Friday, December 28, 2007

Who Owns the Word "Allah"?

I had to scratch my head just a little today when I read a BBC report that says the government of Malaysia has decreed "that the the word Allah can only be used by Muslims."

Allah merely means God in Arabic and I am absolutely dumbfounded by the audacity of the Malaysian government to claim that Muslims have sovereignty over the use of the word.

The report says that the Herald, the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, and The Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo have taken legal action to challenge the ministerial ruling.

The government has not yet made an official statement regarding the ban or the legal challenge.

Parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang contends that the ban is "unlawful".

He added that "The term Allah was used to refer to God by Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed ... "

I would take the issue one step further and say that in terms of Islamic law (Sharia) this ban is absolutely un-Islamic.

My thinking is prompted by the repeated versus in the Qur'an that define the believers to be Jews, Christians, the Sabians, and anyone who accepts the divine authority of God.

In addition, there is not one single verse in the Qur'an that gives the right to any Muslim to decide who can and cannot refer to God as Allah.

In fact, Muslims accept that there are 99 names, or attributes, that are used to refer to God. Allah is only one of those names.

Among the other names, or attributes, that are used to refer to God/Allah are Ar Rahman (Beneficent), Ar Rahim (Merciful), Al Aziz (Almighty), for example.

The Malaysian government has made a mockery out of the religion that presses Muslims to live with compassion and acceptance.

There is no place for this kind of misguided buffoonery inside of Islam.

The Qur'an is very clear about the fact that there is only one God/Allah, the God/Allah of all, and there can be no meandering from this injunction for whatever reason.



nunya said...

Great post Ridwan. Governments are idiotic sometimes aren't they?


Well, at least there are people like you and your grandmother, and I'm sure millions of others who understand that an act of faith doesn't really need the one, the only, the perfect title, to be an act of faith.

Dione said...

This really goes back to my theories and observations that I impart apologies for since admittedly I have not had the pleasure of visiting Malaysia as you have.
From what I have studied as well as heard from people that have lived there, the government is corrupt in Malaysia, and those in control are not properly educated on how to execute Shariah law, nor do they interpret the Quran with any accuracy.
My theory is that the Quran written in its poetic Quranic Al-Fusha style Arabic is hard for even native fluent Arabic speakers to truly understand since it is drastically different from any colloquial dialect. For sure so much is lost in the translated versions and interpretations; people end up making poor decisions in their trying to understand its messages, I believe this is the reason for many of the problems that exist today in Muslim majority countries, as some of the wrong people become Islamic scholars and try to dictate what they want people to think of as mandatory practice. I admit this is simplifying things. In Malaysia the government uses religion to try to inflict its control on people. While this holds true in many countries, this kind of control issue is the reason that a woman in Malaysia can’t get a divorce from her husband even if a court rules that he has beaten her. Even if she proves beyond any doubt that there is abuse!! The Quran says to treat your wife kindly with respect, and there are at least a hundred if not more verses about this, but for example, corrupt individuals will choose to misinterpret one verse that says to hit your wife with a swag, which is probably a misinterpretation to begin with! This is not Islam, it is the people in control of that government that have proclaimed their scholarly interpretations and have used it wrongfully to take advantageous control.
This issue with the word Allah; it is a prime example of this ignorance. As you stated Allah simply is the Arabic word for God. Arabic speaking Christians and Jews as you pointed out use the word Allah to refer to god. There should be nothing wrong with that, and just to show how ignorant those people are who have a problem this, it does say somewhere in the Quran if I recall correctly that we are all born Muslim, and some go separate ways. Maybe someone can help me out with the reason for that, I can’t remember :) This is why when people convert to Islam; Islam itself considers this to be a reversion. We can wonder how this ban would benefit the Malaysian government. Perhaps it would help to identify who is, and who is not a Muslim. There will be no real logic from a government that’s sole mission is control of the people by the elite, but that aspect reminds me that we as people are victims of this all over the world. This is a significant part of our struggle, we are still hoping to be treated fairly and equally, but humanity in its un-evolved condition continues to prevent us from making that positive stride. As progressive individuals we demand dignity and respect, and human rights for all. No matter what relgion, we have been given the ability to be sanctiant beings.

Ridwan said...

Hello Nunya:

Thanks for your comment. I absolutley agree that governments can be "idiotic sometimes".

Somewhere hidden inside of this present idiocy is the concern over security.

The Malaysian government is worried, it seems, that evangelists and others may manipulate Muslims to accept versions of faith that is

Be that as it may, they cannot simply override the Qur'an and make a mockery of its position on who the believers are.

