The Use of ‘Allah’

Not long ago here, discussion turned to whether or not it was OK for Christian’s to use the term ‘Allah’ when referring to God. I read today that Malaysian courts have now ruled that it is legal for Christians to use the term ‘Allah’ for God, and this has inspired peaceful protests from Muslim groups. The potential for greater disturbance is noted in the article.

See the complete article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

We had a few points of view here – varying from:

Whosoever calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Those who call on Allah or anyone else will perish. The Bible makes this crystal clear.

– Bull

to

Allah is just the arabic word for God. When an Arabic Christian prays, they pray to ‘Allah’.

– wazza

My own view was:

So I don’t have a problem with a Christian praying to Allah, as long as they are not teaching a different understanding about Jesus and the nature of God, His love, and redemption.

For myself, the term ‘Allah’ is one that I could not use comfortably – it doesn’t bring to my mind the God that I worship. (I don’t use the term ‘Jehovah’ either.) But for someone with a different cultural background, this might not be the case. Also, someone may pray that way out of sensitivity to those they are praying with, yet still be praying to God they know in their heart, with that being just another way for them to call Him God. So long as they are still sharing Jesus, it could be an act of love and consideration, which might make it easier for people to hear about Christ.

– RavingPente

The Muslims who object to the ruling which was also determined by the Malaysian High Court, had at least two reasons:

  1. They say the term is an exclusively Islamic word for God and its non-Muslim use would be confusing;
  2. They fear it will be used in literature to help convert Muslims to Christianity.

The first objection is one that disturbed some of us. I think we found when we looked at it, that historically the term has been used by both Christians and Muslims, depending upon their cultural location and time. Perhaps that is one reason why the the High Court (informed by Muslim scholars) approved the use of the term, though from the article, I can’t tell.

The second objection is probably true, as we’ve already seen examples of ‘Allah’ being used in evangelism; no doubt they are more aware of that than many of us are. Plus the article points to the example of 10,000 Malay language Bibles being confiscated for using the term ‘Allah’ the whole way through.

There appears to be the possibility of adding further restrictions on the manner of use of ‘Allah’ to reduce religious tensions and avoid inflaming anger.

Anyway, I thought this was worth noting, given that we were discussing the issue as a bunch of Christians. Now we can see that the same issue is being discussed within a Muslim community, with the moderates at this point coming out on top.

******************
RavingPente


11 thoughts on “The Use of ‘Allah’

  1. Very interesting post. A few years ago we were on our family vacations on the island of Malta. The people there are Catholic but ethnic Arabs.
    In their language (Malti) the word for God is therefore Alla, and by this name they pray to God in Mass.
    Now. the word itself is just a linguistic expression and I don´t know of any christian rule that says that we should name God only in Greek or even Hebrew, because that´s the very reason why Muslims always use the Arabic word Allah.
    The debate, if Muslims mean the same God as Jews and Christians (maybe), and if yes, do they know him in the way how John 10 expresses it?
    I fear for most of them the answer to that question will be no.

    I think there is no restriction that forbids to use the word Allah, as long it is clear that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is meant by naming the Godhead.

    There was an interesting discussion about the answer by some Christians to “A common word between us and you” sent by muslim clerics. In the answer named “Loving God and neighbour together” the authors (from Yale divinity school) used “God” and “Jesus Christ” but as many critics pointed out in a way that is silent about the different understanding about Christ in Christianity and that also may imply that God in that document is thesame as the Allah of Islam.
    The original document and the diverse responses are collected on a website http://www.acommonword.com

    Many critics both towards the original document and even more towards the different answers can be found on the internet. One interesting one may be http://betweenthetimes.com/2009/09/30/what-hath-jerusalem-to-do-with-mecca-evangelicals-respond-to-a-common-word/

  2. The name of something is never the same as the thing itself, and this goes doubly for ‘God’. I think any time people get all heated up about a particular word or name then they have taken their eyes of the reality being pointed to by that word. They are then talking about linguistics and culture which is quite separate from God.

    So I dont care what He is called at all. He really has no name as the Hebrews originally knew. Calling him ‘God’ in English is not a bad idea, its like a generic term.

    In Arabic the word for God is ‘Allah’ so both Christians and Muslims will use the same word. In English if you use the word ‘Allah’ you are referring to a Muslim understanding of God. The situation in Malay is not as clear-cut (the culture having been influenced by Islam for so long). There is some debate over whether the Malay word for God is ‘Allah’ or something else.

  3. Well diablo, spanish for devil, means the same. Its funny before i knew the meaning i didn’t find it “meant” anything, now when i hear diablo, i get a different reaction. Words are interesting. But I have had the same discussion with a JW about Yahwey, correct spelling, no, but we agreed to disagree and i didn’t say that word in front of them again.

  4. From the third article linked to by WordPress below the original post here:

    For centuries, Sikhs have used the words ‘Allah’ and ‘Rahim’ to refer to God as well as the Arabic terms ‘iman’ and ‘ibadat’ for faith and worship.Following the government’s ban against the usage of purportedly ‘Islamic’ terms by non-Muslims, what will happen to the practice of the Sikh religion in Malaysia?

    I think you are right about culture and context, Wazza. The quote above shows how difficult it must have been for the Sikhs when the Malyasian law that originally banned the use of the term ‘Allah’ (and other terms referring to God) by non-Muslims was applied in 2008, it seems.

    Clearly people do get very heated up about this issue! At the very least, I guess this shows that we can’t take our own comfort with the reality behind our words for granted and just expect others to understand it (or be flippant about it as you say, mj) – in some situations we could cause great offence by using the wrong term in the wrong context.

    Evangelists using the term ‘Allah’ would need to be very aware of what they are doing. But people who have grown up with the term in their own language or culture would feel seriously robbed if they could no longer use the term for God that they are comfortable with.

  5. I wonder how they feel about our songs. Lah Lah Lah. that could be offensive. Think Kylie Minogues song

  6. Wazza2,

    the truth is that God identifies Himself as “I Am”, “I am the Living God.”

    “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

    Yeshua called Him Abba.

    These is a word like our English ‘God’ used as a generic term in Arabic. ‘Ilah’ Is how I think it’s spelled.

    There is no Ilah but Abba. And Jesus is His Son.

    That’s a very simple creed we would all agree with …

    Shalom

  7. it has been reported by the Indian paper The Hindu that three churches in Kuala Lumpur have been fire bombed as part of the reaction towards the High Court ruling about the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.
    Also the government has intervened to suspend the ruling becoming effective and maybe to reverse it.
    It seems that many Muslims perceive that Allah is Muslim-only and different from the God that Christians pray to.

  8. Now six churches have been fire bombed.

    See http://www.smh.com.au/world/malaysian-christians-defy-church-attacks-20100110-m0kn.html

    It was notable that the Christian quoted in the article(from one of the attacked churches) wanted dialog to resolve things and believes that most Malaysians including Muslims are peace loving, and blamed the attack on extreme elements of the Muslim community.

    I hope that the Christian response remains expressive of peace, as this is a great testimony in the face of conflict.

  9. David Pawson, speaking to Malaysian pastors at a dinner some months ago had this to share with them “Are you preparing your people for suffering?”

    He was right to ask them wasn’t he?

Comments are closed.