Saturday 30 April 2011

If Allah is a God in Islam, can Christians call their God Allah?

By NH Chan

APRIL 30 — If you look up the world “Allah” in any English dictionary, you will find this definition:

Allah noun the name of God among Muslims; or Allah n. the principle Muslim name for God.

In fact all English dictionaries are definite about the meaning of the word Allah; it is the name of God in Islam. Surprisingly the dictionary does not say that it is an Arabic word. Actually it is not strange at all. As I have already explained before, this Arabic word has become an English word since the 16th century when it was spelt using the English alphabet to represent the speech sounds of the Arabic word. It is only an Arabic word if it is written in the original Arabic text as distinct from the phonetic spelling in English. If Allah is the Islamic God then, since Christians are not Muslims, could or should Christians call their God Allah?

The answer will depend on whether, as a fact, Allah in Arabic was first coined by the founder of Islam or that this Arabic word Allah had predated Islam and had been in existence as a name for “The God”? “The”, meaning “the only one of its kind”, as in “the only God” — long before Prophet Mohammed’s call, the legendary revelation of Allah in 611 AD. As a matter of fact, even before there was Jesus Christ, “Allah” meaning “the only God” was already a word in Arabic, a Semitic language spoken by the ancient Arabs who belonged to the ethnic group of peoples known as the Semites.

Historically, therefore, the Arabic word Allah was not coined by Islam’s founder at all. According to the Bible, God made Abraham, his two sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants His people. Since then monotheism — a religious belief that there is only one God — was founded. The descendants of Abraham from the line of Ishmael (the Arabs) and Isaac (the Jews) worshipped the only God named Allah in Arabic and Eloah in Hebrew. In Arabic, Allah was derived from Al-Ilah meaning Al (The) + Ilah (God). In Hebrew God was Eloah with a capital E.

Muslims worship the same God that Abraham, his two sons and their descendants had first worshipped more than 2,000 years before Islam was founded and more than 1,500 years before Jesus Christ was born.
Before Abraham there was god and there were gods without a capital G. For example: “elohim” means “gods” in Hebrew and “ilah” means “god” in Arabic. Since Abraham, after God made him and his two sons and their descendants His people, God is called Allah in Arabic and Eloah in Hebrew and they mean “The only God”.

So that the Arabs and the Jews, and after the founding of Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims throughout the world worship the same God that Abraham, his two sons and their descendants first worshipped in biblical times thousands of years before there were Christians and Muslims.

Allah was the Arabic name for the only God long before Islam was founded. Abraham worshipped the only God whose name even then was Allah in Arabic and Eloah in Hebrew. Before Abraham there were also those who worshipped the only God. In biblical times English was not then spoken yet, so the Deity was not called God in English. But Arabic was already a spoken language in ancient times and Allah in Arabic was worshipped by those who believed in the only God even then.

But even in ancient times there were those who worshipped other god or gods and the true God was displeased with them (see the Quran) and they were punished. The Quran acknowledged and confirmed the biblical story of Noah (Nur), Surah 71, Abraham (Ibrahim), Surah 14 where Moses was also referred to. The Quran has also confirmed that even in the days of Noah, Abraham and Moses, Allah meaning the only God had been worshipped thousands of years before Islam was founded. That being the case, it has been established beyond peradventure that there were believers who had been worshipping Allah the only God so many thousands of years before Islam was founded in 611 AD.

Therefore, it is dishonest for those narrow-minded politicians and clerics to claim that only Muslims can use the word Allah when before Islam was founded others had been worshipping Allah, meaning the only God, for thousands of years by the Arabs and the Jews. In biblical times Allah was not worshipped by Muslims because Islam had not been founded yet.

