Monday, 4 January 2010

Can Christians call God "Allah"?

There’s a bizarre dispute going on in Malaysia at the moment and it revolves around the right of Christians to call God “Allah”.

And all has come to a head now that the Herald - a Catholic weekly published in the country – has surprisingly won a court case allowing the publication to still refer to God as "Allah".

However, the matter is still far from resolved and strong protests are now being made according to reports:

Thirteen non-governmental organisations protested here yesterday against the use of the word "Allah" in the Herald, a Catholic weekly.

Ten police reports were also lodged by the NGOs to express their disappointment over the use of the word in the publication. About 100 protesters gathered outside the Sentul district police headquarters about 3pm before 10 representatives were allowed in.

The entourage was led by Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Dr Ma'amor Osman.

In his police report, Dr Ma'amor said the NGOs requested for an investigation into the publisher and that the publication stop using the word.

"We are acting based on the Rukun Negara, where Kepercayaan Kepada Tuhan (Belief in God), is a general way of describing God in the context of a multiracial country."

Dr Ma'amor said "Allah" was generally used by Muslims to describe Him exclusively.

Source: Asiaone

Earlier, the Malaysian home minister had banned the Herald from using the word "Allah".

This little story is really very strange, especially considering that the word “Alllah” is the Arabic word for “God”, and predates the existence of Islam. Indeed, the names “Allah” and “God” are generally interchangeable within the Muslim religion and in Middle Eastern cultures.

And it sort of makes you wonder what will come in the future as well. After all, since the matter has already gone to the courts, it is evident that a legal solution is the only way.

So what might happen? Well it could be the case that religious groups try to register certain words as intellectual property to prevent other groups from lawfully using them.

Now that certainly would have the lawyers rubbing their hands with glee!


wankongyew said...

While I certainly feel that non-Muslims in Malaysia have the right to call their deity anything they want, as a Malaysian I have to say that in this country the word Allah generally means the Muslim one, regardless of the word's historical origin.

This means while I agree with the freedom of speech principle that anyone can use the word, I also agree with the Muslims that choosing this particular word to use is a deliberately provocative act that is ultimately meant to confuse Muslims. Remember, conflating deities and religious concepts is a time-worn trick from the missionary's playbook.

Considering that it is illegal in Malaysia to proselytize other religions to Muslims and that it is generally impossible for Malays to legally convert to another religion, I can't see how this can end in anything but tears if the Roman Catholics insist on calling their deity "Allah", no matter how much the "right" is on their side.

As for copyrighting deity names, hey, it's a good thing that H.P. Lovecraft's works are in the public domain now, or else how are we Cthulhu-cultists going to cope?