The Allah Issue seen from afar

February 25, 2013

The Allah Issue seen from afar

by John R. Malott

COMMENT Like other friends of Malaysia overseas, I have followed themalott1 controversy over the use of the word ‘Allah’ with interest, but also with great concern. For I believe that this issue, if left unchecked, has the potential to tear Malaysia and the dream of ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ apart.

While there are racial and religious issues in every society, what makes the situation in Malaysia different is that it is the government that has condoned and even provoked these tensions for its own political purposes.

For years, UMNO justified its existence by saying that the Malays are under threat, and that only UMNO could defend “the Malay race”.

After the 13th general election, in which UMNO candidates received only 30 percent of the national vote – and in which BN as a whole got only 47 percent – it had two choices. It could broaden its appeal or it could narrow it by trying to appeal to the PAS voter base, for whom religion rather than race is a more important concern.

Unfortunately, UMNO chose the latter course and started to play the ‘Muslim’ card. Now, according to the government and UMNO, it is not just Malays, it is also Islam that is under threat.

As for the ‘Malay’ card, UMNO increasingly has gone to the extreme, pandering to extreme racist elements, starting with PERKASA.

The irony of the “Malays/Islam under threat” claim, of course, is that in Malaysia, both Malays and Muslims are the majority. And UMNO controls the government. So how can the Malay race and the Muslim religion in Malaysia be under threat?

To UMNO’s leadership, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to explain. They just speak and offer no evidence, and use their propaganda instruments – Bernama, RTM, Utusan Malaysia, the New Straits Times, etc – to spread the word.

From an international perspective, they also make assertions that are totally out of line with Islamic thinking and practice in the rest of the world.

Think about it – Malaysia is the only country in the world that ignores history and linguistics and dares to ban non-Muslims from uttering the word ‘Allah’. Like Humpty Dumpty, the Malaysian government stands alone – and claims for itself the right to decide what words mean and what words people may read, write, think, and speak.

How can Prime Minister Najib Razak, his government, and its supporters justify their actions, when no one else in the Islamic world agrees with them? When Islamic scholars like Reza Aslan say, “We are laughing at you,” how do they respond?

They don’t. Because they don’t know what to say. They seem to be living on their own planet.

Actions, not just words

But it is not just what Najib and his government say, it also is what they have done.

  • It is the government that seized more than 20,000 Bibles in 2009.
  • It is the government that banned the use of the word ‘Allah’ in Catholic weekly The Herald.
  • It is the government’s Police Force that joined the recent raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia, confiscating over 300 bibles without a search warrant.
  • It is the government’s religious affairs department, JAKIM, that directed mosques throughout Malaysia to say, without citing any evidence, that Islam is “under threat,” that Christians and Jews are “enemies of Islam,” and that Christians are responsible for turning Muslims against each other and tricking them into losing their rights.
  • It is Najib’s cabinet that stood silently by and decided not to enforce its 10-point plan to restore religious peace and harmony in the nation.
  • It is the government that refused to take any action after the leader of PERKASA called for the burning bibles.

There is no greater example of uniformed assertions than former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent claim that Christians have “no right” to use the word ‘Allah’. Because he is Mahathir, he just says it, and he expects everyone to agree.

As the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. In this case, history and the facts are not on Mahathir’s side. Mahathir is totally, 100 percent, wrong.

The word ‘Allah’ was used by Arabic-speaking Christians for centuries before the birth of the Prophet and the rise of Islam. Indeed, archaeologists have found an Arabic-language Christian Bible (the Mt Sinai Arabic Codex 151), that is nearly 1,300 years old, in which God is called ‘Allah’.

Indeed, someone might ask what right Muslims have to say the word ‘Allah’, when it was used first by Christians? Who is violating whose rights?

The answer is simple – even though Jews and Christians used it first, they would never deny Muslims the right to say the word ‘Allah’. Because while over the years, men and women have practiced and interpreted our religions in different ways, in the end we all worship the same God – the God of Abraham, the Creator of the Universe.

So here is the question. In the entire Islamic world, why is it only in Malaysia that people claim that uttering or writing the word ‘Allah’ is the exclusive right of Muslims?  Why is it only in Malaysia, and nowhere elsewhere in the world, that some Muslims say they will be “confused” if other people – Christians – use the word ‘Allah’ when they worship inside their own churches, or when they read the Bible in the privacy of their own homes?

What makes Muslim Malaysians different from the other 1.5 billion Muslims in the rest of the world?

