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Friday, February 12, 2010

No God but God

Joseph Chinyong Liow writes:

For many Muslims in the region, Christian use of the word “Allah” is relatively unproblematic. Jesus, who lived six centuries before Islam was founded, would most likely have used a similar Aramaic word, “Alah”, in reference to God. In fact, the Arabic word “Allah” shares the same root as the Aramaic “Alah” as well as the Hebrew “Elohim”. It is derived from two words, namely “Al”, meaning “the” and “Elah” meaning God. In this sense, it can be argued that “Allah”, “Elohim,” and “Alah” or “Elah” are closely linked.

Today, the word “Allah” is used by Muslims and many Christians alike.

When the Coptic Christians in Egypt celebrate their Christmas Mass, for example, their pope begins his sermon with the phrase “Bismillah” (in the name of God) and uses the word “Allah” throughout. In Southeast Asia, Catholics and Protestants use the term “Allah”; Indonesian Christians have sung prayers to Allah at every Easter and Christmas celebration since the arrival of Christianity on those islands a millennium ago.

The term is as important to Arab and Southeast Asian Christians as it is to Muslims because it stands for the notion of a singular, universal God. “Allah” literally means “the God,” denoting a singular deity. This is particularly significant for Christians in Malaysia, who have been reluctant use the Malay “Tuhan,” because the word does not have a monotheistic connotation. It even has a plural form, “Tuhan-tuhan,” which is understood as “gods.”

The common belief in a singular, universal God should bind Muslims and Christians in Malaysia together. But in Malaysia it has had an opposite, polarising effect. This state of affairs is a consequence of three decades of Islamisation in the country, a process that has effectively constricted the social and political space available to the country’s significant non-Malay, non-Muslim communities. Even before the court ruling, many Malay-Muslim NGOs and lobby groups were discouraging Christians from using “Allah,” claiming that Christians were using it to proselytise to Muslims.


Externally, the Malaysian use of Islam was a means of gaining stature in the Muslim world, especially with those who dismissed the country as secular because of its perceived liberal attitudes: at a 1997 conference in Saudi Arabia former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad openly contested the Arab world’s perception of Malaysia as secular, contending that “many Muslims will of course disagree with us and try to make out that we are ‘secular.’... But we believe and we are equally convinced in our beliefs that what we do is in the service and in accord with Islam.”
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ShAuNnY BoY:P ~