Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Divine Controversy in Malaysia

I don't know how many of you have been following the right-wing show of muscle in Malaysia over the use of the term "Allah" by Christian Malay to describe G-d. What should have been the domain of linguists, theologians and historians, has become a church bombing exercise, despite the High Court ruling.

I have come across an article today by a progressive Muslim thinker whose writings I have been following for a while. Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is a reformist-writer and activist who advocates a culture of peace, non-violence and communal harmony, and has lectured all over world. He has been awarded several awards, including the Dalmia Award for communal harmony in 1990, honorary D.Litt. by the University of Calcutta in 1993, the 'Communal Harmony Award' in 1997 and the Right Livelihood Award in 2004 (with Swami Agnivesh) for his 'strong commitment to promote values of co-existence and tolerance'.

So of course, bombing houses of worship for linguistic reasons is not something Dr. Ashgar aproves of. His article in today's Malaysian Insider is common sense, and for me at the explanation level of a 5 year old listener, but obviously facts and bombs don't go together, and Ashgar knows about it.

So who exactly is Allah?

"The word ‘Allah’ in Arabic was in use before Islam appeared on the scene in Mecca. As Maulana Azad points out in his Tarjuman al-Qur’an, the word ‘Allah’ is derived linguistically from pre-Islamic ‘eel’ as in Jibrail or Israfil etc. The word is Hebrew was also iloh or ilah and by adding ‘al’ (which in English is used for ‘the’), al-ilah (the God) thus became ‘Allah’ in Arabic and was used for supreme God.

In fact, Muslims should welcome if non-Muslims too use the word Allah for God or Ishwar etc. How can one object to use of ‘Allah’ by others? Anyone who learns Arabic and talks about God will have to use the word Allah.

All Christian Arabs freely use word ‘Allah’ in countries like Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon etc. No one objects to the use of the word. At least I do not know whether any Muslim Arab ever objected to such use.

(I happen to know a slightly different version of the etymology of the term, but I don't want to be controversial).

"As I always maintain, any language exists prior to any religion and not otherwise. A religion uses a language which pre-exists it. More than one religious community can use the same language and terminology of both the religions would appear very similar," says Ashgar. True. We need language to explain and visualise the divine. You also need language to create one.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at http://www.arabic.com.au/.

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