I would like Malaysian advocates of the ‘Allah’ ban to explain this, not to me (a Christian), but to explain it to the rest of the Islamic world.

Dangers of ‘quick research’

The senior judge in the Allah appeal, Mohamed Apandi Ali, wrote in his opinion that through his “quick research” on the history of the language of the Bible, “it is clear that the word ‘Allah’ does not appear even once as the name of God or even of a man in the Hebrew scriptures. The name ‘Allah’ does not appear even once in either the Old or New Testament.

“There is no such word at all in the Greek New Testament. In the Bible world, God has always been known as ‘Yahweh’, or by the contraction ‘Yah’. That being the historical fact, it can be concluded that the word or name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity.”

Justice Apandi’s judgment clearly shows the dangers of “quick research.” He should have spent a little more time on the web. But because he refers to how the word ‘God’ is expressed in Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, he has raised the important issue of language and the words that we use in different languages to refer to God.

How many languages are there in the world? The Christian Bible has been translated in whole or part into an astonishing 2,817 languages, according to the Wycliffe Bible Translator, a UK organisation. The complete Bible is available in 513 languages, including Arabic and Malay.

Both the Arabic and Malay Bibles use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. In the case of Arabic, it has been so for at least 1,300 years, and in the case of Malay, which “borrowed” the word ‘Allah’ from Arabic, for at least 300.

Even so, Justice Apandi ignored both history and language when he claimed that the Arabic and Malay language word for God – Allah – belongs exclusively to Muslims. That is because Jews and Christians used the word ‘Allah’ before the Prophet was even born.

Judge Apandi also was wrong when he said that the Jews have always referred to God as ‘Yahweh’. My own “quick research” on Wikipedia, which must have lasted 15 seconds longer than the learned judge’s, shows that the Hebrew Bible uses many names for God.

While Yahweh is indeed the most common expression, two others are ‘Elah’ and ‘Eloah’. They both sound very similar to ‘Allah’ and there is a reason for that. Just as Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in the God of Abraham, the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arab languages are all related to each other.

Most scholars say that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. And when Jesus spoke of God, he said, “Ellah.” That sounds remarkably very similar to the Arabic ‘Allah’. And it should, because Aramaic and Arab are what linguists call “cognates.”

As word of Judaism and Christianity spread into the Arabian Peninsula, ‘Allah’ became the Arabic language name for the God of Abraham. The word ‘Allah’ was used first by Arab Christians and Mizrahi Jews, and only later by the Prophet and Muslims.

Sorry, Justice Apandi. Sorry, Mahathir. Sorry, Najib and UMNO.

If anyone owns the “trademark” on the word ‘Allah’, it is the Christians, who first spread the word of the God of Abraham into the Arabian peninsula, and who first used the word ‘Allah’. But here is the point – no Christian Malaysian insists and no Arabic-speaking Christian insists that the word ‘Allah’ belongs exclusively to them.

So the burden of proof therefore is on any Malaysian who ignores history, language, and the facts – and who ignores what the rest of the Islamic world is doing – and simply asserts that only Muslim Malaysians may use the word ‘Allah’.

36 thoughts on “The Allah Issue seen from afar

  1. The sad truth is all the facts and logic of non-Muslim, even non-Malay Muslim would have little effect on the issue..The Malays are the only one who can decide to want to stop being victims.

  2. All these valid points succinctly put together by John Malott would make a very strong case indeed, In fact, in its appeal against the ban, all these facts and more have already been put across to the Malaysian government by the Malaysian Catholic Church, alas, to no effect.

    The Malaysian PM and his band of merry men in Putrajaya probably think that they are living in the Nile. Like the insufferable Pharaoh who chose to ignore God’s warning signs, Najib is definitely suffering from the denial syndrome as he and his belligerent Perkosa hounds continue to act with impunity.

    The truth will eventually prevail and only the Truth can set the Malays free and liberate them from the mental slavery that has unjustly befell upon them,

    At the present moment in time, there is only Anwar Ibrahim who, in Pauline manner, can deliver the Malays from their dark shadows to liberate their minds and bodies to let in the Truth.
    Nothing but the Truth can set them free!

  3. The rest of the world is lucky that we are not the one with the biggest stick! We claim to have the biggest stick in Malaysia. That is why we can stick it to the rest, what we say is the Law because we are the majority! What we say is True because we are the majority!

