A commentary on Nazri’s compromise on the ‘Allah’ issue from a more holistic appreciation of the Abrahamic faiths.
This is what the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said, The Star, Saturday 16 January 2010:
Nazri, who was voicing his personal opinion over the “Allah” issue, noted that Sabahans and Sarawakians could still conduct Mass and give sermons in Bahasa Malaysia but should not use the word “Allah” while in the peninsula.
“It is all right to hold Mass in Bahasa Malaysia but do not use the word ‘Allah’. They must use Tuhan as in the national language,” he said in an interview.
Although he agreed that the word “Allah” had been long used in Christianity way before Islam existed, Nazri said: “That’s why I say it is all right in Sabah and Sarawak but culturally, you cannot apply it in a place where Allah has always been Islam’s God.”
But where is it said anywhere – certainly it is not in the Koran – that Christians cannot apply Allah in a place where Allah has always been Islam’s God. The Jews and the Christians have always considered that Islam’s God is the same God of Abraham and of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus Christ was acknowledged by Prophet Mohamed as one of the prophets of God.
Also, one may ask, is there any place on earth where Allah has not been Islam’s God? Even China is a place where Allah has always been Islam’s God. There are more Muslims in China than Malaysia could ever hope to have even though most of the Chinese people there are not believers of Islam or, for that matter, of any of the main world religions. In fact, Chinese Muslims existed in China centuries before there were any Malay Muslims in Malaya as the peninsula was then called. Like the majority of the population of China, the Malays of peninsular Malaya then were heathens in the eye of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. All the English dictionaries give the meaning of “Allah” – which is an English word by importation – as “the Muslim name for God”.
But then the Honourable Minister suggested that if you must hold Mass in Bahasa Malaysia do not use the word “Allah”. “They must use Tuhan as in the national language”, said the Minister. But the synonym for Tuhan is Allah in the Bahasa Malaysia dictionary.
Now, why do Christians prefer to use the word “Allah” when they translate the Bible into Bahasa Malaysia? The reasoning is this: Islam’s name for God is Allah who is the same God as Abraham’s God. Abraham’s God is also the God of the Hebrew people, namely the Jews. And the God of the Christians is the same God of Abraham, the Muslims and the Jews. Only the approach or method of worshipping the same God is different depending on whether you are a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. So if you use a word like Tuhan it does not apply to the God of the Muslims who is Allah and not Tuhan. But the God of the Muslims is the same God as the God of Abraham. The God of Abraham is the same God of the Jews and of the Christians.
So that the name Allah is more appropriate for the Christians who worship the same God.
Postscript: A glossary of the terminology in “But Allah is a word in the English Dictionary”
I have to write a postscript to this essay because I suspect that some of the readers did not understand the meaning of etymology. In The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology this word is defined in the Introduction of the book, thus:
ETYMOLOGY has been briefly defined in this book as “the origin, formation, and development (of a word)”.
The forms from which English words are derived, whether by descent or by adoption, are traced to the ultimate source so far as this is known or reasonably to be presumed.
The etymology of the word “Allah” in the English language suggests that the word is derived since the 16th century by adoption from the Arabic name for God among the Muslims. With the belief that the word “Allah” is derived from its Arabic origin, I postulate that since “Allah” is a word in the English Dictionary, it is therefore an English word. “Allah” in English means “a Muslim name for God”. Such is the gist of my essay on the English word “Allah”.
It follows, therefore, that since the word “Allah” is an English word then surely any person who knows the English language can use this English word preferably one should use it in its correct connotation. However, it is unreasonable to suggest that the word “Allah” should be banned so that no one who is not a Muslim is allowed to use it. How is one to ban the usage of an English word – which is a foreign word – if it is written or spoken in English? Are we to burn all the English dictionaries in this country and make Malaysia look stupid and silly to the rest of the world?
When I said that monotheism began with Abraham a reader remarked that I was wrong for saying this because Allah has always been there before Abraham. But the comment has missed the point altogether. The English dictionary meaning of the word “monotheism” is “the belief that there is only one god”.
So that it is true for me to say that before Abraham, humankind did not worship the one God and that is Allah. Before Abraham, humankind worshipped all sorts of objects as gods except God himself.
The Trinity or the Holy Trinity
Another reader remarked that Muslims worship only one God and that is Allah. But Christians worship the Trinity – three persons, he pointed out. If you know the English language well, you should know that the Holy Trinity is a euphemism for God. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of the Trinity as “(in Christian belief) the three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that make up God”. The phrase “the three persons” is used figuratively as a metaphor for God. God came to be identified euphemistically as the Father. Jesus Christ was identified euphemistically as the Son. And the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost is God who came to be identified euphemistically as “God as a spirit that is active in the world”: see the Oxford English Dictionary, Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).
Why is that so? Is there a reason for referring to the Deity euphemistically? In the book A Dictionary of Euphemisms by Neaman & Silver, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1983, it says in its Introduction, pages 1, 2:
The subject of the earliest euphemism was undoubtedly religious. Gods, whether benign or malevolent, were treated with respect amounting to terror. Since the names of gods were considered identical with them, to speak a name was to evoke the divinity whose power then had to be confronted. Such dangerous practices were reserved for priests … Even they were often forbidden to utter the real names of the powers. Consequently, priests devised indirect forms of reference to calm the spirit or avert the wrath of a deity.
Gods could be referred to by their attributes (the Thunderer), by their symbols or domains (the Rock), by their titles (the Lord) …
In another book, The State of the Language by Philip Howard, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1984, it says this, page 103:
… the Hebrew word for God, YHVH, still never spoken or written by a pious Jew, but vowelled by the rest of us as Jehovah or Yahweh. The English, a notoriously godly, and profane, and God-bothering people, have tended to euphemism in religious matters. The French, who never let their religion affect the rest of their life, have no embarrassment about saying Mon Dieu! Puritanism and euphemism are strong in the English, so we have devised hundreds of ways of mentioning the awful word without saying it.
[The] euphemisms for getting round naming Him Who Shall be Nameless included such attributive sobriquets as the Almighty, the Creator, the Eternal, or the Deity. Jesus came to be identified euphemistically as the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Anointed, the Paschal Lamb, and so on.
At page 106:
Euphemism about naming names survives from the beginning of speech, when to know something’s name was to have magical power over it. We are still superstitious about naming God and the Devil, the Queen and Madam Chairperson.