I trust you are well Nunya!


Ridwan said...

Hello Dione:

As you point out I have visited Malaysia. I also have the benefit of interacting with Malaysian colleagues and others who are ethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian.

This controversy aside, Malaysia is a wonderful country that has achieved much in five short decades of independence.

The government is not corrupt and inept in terms of applying Sharia or other aspects of the Qur'an.

I do not want my comments in this post to seem as if I am pointing broad fingers at Malaysia or any of the Ummah (Muslim community) there.

I am also not placing myself in the position of a pundit for a more 'moderate' or 'liberal' Islam.

Also, I do not share the view that the Qur'an is misinterpreted because it stems from classic Arabic.

The Qur'an is clear on the matter of who the believers are.

The Qur'an teaches compassion and in these terms any injunction to use violence is not a wholesale promotion of violence.

According to the Sharia a woman (or man) can divorce an abusive spouse.

If the courts in Malaysia do not honour this then it is problematic (I say this because I do not know that Malaysian courts do not allow women to divorce).

I do know that Malaysian laws do not allow marraiges between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Also, if a spouse becomes non-Muslim in a marraige that union dissolves.

In effect, inside of the law of persons, Malaysian law does not allow a Muslim to change their religion in any circumstance.

The latter aspect is in keeping with the Qur'an. Islam does not look kindly upon a Muslim who becomes non-Muslim (Murtad).

Anyone who becomes Murtad is automatically 'ex-communicated' from the religion and the Muslim community.

If such a person dies they cannot be buried among Muslims, for example.

As for marraige with non-Muslims the issue is somewhat more complex than a total ban.

Since Islam accepts Jews, Christians, Sabians as believers, the marraige with persons from these communities is lawful in terms of Sharia.

In fact, the Prophet (PBUH) married a woman who was Christian (and she remained Christian in the marraige).

As Nunya points out, the application of religion in secular matters of government can be problematic (idiotic).

Still, Islam makes no distinction between politics and religion.

I understand this and I respect the purpose behind this union.

Still, just because a nation-state in this era claims to be an Islamic state does not mean that their interpretation of Sharia is in keeping with the purpose of the Qur'an.

In fact, the very interpretation of any religious text is a political act.

This includes the manner in which the US, for example, has strategically constructed the issue of seperation of church and state (largely a fiction in my view).

The matter of the death penalty, for example, is a gross interpretation of the Bible.

OK, I have said too much.

Peace Dione,

Shus li said...

Thank you for this information. My gut reaction is: More branding!

It's like putting a copyright on the idea of a Divine Entity. So-called Christians do it all the time, then proclaim that their brand of God is better, or that they have the only original product. It's sickening to me, and causes me to be unable to be part of organized religion.

Yet, my perceptions from the core out are compatible with many teachings of many religions.

It's Paradox Day in Portland.

Dione said...

I am disappointed, not to mention depressed that anyone would knows me, would read my post and feel that they needed to defend Islam or Muslims to me. I am aware of the information you listed in your response, and I appreciate your comments as well as letting people come here to raise awareness.
People are responsible for misusing what they are taught within their religions. I have supported, respected and had compassion of Muslim people, especially within the US after 911; A one time incident, compared to the large scale terrorism inflicted by the US to countries over seas.
I divorced Catholicism long ago, as I found such hypocrisy of our god is better than yours, and we are better than you mentality, not to mention "love thy neighbor" and then they are like " oh but we hate these people,and those people over there!" I despise this mindset and hypocrisy and yet I see this in almost every religion to a certain degree; and admit to not being religious because of my issues with faith, (very similar to what Shus li describes) and not being able to agree with any theology completely.
I will be honest, I am not for Shariah law, and I will not come here and tell anyone what I think they want to hear, I have way to much respect for you Ridwan to be any other way.
I also do not support the US going over seas and trying to inflict what is already a squewed ideology of what a Democracy is. It should not be up to America to change the governments of other nations.

I again admit to not having had the pleasure of visiting Malaysia, and I do not have a problem with this country, its good people and beautiful architecture which is a testimonial to it's rich history. I do, have a problem with the way many of their people are treated. If you talk to poor people who come from there, the people who don't have comfortable jobs, they always tell me that socio economic class seems to matter more than race or religion there. That same woman who could not get a divorce even after a court ruled her husband beat her almost every day ( and had the marks to prove it!) would have been granted a divorce if her family had money. (completely un Islamic) I would not know this personally though, it hasn’t happened to me, and I have not lived there or visited this country. One thing is for sure, your experience with this country would have been drastically different had you visited it as a woman. :) I think the world of you Ridwan, I truly admire you, I have nothing but respect for your ideas, thoughts, and political mind. I hope that we can agree to disagree on some of this. You are a good person, and I appreciate what you bring to life, and on the net.
Best wishes to you always, and Happy New Year


nunya said...


this is why I have trouble with Islam:

"The latter aspect is in keeping with the Qur'an. Islam does not look kindly upon a Muslim who becomes non-Muslim (Murtad)."

