City of Brass

City of Brass


Malaysia’s Monopoly on Allah

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Over the course of the past week, nine churches in Malaysia have been firebombed, by muslim extremists who object to the Christian community’s use of the word “Allah” in their prayers. The dispute came to a head on Dec 31st when the high court of Malaysia ruled in favor of Catholics using the word in the Malay edition of their weekly newspaper.

What’s particularly perplexing about this is that the Islamist political party PAS actually supports the right of Christians to invoke Allah by name, whereas the ruling political coalition UMNO is pushing for Allah to be reserved for muslims only. This is essentially a classic case of an incumbent political party, after suffering significant setbacks at the polls, invoking religion as a base-rallying prop and exploiting and stoking religious tensions for pure political gain (and in that regard reminds me of the Ayodhya issue in India whose repercussions on undermining religious tolerance continue to this day). The irony of a moderate party out-Islaming the Islamists is not lost on UMNO party veterans, like Tengku Razaleigh, who are aghast and speaking out at the naked cynicism of their party:

THE ‘Allah’ controversy has produced a ‘milestone moment’ in Malaysian politics, as ruling party Umno took a stance more extreme than even Islamist party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), said Umno party veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah yesterday.

‘PAS is holding onto the more plural and moderate position while Umno is digging itself into an intolerant hardline position that has no parallel that I know of in the Muslim world,’ he said.

Tengku Razaleigh’s strongly worded speech was delivered at the luncheon address at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Regional Outlook Forum in Singapore. In it, he highlighted the reversal of roles for Umno and PAS through their reactions to the ‘Allah’ controversy.

Umno had for years claimed to be the voice of moderate Malays, while PAS more often made the news for wanting to impose strict Islamic laws.

The UMNO leadership is appealing to the Malysian royalty for support of their stance. PAS, for its part, invokes classic Islamic doctrine in supporting the use of Allah by Christians, as per their status as People of the Book in the Qur’an itself:

“PAS would like to state that based on Islamic principles, the use of the word Allah by the people of the Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, is acceptable,” said Hadi in a written statement which was read out by Information Chief Idris Ahmad.

“However, the word Allah must not be misused or abused so as not to affect racial and religious harmony in the country,” he added.

Hadi also urged all parties not to politicise the matter for political mileage.

“PAS strongly objects to any aggressive and provocative approach that can lead to tension in society,” he added.

The UMNO position forbidding Allah to non-muslims is indeed nonsensical (and cynical) – the Qur’an itself is quite clear on the matter:

And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our Allah and your Allah is One, and to Him do we submit. [ 29:46 ]

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. [ 2:62 ]

Had God not driven back the people, some by the means of others, there had been destroyed cloisters and churches, oratories and mosques, wherein God’s Name is much mentioned. [ 22:40 ]

The UMNO’s response? The Home Ministry secretary-general Mahmood Adam made the utterly incomprehensible assertion that “Malays are different from (Muslims in) other countries.”

It should be noted that despite the utter incoherence from the UMNO, Malays in general seem loath to allow religion to be used as a wedge factor. There are various student groups that are acting as shills for the UMNO party line, but muslim NGOs are offering their help to the Christian community in protecting churches from further attacks:

Muslim groups in Malaysia are offering their help to prevent any further attacks on Christian places of worship amid a spree of attacks on churches in the multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority Asian country, The Star reported on Sunday, January 10.

“This is an offer of peace and goodwill,” Nadzim Johan, the executive secretary of the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM), told a news conference.

“We don’t want our Christian brothers to be in danger.”

PPIM is one of 130 Muslim NGOs that vowed to become the “eyes and ears” of the government to shield churches against attacks.

It seems clear that the naked motive of the UMNO, and its abuse of Islam for political gain, is going to cost them dearly in the next election. In that regard, their entire cynical embrace of religious intolerance has backfired; far from bringing PAS supporters to them, they have pushed moderate Malays away, and it’s the PAS and other Islamist opposition groups that will benefit. It should be noted that UMNO has been playing this card for decades. While the response from PAS is encouraging, a legislative arms race between UMNO and Islamist opposition parties to out-Sharia each other bodes ill indeed for Malaysia’s future.

Related: There’s been superb coverage of the controversy in Malaysia over Allah’s name at Talk Islam. Also, see the political analysis from Malaysia Matters, and a superb post at Decisive Words about the fetishism of religious commodities.



  • Kauko

    I find this whole controversy silly because Jews and Christians in Arabic speaking areas have used ‘Allah’ for centuries without controversy.