  4. Ambassador Malott,
    I would appreciate very much if you, like this our learned judge, give us a ‘quick translation’ into Malay, even Google Translate will do, when you submit your case in future. After over half a century under BN education we poor Malaysians aren’t able to comprehend English, regardless of whether it is American or British.

  5. The Sadder Truth is that the Myth Defender of Islam could have ended this SHAM 60 years ago by saying” Allah untuk semua, Siapa Keliru dia Bodoh”….Allah is for all, he who is deceived is STUPID!!……there lies the Cahoots of UMNO…

  6. John Mallot.

    You have to understand the unique nature of our country where religious is a vary sensitive issue. Idris Jala explanation in the star is quite relevant in understanding why word Allah is an issue in west Malaysia.
    What credibility has Jala? zilt, you bet.–Din Merican

  7. “After the 13th general election, in which UMNO candidates received only 30 percent of the national vote – and in which BN as a whole got only 47 percent…” J Malott.

    Well, these Umno goons care less if they received 5 or 10 percent of the popular vote so long as they are at the helm nothing else matters. And while they are there they will make sure that the gravy train keeps running in their direction.

    Don’t expect Pinkie Lips to act. All he is concerned is that he remains the keeper of the national coffers. You may say he is delusional but it is better to keep his gap shut then to allow Al Kutty to fire. Of late he too has adopted Rosmah’s cardinal sin – when walloped keep cool and make a quick exit to who knows where.

  8. Mr Malott despite having stayed in Malaysia for a number of years has failed to recognised that the Malays and Muslims in UMNO and their “subsidiaries” are extremely delicate and sensitive people that require extremely special handling.

    As a comparison, take the case of a prematurely born baby that required the most extreme and special care to ensure the baby survive … perhaps, use of incubator, 24/7 nursing by the most experienced nurse, round the clock monitoring by the most experienced medical specialist, use of the best medication and nutrition … and multiply that by 100,000 times!

    That is how extremely delicate and sensitive the Malays and Muslims in UMNO and their “subsidiaries” are.

    The rest of the Malays and Muslims in Malaysia are ordinary people just like everyone else in the world; tolerant, understanding, respectful, robust, adaptive.

    Hopefully, Mr. Malott can appreciate and understand the situation now.

  9. Malim – the unique nature of our country is that there are 2 sets of laws. The 10 points solution applicable to Swakian and Sabahan Christians but renders worthless in WMsia. And even Minister Idris Jala acknowledges that. What comfort does Swakian/Sabahan Christian hold when the learned judge made a sweeping statement that “Allah” was never an integral part of Christian practices and that he relied on Mr. Google for his judgement.

  10. We are all rational human beings – no matter of what race or religion – we should accept ” truth ” wherever it resides. Some of the fundamental truths narrated by HE Ambassador John Malott , as a Muslim I will accept are –
    + Hebrew Bible – Yahweh, ” Elah ” , or ” Eloah ” ( similar to Arabic Allah) , (all believe in God of Abraham, and, Hebrew, Aramaic & Arabic languages are related ) ;
    + When Jesus spoke Aramaic he said ” Ellah ” ( I am ignorant here, if so, is it in the New Testament ? ) – but yes, similar to the Arabic Allah.
    + Pharoah Akhnaten, he broke off from the traditional Idea of ‘ Gods ” in the natural world, he believed in One God, move north to Luxor, and he claimed ” El-Lah ” to the True God.
    + The word Allah was used by Arab Christians and Mizrahi Jews , and only later by the Prophet and Muslims ( but Christians do not insist that Muslims have no right of ‘ use ‘ , or that it solely belongs to them ) –

    All that we have to accept as truths – As one variation or exception, we should be able to accept THIS truth, also : When the Final Prophet of Islam , out of twenty five Prophets arrived in Mecca, he ( pubh ) FOUND in the precinct of the Kaabah built by Abraham 5000 years earlier, hundreds of Idols and Stone Images and the Chief was Hubal, the Nabatiyan Deity….So, Prophet ordered their destruction, and subsequently Revealed the Al’Qura’an, and within one Century this Final Revelation came to be accepted half round the globe.

    What is the final point in this variation ? Please kindly ( yes please, please….) I AM NOT SAYING THIS, it is the Koran saying and saying iit repeatedly, about ” Knowledge ” , Knowledge and Knowledge…( kindly refer to the thread by Zairil Khir Johari , 20the Feb ) – Knowledge of Who really is this One and the same Person ” Allah ” , Eloah, Elah, or Ellah throughout the Ages beginning from Adam….?

