And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (The Qur’an, 29:46, original Yusuf Ali version).
I had thought that the dispute was finished in Malaysia, over the right of Christians – specifically a Christian (Catholic) newspaper known as The Herald – to use the name “Allah” to refer to the One Creator and Sustainer of all things. Apparently I was mistaken. According to this Yahoo News article an appeals court in Malaysia has now ruled that the Christian newspaper is not allowed to use “Allah” to refer to God!
For those not familiar with the situation: in 2008 the “home minister” in Malaysia ruled that the newspaper could not use the name “Allah” because that name is (supposedly) specific to the religion calling itself “Islam”; that is, “Allah” is “the Muslim God” and ONLY “the Muslim God”. But in a court case in 2009, that decision of the “home minister” was overturned. The court ruled (correctly) that “Allah” is not a name for God which belongs only to Muslims. Now, however, a Malaysian appeals court has overturned the lower court’s ruling and again insists that the Christians of Malaysia must not use the name “Allah” to refer to God. The case will now go to the highest court in Malaysia in a further appeal by The Herald and other Christians.
This argument doesn’t really affect me personally – I’m an English speaker and prefer English language names for ‘God’. In fact, I prefer to use descriptive names such as ‘The One’, ‘The All-in-All’, and even ‘The Force’ of “Star Wars” fame. Nevertheless, I consider the argument that “Allah” is specifically ‘the Muslim God’ to be a very ignorant – and even ‘stupid’ – idea.
The verse of the Qur’an quoted at the beginning of this article ought to irrevocably settle the matter for any true Muslim, it seems to me. The revelation to the prophet Muhammad (peace to him and his family) said unequivocally that “Allah” is the “God” of the “people of the Book” (Jews and Christians, at the minimum) as well as the “God” of the followers of the ‘Muhammadan’ revelation. Our Allah and your Allah is one. This fits in well with the assertion (in several places) in the Qur’an that those who truly follow the revelations of Moses (true God-fearing Jews) and Jesus Christ (peace be with them both) are in fact “muslims” (people who submit to Allah). So I have to ask, where did those Malaysian judges learn their “Islam”? It doesn’t appear that it comes from the Qur’an!
In fact, though, the name “Allah” did not originate with the revelation given to Muhammad (peace to him and his family). It is not the ‘Muslim’ name for God, but the Arabic name for God. It was in use long before Muhammad appeared on the scene – by Arabic speaking Jews, Christians, and yes, polytheists also. The polytheists apparently believed that “Allah” was the “most high” in a pantheon of gods. The Arab Christians maintained that “Allah” was “the Allah and father of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and the Jews used “Allah” as the equivalent of the Hebrew words El/Eloah and the plural name with a frequently singular meaning Elohim. The Qur’an asserted that the “Allah” that the Arab Jews and Christians worshiped was the same as the “Allah” proclaimed by Muhammad. And the message of the prophet did not require the polytheists to cease using the name “Allah”, but rather to cease worshiping any other deity than “Allah”.
The revelation through Muhammad (peace to him and his family) calls on Christians to quit saying that Allah is “three” (the Trinity); but it does not deny that the God Christians mistakenly believe to be a “Trinity” is in fact “Allah”.
The Yahoo News article to which I linked points out that “Christians in Indonesia and much of the Arab world continue to use the word without opposition from Islamic authorities”. Clearly there is good reason for this non-opposition to Christians referring to God as “Allah”. Those Muslims in Malaysia who are objecting to Christians using the name “Allah” are just as clearly misguided. I don’t know where they get their non-Islamic notion, but I hope their eyes and hearts will be opened to that kindness and open-minded love which is so intrinsic to the Islam taught and lived by Muhammad (peace to him and his family).
Obviously not all Muslims in Malaysia are so ignorant or misguided inasmuch as the lower court ruled in favor of the Christians (and that lower court was presumably composed of Muslims or mostly of Muslims). I don’t know what percentage belong to the misguided crowd, but “thank Allah” they’re not the totality of Malaysian Muslims! 😀