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January 12, 2010
Controversy flares over use of the word ‘Allah’ in Malaysia

Church of the Holy Rosary in Kuala Lumpur.

Photo: Flickr user BernardoH

Gizem Yarbil, a producer at Worldfocus, writes about the controversy over the use of the word “Allah” in Malaysia.

Malaysia has long had a reputation for being a secular Muslim nation. But recent events are threatening its moderate image.

Nine churches have been attacked with Molotov cocktails or vandalized since last Friday following a court ruling on New Year’s Eve that overturned a government ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

The court was ruling on a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Catholic newspaper The Herald. Authorities told the newspaper it could no longer use the word “Allah” to refer to God as it was specifically a Muslim term. The government and many Malaysian Muslims contend that the use of “Allah” by Christians could cause confusion among Muslims and encourage them to convert to the Christian faith.

Many critics of the ban accuse the government of inflaming this controversy for political purposes to gain the popular support of the majority ethnic Malay Muslims. The population consists of 62 percent Muslim Malays, while Christians make up nine percent.

Critics argue that the word “Allah” predates Islam and Christians had been using the word for generations, long before the Muslims even existed. The word is Arabic and has been used by various cultures and societies where Arabic is the main language.

In his post “Allah – The Word” on the New York Times “At War” blog, Anthony Shadid writes about how the word is commonly used by non-Muslims in the Arab world in daily cultural exchanges:

“Inshallah, God willing, everyone says about everything in the future tense, from an appointment the next day to the sun rising in the east. The same goes for In Allah rad, if God wills it. The word Allah infuses virtually every salutation, greeting and condolence, spoken upon departure and arrival, and at birth and death, a centuries-long refinement of mutual social exchanges that ensures almost no moment is awkward. Kater khair Allah, a Christian in Hikmat’s town would say to his Muslim neighbor.

To him, a shared God, the God of Abraham, has a shared name, Allah.”

In a wide-ranging article written for The American Muslim in 2008, right after the word “Allah” became a controversial subject, Dr Farish A. Noor, a Malaysian political scientist and historian, writes that Malaysians did not even refer to God as “Allah” when they first converted to Islam:

“The Minister’s remark not only demonstrated his shallow understanding of Muslim culture and the clear distinction between Arab culture and Muslim theology, but it also demonstrated his own lack of understanding of the history of the Malays, who, like many non-Arabs, only converted to Islam much later from the 13th century onwards. Among the earliest pieces of evidence to indicate Islam’s arrival to the Malay archipelago are the stone inscriptions found in Malay states like Pahang where the idea of God is described in the sanskrit words ‘Dewata Mulia Raya’. As no Malay spoke or even understood Arabic then, it was natural for the earliest Malay-Muslims to continue using the Sanskrit-inspired language they spoke then. Surely this does not make them lesser Muslims as a result?”

– Gizem Yarbil

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Comments

11 comments

#11

I understand “Allah” doesn’t mean “God”. It is a proper name of a particular god. Or you would have to say “there is no allah but allah”. The expression is, however, “La illahah illah ‘lla”, there is no illah (god) but Allah. Illah is the actual Arabic word for God. Allah is probably a contraction of “Al-illah”, “The God”.

I agree Allah should be restricted to Muslims and describe the particular deity that revealed itself to Mohammed and *claimed* to be the Jewish Elohim and the Christian Theos. Non-muslims speaking Arabic should use Illah.

The Baha’is, however, who came *after* Islam, could use Allah, since their deity claimed to be the same Allah who spoke to Mohammed, as well as pretty much every other deity ever revealed on Earth.

#10

Allah is pre Islamic word and I wonder how the muslims have the autonomy over the word, since it is being used in Koran. Any one who belive in God can use the word God in any language they want to. It is good to be educated not to be terrorised with the word allah.

#9

so if i was a Christian but my language was Arabic i should not say “Allah” even though that is the word for God in Arabic?

#8

The point of the controversy is NOT ‘Allah’ is everyone’s ‘God’, because you may say God the Father and God the Son Jesus as in Trinity, but no one may say Allah Bapa and Isa anak lelaki tunggal Allah which would definitely confuse to insult or offend the Muslims who know Allah does NOT beget nor is He begotten. Just keep up with your constitutional freedom of worship as Trinitarians without using Allah OK.

#7

The word “Allah” is not reserved just for Muslims. Allah is everyone God’s. After all, I should know for sure because I was born in the Holy Land.

Salam/Peace

#6

[…] Controversy flares over use of the word ‘Allah’ in Malaysia 12 01 2010 This blog was published on the website of the international news program Worldfocus which airs on PB… […]

#5

What does the word Allah mean, and the word God? are they not the same but in different languages? the difference leis in what we believe about God. I do not think that Christians need to call God Allah

#4

First, let me say that no one should be attacked based on their religion, anywhere. The actual point of this controversy is being overlooked, however. The Muslims of Malaysia don’t want Christian associations to use the word “Allah” because they fear these groups, in using this word for their own religious texts (i.e. Bible), are in effect trying to confuse, lure, proselytize, and eventually convert Muslims to Christianity. There is a history of proselytization by Christian missionaries all over the world, and this is the sensitivity over the issue, right or wrong. In my own opinion, I believe that the Christians of Malaysia do not need to use the word “Allah” to describe “God” in their own texts. There are plenty of other words from Christian history to chose from to account for “God.”

#3

Excuse me, please. ‘Dios’ is God in Spanish. In Greek as originally used in the New Testament, ‘Theos’ means God. Therefore, Christians should prefer to using ‘Theos’ and ‘Elohim’ for God, since the New Testament and the Old Testament were first written in Greek and Hebrew, respectively.

#2

I don’t see how non-Muslims using “Allah” is an afront. In Mexican neighborhoods in the U.S., Catholic services are conducted in Spanish, which I’m fairly certain Jesus did not speak. Despite all the material progress Malaysia has made in recent years, modern notions of free will and leaving your neighbors alone still do not seem to be in fashion.

#1

The Old Testament and the New Testament were first discovered to have been written in Hebrew and Greek, respectively. Therefore, it is more preferable for Chrstians to use the terms ‘Elohim’ and ‘Dios’ or at least a Malay word ‘Tuhan’ for God instead of Allah. Moreover, unlike Muslims, Christians are NOT required to say prayers in Arabic. Hopefully, basic common sense should prevail instead of the highly complicated legalistic sense made by the Malaysian High Court.

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