bibles use "Allah"...and Christians must only use it in the Muslim way

    So far so good...? Are you bleeding in your brain yet...? No...? Ok...we go on...can...? Ready...?

    I say Apo's logic is STUPID...! Because if like that...I can also use the example that...Christians can also say:

    1) Only Christians can have Jesus in their religion...because only Christians worship the "One True God"...and Jesus Christ is God's Son...and is the same as God

    2) So, all other religions cannot have Jesus Christ...because they don't know the "One True God"...and the real Jesus Christ

    3) If Muslims want to keep Jesus in the Quran...they must get a worldwide fatwa...that they are talking about the "Christian Jesus"...and must refer to Him in the Christian way in the Quran...that is, "Jesus Christ"

    Ha...Itulah persamaan logiknya. Dan kedua-dua logiknya sama-sama BODOH!

    Yang BAHLOL macam ENGKAU sahaja yang tak faham apa yang tersurat. Kefahaman dapat berapa markah dalam SPM?

    So, sekarang...ada faham?? Tak faham bahasa Inggeris tahap tadika?? Kalau macam tu, baik mintak mak pergi daftar bagi engkau belajar tadika lagi! Lepas tu, pergi daftar tusyen Kefahaman BM.