oleh MD ASHAM AHMAD
Everybody knows “Allah” is not a Malay word but nobody would question a Malay using the word to refer to the god that he or she worships because Malays are Muslims, and all Muslims of all nations call Him with this name because He says in the Qur’an that that is His name, and He is to be addressed with that name.
Now we are here talking about “naming” god; we can’t afford to have it wrong. Even ordinary people would feel offended (let alone people like the royalties, politicians or film stars) if their names are not pronounced correctly. Just imagine what they would feel if wrong names or titles were attributed to them!
But why must there be a need to “name” Him in the first place? Should not He, if He ever revealed anything, reveal His own name? And if there is anything worthy of being called the word of god, His name should not be unknown because how can one ever find god if even His name is not known to him?
Muslims do not create names for god or borrow names from whatever language to refer to god. They are not used to that kind of practice because even the name of their religion, i.e. Islam, and the name of those who submit to god by following that religion, i.e. Muslim (pl. Muslimun) are given by Allah Himself, not their own creation, let alone the outsiders. Hence, they do not accept when the Christians called them Mohammedans, and their religion Mohammedanism.
Firstly, Muhammad to the Muslims is not what Jesus Christ is to the Christians; Muslims do not worship Muhammad.
Secondly, Islam is not an ideology created by Muhammad for it to be called Mohammedanism. And thirdly, Muslims were conscious of their own identity from the very beginning, they do not call themselves Muslims because people have been calling them with that name, unlike the Christians who took their name from their enemies, the Romans.
From a Muslim’s perspective, it is not proper for a religion which claims to be a truly revealed religion not to know the name of god whom it calls all mankind to worship. It is even shameful, to say the least, for a religion to borrow the name of god of other religions and even more so if the religion from which the name is borrowed is considered a false or deviant religion!
When the Christians, whose conception of the nature of god is diametrically opposed to that of Islam, insist on their right to use the term “Allah” to denote the Christian god, of course the Muslims would oppose it. It is not that they want to “monopolize” the term as some people claimed it to be the case. On the contrary, the Muslims are demanding the Christians to be precise in their employment of terms that could confuse the public.
Practically they cannot prevent the Christians from using whatever term they like for their god including the term “Allah” or even Mickey Mouse for that matter. Still, they have to oppose because as far as they are concerned the word “Allah” as used and understood in Malay language is not the god of Christianity.
The Christians argue that “Allah” also means the god of Christianity in Malay language because they claim the term was used in an old Malay bible and Christian prayer book. They also argue that the word “Allah” had been used by the Christian Arabs long before Islam.
Suppose that they can prove the existence of the above mentioned documents in which the term “Allah” can be found. We can argue that it does not grant the conclusion that “Allah” also means the Christian god in Malay. It simply means the attempt by Christian missionaries to impose Christian meaning on the term is not something new. Whether the document is old or new is not what matters here because our contention is still the same: the Malays never used the term “Allah” to mean a Christian god, it is the Christians, now and then, who have been trying very hard to make them accept that.
Furthermore, if “Allah” also means a Christian god in Malay there is no point of attempting to “Christianise” the Malays because they were already Christians!
Muslims and Christians claim that their religions respectively are based on the scriptures, the revealed words of god. Muslims’ scripture, the Qur’an, which was revealed in Arabic, clearly mentions Allah as the name of god that every Muslim, regardless of race and nation, worship.
What we know is that the word “Allah” never occurred in the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin versions of the Old and New Testament, and there is no reliable evidence of the existence of any pre-Islamic Arabic translation of the bible. The first and most important Arabic version, which became the standard version for all Jews in Muslim countries was made by Sa’adia ben Joseph (892–942).
Several modern Arabic translations by both Protestants and Catholics were made in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is possible that the term Allah is used to refer to Christian god in these translations. But why “Allah”, not the terms used in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin versions?
Obviously the term Allah is only used in bibles translated into the languages of the Muslim peoples, including Malay, where the term exists as the result of the Islamization of the language and mind of the Malays. One would not find the term “Allah” in Algonquin Bible which was translated for the American Indians in 1663, let alone in English versions like Wycliffe’s, Tyndale, Douay, King James or Confraternity. There is no reason to use the term Allah to refer to the Christian god because “Allah” had never been the god of American Indians or the English people, hence the word do not exist in their languages.
It is thus very interesting to know why some Christians in this country are so adamant in demanding what they call their right to use the term “Allah” citing the usage of the term by Christian Arabs long before Islam. Since when did the Christian Arabs and their language (Arabic) became very important to Christianity and the Christian community as a whole? Arabic is not at all important compared to Hebrew, Greek and Latin when it comes to understanding Christianity from its original sources.
But nobody can understand the Qur’an and the religion of Islam without the knowledge of Arabic, and by Arabic here we mean the Islamised Arabic, the language that was thoroughly transformed with the revelation of the Qur’an. The importance of (Qur’anic) Arabic with regard to the making of the worldview of the Muslim peoples cannot at all be compared with the importance of Arabic in Christianity.
When the Christians here tell the government to let them use of the word “Allah” because pre-Islam Christian Arabs had used the word, the assumption is that the Malays are automatons who will comply with anything that comes from Arabia. They are utterly mistaken. When the Malays use the word “Allah” in their language they mean Allah of the Qur’an, not Allah of the pagan or Christian Arabs.
The Malays had no cultural or religious relation with the pagan or Christian Arabs, before or after Islam. Their special connection with the Arabs and Arabic language is founded upon something that they commonly share, namely Islam and the Qur’an. All the key terms (together with their meanings and significations) that make up the worldview of the Malays are derived from the Qur’an. As a matter of fact these key terms are shared by all Islamic languages, not just Malay language.
Clearly what the Christians are trying to do is to de-Islamise Malay language for missionary purpose. And if they say it is their right to do mission to the Malays (which is not a secret) then shouldn’t we, the Malays, also claim our right to repel any effort to undermine our religious and cultural identity?
Unfortunately it was the Malays themselves who had sabotaged their own culture and religion. They did that first of all by allowing “Bahasa Melayu” to be named “Bahasa Malaysia”.
* Md. Asham Ahmad is a Fellow, Centre for Syariah, Law and Political Studies at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM)