And finally this morning (a busy day for blogging after a bit of an hiatus) a Malay friend of mine has been emailing me with concerns about the opposition Christians in Malaysia are expriencing in regards to the new law forbidding the use of the name “Allah” in any context other than Islam.
It must be said from the get go, that this is a singularly parochial idea on the part of the Malaysian Muslims. It is not shared anywhere else in the world, as far as I know, by any other Muslim majority – not even in Indonesia, which has its fair share of Christian-Muslim troubles.
Why don’t the Christians in Malaysia just give up the use of the name “Allah” and use some other word for “God”? Well, just consider that wherever Christianity has been proclaimed and taught and celebrated in Arabic, “Allah” has been the word used for God. This is only obvious, since the original Arabic from which the name comes is “al-ilah”, ie. “the God”. It is the direct equivalent of the Greek “ho theos” used in the New Testament. In the Hebrew, the word used for God shows the same cultural borrowing: since the ancient cultures among which the Hebrew faith emerged only had a plural word for divinity – “Elohim” – they continued to use just this same word, but with singular rather than plural verbs and adjectives (see an example in today’s first reading at Mass, from 1 Sam 4, where the Philistines exclaim “Gods have come to their camp” – it could be translated also as “God” or “a god”).
And if you still can’t understand the predicament that the Malay Christians are in, imagine for a moment, even in English, let alone Arabic or Greek or Hebrew, trying to speak about or praying to the Trinity without using the name “God”. Pretty hard, eh?
I don’t know which way this one will fall in the end, but the Malay authorities are way out on a limb here.