What’s in a name: Are God and Allah the same?

March 12, 2009

malaysia-feature“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of Allah.”

Malaysian Catholics recite this prayer in Malay daily at Masses across the country such as a recent one in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Keningau, a sprawling timber town in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island that Niluksi Koswanage visited for this feature about tensions between Christians and the majority Muslims.

Muslims object to Christians using the word “Allah” in their services and publications, even though it is the normal word for God in Malay. The Muslims say it could undermine Islam and aims to convert Muslims. The row over the use of Allah to describe the Christian God feeds into a long-running feud over conversions between the government of a country where all Malays must be Muslims, and other faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism that are practised by ethnic Indians and Chinese.

(Photo: Mass at St. Francis Cathdral in Keningau, Malaysia, 22 Feb 2009/Bazuki Mohammad)

It is illegal in Malaysia to convert from Islam to any other religion, although conversions to Islam are allowed. Malaysian Muslim activists and officials see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytise. Those concerns led to a ban on the main Catholic newspaper in Malaysia, the Catholic Herald, on using the word “Allah” to denote God. The government partially lifted the ban in mid-February, only to reimpose it later that month. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling.

Some leading Muslim scholars here say the issue is being blown out of proportion and that the risk of conversions among the 60 percent Muslim population is tiny. They see it, instead, as an attempt by the government that has ruled Malaysia uninterrupted for 51 years since independence from Britain to hold on to power by identifying ethnicity with religion.

That hegemony is now under threat after the opposition scored its best-ever election result in 2008 when it deprived the government of its two-thirds parliamentary majority and ended up in control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states.

malay-allahOpposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is now targeting the voters of Borneo in an effort to keep up pressure on the government and the first test will come in a state assembly by-election in early April. That may give a chance for voters in a constituency near St Francis Xavier to flex their muscles.

(Photo: Malay prayer sheet with words Allah (God), Injil (Bible) and Kristus (Christ), 22 Feb 2009/Bazuki Muhammad)

“If the government wants to be nasty and stop people from using Allah, it can,” said 28-year-old Teresa Palikat, a tailor, after attending Sunday Mass in Keningau district. “But it may not work here. It’s God’s country here.”

Or is it “Allah’s country”? Or does the word used to describe it make no difference at all?

2 comments

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it should’nt matter at all. we are all god’s children, whether you are one of the three abrahamic religions (christian, muslim, jew) or follow buddah, or even the many gods of hinduisim, each relgion has its beauty. what shouldn’t happen is one religious ideaology trying to impose its beliefs on anyone else like the taliban tries to do or carry out a religious agenda at the cost of the lives of others like the zionists and neo-cons are doing in palestine. the voice of the moderates in all relgiions has been silences and ignored and religious extremisim is carrying out its agenda thru out the world. may allah (god) save us all

Posted by hassan | Report as abusive

the disciples asked jesus what god was like?, and his reply “if you have seen me you have seen the father.”he is not only god, but he is the likeness of god.i know nothing about allah but if he fits this description then i would be inclined to call him god as well.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive