By Arshad Alam for New Age Islam
20 July 2012
What is in a name? Perhaps much if we listen in carefully. A couple of years ago, some Muslims in Malaysia objected to Christians using the name of Allah to denote God. Almost as if they had a copyright over the usage of the name Allah, these Muslims argued that since Allah was the name of their God, only they (the Muslims) could use this word.
The controversy over the usage of Allah is not unique to Malaysian Muslims; shades of this contest are present elsewhere too, including in India. Muslims alone can decide whether the word Allah will belong specifically to them or will be available universally for other religious traditions as well. Islamic scholars have always posited Islam as a universal religion and Allah as the God of all humanity. Post the Malaysian controversy, this sure started looking very unconvincing.
But why is it that a section of Muslims decide to reduce a universal God to a Muslim God? Does it say something about their own selves; about what kind of Muslims they are and what kind of Muslims they want to become?
During my visits to my hometown in Bihar, I could not help but notice most of my friends using the word ‘Allah hafiz’ in place of the more traditional ‘Khuda hafiz’. Curious to find out the reason for this change of terminology, I was told that the name of Muslim God was Allah and so it was proper for Muslims to use only this name.
The word Khuda was jettisoned precisely because it was inclusive and people from other religious traditions were also known to use that word.
It is the same anxiety, the same fear which beset the Malaysian Muslims. It is an anxiety about their religious identity, an anxiety which comes from interrogating the self as to what kind of Muslims they are. The echo of this vigorous re-examination of the Muslim religious-self is not confined to Malaysia or India, but rather is characteristic of Muslims inhabiting the Islamic periphery.
Thus beyond the Islamic centre of Middle East, the Muslims of the periphery are getting increasingly anxious over their religious identity. The Mahabharata reciting Muslim of Indonesia is in the process of become a fable; the shared space of shrines is under attack in the Central Asian Republics and Pakistan; the increasing presence of the burqa and the diminishing presence of vermillion on Muslim heads are there for all to see.
Muslims in the periphery are thus undergoing tremendous interpretive stress and are re-defining what it means to be a Muslim.
One part of this re-definition is the creation of boundary markers which clearly sets them apart from others. Aided by reformist organizations like Deoband, they are keen to jettison their own cultural location and specific histories. In the process, they are themselves getting negative about their tradition and cultural heritage; something they see as a polluting influence on their Islamic selves.
This search for ‘purity’ reorients them towards the Arabs, the supposed possessors of unalloyed Islamic selves. The Centre of Islam, with all its magnanimity, pumps oil money to fund mosques and madrasas, which will teach the peripherals what ‘true’ Islam is all about. What gets taught here is beside the point, but for the students what gets imprinted in their minds is a landscape very different from theirs. They learn of stories which have no relevance to their immediate surroundings, which have no roots in their cultural tradition.
To not know of the Muslim contribution to South Asian classical music and learn that music is not permissible in Islam is tantamount to uprooting a Muslim from his own historical self. To learn about the deserts of Arabia sitting in the rainforests Indonesia is symbolic violence. This violence deeply alienates the individual from his own social ecology. What then does one expect from these Muslims who are themselves products of violence?
It is unfortunate but true that more and more Muslims are getting detached from their own cultural moorings. This detachment and slow re-coupling with an Arab Islamic tradition is going to do immense harm to Muslims, especially those who are living in multicultural societies like in India. Gradually, this would lead to becoming estranged from our own surroundings and neighbourhoods which then leads to the development of negative stereotypes about other communities.
It is imperative for an Indian Muslim, not just to know about their rich historic specificity of living together, but also appreciate and participate in the lives of other communities. The process of slow Arabisation must therefore be arrested not only because it is politically necessary but also because of the simple fact that no community can lead a healthy life without a sense of rootedness. There is a need therefore for a context specific theology which is altogether lacking.
Spreading cultural awareness by excavating a particular community’s location in history and culture has been one of the important roles of the educated middle class. The tragedy of Indian Muslims is that their own middle class has abandoned this role altogether. Unfortunately, they are the ones most prone to the winds of Arabisation flowing through various information networks like the third rate discourse of tele-mulla Zakir Naik.
Arshad Alam is an author and writer, currently with Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi He writes a regular column for New Age Islam.
another perfect reply by Mr. Muhammad Yunus (1) Sir to Madam Sonika Rahman. Any
insistence to say there is difference between Khudas and Allah is acceptable
till their spellings are concerned, and till the discussion is about the
language in which these words are. Words are important; names are important,
but not more than the idea behind it. Words are always there to communicate an
idea; to mean something. That idea; that something is the real thing. You call
rose by any name its fragrance remains same. You call Allah/ Khuda/ Bhagwan/ Ishwar/
Daata/ Palanhaar/ Upar wala/ by any beautiful name, it means the same.
