By Mustafa Akyol
Earlier this week, a Malaysian court gave a bizarre decision: A Catholic newspaper in that country, named the Herald, would not be allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. The court’s logic was that when Christians pray to “Allah,” Muslims get “confused.” Chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali made an even more revealing statement, noting, “The propagation of other religions to the followers of Islam is the biggest threat to Malaysia’s Muslims.” Apparently the universal usage term of “Allah” was seen as a vehicle for that dangerous “propagation.”
Now, as a fellow Muslim, I will be honest to the Malaysians who have given this verdict or those who support it: This is one of the most illogical, insensible and childish decisions I have heard in my life. It is sheer nonsense.
Why? Well, first of all, the word “Allah” simply means “The God” in Arabic, and it certainly is not exclusive to Islam. Pre-Islamic Arabs also referred to “Allah,” as the biggest deity above many idols that they had invented in their polytheistic culture. (That is why Islam proclaimed, “There is no god, but only The God [Allah].”) Moreover Arab Christians have been using the term for centuries, simply because there is no other word in Arabic to refer to God.
What must be even more binding for Muslims from all cultures, however, is that the Quran itself insists that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. Muslims are even commanded to say to these fellow monotheists, “Our God and your God are one, and we submit to Him,” (29:46). In other words, if Malaysian Muslims should have done anything about the word “Allah,” it should have been to call on Christians to use the term freely. (Meanwhile, the Quran certainly condemns the Doctrine of Trinity, like Judaism also does, but this does not negate the commonality of all these three faiths in “the God of Abraham.”)
But what if Muslims get “confused,” when they hear Christians praying to “Allah?” Well, nobody’s “confusion,” or lack of comprehension, can justify the destruction of other people’s freedom.
Otherwise, should Christian countries ban the usage of terms such as “Jesus” or “Mary,” which are prominent in the Quran, by their Muslim minorities?
In short, the Malaysian decision to claim a Muslim copyright for “Allah” is grossly wrong. It is both un-Islamic and irrational. And it only reveals the burning lack of intellectual self-confidence among Muslims, not just in Malaysia, but also elsewhere. Why, otherwise, does the slightest chance of “the propagation of other religions” provoke so much fear – and so much compulsion?