That being so, I have often wondered why some people in our government today are so obsessed with the view that only Muslims can use the word Allah. Why should human beings prevent others from worshipping God according to their faiths by decreeing that those who worship the God of Abraham, as Christians do, are not allowed to call their God Allah? God never said His name Allah is for Malay Muslims only! God is never a racist. Only the misinformed are the racists. However, Muslims elsewhere do not mind Christians calling their God by the name Allah because God can be addressed in any language. For example, why should anyone be upset if a Chinese Christian addressed the only God as their God or Allah without using any Chinese word? For that matter, should a sensible Arab Muslim or Christian be upset when an Indian Christian addressed his only God in English or in Arabic, by calling Him God or Allah instead of using Hindi or Tamil?

The etymology of the Arabic and Hebrew languages for God

The Semites or Shemites are an ethnic group of peoples who speak a Semitic language, including the Jews and Arabs as well as the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians. Of these peoples who came from the same national or cultural background only the Arabs and the Jews still exist today.

Of the Semitic or Shemitic languages that include Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and such ancient languages as Arkadian and Phoenician, only Arabic and Hebrew are still spoken.

In the Semitic languages, God is “Allah” in Arabic, “Eloah” in Hebrew and “Elah” in Aramaic — these words, signifying God, are being pronounced according to their phonetic spelling in English as most, if not all, of us do not speak or write any of the aforesaid Semitic languages. Why do the mentioned languages sound so much alike? They sound similar because the Arabs and the Jews belong to the same ethnic group of peoples called Semites who shared and speak the same genus of Semitic languages. By the same token the Chinese people even though they speak different dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, etc their language is written in Chinese characters which an educated Chinese can read irrespective of his spoken dialect. Similarly a scholar of any of the ancient Semitic language could decipher and read another language of the same Semitic genus.

To find out when Allah became the name of God to his people, we have to go back in time to ancient biblical history. We start with Shem who was the eldest of Noah’s three sons: see Genesis 10:21 in the Old Testament. The descendants of Shem were the Shemites or Semites, hence the name of this ethnic group of peoples. The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians, including the Jews and Arabs were regarded as descendants of Shem: see The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.

The phases of God: from making Abraham and his descendants His people to being worshipped throughout the world from the teachings of Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, Abraham was the first of the patriarchs and the founder of the Hebrew people (Genesis 11-25). Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar who was Sarah’s maidservant, was the ancestor of 12 Arabian tribes (Genesis 21: 8-21; 25: 12-18). Isaac was the younger son of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17: 21-27).

In “How to Judge the Judges” I wrote, pages xxix, xxx:

Abraham was the founder of the Hebrew people. According to the Old Testament, Abram (later Abraham) at God’s call abandoned civilisation, his father’s household and his people to wander in the desert as a nomad. His wife Sarai (later Sarah) had borne him no children. So Sarai took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. Hagar soon conceived with Abram’s child. But Sarai mistreated Hagar and heavy with child she ran away. According to the Old Testament, the angel of God found Hagar and told her to return to Abram and added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” God also told Hagar that she shall name her son Ishmael for God has heard of her misery at the hands of Sarai. Ishmael means God hears. So Hagar bore Abram a son and he gave him the name of Ishmael. According to the Old Testament, Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. When Abram was 99 years old, God said to Abram that no longer will he be called Abram (it means exalted father); your name will be Abraham (it means father of many) for you will be the father of many nations — he will be fruitful and kings will come from him. In return, Abraham and his descendants will worship the God of Abraham who will be the God of his descendants for generations to come and the Covenant (agreement) they are to keep were; Every male among him shall be circumcised. For the generations to come every male who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in the household or bought with money from a foreigner — those who are not their offspring. Those who are not circumcised will be cut off from his people. As for Sarai, her name will be Sarah and she will be blessed and she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her. A son will be born of her. His name will be called Isaac. Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

As for Ishmael, God said he had heard Abraham: “I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”

And so on that very day, so the story goes in the Old Testament, Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household, and circumcised them. Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was 13. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born to him by Sarah, and he was circumcised.