Allah Hafiz is acceptable as a new fashion but the new fashion has some new
story also. Usage of it indicates that the person has started differentiating Allah
from Khuda and such differentiation has come from Middle East where there is
amalgamation of Urdu speaking people who think that whatever they see there is
the purest of Islam. This inferiority of Urdu speaking people had in earlier
generation led them to abandon Urdu for English and in this generation it is
leading at least those Urdu speaking people who are dependent on Middle East
for livelihood, towards Arabic.
they dropped their Pajama for Patloon, replaced Topi with Topless, hung a necktie
and got clean shaved and there was nothing wrong as such in doing all that.
Today they are just shortening the Patloon, capping their topless head with a
specific looking cap, (skullcap), still hanging their tie along with an added
feature-a beard. But all this is not
meaningless altogether. Ask the skullcap wearer if he would be willing to wear
those black coloured topi that we see on Qawwals, they would simply brush the
idea off citing a reason that it gives a Qawwal look and making Qawwals derogatory.
The real reason they would mostly hide in order to not appear a sectarian
fellow by not telling that such a topi, they see as indicative of Barelvi sect
while skull cap is indicative of Wahabi sect. I have seen enough of maara maari
between Wahabi and Barelvi with Deobandi siding with Wahabi, and all this for
Gol topi and Kaali topi. Jahil Qaum with their complexes; inferiority in
presence of Arab and superiority in presence of all others!
Though Ms Sonika Rahman’s
presentation is also not irrational.
Some people say we should only
invoke by the Names of Allah as those presented in the Qur'an ... I agree ...
In English however, people do not necessarily understand what Allah means and
often people mistake Allah as a different God from their own. This provides a
dilemma do we say Allah and maintain the understanding in Arabic or for
dialogue and comparative religion purposes can we still say God. The truth is
the term "God" has it's origins in pagan sources also ... it comes
from the Norse pagan religion from the word YOD .... Khuda comes from the
Persian ... both of these were not according to their original meanings
universal single deities rather they were the heads of their deities. Often
different languages and cultures have their own names for the supreme all
powerful God and other deities who help or assist Him. This is shirk to accept
any such helping or assisting gods ...
However, to say there is only One God
and Khuda Ek Hai is as per lingua consistent with the Arabic understanding. It
is often good practice to speak about Allah in a language the people
understand. In the past when Islam was introduced to the Indian subcontinent
Khuda was used to explain the meaning of Allah, but now all Muslims in the
region know the meaning of Allah and should use this term. The word God should
still be used in the West for now as they still do not understand the true
meaning of Allah, until this happens then it will be better to use the term
This puts another twist on things
... do we say Allah Hafiz, Khuda Hafiz or God Hafiz .... yes I know this may
sound funny ... but this is the aimlessness of this thread ... say what you
will as long as you understand that Khuda is not assisted by any subordinate
gods and the meaning of the term is Allah, but for the Pakistanis they should
use Allah as they know the Arabic term well.
We should offer Namaz only in a place which is clean. 'Jaaye Paak' (clean place) is one of the farz of Namaz. I hear some youngsters who have returned from Saudi Arabia, seeing of their relatives and friends on the streets which are full of filth, garbage, cow dung etc sahing 'Allah Hafiz'.
Uttering Allah's name by standing on cow dung and other najis (impure) items is nothing but denigrating Allah Almighty. That's why our elders rightly coined the word 'Khuda Haafiz' (Khuda refers only to Allah Almighty and none else). The Khuda Hafiz was later accepted by the followers of all faith. The supporters of Allah Hafiz may say so many things, but there is no denying the fact that only those who return from Saudi Arabia use this.
and community discourses not to differentiate Allah with God. The word ‘God’
appears at the back of each American dollar note, is taken regularly by
American leaders, and is without any trace of doubt, the verbal symbol for the
Almighty Creator that in Arabic is called Allah. Until the rise of symbolism in
the wake of the Dome of Rock fire (1969) and the Yom Kippur war (1973), many
English translations of the Qur’an by Islamic scholars had the word God for
Allah. But later editions of those works have used the Arabic word only
implying that God had to be identified by a proper Arabic noun – a notion the
Qur’an dispels by asserting that Allah is no different from God who is
remembered in all places of worship - churches, synagogues, monasteries and
mosques (22:40). Any insistence to calling God in the Arabic tongue reinforces
the Islamic stereotype as a Cult of Muhammad with an Arabic deity and feeds the
growing anti-Islamic propaganda and Islamophobia."
Confronting Islamophobia in America: Need for a
Major Paradigm shift in Mosque Proceedings - [See, point 1]
The Name of Allah is not a debatable subject other than its reality. If you go through Qura'an-i-Kareem, only the word ALLAH will available in the holy book. It meanse that the ALLAH is Arabic word for the GOD. Like EISHWER is the samskrit word the same. The Word KHUDA came from Persian and widely used in routine life of PARSI. They always called Oh KHUDAI. Mirzi Ghalib copulates--- Na Tha Kuch to Khuda tha, Na hota kuch to Khuda hota, Duboya mujhko hone ne, Na main hota to Kya hota? Hui Muddat ke mar Gaya ghalib par Yad Aata hai, ---Wo har ek baat par kahna ke Youn hota to Kya hota?------- Urdu Shairi leading its previous mother laguage PERSIAN, So Urdu paople are using word KHUDA. However the real Islamic name of Muslim GOD is ALLAH. and no need to discuss the name of Allah to creat new controversy against Muslim having belief in Qra'an, which is incarnated in Arabic only.