    If so, where or which Juncture of human evolution, that Mankind began worshipping Idols and Stone Images ? Hence, it is the Koranic Revelation which once again is revealed to IMPLORE Mankind to worship the One True God named the Glorious Allah, and FORSAKE Idol or Image worships – there it is all on one Single Word : Knowledge and Knowing…..

  11. Dictionary of Sociology (entries for D)

    Defended neighbourhood: “A neighborhood that residents identify through defined community borders and through a perception that adjacent areas are geographically separate and socially different”
    Plenty of these are evident in the major urban area of Malaise-sia i.e. Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, SUbang Jaya and the Klang Valley.The security business is booming with boom gates and private security guards all over the place in housing estates. Ironically, these heroic defenders are often foreigners from Nepal (the newest incarnation of Gurkha soldiers?)

    Demographic transition: “the change from high birthrates and death rates to relatively low birthrates and death rates”
    In Malaise-sia, the transition (or lack of it) from elderly politicians to younger politicians as leaders in the major political parties

    Dependency theory: “An approach that contends that industrialized nations continue to exploit developing countries for their own gain”.
    In Malaise-sia, the view of East Malaysians vis-a-vis the Peninsula.
    Also described by the term “internal colonialism”

    Deviance: nonadherence to mainstream norms, values and behaviour
    In Malaise-sia, deviance is what the ruling regime classfies as so e.g.
    “sedition” when stating legal facts versus “not sedition” when making
    blood-curdling threats against uppity ethnic minorities

    Diffusion: “The process by which a cultural item is spread from group to group or society to society” In Malaise-sia, a culture of corruption and misappropriation of public property for private gain has diffused from top to bottom. Since the ABC (Amanah, Bersih, Cekap) days

    Dominant ideology: “A set of cultural beliefs and practices that helps to maintain powerful social, economic, and political interests”.
    e.g. Ketuanan Melayu (to fool the kampung folks)

    Dramaturgy: “A view of social interaction, popularized by Erving Goffman, under which people are examined as if they were theatrical performers”
    Hoi! In Malaise-sia, we have plenty of this amongst ruling regime politicians i.e. displays of concern (mostly insincere) for the plight of the ordinary rakyat in the face of rising costs of living. Stay calm and eat kangkung!

  12. Sorry, to make it clearer – When worshipping and prostrating before stone images and Idols, what is forbidden (in the Holy Book ) is to Invoke the Sacred Name ‘ Allah ‘ or its variations in the Hebrew or the Christian texts…..
    Even as far back at the time of Abraham, Nimrod the Ruler and his subjects, were worshipping Nine Stone Idols – in order of grandeur , the largest Idol down to the smallest. When Abraham ‘broke’ one in the intermediary, which angered His Majesty, Abraham challenged the King to get the help of the largest Idol to mend it, the wrath that befell Abraham was that he was thrown into the Pit of Fire down below.
    Lo and behold, it was not fire, but became ‘ a bed of roses ‘ by power of The Lord….. – faith or something above faith ?

  13. Ambassador Mallot,

    In your time in Malaysia, you may have noted that whenever a controversial issue arises like this one involving “Allah”, some ninnyhammers will conveniently say that it is a sensitive matter and expects all discussions to cease. If this was the case, many of the problems in the world would just disappear. In point of fact, we have just somebody like that, just read the earlier comments. Notice also their trademark of not responding to the points raised or offering an alternative argument or even engaging in a discussion.

    What these people do not realize is that not only does the problems do not go scurrying away, they fester and fester, gnaw at our consciousness, making silent enemies among ourselves and in the end, destroy our societal fabric.

    Perhaps Ibrahim Ali and his ilk are right, Malays/Muslims are not capable of rational discussion and would rather go amok and make threats to resolve issues. Although I must hasten to add SOME Malays, not ALL.
    I believe this goes back right to the way our children are educated — in my children’s school in Seattle, their creed is “RESPECT OTHERS, Make Good Decisions and Solve Problems”. My children will even remonstrate with me if I showed the slightest prejudice (no doubt resulting from my years of conditioning in Malaysia) against certain folks. I am so proud of my kids.
    God/Allah only knows what they taught Ibrahim Ali in his school and are continuing to teach kids today in the Malaysian state schools.

    Kudos to Din Merican for allowing this article on his blog, regardless of what his position on this issue might be. At the least he has demonstrated respect for your views and dispels the notion that Malays/Muslims are not capable of intelligent discourse. If only Malaysia’s so-called leaders displayed such gumption.

