Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Exodus, 20:7)
And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. (Holy Qur’an, Ch.6:V.109)
Who owns the name of God? A seemingly banal question perhaps, but not so in Malaysia where three years ago the government banned the Catholic Church using the Arabic word Allah as a translation for God in its Malay-language newspaper. That ban was then overturned by a High Court ruling that upheld the constitutional right of the church’s weekly Herald newspaper to refer to Jesus Christ(as) as the son of Allah.
The verdict has angered Muslim groups who fear that some Muslims could be misled by Christians using the word Allah. They say the word should be reserved for Islam alone. However, according to Reverend Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, there is no other appropriate term for ‘God’ in Malay. As we go to print a Malaysian court has just suspended that ruling in favour of the government ban on the use of the word Allah after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.
The Catholic Herald argues that the word Allah has been used by Malay-speaking Christians for centuries, after the concept of a single deity was introduced by Arabic-speaking traders. The newspaper has a circulation of about 14,000 and is available only in Catholic churches, although some Muslims have complained that it is possible to look up Malay-language material using the term Allah on the Herald’s Web. The National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students contends that:
‘…the word Allah is exclusive and only refers to the concept of God that is understood by Muslims…’
and have warned that allowing the Herald to use Allah could cause confusion among Muslims who may leave their faith.
Government lawyers have argued that Allah denotes the Muslim God, is accepted as such around the world, and is exclusively for Muslims. If Catholics were allowed to use Allah, then they argue Muslims would be “confused.” The confusion would worsen because while Christians recognise a “trinity of gods” Islam is “totally monotheistic.” They contend that the proper word for God in the Malay language is Tuhan, not Allah.
According to Malay-language Utusan Malaysia, the mufti of northern Perak state, Harussani Zakaria, termed the verdict “an insult to Muslims in this country.” The state news agency, Bernama, reported former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as saying that the authorities should set strict conditions for non-Muslims using the word Allah to avoid provoking a Muslim backlash:
“What I am afraid of is that the term ‘Allah’ might be used in such a way that could inflame the anger of Muslims, if [non-Muslims] were to use it on banners or write something that might not reflect Islam.”
Sadly, this prediction has come to pass with attacks on ten churches to date, most of them having been fire bombed.
It is true that the word ‘Allah’ means the one and only true God, but despite the pre-islamic Arabian idol worshippers’ belief in more than 300 Gods, they believed in an entity above all of them called ‘Allah’. Yet the Holy Prophet(saw) never forbade the idol worshippers to use the word ‘Allah’.
The concerns of the Malaysian government over the use of Allah by the Catholic Herald are rather perplexing. How can Christian newspaper articles using the term ‘Allah’ to refer to God, draw Muslims away from Islam? Is it because by referring to ‘Jesus son of Allah’, Muslims will be swayed into believing that Allah is not one but three?
How ironic, for in the Holy Qur’an Allah Himself has not only defined His name and His attributes but has also specifically rejected the concept of trinity! Surah Al-Ikhlas of the Holy Qur’an emphatically proclaims the Unity of Allah:
Say, ‘He is Allah, the One; Allah, the Independent and Besought of all. He begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him.’ (Ch.112:Vs.2-5)
Allah has asserted His unity and independence. ‘Allah’ is the ‘One’ and it therefore defies His deity that He could have a son. The Qur’an clearly rejects any notion of trinity.
Again, the Qur’an declares:
…So believe in Allah and His Messengers, and say not ‘They are three.’ Desist, it will be better for you. Verily, Allah is the only One God. Far is it from His Holiness that He should have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. And sufficient is Allah as a Guardian. (Ch.4:V.172)
They are surely disbelievers who say, ‘Allah is the third of three;’ there is no God but the One God. And if they do not desist from what they say, a grievous punishment shall surely befall those of them that disbelieve. (Ch.5:V.74)
…and they falsely ascribe to Him sons and daughters without any knowledge. Holy is He and exalted far above what they attribute to Him. The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a son when He has no consort, and when He has created everything and has knowledge of all things? (Ch.6:Vs.101-102)
Perhaps most strikingly the Holy Qur’an itself has used the utterances ‘Messiah, son of Allah’:-
And the Jews say, Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say, the Messiah is the son of Allah… (Ch.9:Vs.30)
Now if the Holy Qur’an can remind us of the utterances ‘Messiah son of God’ albeit to deny that this could be possible, why are Malaysian Muslims afraid that if the Catholic Herald does so, Muslims will be confused about their own faith? The Holy Qur’an tells us :
It does not befit the Majesty of Allah to take unto Himself a son. Holy is He. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, ‘Be!’, and it is. Said Jesus: ‘Surely , Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him alone; this is the right path.’ (Ch.19:Vs.36-37)
The Qur’an also reminds us that Jesus(as) was not responsible for the introduction of trinity into Christian belief. It tells us how he will respond to any accusations to having promoted his own Divinity.
And when Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, ‘Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?’”, he will answer, “Holy art Thou. I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art the Knower of hidden things. I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me – ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord…’ (Ch.5:Vs.117-118)
So, not only has Allah Himself, in the Holy Qur’an, defined the meaning of His Name, but He has also explained that the introduction of the concept of trinity was not propagated by Jesus(as), and is instead a distortion of the original message of Jesus Christ(as)! One wonders, therefore, how any Malaysian Muslim could be drawn away from Islam if ‘Allah’ is used by a believer in the trinity?
Now, what about the government’s assertion that ‘Allah’ denotes the Muslim God, and is exclusively for Muslims?
Again, a reading of the Holy Qur’an directs us to reject this. In Surah Al-Naml we read:
The Queen said, “Ye chiefs, there has been delivered to me a noble letter.
It is from Solomon, and it is: ‘In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful; (Ch.27:Vs.30-31)
Hadhrat Sulaiman(as) himself used the words ‘In the name of Allah’! His advent predated Islam! So, if the Holy Qur’an tells us that he used the word ‘Allah’, what exclusive right have present day Muslims to stop other faiths from using Allah’s name to refer to God?
Malaysian Muslim leaders ought not to worry that Muslims who read the Holy Qur’an will be misled if they see His name used by other faiths.