Monday, December 1, 2008

Re-Drawing the Obvious and Existing Line Between Religion and Language.

In November 2007, the Malaysian Government claimed Muslims hold exclusive rights to the word Allah, and Catholic weekly newspaper Herald was told to remove the word Allah from their publications. The word ‘Allah’ can only be used in the context of Islam and not any other religion, said Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum. Asked why a new condition will be imposed on Catholic weekly newspaper Herald when its annual publishing permit is next renewed, the deputy minister said this is to prevent confusion.

“Only Muslims can use ‘Allah’. It’s a Muslim word, you see. It’s from (the Arabic (language). We cannot let other religions use it because it will confuse people,” he said when contacted today.

“We cannot allow this use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim publications, nobody except Muslims. The word ‘Allah’ is published by the Catholics. It’s not right.”- Malaysiakini.

Now, in November 2008, the authorities have kept up to their trademark act of sheer stupidity.

“Customs authorities in this Muslim-majority country confiscated eight CDs from Jill Ireland when she flew back to Kuala Lumpur after a trip to Jakarta", her lawyer, Annou Xavier, said late Thursday.

"The Home Ministry informed her in a letter that the CDs were seized mainly because their cover titles contained the word “Allah,” which is prohibited in non-Muslim religious material. Ireland wants the Kuala Lumpur High Court to issue a declaration allowing her to transport any religious material for her own personal use", Xavier said.

"Government officials have expressed concerns that using “Allah” in Christian literature could confuse Malaysia’s Muslims and draw them to Christianity”- AP.

The Malaysian Government has the audacity to suggest that only Muslims can use the word Allah. Alright, I am sure no one is expecting an academic response to this for even a layman would acknowledge that “Allah” is an Arabic word, and although Arabic was the origin language of Islam, Arabic does not mean Islam. The religion did not create the language, but it simply adopted the language to spread its teaching.

Many would find the above justifiable enough to refute the ludicrous claim made by the authorities, but as always, the authorities remain constantly in denial-mode. For their sake, let us get a little deeper into this.

Islam believes that God Almighty has many attributes, and that every “Name” associated with him has a meaning. There are 99 Divine Attributes for God Almighty in Islam, and Allah is one of them. “Elaw” in Aramaic is “Allah” in Arabic. Even before the arrival of Islam in the Middle East, the Jews and Christians referred to God Almighty as “Allah”(expectedly so, noting that they spoke in Arabic and God means “Allah” in Arabic). It is important to comprehend the significance of the word “Almighty” as it reflects upon the Supreme God that is above all other gods, be it in the form of idols or even human. “Allah” is both Arabic and Aramaic. On the other hand, the Hebrew speaking ones called Him “Yahweh”, which a Hebrew-language word, or “Jehovah”, which also means God.

Epigraphic and inscription evidence tell us that the religion of Arabia(before the arrival of Islam) dates back to 500 BC, or 1000 years before Muhammad. This was revealed by renowned Islamic Sheikh, Ibrahim al-Qattan, during the International Progress Association function in Vienna. He went on to say that the gods they believed in include Baal Shamin, Dhu-Samawi, Allah and Rahman. Among all these deities, Allah was said to be at the helm of the ‘hierarchy’ that existed and it was common back then for the word “Allah” to be inscribed by Jewish traders on stones along the Arabian trade routes. According to Sheikh Ibrahim, Islamic concepts and rituals got their traits from ancient paganism in the Arab land. He cited examples such as pacing around the Kaaba seven times, the climbing of Mount Arafat and the stoning of Satan, to name a few.

There were three main religions in Madinah(today known as Saudi Arabia); Judaism, Christianity and Idol worshipping, although technically, idol worshipping may not fit the definition of a religion. The Arabs were mentioned about in the Bible hundreds of years before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad. Arabian kingdoms such as Muntherites in Iraq and Gassanids in Syria were Christian kingdoms that existed during the third to the eight century, and the language used was Arabic. These kingdoms were representations of the Byzantine and Roman Empires.

“Encyclopedia de Islam” stated that the Christian Missionaries of Hira were the ones who created the Arabic Northern characters that are used in the Quran(Leyde et Paris, 1960, pp. 579a-622b). This claim is also supported by Jawad Ali, in his book “The history of Arabs before Islam”(Vol. 8, pp. 178-179). The church doors of Zabad on the South East of Allepo in Syria holds witness to this as the Northern Arabic letters were found inscribed on them. Church doors in Ir. Haran had similar letters on them too, and it was dated back to 568 A.D. The use of Arabic was also rampant in schools, ranging from subjects such as poetry to commerce.

Christians, even of that age, had Eparchies (dioceses and bishops) all across Arabia, including Mecca itself. Churches, Christian schools and convents were discovered in many countries, including Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Palestine and Lybia. A convent recently discovered in Karbala (Iraq) indicated that it was established in the first century of Christianity.

A famous Franciscan Archeologist, Father Pecerillo, come across tens of churches and houses dating back to the Forth Century in Madaba, which is located at the south of Jordan. The Arabic inscription “Bism El-Ellah al Rahman al Rahim” was observed on them, and this proves that the Christians were the first to use this phrase. Some religious scholars suggest that Christians may have used it to indicate their belief in the Holy Trinity. Whatever the reason may have been, it would still coherently act as a piece of evidence to confirm that “Bism El-Ellah al Rahman al Rahim” was in use more than two hundred years before Islam.

And despite all these, the Malaysian authorities go as far as saying “We cannot allow this use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim publications, nobody except Muslims. The word ‘Allah’ is published by the Catholics. It’s not right.”- Malaysiakini.

By fearing that Muslims would be drawn towards Christianity simply because the word Allah is used in Catholic publications(rightly so), it does nothing but reflect the sense of insecurity on the part of the Malaysian authorities. I am sure even Muslims are perplexed by the manner in which the authorities are handling this issue. Islam is 1400 years old, and a statement of this sort is indeed an insult to all Muslims with strong faith in their religion.

To the Malaysian authorities, if you are still oblivious to all the facts above, you may want to ponder the below.

Muhammad’s father was named Abd Allah, which means ‘Servant of God’ in Arabic. And my friend, it wouldn’t take a genius to tell you that this was years before his son was born or Islam was even founded.

by Argus Eye

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