  14. Simple. The Malays have no bloody business using English alphabets. The 5 letters, A L L A H are ENGLIGH alphabets, not Malay Muslim letters. What the hell are they claiming ownership for these 5 letters. Too much kangkong with smelly blachan has polluted their brain.Tell them to go back to their kampongs and invent their own letters, if they have sufficient brain.

  15. Pinkie Lips always stays clear of controversial issues as he has the tendency to froth when agitated. Talking normally he has time to wipe his lips every now and then.On the Allah issue it has been sub-contracted to the donkeys to do the baying and the donkey crowd will bay in unison !!!

  16. Someone commented in an earlier thread that the best solution on this matter is to unleash Sir Lancelot on allah. I think he/she may still be right .

  17. For info of Robert Chelliah – A L L A H is a translation of the Romanised Malay, from the Arabic letters ” Alif “, ” Lam ” , ” Lam “, ” Ha ” , (pronounced Allah ).

  18. There is another twist to this ‘Allah’ controversy. By claiming that ‘Allah belongs to Islam’ these people have put a NAME to God who is nameless. By that very action they have reduced the immortal God to a local diety! They don’t seem to realise that!

  19. ANNIZAR, Romanised Malay? You mean you mean the God of Malays had to be described in a foreign (Romanised) language?

  20. Yes Robert, no language of that description of their own, so they had to use the Arabic Name. This so-called Romanised is merely to ‘ convey ‘ it in English so that it spreads worldwide, because English is an International language – Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic are so abstruse that everybody has come into English, not only in the Scientific, but also of Faiths & spirituality.

  21. you malaysians are a gifted lot, you can afford to spend your time discussing ethereal things whereas the rest of the world is worried about unstable economy and the bleak future awaiting us earthlings.
    there are no natural catastrophes but good weather and abundance of resources in Malaysia; all the problems in Malaysia are man made or umno-baru made.
    God meant well with us and our country
    so why do you always bother your GODS with all these trifles?

  22. Reeper,
    Just like what Al Stewart says about in Time Passages. If only people intend to move on rather get stuck in the past. Enjoy the song & the lyrics

  23. If you guys think this is about the word ‘Allah’ then you have missed the point by more than the distance from earth to the moon. It is about UMNO wanting to be seen as sole guardian of the country’s race and religion. It is a political question and as such the courts should have declined jurisdiction. Period.

    Also like in the U.S. the federal courts do not issue advisory opinions. In Malaysia there is no state court and no choice of forums there.

  24. The New Indian Express dated today ran an editorial titled: “Religious Diktats Must Not Override Law” I thought it was excellent and so would like to share it with our readers. Here it is:

    The Supreme Court has clarified that the fatwas issued by Muslim clerics cannot be forced upon people and the state has to protect persons who are harassed for not following such diktats. Without interfering in the working of institutions such as Darul Qaza and Darul Iftaa, the court said their opinion has only moral value and people could not be enforced to comply with them. The verdict has a clear message for religious leaders and community institutions like khap panchayats. While they can issue guidelines to be followed by members of a community, these cannot be used to encroach on the citizen’s rights and cannot override the law of the land.

    It has to be remembered that in origin and mentality, these bodies predate the modern world when judicial matters hadn’t been codified by institutions and were determined by wise individuals acting on behalf of society. This was true as much of the ancient Hindu lawgiver, Manu, as of the Biblical messiah, Moses. Their commandments prescribed the guidelines for moral conduct and punishment for violators. With the arrival of the modern age and establishment of governments, whether under kings or in democracies, constitutional bodies came into being to frame laws in accordance with modern precepts and judiciaries were set up.

    The difference between the present-day legal systems and the remnants of the earlier forms of juridical entities is that the laws of today can be amended in sync with changing values and moral concepts while those of the traditional Islamic or Hindu bodies generally remain static, reflecting perceptions of a bygone age. Some of these views may be valid while others may echo prejudices which have now been discarded. They do not have legal validity in countries guided by a constitution and, thus, can’t be enforced. Those issuing fatwas and other similar directives will have to remember this vital fact.

  25. Hawking,
    It’s useless to argue sensibly with these goondus such as those from perkasa. They sound like this indian talking everything India. Mahathir is also an Indian……..Hahahaha, so as it’s registered in National University of Singapore. Don’t believe me ask Kassim Ahmad

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