Thanks and Regards
Janab Arshad Alam Sahib, Really you have given a thought provoking article. Every Muslim should read it. I have been thinking about Muslims, mainly younger generation, all of a sudden preferring 'Allah Hafiz' to 'Khuda Hafiz'. For we the Muslism, Khuda means none other than Allah Almighty. I could not understand why Khuda Hafiz, which is used by the followers of all faiths, should be replaced by Allah Hafiz. Nagore Haniffa, a renowned Islamic Tamil singer, has rendered a Tamil song 'Iraivanidam Kai Yendungal, Avan Illai Yendru Solluvathillai" (Beg to God, he will not say no to you). Since the word 'Iraivan' referring to God is used (instead of Allah), this song is rendered in the religious and social functions of all religions. Even a Hindu fanatic like Rama Gopalan, founder of Hindu Munnani in Tamil Nadu, has hailed this song. If Mr. Hanifa had rendered it as Beg Allah, no one except Muslims would have recited this.
Again I would like to mention here that A. R. Rahman, in his acceptance speech after receiving two Oscars concluded his speech with the Tamil words "Yella Pugazhum Iraivanukke" (tamil translation of 'SUBHANALLAH) - GLORY TO GOD. Now, people belonging to various religions and even religious heads and political leaders have started reciting the tamil translations of SUBHANALLAH (Yella Pugazhum Iraivanukke) after completing their speeches. "KHUDA HAFIZ" will unite the whole mankind, irrespective of religious affiliations.
Once again I thank Janab Arshad Alam sahib for this wonderful article. He should concentrate more on such articles, in the interest of the whole community.
A Muslim need not have any significant/ religious attachment with the country of Saudi Arabia. Our prophet who is a universal prophet, was incidentally born in a land which now is called Saudi Arabia. We go to perform Hajj in Mecca and Medina but don’t go to any other place of Saudi Arabia. If Hajj had not been a symbolic religious duty ( a congregation of believers), we would have forgotten Saudi Arabia because Muslims do not worship a place or a monument of birth even of a prophet. Like Sikhs, who look to guru granth sahib , we also look to Quran (and the authentic religious practices of the prophet) for our guidance. We do not look up to custodians of Kaaba or rulers of Saudi for our religious instructions. In fact, we, all Muslims of the world, have a religious right/claim over the holy places of Medina and Mecca, and to that extent, the sovereignty of the State of those places should be treated as abridged – and the Arab rulers should be made to understand this. I think Iran already holds these views.
Now, our blue-collar workers returning from Saudi Arabia and wishing Allah hafiz etc. would not sound as jarring if we sympathetically saw the harsh conditions in which they live and ‘this mantra’ is the only self-respect augmenting substance they return with. This is temporary. Let them do it, because it will evaporate with the Arab oil.
Arshad Alam to pointing towards a problem, which is plaguing not only Indian
Muslims but also Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Europe and even Muslim societies in
Africa. In my conversations with educated Muslims who are normally astute and
analytical in their daily life, I have noticed that when it comes to Islam,
they follow, what Mosques are dishing out. Saudi Arabia and the tiny Gulf
states are spending millions of dollars in inviting Imams, bright religiously
inclined students and even prominent Muslims in Europe to come to Saudia for indoctrination in its version of
Islam. Since Saudia is the centre
of Islam’s birth, people feel obliged to feel grateful and carry with them this
distorted version, doctored copies of Quran and other anti-West and
anti-Semitic material and use it in their own zealous propagation.
second word in their conversation is Inshalla, Mashallah, Alhumdulilla etc.
Unfortunately, Face book is now full of such religious fervour with ridiculous
messages and show off Islam. Recently, I read a message on the facebook by a student
in USA who said: “ If you want to succeed in this world, learn English but
learn Arabic if you want Paradise”.
solution to this madness is that Muslims with a common sense and love of their
simple religion meet this challenge head on. Shying away will only further embolden
these village Imams who are in the process of polluting Islam.
The problem with a section of our clergy is that they accept everything concerning faith emanating from Saudi Arabia to be the ‘purest’ Islam without questioning them, and following them up blindly.
How else would you explain the increasing use of the words words ‘Allah Hafiz’ instead of the hitherto used ‘Khuda Hafiz’?
The blind replication of the Saudi does point to a sense of inadequacy or perhaps lack of confidence. In the process, the spirit is lost. In regard to the controversy in Malaysia, the arguments against the use of word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims, to put it mildly, are very foolish. Does Allah belong to the Muslims alone? On the same pretext, the Christian and Hindus would also object to use of words, ‘God’ and ‘Ishwar’ by those not adhering to their beliefs. Will there be a limit to such madness? You have very correctly questioned the wisdom of these Muslims for reducing a universal God to a Muslim God.