Saturday, January 9, 2010

Andrei Tricky issues of linguistics and church burnings

In Arabic the word for God is Allah.

Middle Eastern Christians who use Arabic in their worship use Allah in the same way as English speakers use God. Indeed Arabic speakers used Allah in this context long before the birth of the Prophet. And Allah is used in the Arabic translation of the Nicene Creed.

But this has led to a problem in Malaysia where 60% of the population is Muslim. Apparently in Malay the word for the One True God has been adopted from Arabic as Allah and the Muslim population wants to prevent Christians from using it.

Indeed Christians were banned by law from so doing until a recent high court decision overturned this law allowing Malaysian Catholics to use Allah in Malay language publications.

Needless to say the usual suspects are outraged and are taking out their ire on Catholic Churches.

In the name of religious harmony the Government of Malaysia is appealing the decision that allows Catholics the use of Allah - because the term "religious harmony" is rapidly being transformed into a synonym for "submission" which is in itself an English translation of Islam

7 comment(s):

ZenTiger said...

“Allah is only for us,” said Faedzah Fuad, 28, who participated in the rally. “The Christians can use any word, we don’t care, but please don’t use the word Allah.”

So the chaps are not feeling too gay about this then?

At least they said "please".

Others have not been so polite, with arson attempts on at least three churches so far.

ZenTiger said...

That's actually an interesting post. Here in the west we note the appropriation, evolution or alteration (call it what you will) of words to take on new meanings.

"Gay" for example has now widely accepted (conceded?) usage, from the sterling efforts of the "pink" lobby, who also seek to redefine the term marriage to be far more encompassing than recent social custom.

However, we haven't quite got to arguing about who can use what word, it's been more about what a particular word should mean.

Or have we? There is the ability for a person able to use a particular slur, if they are part of that group. A white calling a black a nigger can't be done, but a black can take the term and use it almost as a badge of honour. Obviously, the original form was meant as an insult, and the current context meant as proud defiance, even as many younger people reveal ignorance over the original context.

On a blog we see the same sentiment around Nigger, as we see around reserving the word Allah:

Why would anyone want to use the word nigger? Who cares?

I don't understand why non-blacks get so upset when they can't have something that blacks have. You've got plenty of stuff, why can't you just let it go?

A good post Andrei.

And some useless trivia: "Nigger" has its root in Latin, "niger" meaning black.

Oswald Bastable said...

That 'religion of peoce' spreading it's own peculiar brand of love again...

Lucia Maria said...

This is an interesting one.

According to the Government, the proper Malay word for God is "Tuhan", while as "Allah" is Arabic.

Even though the reaction of the Muslims is extreme, I'd be inclined to wonder why Catholics want to use Allah in the first place. Why not Tuhan, or if that's not appropriate, then the Latin Deus? It just seems odd that they use an Arabic word.

Andrei said...


I have just done some research on this

The first biblical translations of the Bible into Malay go back to 1629, the first complete New Testament to 1668 and the full bible to 1733.

In those translations Tuhan was used for LORD and ALLAH was used for GOD. Thus the LORD GOD would become TUHAN TUHAN or LORD LORD.

Why the original Bible translators used Arabic ALLAH as instead of the Latin or Greek I can only surmise.

But for whatever reason that was there is now well over three hundred years of its use in the Malay language for as the word understood to mean God.

ZenTiger said...

Ah, so a new argument over an old custom.

Lucia Maria said...

Well, that changes things!

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