Violence Erupts Over Use of word “Allah” January 9, 2010

Violence Erupts Over Use of word “Allah”

by Jesse Galef –

Image from (afp) via TimesOnline

Even though I recognize some thorny issues with secularism, it’s good to remember what can happen without it. Last week, the Malaysian High Court ruled that a Catholic newspaper was allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God in their local-language publications. The church argued that it was the only appropriate translation of the word. This might seem trivial, but it was actually very controversial and had been banned for three years – only Muslims were allowed to use the word. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal reported on the development at the time:

Thursday’s ruling by Judge Lau Bee Lan, however, suggests that some parts of the Malaysian establishment are beginning to push back against this steady Islamization of what had been one of the world’s most moderate outposts of the Muslim faith. Ms. Lau said Christians have a “constitutional right to use Allah,” but the government can appeal to a higher court where the ban can be reinstated.

Oh good – a moderate country allowing constitutional freedom of speech to protect minority rights. I don’t know enough about the Malaysian justice system to know what’s higher than the “High Court”, but at least there’s an independent judiciary willing to stand up for the law.

I’m sure the justice system will do its thing, cooler heads will prevail, and everyone can move on. No, I’m only kidding – people are going crazy over this:

Police were increasing their patrols of areas around churches and Christian communities were hiring security guards, after petrol bombs were thrown at four churches in and around the capital Kuala Lumpur, partially destroying one of them. Hours later, Muslim preachers used Friday prayers to object to a court decision that would allow use of “Allah” as the Malaysian language term for the Christian God.

“We will not allow the word Allah to be inscribed in your churches,” said one speaker at the Kampung Bahru mosque in central Kuala Lumpur. Protesters carried posters reading “Heresy arises from words wrongly used” and “Allah is only for us”.

Protests and dissent are acceptable, though sad when applied to this issue. Violence, on the other hand, is not acceptable. Neither are death threats directed at the judges:

In Thursday, the website of the Malaysian judiciary was vandalised by a hacker with the alias “Brainwash” who left threatening messages apparently related to the court ruling. “Mess with the best, die like the rest,” read one message. “Allah only restricted to Muslim only.”

It might seem strange for me to defend a Catholic church, but they should be able to use whatever words they want without fearing for their safety. Freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are vital human rights. On these principles, we should be allied with liberal religious voices. I hope everyone can condemn acts of violence and intimidation.

(Story via Religion Clause)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • yhj

    I just shake my head. Why not let the two duke it out? Maybe they’ll come to terms.

  • dglas

    Violence, fear and death reinforce religion.Both sides of a religious conflict love the conflict.

  • While I wholeheartedly agree that each and every religion ought to be able to call their god(s) whatever names they want to, without the fear of violence, intimidation, and so on, the facts are on the side of the Muslims in this one.

    First of all, the word ‘Allah’ does not mean ‘God’, and never did, therefore it should not be translated as ‘God’. (Yes, two of the translations of the Koran that I own make this mistake, but I always took it for an intentional manipulation, never for an error.)

    ‘Allah’ is the proper name of a specific God, in this case the Lunar god worshipped by pre-Mustlim Arabs. Allah’s site of worship was in Mecca, where he was believed to reside in a huge black rock (sound familiar? – it should). Pilgrims used to come on haj there to see this rock, and the shrine was owned and administered (and profited from) by the tribe of Muhammad’s grandfather…the grandfather himself was in charge of it (head priest) when Muhammad visited it as a child.

    So, translating ‘Allah’ as ‘God’ is about as accurate as translating ‘Jehova’ or
    ‘Aton’ as ‘God’. Why the Christians would want to do this is beyond me…

    Just to stress this point, Muhammad himself is recorded as having said that Muslims do NOT worship the same god as the Christians do (and he ought to have known – he had been a convert to Christianity in his youth). Specifically, he regarded the Christian god to be the god of the sun, and openly said that Muslims worship ‘the other god’. It is probably THIS statement of Muhammad (well known among Muslims) which is causing such vocal opposition to the Christian’s attempt to use the word ‘Allah’ to describe the Christian god…

    Again, this does not excuse violence or intimidation. I just find it puzzling that people would not take a bit of effort to learn about their religions…but then again, if they did, they would probably stop being fundamentalists…

  • David H.

    Xanthippa, the reason the Malaysian Christians use the word “Allah” for God is an artifact of the spread of Islam and Christianity in that region. It’s not that they’re using “Allah” because they’re contrary; they’re using it because it’s the Malaysian word for the One True God, whether it’s the Muslim or Christian one.

  • Revyloution

    Its interesting to compare the violence stirred up by cartoon images, and the use of a word to the violence surrounding the newspaper that called atheism a dogmatic religion of fundamentalists as well as calling us idiots and dipshits.

    Oh, thats right. There was no violent response to the atheist articles.

    How about when the US Supreme Court refused to hear the grievance against the motto ‘In God We Trust’ on our currency? That surely provoked a violent outburst by the atheist community. I know I personally set my pint glass down a bit firmly after hearing that news. I might have even uttered an epitaph under my breath.

    Islam means peace my ass.

  • Killer Bee

    Islam means peace my ass.

    punctuation counts, Revy.

    Islam means, “peace, my ass.”

    There. 🙂

  • Erp

    Xanthippa your facts are wrong.

    Allah was and is used by Arabic speaking Christians for God even before Islam appeared. The bit about Muslims worshiping a moon god called Allah seems to be ignorant evangelical Protestant propaganda. One could just as easily denounce the use of the English word ‘God’ because it was used for Woden.

    Note that the Hebrew, another Semitic language, for God is El (plural Elohim), which seems a fairly straightforward cognate.

    Also I’m not sure where you got that supposed statement of Mohammad. Islam is pretty clear that Christians and Jews worship the same God as them (even if they are considered to have let error creep in such as Christians considering Jesus as also God). Remember that Islam considers Jesus a prophet second only to Mohammad.

  • This also seems to ba an issue unique to Malaysia. Allah is routinely used by Christians in Arabic speaking countries to refer to God such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc.

    Xanthippa: I don’t know where you got your information but I’m having a hard time finding one thing right in it. Allah is the same god as worshiped by Jews and Christians (one of the reasons there is such conflict between the three). That is quite clear from even a cursory reading of history and the Quran.

  • Jim

    This is an atheist saying, “Allah.”
    This is a christian saying, “Allah.”
    This is a hindu saying, “Allah.”
    This is a buddhist saying, “Allah.”
    This is a wiccan saying, “Allah.”

    Any questions?

  • Aj

    A moderate Muslim majority country isn’t the same as a regular moderate country. Malaysia has sharia law, it’s not pretty, and I won’t be surprised if the ban gets reinstated by Malaysian Federal Court. Malaysia mixes Islam, ethnic nationalism, and the British parliamentary system into something better than some of the worst Muslim majority countries, but not that great either. That’s how you can get a constitutional right to freedom of speech, and a ban on using certain words.

  • Trace

    “Allah is only for us”.


  • Talynknight

    Why in the world did “brainwash” steal a line from “Hackers.”

    That’s just sad.

  • JoJo

    AJ is right. An uneasy truce held together by finacial and political expediency holds sway (just) in Malaysia. The population is split between Indian, Malay and Chinese communities. Islam holds a privileged position . Shariah is practises in some areas, but not usually against non Muslims. The Rule of Law and democracy were left behind by us Brits. But that makes us an evil colonialist power, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, corruption is rife. I don’t see why those above can’t figure out why the Catholics and Muslims are making a thing of this – it’s obvious. Malaysia has a lot of poorly educated and superstitious people. The Catholics want them to be catholic. But the Muslims insist that Mohammed wants them for a sunbeam. They are afraid that if the term ‘Allah’ is transferrable, potential followers will be confused in to joining the wrong side. It really is that dumb. Scary thing is, it’s dumb enough to work. I mean, we just finished saying happy birthday to the baby Jeebus at Solstice time, didn’t we? Confusing the natives is how Christianity rolls. You can see how the rug butters have lost their famous sense of humour over this one…

  • Danny

    How do Muslims expect to control language again? I think I missed the master plan.

