I worship Allah. And apparently it would now be dangerous for me to say that publicly in Malaysia.
A few years ago I had a case that required to me to travel to Malaysia a couple of times. I was a little apprehensive before going, as I’d never been in a Muslim country before. But I quickly realized my concern had been completely unfounded. There was a Hard Rock Cafe in the hotel I stayed in, for crying out loud. Even though the official religion of Malaysia is Islam, it appeared to me that there was complete religious freedom. Although Malay Muslims are the majority in the country, there are large Indian and Chinese populations, and Hindu and Buddist temples are prevalent. While I was there I attended a Christian church. Although only about 9% of Malaysians are Christian, those there practice their faith openly and freely.
But recently there were an ugly series of firebombings and attacks on Christian churches, in reaction to a Catholic newspaper’s use of the word “Allah” to refer to God. This angered some Muslims, who in their ignorance believe “Allah” is the God of Muslims only and that Christians shouldn’t use that word when referring to “their” God.
Of course the God worshipped by Christians and Muslims (and Jews) is one and the same, but the issue is even more basic than that fundamental historical and theological truth. The issue is, in the first place, semantic.
Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. Or more accurately, God is the English word for Allah.
Whatever the source of the English word “God,” it is not Biblical. There are several different words and names used for God in the Bible and the native languages of Palestine. None of them is a lingustic predecessor to “God.” The original Greek translators of the Old Testament chose to translate the Hebrew word “Elohim” into Greek as “Theos,” which in English has turned into the Indo-Germanic word “God.” Arabic and Hebrew are sister languages, and “Allah” shares the same root as the corresponding Hebrew word “El” and the varieties thereof.
In fact, Christians throughout the Arabic speaking world call God “Allah,” and always have. For them to call Allah “God” would be as weird as if we English speakers began calling him “Dios.” Arabic speaking Christians, for example, refer to Jesus as “ibn Allah,” son of God. And when Jesus himself spoke of God in his native tongue Aramaic, he used the word “Alah.” Indeed, Christians have been using the word “Allah” for God since long before Islam even existed.
So shame on these Malaysians who somehow believe that the word “Allah” is reserved for use by Muslims only. A few minutes of reflection and some common sense should put that silly notion to rest.
But sadly this nonsense is far too commonly believed on this side of the planet too. I’ve heard many people comment that Muslims worship Allah, and Christians worship God, as if they were competing dieties. In fact, Allah and God are one and the same. “Allah” is a word in the Arabic language and “God” is a word in the English language, but they do not refer to separate deities, as for example “Zeus” and “Apollo,” or “Yahweh” and “Ba’al” do.
It is entirely accurate to say that Muslims worship God and Christians worship Allah. And vice versa.
So I worship Allah.
Allahu Akbar. God is great.