And at page xxxi:

So now we know that the Arabs and the Jews were descended from Ishmael and Isaac whose father was Abraham (Ibrahim); and the God of them is the same God. And God has marked them as His people by circumcision.

Those events took place some two millennia before Jesus Christ was born, and before Prophet Mohammed founded Islam some 600 years after the birth of Jesus Christ.

After Abraham, with the advent of Christianity and Islam the worship of the only God extended to worshipping Him throughout the world. Monotheism, the religion of worshipping only One God, has become a world religion.

I ask, because I am unable to understand, why our government is trying so hard to separate the inseparable, that is, the people who believe in worshipping the same God to demean another of the same faith by decreeing that Christians are not allowed to call their God Allah and desecrating their Bible just because Christians call Allah their God. But the Quran had accepted Jesus Christ as being sent by God (Allah) to deliver the teachings of Allah (God). —

* NH Chan is a retired Court of Appeal judge.

Pakatan’s Chances of Winning the 13th General Election

Written by Kenny Gan
April 29, 2011

The 13th general election will be the most watched and anxiously awaited event in the annals of Malaysian political history. Previous general elections have been tame affairs where the result was never in doubt; it was only a matter of how many seats the opposition could wrest away from BN. But the next election will be different as BN faces a real threat of losing power to a united opposition.

To be sure, this is not the first time that the opposition parties have grouped together to challenge BN. In the 1990 general election, Tengku Razaleigh’s Semangat 46 forged a coalition with other opposition parties and in 1999 DAP, PAS and Keadilan formed Barisan Alternatif to take advantage of public revulsion over Mahathir’s cruel treatment of Anwar.

But these opposition pacts did not even manage to deny BN its customary two-thirds majority. They failed because the social forces at that time were just not in their favour. The minorities were controlled by racial and religious fears and the mindset of the people then could not accept being governed by any coalition other than BN.

Things are certainly different now. Never before has there been such a nexus of events to influence the political destiny of the country. The coming together of the opposition, the dissipation of racial and religious fears, the sea change in mindset, the political awakening of Sabah and Sarawak and yet another sodomy outrage on Anwar have coalesced into the perfect storm to threaten BN.

The Tyranny of Numbers

Although chances to unseat BN have never been better one should not be mistaken into thinking that ousting the behemoth is easy or inevitable. In Malaysia there is no such thing as free and fair elections. The playing field is wholly tilted to BN which has almost unlimited funds and controls the mass media and all the levers of power which it shamelessly uses to its advantage.

There are 222 parliament seats so a party winning 112 seats gains a simple majority to form the government with the other side ending up with 110 seats. Of course such a slim majority is not workable in practice as a single defection will lose the majority. If PR wins a majority which is too thin BN will waste no time in scuttling their majority by inducing defections.

However the aim is to gain an idea of whether PR has any chance of winning, never mind the practicality of governance. After the 2008 general election, PR held 83 parliament seats to BN’s 139. This means PR must retain all the seats it won in 2008 plus an additional 29 seats to obtain the bare minimum majority. On the surface this looks rather optimistic.

But numbers can be deceptive. Our election system is based on “first past the post” which means that a win by 1 vote is still a win. Hence a small swing in vote share can result in a large number of seats changing hands. An alternative system is proportional representation where seat allocation is based on the proportion of votes secured but the disadvantage of such a system is that it tends to result in weak governments.

After the 2008 election there were many marginal seats won by both sides which could change hands with just a small swing in voter support. Based on data on marginal seats sourced from malaysiakini, a 6% swing to PR will result in PR capturing an additional 29 seats, i.e. winning 112 seats to BN’s 110.

An overall 6% swing in voter support is a large swing and this must come on the back of the 2008 swing against BN. To put this in perspective the overall swing to and against BN in past general elections are as follows: (sourced from The Star)

1995 – 11.8% swing to BN due to Dr. M’s liberalization policies
1999 – 8.7% swing to opposition due to Anwar factor
2004 – 7.4% swing to BN due to new PM Badawi
2008 – 10.7% swing to opposition due to tsunami.