  • Keith

    It’s stories like these that bring home the realization that religion is, indeed, a psychological disease.

  • Rest

    How childish religion can be.

    “Mummy, the Christians took our Allah! Wah, wah, wah!”


  • kenneth

    how hilarious. muslims worship the abrahamic god, as do christians and jews. one god, 3 groups of worshippers, a trilogy of movements in fact.

  • Elis

    I keep seeing people repeating propaganda about the word Allah being the name of a pagan Arab god (Daniel Pipes?) I don’t really understand the purpose behind it, but it’s blatantly dishonest. I’m an atheist and couldn’t care less if it’s indeed the name of a pagan god. However I do care about not propagating falsehood, even when it’s against a BS religion like Islam.

    I’m a native Arabic speaker and can see clearly the word Allah is derived from two components Al and Ilah which are in order The and Deity. The word Illah is very similar or identical in pronunciation to the word God in many Semitic languages. That can’t be an accident.

    Aside from Allah, people still use Al Ilah (the deity) in Arabic, this includes Christian and Muslims, and they all also use another word Called Rab or Al Rabb which roughly translate into Lord and The Lord but can also be translated into God.

    I have an Arabic bible littered with the word Allah (exact pronunciation as Muslims.) I’ve attended Christian Arab sermons where the word Allah has been used as God and I know Arab Christians use it in everyday conversations like Ya Allah (oh God), Inshaallah (God’s willing), Alhumdulillah (thank God) … etc. In fact, if you try to say these using standard Al Ilah (The Deity) it will result in a tongue twister with vocals very similar to saying Allah in the first place, which is probably how the word originated (just my guess.)

    It’s very likely Arab pagans did use the word Allah to describe their pagan gods, but that doesn’t make it exclusive or make them originators. It just means they claimed their objects to be God/Allah in the same way myriad of other religions use the word god to describe their deities.

    Muhammad clearly plagiarized most of his stories, and most likely this includes the Arabic translation of deity used by Christians of his time.

    The earliest surviving Arabic translation of the bible came after the foundation of Islam, so it’s possible (but highly unlikely) that Islam influenced the translation, but there is little to no evidence to suggest that.

    Either way, ignoring the origin of the word Allah, the fact it’s used by non-Muslim Arabs to describe their deity is enough to make it the equivalent of the English word God. Also, if Allah is not the Arabic word for God, what is?

    Although I must admit, the occurrence and usage of the word Allah happens less with Christians than Muslims and I never heard a Christian say Allaho Akkbar (God is great.)

    If the courts side with Muslims on this one, they should require them to rewrite Allah as Allah(TM).

  • Staceyjw

    Muslims, VIOLENT over something trivial about islam? SHOCKING…
    What a bunch of idiots.

  • We Are The 801

    So much for the god of the Jews, Christians and Muslims being the same god. Heh.

  • I do not give a fiddler’s damn about the etymology of the word allah. I cannot find it in me to become incensed by threats and violence between two mind viruses.

    A pox on the Malaysian Christians AND Muslims. Let them defile each other’s scripture and burn each other’s mosques and churches to the ground. They are simply doing what religions have done for over a millennium … warring and dying over delusion.

  • Edmond

    Last year I read a textbook called something like Religions of the World, just for the hell of it, just to be able to say I did SOME kind of research on the subject. The book was borrowed, so I don’t have it anymore, but I seem to recall in the Islam section it corroborated Xanthippa’s story about there being multiple arab gods, Allah being only one of them, living in the black rock and all that, administered by Mohammed’s family, and when his brand of preaching became popular, the other gods were abandoned. I wish I could remember the story more clearly, or could find the book on Google or Amazon (I tried), but I can definitely say that someone out there is telling the same story.

