The bigotry of forbidding the use of an English word in the name of Islam



In the Malaysian Insider, Tuesday, 29 March 2011, I find this article:

Mufti says Islamic law bars release of Alkitab

By Syed Mu’raz Syed Putra

Selangor Mufti Datuk Tamyes Abd Wahid said the crux of the controversy is over the use of the word “Allah” in the bible, which is forbidden to religions other than Islam, as written in 1988 state enactment on religious propagation.

I am still of the view that they [the distribution of the Bahasa Malaysia Bibles] should be blocked, as this translation that contains the translation of the word “God” to “Allah” is dangerous and confusing, especially to the young,” the senior Islamic cleric told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

He explained that young Muslims who had shallow knowledge of religion and faith would be confused by the use of the word “Allah” by Christians, which to them meant “Allah has a son …that Allah has a wife … God is a father”.

“Certainly it is not fitting for the government to allow the Alkitab to be released, not because it is in Bahasa Malaysia but because the use of the word [“Allah”] contained inside that could twist the faith of Muslims and we do not want this to happen,” Tamyes said.

Make no bones about it anyone can see through this façade of imagined controversy. All of us know that there is no controversy at all over the use of the word ‘Allah’. What Tamyes meant was ‘Allah’ is a forbidden word to all of us who are not Muslims. Only Muslims can use this word ‘Allah’. Infidels like the rest of us are forbidden to use the word. To these narrow-minded Muslims an ‘infidel’ is a person who has no religion, like me, or whose religion is not Islam. To them even Jews and Christians are infidels.

But the word ‘God’ in the English Bible when translated to Bahasa Malaysia is ‘Allah’ who is God in the biblical sense or meaning. The reason why Christians are adamant and insistent that the word ‘Allah’ should be used in the National Language Bible is because Christians worship the same God that Muslims also worship irrespective of whether they worship in English or in Bahasa Malaysia. So what is wrong with Christians calling their God in English ‘God’ and the same God in Bahasa Malaysia ‘Allah’?

It is not the fault of Christians that the English word ‘Allah’ is spelt in exactly the same way in Bahasa Malaysia. When Bahasa Malaya, later Malaysia, came into existence the powers that be chose to use Roman characters – the alphabet used for writing Latin, English, and most European languages – for writing in the new Bahasa Malaya. Before the creation of this National Language, if I am not mistaken, the Malay language was written in Javanese. However it cannot be denied that the English language had been using the Roman alphabet since time immemorial – ever since the Roman Empire had extended to England up to Hadrian’s Wall. Our National language using the Roman alphabet was only created recently; in mid 1950s. They have also copied a lot of English words into the new language by treating the plagiarized English words as Bahasa Malaysia words. That being the case, they, therefore, have no right whatsoever to say that the English spelling of ‘Allah’ must not be spelt the same way in Bahasa Malaysia. Surely, it cannot be right for copycats to assume proprietorship over an English word which had existed in the English language since the sixteenth century? Shame on them!

If you have read my previous article about the desecration of the Bible especially the one in the Malaysian Insider, you will see this comment:


Please let me clarify an important point brought up by the writer.  In Arabic, the word Allah is spelled ‘Alif Lam Lam Hah’ and is pronounced as Allah! and not Alilah as mentioned by the writer. I would suggest that the writer clarify this with an Arab speaking academic. Thank you.

So I was wrong. ‘Allah’ was pronounced correctly by the English in the sixteenth century. But thanks to Amin, now we know the word is spelt in Arabic ‘Alif Lam Lam Hah’ and is pronounced ‘Allah’.

If ‘Allah’ is a forbidden word, whose fault is it then? Instead of copying from the English word ‘Allah’ the people who invented words for Bahasa Malaysia should have spelt ‘Allah’ correctly in Arabic. If they have done that, there would be no need to desecrate the Bahasa Malaysia Bible.