So a 6% swing is within the range of possibility but the crux is that swings have alternated between BN and opposition from election to election. Since the last election saw a swing of 10.7% to the opposition an additional 6% swing in the same direction seems optimistic. Even more ominous, a mere 1.2% swing to BN will see BN regaining its two-thirds majority. Is BN safe in Putrajaya after all?

The Keys to Putrajaya

The key to break this tyranny of numbers is Sabah and Sarawak. To put it another way, Sabah and Sarawak hold the keys to Putrajaya.

In the above analysis we have assumed that the voting pattern in the two East Malaysian states will not differ greatly from 2008 subject to a moderate percentage swing. In 2008 the opposition only managed to capture only a single seat each in Sabah and Sarawak.

But Sabah and Sarawak are experiencing a political awakening in the wake of the 2008 tsunami. The notion of the two states being “fixed deposits” for BN is no longer true after the 2011 Sarawak state election. The mood in Sabah towards the federal government is anger at the hordes of illegal immigrants and Sabah is ripe for political change.

Hence we should treat Sabah and Sarawak differently on the basis that their normal voting pattern is going to be upset from the usual trend and moderate swings do not apply. Sabah has 26 parliament seats and Sarawak 31, numbers which are disproportionate to their population.

Results from the recently concluded Sarawak state election indicate that PR’s success can be translated into 6 to 8 parliamentary seats. As for Sabah it is certainly set to lose more than one seat.

If we assume that PR can capture 8 seats in Sarawak and 8 seats in Sabah and adding these to PR’s 81 Peninsula seats in 2008, this brings the total to 97. To achieve 112 seats PR will need to capture an additional 15 seats in the Peninsula, assuming that it is able to keep all the seats captured in 2008.

From the table of BN’s marginal seats and excluding those seats in Sabah and Sarawak, we find that a 4% swing will yield PR an additional 14 seats while a 5% swing will yield another 19 seats in the Peninsula.
So 4% swing in the Peninsula is just falls short while a 5% swing will yield a total of 116 seats for PR and 106 seats for BN with a majority of 10, not great but workable giving PR time consolidate its position by making much needed changes to the police, judiciary MACC and other enforcement divisions.

A 5% swing is still significant and we must remember that this must come on the back of a 10.7% swing in 2008 in the same direction. The next question is, “Will there be enough fence sitters to execute the swing given that a large number have already swung away from BN in 2008?”

The Racial Battleground

What sort of swing in each of the three major ethnic groups is needed to obtain this 5% swing in the Peninsula? Based on past by-elections the support level of the Chinese and Indians can be predicted with some reliability but the Malay ground is very hard to read.

The Chinese community can be considered to be won by PR with up to 80% support in by-elections which has increased from 2008 where 65% of Chinese voters supported PR. It is generally believed that the Indian community voted overwhelmingly against BN in 2008 but the numbers show that Indian support for BN was split down the middle at 48%. This was of course a huge swing from their normal 80% support level. Right now the Indian vote is still roughly split down the middle although by-elections have detected a slight drift back to BN. We should not read too much into these “buy-elections” where the poor and marginalized are most susceptible to handouts which cannot be repeated on a national scale.

Among the Malays there appear to be few fence sitters. This is why PR finds it hard to increase its Malay vote share. On the other hand even overt racism and ultra nationalism do little to enlarge Umno’s Malay base. The Malay ground is very hard to shift either way but a little means a lot due to their demography.

Analysis of BN’s Malay vote share in past general elections show 49% in 1999 due to the Anwar crisis, 59.1% in 2004 due to the new PM factor (or because Mahathir was gone) and 55% in 2008. Umno’s baseline Malay support appears to be about 55% and it can shift up or down by about 5%. This means that in 2008 it may have come down to its base support level and it possible to shift either way by a maximum of 5%.