  • Fajri

    Although Islam is the completion of the three religions and the most complete; it should be viewed as a honor for the other religions to use Allah in place of the generic ‘God’. Allah guides all thing. Who are we as men to interfere with that guidance

  • msahib

    Salamunalaikum,
    How silly can you get but I guess that is the way with people who do not make use of the akal that Allah has bestowed upon them.
    Why prevent anyone from calling Allah?
    As a Muslim, it is your duty to invite people to call and worship Allah instead of urging them to call upon other gods.

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  • BELIEVER IN GOD ALMIGHTY

    I THINK THAT ACCORDING TO WIKEPEDIA THAT ALLAH HAS BEEN USED TO REFERENCE GOD IN ARABIC, CHRISTIANITY AND JUDISM. I AM JUST AMAZED AT THE AUDASITY OF SOME PEOPLE IN THE MUSLIM FAITH TO GO TO THIS EXTREME OVER THE NAME OF GOD, ELOHIM, JEOVAH, ELSHADI. SO MANY NAMES TO REFERENCE GOD ALMIGHTY. I THINK IF GOD IS GOD AND LET HIS NAME BE LIFTED UP. NOT FIGHT OVER WHO SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO CALL ON HIM.

  • Abrari

    You’re kidding, right? They have to be kidding.
    I have heard hundreds of times that “Allah” is used by all religions who have some Arabic-speaking adherents. If you are a Coptic Christian, you say Allah, if you are a Yemeni Jew, you say Allah. It means “God”! In Arabic! That’s what it means! How on earth can anyone be offended when someone says “God”?
    Ugh.
    What happened to the Qur’anic verses telling Muslims how to not give People of the Book a hard time because they also “worship Allah”? Someone needs to send these Malaysians some Qur’ans, maybe they don’t have any.

  • Mustafa

    People of the book or Abrahmic faiths calling upon ‘Allah’ is not that big of a problem. God is One and Eternal i.e ‘Allah’ and is above time and space. It becomes tricky when people from other faiths who practice idol worship start calling ‘their’ many idol gods as ‘Allah’.
    The distinction between Muslims and Christians become wider on the issue of Jesus son of Mary and Christians calling Jesus as ‘God’. Muslims call Jesus as ‘prophet’ and messenger of Allah.
    Muslims believe “(Holy Qur’an 112:1-4) – Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten”.
    So, one may feel that even a tiny compromise may result in a situation of hijacked and diluted concepts !!

  • Abambagibus

    Confusing metaphor with referent is a common human ailment. And believing a metaphor to be its referent and engaging upon it as a universal necessity, or else, could be the death of us all. Yet among us are the doctors of logical thought whose prescriptions for understanding, if understood, might very well save us. Contrarily, however, hordes of politico-religious zealots are of the fervent opinion-as-truth that reason must succumb to the passion of belief, and so too must a church be burned. But, with a certain Mr Poonawalla as one of the aforementioned doctors, this ailment may eventually pass.

  • http://brownestskin.blogspot.com Liyana T

    Agreed but it’s very affecting considering that many adherents of religious understanding are brought over from Malaysia to Brunei…which becomes a serious problem. This is not essentially a religious problem, it’s a result of ethnic disputes. Many Malays in malaysia are very racist and xenophobic, they regard Muslims from other countries are ‘dirty’ and that their (Sunni Muslims of Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah) version of Islam as ‘pure’ and ‘clean’. They even trod on other madzhabs as being ‘weaker’ or ‘impure’ compared to Syafie (which is ironic considering that they were Syafie’s source as well). They are even against Shia Muslims. So there, in addition to that they also dislike Chinese Muslims or even Indian Muslims (who are born Muslims or Mualafs) considering them as a bane rather than working together as brethren. Malaysia is clearly heading for ruin over the issue of race. Ofcourse it doesn’t help that it’s also a deeply entrenched political issue.

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    My Two Cents:
    Muslims, whatever their race or ethnicity, USE Allah because it is in the Quran. For Muslims, the Quran is the literal word of God, which is in the original language that it was revealed in – Arabic. Muslims recite the Quran in Arabic, they pray in Arabic – the usage of Arabic is a daily occurence for praticising Muslims, regardless of what thjeir native language is.
    Non-Muslim Arabs using the word Allah to denote God in their Bibles does not spark controversy because Arabic is THEIR native language.
    Christians, whose native language is NOT Arabic, using Allah to denote God is farcical. The usage of Allah by these people bespeaks of an intent to appeal to Muslims used to usage of Arabic word for God.
    Simple as that.