As an American, I cherish the right to practice a religion of my choosing, or not.

On the other hand, the constant push to "witness" (or proselytize ) from Christians, just bugs the crap out of me.

nunya said...

Ummm, and oh yeah, at one time all people were encouraged by the believers of the whole one God thing to drop their beliefs in multiple Gods. In Malaysia, also.

Ridwan said...

Nunya I am struck by the implication that you assume being an American and a Muslim are two seperate realities.

Also, Islam is a religion and not a country like the US.

And of last count there are more than six million Muslims who 'choose' to live and be Muslim in the US.

Islam is no different than any other religion on its insistence that the believers remain true to its precepts.

The manner in which you have written here suggests to me that you see Islam as an intolerant religion.

I hope that is not what you are saying.

But even if we were to accept your supposition that America allows freedom of choice one would have to deal with the manner that Indian (Native) religious beliefs were destroyed by the genocidal project that the US represents.

A project that arose out of a supposed quest to establish religious freedom.

It is true that he Qur'an does not look kindly on changing to a non-Muslim, but this does not mean that Islam disallows the 'choice' to change your religion or to be part of any other religion.

What the Qur'an holds is that a Muslim who turns his/her back on Islam is not a Muslim in any sense.

And that includes being part of the Muslim community ... as you know Islam makes no distinction between religion and community (politics).

Thanks for your comment Nunya.


Ridwan said...

Dione I do not need to defend Islam to you or anybody else.

That was not the purpose of my post and not the purpose of my reply to your comment.

I have re-read my comment and cannot see where I have made the attempt to disregard what you know or what you represent as a person.

I am a Muslim and I support the Sharia where it applies to Muslims only.

The Sharia does not apply to non-Muslims.

Still, the Sharia is the law of the Qur'an and cannot be conveniently seperated from Islam and the lives of Muslims.

I accept the fact that women experience Malaysia differently than a man (than me in this instance).

But this is no different anywhere. My experiences would be different if I was a woman in the US, or South Africa, for example.

Still, beneath your supposition lies the common prejudice that women are uniquely oppressed inside of Islam.

First, I have made the attempt to criticize Malaysia for departing from what the Qur'an says.

Second, I do not know the case you are referencing. Maybe if you provide a link it could be helpful.

Finally, with all that said, I have not intended to disrespect anything you wrote, and certainly not you.

I merely disagreed to some extent and kept it at an intellectual level.


Ridwan said...

Dione and Nunya please do not think that I am upset with anything you have written here.

I am dealing with arguments here and not personalities. I have nothing but respect for both of you.

I apologize for my sometimes forthright manner when it comes to issues close to my heart and conscience.

But most of all, thank you for your comments and thank you for reading my stuff here.

I wish you and your loved ones a happy new year.

Peace to you.


Mike Ghouse said...


That is precisely what a handful of Malay Muslims want do to - they call their God, Allah, and they don't want Christians and Sikhs to call him by the same name, as if there are different Gods. Should Christians ban Muslims from using the word Allah because Jesus, and in turn Christians used it before Muslims did?

Should Christians, Sikhs and others rejoice this oppressive decision? The answer is an emphatic no. The responsibility for peace and harmony in a given society falls squarely on the majority. In this instance, as a part of the larger Ummah, we, the Muslims around the world have a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities in Malaysia or elsewhere. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, when you see oppression, the least you can do is to speak up. Thank God, we are following his guidance.

The Word Allah did not spring up with Islam, nor have Muslims created it. The word Allah has been around, just like the Creator God has been around forever. Quran, 112: 2-3, "God the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of All Being, He begets not, and neither is He begotten."

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made it clear that he did not bring a new religion to the world; Islam was continuation and completion of religions that came before.

If you like the idea, please click like at the link, and please feel free to share on facebook, twitter, tumbler, friends or your groups. Thank you.

Continued at Huffington Post -

Mike Ghouse is a Muslim speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, Islam and interfaith issues. He is committed to nurturing pluralistic values embedded in Islam and building cohesive Societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day, all his writings are at