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Much ado about Allah

January 7, 2014

FMT LETTER: From James Ang, via e-mail

When the Moghul Emperor Akbar conquered the Hindu holy city of Prayag in northern India, he recognised the tremendous potential the city possessed, both as a strategic military bastion and a navigational post. Near the confluence between the Yamuna and Ganges Rivers, two holy rivers venerated in Hindu literature, Emperor Akbar constructed his renowned fort and subsequently renamed the city ‘Allahabad’.

Many probably would have heard of ‘abad’ cities throughout India and Pakistan, such as Hyderabad, Ahmadabad and Islamabad. So, it wouldn’t take a learned historian to deduce the fact that the name ‘Allahabad’ comprises two words: ‘Allah’ and ‘abad’. ‘Abad’ basically means ‘abode’ or ‘city;’ in Persian, and since we all know what ‘Allah’ means, we can all safely say that ‘Allahabad; means ‘City of God’.

Rightfully so, since Allahabad is sacred to Hindus, and the Muslim Emperor Akbar desired it to be a holy and strategic city in his Islamic empire. Today, Allahabad is the official name of the city, and everyone knows it by that name.

Since time immemorial, the word Allah has been in usage to refer to a supreme deity in the Arabic language. Literary and historic evidence from the Arabian Peninsula can bear testimony to that. The word has been in usage even before the birth of Prophet Muhammad and the spread of Islam in the Middle East. Even with the propagation of Islam, the word Allah was still in common usage among non-Muslim Arabs to refer to the supreme deity they believed in according to their faiths.

Allah to the Arab Jews was the Almighty Yahweh. Allah to the Arab Christians was the Almighty Yahweh, God the Father of the Trinity. Allah to the Arab pagans was the single most supreme deity in their beliefs. And Allah to the Arab Muslims was God Almighty, who “neither begets nor is begotten” (Surah Al-Ikhlas 112:3). Did the Prophet or his followers bar non-Muslim Arabs from using the word Allah just because it may confuse the new Muslims?

These are examples of usages of the word Allah in other countries throughout history.

Fast forward to today. The Malay/Indonesian language consists of many words borrowed from foreign languages – words which have been naturalized into the local language. Words like Allah (God), nabi (prophet), kudus (holy), malaikat (angel) and wahyu (revelation) are several examples of Arabic words naturalised into the Malay/Indonesian language as a result of Islamic influence. It is worth noting that translations of the Bible into languages of the world attempt to utilise words and expressions which are native in the target language, in order to assimilate the Word of God with the local culture and context as much as possible.

Taking the Chinese Bible for example, the term ‘Shang Di’ (上帝) was originally used to refer to a single supreme deity in traditional Chinese religion, but Bible translators over the centuries adopted this term to refer to the Supreme God in Christianity because of its intrinsic meaning in the Chinese cultural context.

Having said that, terms like Allah (God), Roh Kudus (Holy Spirit), malaikat (angel), syaitan (devil) and nabi (prophet) have been in use in the Malay/Indonesian Bible for centuries long. Names of biblical books, such as Zabur (Psalms) (sometimes known as Mazmur), Injil (Gospel) and Wahyu (Revelation) have been part of the Malay/Indonesian Bible since they were first translated.

Names of biblical prophets and figures in the Malay/Indonesian Bible, such as Ayub (Job), Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Yunus (Jonah), Yusuf (Joseph) and Nuh (Noah) also have their equivalent usages in the Quran. They have become ingrained in the Indonesian/East Malaysian Christian culture. And culture is the soul of a community – ripping a community of its culture is akin to ripping it of its soul.

My question is this: Using Selangor Umno, Perkasa and Jais’ logic that the term Allah in the Bible will cause confusion among Muslims in the country, then will using the names Ayub, Musa, Harun, Yunus, Yusuf and Nuh in the Malay Bible also cause confusion? Will Muslims be confused between the ‘Nabi Yunus’ of the Malay Bible and the ‘Nabi Yunus’ of the Quran? Will Muslims be confused between the ‘Wahyu’ (Book of Revelation) in the Bible and the ‘wahyu’ (revelation) handed down to Prophet Muhammad?

Will Muslims start thinking that the ‘Roh Kudus’ (Holy Spirit) is the Spirit of God Almighty, a part of the Holy Trinity as expounded in Christianity, rather than the angel Gabriel as identified in Islamic hadiths? Unless, of course, they are implying that Muslims are going to be forced to study Christianity or read the Bible, which isn’t the case.

If they are worth their salt, then they should ban all those words and names as well, in accordance with their logic. The Selangor state enactment apparently has done so to a certain extent. If that is the case, then what words are there left to be used in the Malay Bible? Are there equivalents for the words ‘nabi’ or ‘wahyu’ in the Malay language?

Furthermore, if Selangor Umno, Perkasa and Jais are true custodians of Islam as they claim to be, then they should walk the talk. They should begin by pressuring the Indian government to change the name of Allahabad. People should not be permitted to refer to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s birthplace as Allahabad, since they were Hindus. The Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament’s lower house) constituency of Allahabad should be renamed, since its members consist predominantly of Hindus.

Next, they should write to Islamic scholars worldwide, tell them they are wrong, and pressure them to reverse their stand on the issue. They should also lobby for the Arabic and Indonesian Bibles to be re-translated and reprinted, since they all contain the word Allah as well. They should then confiscate the Guru Granth Sahib Ji from all Sikh temples nationwide, and make a visit to Amritsar to get the word Allah removed from the Sikh holy book.

Lastly, they should get all state governments in Malaysia to rewrite their state anthems, removing the word Allah so that non-Muslims can sing them. Only then can Selangor Umno, Perkasa and Jais be respected for standing true to their logic and beliefs. Nonetheless, doesn’t their logic seem flawed and ridiculous?

There have been so many unreasonable heads making unreasonable stands in this Allah fiasco. All I ask is that Malaysians, regardless of religious affiliation, see reason in this matter. After all, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Gospel of Matthew 5:9).

“And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, ‘We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims in submission to Him.’ ” (Surah Al-Ankabut 29:46).


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