In any English dictionary the word ‘God’ with a capital G depicts the Christian God and the word ‘Allah’ in English means ‘a Muslim name for God’. But the God of the Muslims is the same God as the God of the Christians and the Jews whose God was the God of Abraham. In my book How to Judge the Judges, at pages xxx, xxxi, this is what it says:

I have recounted the … story of Abraham and his two sons from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible. The story of Isaac and his descendants are told in the Old Testament. But the history of the descendants of Ishmael, the elder brother of Isaac, is not found in the Bible but we know from the Bible that God took care of him as he grew up and he will be made into a great nation. We can safely assume that the God of Abraham who was also the God of Ishmael and Isaac also gave the same commands to them. So that whatever precepts that might apply to the descendants of Isaac will, mutatis mutandis, apply to the descendants of Ishmael. So now we know that the Arabs and the Jews were descended from Ishmael and Isaac whose father was Abraham (Ibrahim); and the God of them is the same God. And God has marked them as His people by circumcision. It is therefore not surprising that the punishment of stoning to death for adultery and apostasy is found in the Bible and not in the Quran.

Before the time of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, the God of the Hebrew people, as depicted in the Old Testament, was a God of wrath who would severely punish those who have sinned against Him. But since Jesus Christ and 600 years later, from the Prophet Mohammed, God has been depicted as a God of compassion. But I can perceive a difference between the Old Testament on the one hand and the New Testament and the Quran on the other hand. The God of Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac are confined to their descendants – to the Arabs and the Jews. But, after Jesus Christ, the New Testament and Christianity and after the Prophet Mohammed, the Quran and Islam, God as depicted therein is for the rest of the World.

However, if you are not a Christian, you cannot call your god ‘Allah’ because you do not worship the same God as the Muslims and Christians.

Therefore the only perceived disagreement between the Christians and the Muslims in Malaysia is the misunderstanding on the meaning of the Trinity in Christianity. So it is now necessary for me to explain the Trinity in Christianity to those Muslims who think Christians worship three gods. Like the Muslims, I am not a Christian yet I can understand the faith of the Christians because, unlike the narrow-minded critics of Christianity, I took the trouble to find out about the religion. Actually, the Trinity is explained in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Trinity or the Holy Trinity

To understand what the Trinity in Christianity means we must go back to the time of Jesus Christ and the early Christians. In Landmarks in the Law, p 314, it says:

The New Testament is not accepted by the Jews. It is rejected by them. It has even greater influence than the Old Testament. It contains the life and teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ who was a Jew and of all the 12 apostles who were Jews and the letters of Paul who was a Jew.

Jesus Christ, his apostles and the early Christians because they were Jews lived in an era where it was very dangerous for a Jew to be a heretic against Judaism the religion of the Jews which was based on the Old Testament. Jesus Christ was advancing the belief that God is a Deity of love and compassion which is a belief that is contrary to the Jews’ belief in the Old Testament. Heresy at that time was punishable with death. Now you can understand why Jesus Christ, his disciples the 12 Apostles had tended to euphemism in teaching their belief to the multitude.

I have written for Loyarburok this piece called A glossary of the terminology in ‘But Allah is a word in the English Dictionary’. This is what it says:

The Trinity or the Holy Trinity

[A reader of this article] remarked that Muslims worship only one God and that is Allah. But Christians worship the Trinity – three persons.

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.

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NH Chan, a much respected former Court of Appeal Judge, is a gavel of justice that has no hesitation in pounding on Federal Court judges with wooden desks for heads. Retired from the Judiciary to become the People’s Judge. Wrote the explosive “Judging The Judges”, now in its 2nd edition as “How To Judge The Judges”. Once famously hinted at a possible “case match” between lawyer and judge by remarking that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (see Ayer Molek Rubber Company Berhad & Ors v Insas Berhad & Anor [1995] 3 CLJ 359). We need more people like NH Chan. That is why you should buy PASOC and his book.

Posted on 7 April 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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