Thursday, March 15, 2007

My God, your God, whose God? Good God!

A malaysiakini reader, Thomas Cranmer, joined the current word-battle between those non-Muslims who insisted on using the ‘Malay’ word ‘Allah’ (swt) to describe God (sometimes I wonder why the insistence!) and those Muslims who said nay (predictable!).

Then Hardial Singh, another malaysiakini reader, chipped in as well, asserting his right as a Sikh to refer to God as 'Allah' (swt), because that very divine name is enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book - and he quoted from Kabir, SGGS pg 1349-5 to substantiate his claim.

In my opening paragraph I said "sometimes I wonder why the insistence" on the part of some non-Muslims (Hardial Singh with his precise quote excepted), because I am not sure whether they really want to use the word 'Allah' (swt) to refer to God in the Malay language (when another Malay word 'Tuhan' exists) or they are just char koay-teow-ing (stirring) ;-), but I won’t go into the two antagonistic groups' respective arguments because as I have said, in such a 'battle'
no one can be proven the victor.

But Cranmer (whoever he is) opined that it’s not appropriate for non-Muslims (except Christian Arabs) to use ‘Allah’ (swt) when referring to God.

He reckoned a more fitting word would be the Latin ‘Deus’, the Hebrew ‘El’ah’ or in the language of Jesus Himself, the Aramaic ‘Elâhâ’.

Well, he was certainly going off at a tangent, because the argument was about referring to God in the Malay language, and not about any other language like Latin, Hebrew or Aramaic.

Besides, I disagree with the Hebraic appellation for God because the Hebrew God, like it or not, was only for the Hebrews, period! He was the God of only the Chosen People, and the 'Chosen People' weren't the non-Judeans (or non-Jews). Therefore ‘El’ah’ would not serve as a God for Christians and non-Jews.

To be fair to God ;-), we know that the Old Testament Bible with its assertion of God and his 'Chosen People' was written by, surprise surprise, the Judeans* (ancient predecessors of Jews) during their stint in Babylonian captivity, around 597 to 537 BCE.

* I prefer to distinguish between the racist intolerant ethno-centric 'Judeans' and todays's Jews, most of whom (excluding the ultras) are decent people.

Those Judeans were hardly going to write into their Bible that ‘El’ah’ (or YHWH) was also the God of the Babylonians or the Persians or anyone else's.

To illustrate the Judeans' biblical-writing licence, recall firstly that it was the Cyrus, King of the Persians who freed the Judeans from their captivity in Babylon.

So the grateful Judeans wrote that into their Bible, backdated of course by 150 years as if it was a prophesy by Isaiah.

"Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut." - Isaiah 45:1

Could it be that the Jewish God was OK with non-Jews, like, say, the Persians if He considered Cyrus as his 'anointed'?

Now now, let's not get carried away with that wee 'anointing' of a Persian King - it's nothing more than a little recording of Jewish gratitude for Cyrus after he released them from Babylonian bondage, and even allowed them to go back to Judah - well, weren't we talking about biblical-writing licence?

But alas, trust them not to leave that well alone as a sincere gesture of gratitude. Those Judeans, being the racist Judeans they were, made sure there’s no mistaking whose God YHWH was, even as HE spoke to Cyrus.

"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel" – Isaiah 45:3

"… am the God of Israel" - now don't forget, that was written by the Judeans, but it explains why I have averred, apart from the central issue of use of the Malay langugae, that ‘El’ah’ isn't a good term for the God of the non-Jews, including Christians.

Then the Judeans probably thought - perhaps they ought not to give too much credit to the damn Persian King, much as Cyrus was magnanimous to them in freeing and then mitigating the trauma of their first Diaspora.

They decided to write in a sort of MCA-type Ops Claw-Back, averring that Cyrus was 'anointed' by their Judean God but only for the benefit of the Judeans.

"For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have called thee by thy name" – Isaiah 45:4

Jacob, second son of Isaac and also grandson of Abraham, also named 'Israel', was the eponymous 'father' of the ancient Israelites. Yes, you've got it right, he was that bloke who cheated his own blind father, Isaac, his twin (elder) brother Esau the rightful heir, and his father-in-law Laban.

Hardly surprising, his Judean descendents wrote their Bible to badmouth Esau as unworthy of his birthrights as well as given to idolatry while father-in-law Laban was a cheat and a practitioner of witchcraft too, but the biggest cheat of all, Jacob was an AOK sort of bloke, in fact YHWH's beloved, as would be his usurping adulterous murderous descendent David - ah, the power of the pen over mere swords!

But the above sentence from Isaiah tells us ‘nons’, whether Persians and any non-Jews, who the Judean God favoured, or whom he considered himself as God of - or more correctly, what the Judeans themselves claimed.

So, how can we accept Thomas Cranmer’s suggestion to refer to God as ‘El’ah’, unless of course you're a Jew?

Back to square one on the name of God in the Malay language!


  1. Let's all be sexy and say "Mon Dieu".

    All these people arguing over the "correct" terminology is missing the entire point. Why would God care what you call him? Man, if he was that fussy, he would have told us all long ago to call him "Pimp Daddy". We're all his hoes anyway.

  2. Good morning Brother,
    ' Allah' is an Arabic term that God addresses Himself as in the Holy Qur'an @ The Final Testament to us.

    It's not a Malay word. 'Tuhan' is a Malay term for 'God'.

    Hope this clarifies things for you.

    Always ready to help out.


  3. good to see you back, MG58 Ah Hnia, long time no hear lah.

    It's true that the word 'Allah' came to Malaya via the Quran, but like other words such as samudera, roti, Isnin, mee, hospital, bas, buku etc, the word 'Allah' has joined the Malay lexicon to mean Almighty God (to Malay and non-Malay Muslims).

    The current debate is about the reluctance of some Malay Muslims to allow non-Muslims to employ the word as a reference to any non-Islamic God versus the insistence of some non-Muslims that they have every right to do so.

    It's precisely the religious significance that some Muslims even become possessive (or protective?) on minor issues such as the Muslim 'exclusive' use of the Arabic greeting Assalamu 'Alaikum (peace be upon you) - I blogged on this 2 years ago in Divisive Religion or Religious Division? (1) - link

  4. wah, such a heavy theological-historical piece... din know u can b so academic...

    for me, i'm just too pening to comment about this sort of debates - pening because i've been knocking my forehead to the wall - HTF is this debate even useful???!!!

    wherever the origin is, to me, whoever is trying to monopolise the 'A' word is actuall making a BIGGER statement/claim - claiming that the one true God 'belongs to their religion' EXCLUSIVELY, n therefore all the rest r just counterfeits.

    otherwise, HTF is this debate even relevant???

  5. Whatever, I call him Jehovah. He's sitting in front of me thinking whether to move his Fundamentalist to E-32-32-15-11-2-a-62 to counter my Zealot or to counter my Religious Fanatic (It's a 16 dimension chess game)