  • Erp

    No one is claiming Xanthippa created the story just that it is false in the sense that Allah is not a moon god and is considered by most Muslims to be the same god that Jews and Christians worship. It can be most amusing to read some Christian groups planning to evangelize in Iraq or other Arabic speaking countries trying to come up with an alternate name for God in Arabic because they bought into Allah not meaning the same as God.

    Mecca did have multiple gods before Islam but the god that remained was called ‘the God’ (Allah) and was not a moon god. Mohammad was also very clear that this was the God of Abraham, the god worshiped by Jews and Christians.

  • bigjohn756

    We needn’t worry about asteroids or comets destroying the Earth. Global warming is of no consequence. We have religion to take care of the destruction of our culture and civilization.

  • CybrgnX

    Its amazing……
    a person sears he was told by an invisible magic sky fairy that its name was (insert name). Lets see the name for people who hear voices from invisible friends …MMMM..Oh ya their plucking insane!!!! And now we have a few dozen insane crazy religions (who believe this schite) fighting over which one is crazier!!!
    Plucking Amazing!!!

  • Richard Wade

    So when the Religion of Love meets the Religion of Peace, we get hate and violence.

  • BC3free

    I wonder what the Irish Catholics have to say about all this. Supporting their own church would clearly be in violation of their shiny new blasphemy law. And supporting the Muslims goes against the desires of their own church. But I’m sure their long-practiced mental gymnastics will allow them to carry on, oblivious to the absolute stupidity of the whole freakin thing.

  • muggle

    Richard, once again, you said it all beautifully.

    It might seem strange for me to defend a Catholic church…

    In this situation, at least, there’s no reason why you should.

  • muggle

    Egad, Jesse, I just saw my grammatical error. I meant in this case there’s no reason you should feel strange for defending them.

  • Where did I learn about the word ‘Allah’ being a name of pre-Islamic Lunar god?

    OK – this is going back a bit, all the way to my University years. I studied this as part of pre-Islamic Arab history course… To understand the history, we needed to understand their theology – from an anthropological point of view. (This was one of my ‘soft electives’, not my major.)

    I am perfectly aware that since the rather unusual theological construct of ‘one supreme deity’ was introduced to Malaysia through Islam, therefore the word ‘Allah’ became used in that sense. Still, that does not make it right!

    Yes, Muhammad had called Jews and Christians ‘people of the book’. Remember that before founding Islam, Muhammad was a convert to both…some anecdotal evidence suggests he first converted to Christianity, later to Judaism. However, it does seem at least as likely that what he had converted to was a sort of a merge of the two faiths: sects of this form of Judaism/Christianity were quite common in the area: these were semi-mystic Jews who believed that Jesus was a prophet, but not son of God, that the crucifiction of Jesus was mock, that Jesus himself died at Masada, and so on. The ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ are an example of writings of one such sect.

    This explains some of the beliefs about Jesus in Islam.

    However, the older Muhammad became, the less tolerant of Christians and Jews he became. And, it was later on in his life when he made the declarations about them worshiping ‘the other god’.

    The explicit statement that Christians worship ‘the other God’ was during Muhammad’s rejection of the Christian doctrine of Trinity: he insisted on Islam remaining a strict monotheism (as witnessed by his first recognition of the 3 most important Arabic female deities as ‘daughters of Allah’ in the Koran, then repudiating this with a later verse).

  • AMuslim

    I’m a Muslim and I don’t understand where in Islam it says “Allah” is for Muslims only? Allah is the Arabic word for God. Anyone can say it, but not in vain. Its these extremists that spread hate. Only Islam doesn’t have extremists; Christianity has extremists, Hinduism, Judaism, and many more.

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