  • Andrew

    How interesting that you can use the word Allah for one thing but not another. This is a problem I believe is headed to the UK and US as well as both Muslim and Christians spread. We will see…
    what is the bible?

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  • Dr SCL John

    Does the Word of God approve of addressing God as “Allah”?
    We acknowledge that Allah has been used in Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia Bible for hundreds of years, but it does not mean that God approve of its use for Him. Does the Word of God tell us not to use Allah for God? Of course you cannot find a single commandment in the Bible that says: “You shall not use Allah to address your God,” but there are principles in the Word of God that tell us God does not like to be called Allah.
    Principles in God’s precious Word make His Word relevant and applicable today. Let us look at an example of a principle. Where does it say in the Bible one must not be late for worshipping God on the Lord’s Day? If a church is gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord Himself is present in their midst, though unseen. He says, in Matthew 18.29: “For where two or three are gathered together in (Greek eis, unto) My Name, there am I (or, I AM) in the midst of them.” The Lord Himself set an example of punctuality: “And when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.” (Luke 22.14) That is a principle on punctuality.
    The Bible says the Lord Jesus Christ is God Who “became flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John’s Gospel 1.14) Those who do not believe that He was God manifest in flesh do not know God at all. The Lord answered those who doubted He was God, “Ye neither know Me, nor My Father: if ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also.” (John 8.19) So the God Who is mentioned in the Bible is not the God of other people’s religions or beliefs, because they do not believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour. This is an important distinction.
    Are there principles in the Word of God that tell us we cannot address God as Allah or any other names that people use to address their gods? For example, the Chinese call their gods or deities “shen,” [?] and this shen is also used in the Chinese Bible for God. Is it right? See the article posted on Scribd: “The God of the Bible is a Chinese god.” (www.scribd.com/doc/…/The-God-of-the-Bible-is-a-Chinese-god) There are principles in the Word of God that tell us God should not be addressed as Allah.
    The principle of hallowing God’s Name
    God does want His people to distinguish and differentiate Him from what other people worship in their religions. In Matthew 6.9 and Luke 11.2, the Lord wants His people to hallow God’s Name: “Hallowed be Thy Name.”
    The word “hallowed” comes from the Greek hagiazo meaning “to make holy” (from hagios, “holy”), signifies to set apart for God, to sanctify, to make a person or thing the opposite of koinos, ‘common;’ it is translated “Hallowed,” with reference to the Name of God the Father in the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6.9; Luke11.2.” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) The Chinese pray to the Chinese gods and call them shen, why should believers of God and the Lord Jesus Christ call Him shen as those who worship Chinese gods? They are not hallowing Him. They are making Him common with the Chinese gods! They are bringing God down to the level of the Chinese gods and making Him god! The Muslims consider Allah as the supreme divine name which they consider as unique for their creator. It does not hallow God’s Name to use Allah for Him in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia Bible. It should use another name, perhaps, the name Tuhan. Those who translated the Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia Bible long ago did not know of this principle in the Word of God. Had they known, they would not have used Allah for God.
    2. The principle of sanctifying God
    God does want us to set Him apart, or distinguish Him from gods. Look at the following scriptures:
    Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 38.23)
    Sanctify the LORD of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:.13)
    The word “sanctify” comes from the Hebrew k?dhash and is equivalent to the New Testament Greek verb hagia?z?. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, k?dhash has the “underlying idea of the separateness of holy nature or holy use,” that is, the setting apart for God only. Where is the ‘separateness’ or setting God apart from Allah when the name is used by Muslims and by those who are God’s people?
    3. God is profaned
    Let it be known the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is neither the Allah in Islam nor the shen in Chinese religions. Let this distinction be made in the Bible, in writing, singing, prayer and worship. Without this distinction, God is profaned, common with other gods and religions. In the Hebrew Old Testament, “profane” comes from the Hebrew chalal, and has the sense of “for common use” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). We can apply this principle to pronouns for God. Note that we begin the pronouns for God (He, Him, His, Thy, etc) with a capital letter for distinction to show they do not refer to man. And God is not man.

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  • http://www.thisissunnah.com Baki

    As a Muslim, i do not see it as a ban for Malaysian Christians to use Allah’s name in their church. Afterall they are also part of the great scriptures. We should be happy for them to use the name of Allah. And inshAllah one day they may realise the true meaning of it. Banning the use of Allah’s names is at no-ones juristiction, not even a Muslim because those are the names that belong to Allah and everything in the Heavens and Earth submit to Him alone. If any Muslim or Muslim party tries to ban other Religions using the name of their Creator and recognise it then subhanAllah, Allah’s name is in everything. May Allah keep us straight in our Path.

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