The Critical Malay Vote

If we assume a 75% support level for PR from the Chinese and 48% support level from the Indians what sort of support level is required from Malays for an overall 5% swing to PR? The results are summarized in the table below.

Ethnic Group PR support 2008 PR support 13th GE (assumed) & swing within group Demography % overall swing
Chinese        65%                75%          10%      26%        2.6%
Indian       48%               48%           0%      8%         0%
Malay      55%              58.6%        3.6%         66%        2.4%
Total                5.0%

Hence it can be seen that a Malay swing to PR of 3.6% from the 2008 baseline is required to push PR into Putrajaya with a thin majority of 10 seats.

It is clear that the 13th general election will be a battle for the Malay vote. Only the Malays themselves can determine who governs them. There are no races acting as kingmakers.

The Road to Putrajaya

So the essential conditions for a PR victory are the capture of 8 seats each in Sabah and Sarawak, a 10% Chinese swing, no change in Indian support and critically, a 3.6% Malay swing to PR. Note that this analysis is based on national averages; it does not consider seat results due to local conditions, local demography or the popularity of a candidate.

As these conditions are within the range of possibility optimists may see this as a good chance to unseat BN. Pessimists may see it as unlikely to happen especially with the Malays reportedly drifting back to Umno.
Is there any likelihood of a cataclysmic event which will swing the Malay vote away from BN as what happened in 1999? Yes, there is – Anwar’s sodomy II which will probably end with his imprisonment and may yet yield the required Malay swing provided Umno is reckless enough to put him in jail.

Importance of a Pakatan Victory

What Malaysia badly needs is a two party system where democratic competition forces the ruling party to be more people centric and accountable. A party which has no fear of losing power invariably becomes corrupt and abusive.

Can PR function as a component of the two party system to put pressure on BN without gaining power? What if PR does not gain power but wins enough seats in the next general election to put real fear in BN and force it to reform?

But this is not likely to happen. Instead of reforming BN will take desperate measures to whip up racial sentiment, oppress the opposition and manipulate the electoral process to cement its power. A two party system will only exist in Malaysia if BN loses power at least once.

The road to Putrajaya is long and arduous so PR must stay focused and cohesive. There is no room for petty squabbling or in-fighting. Unseating BN with their absolute control of money, media and machinery is hard even with the opposition coalition at its optimum. Anything less and BN may even gain back their two-thirds majority instead of being ousted.

"Allah issue" Who started it? Recall how it all started........

Although the following article was posted more than a year ago, a
lot of Christians may not have read it. For those who have missed
it, we feel it is good to know how the Allah issue was started..........

LEST we forget, the source of the Allah controversy that resulted in churches, and a Catholic school, being torched and threatened did not begin on the streets. It did not begin with narrow-minded and ignorant Muslim pressure groups threatening to spill blood to assert their sole right to use “Allah”.

Lest we forget, it began with the 1986 government ban on the use by non-Muslims of the word “Allah”, and three others — “solat”, “Kaabah” and “Baitullah”. That’s the Barisan Nasional (BN) government we are talking about, the one that Umno leads.

Hence, lest we forget, the issue of non-Muslims using the word “Allah” would not be an issue at all in Malaysia if the Umno-led government had, to begin with, respected the legitimate rights of other faith communities. The “Allah” issue would not have spiraled into, to quote a friend, suburban terrorism — and it is terrorism when violence and intimidation are used towards achieving one’s goals — if the Home Ministry had not acted to deny the rights of non-Muslim citizens in the first place.

Today, in the aftermath of churches being torched and threatened, we hear Umno leaders, most notably Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak denying that Umno is responsible for the situation we find ourselves in. We hear BN leaders condemning the violence committed against churches throughout the country. But as a lawyer friend commented on Twitter on 8 Jan 2010: “If you inflame passions, you cannot condemn violence.”

Doing what’s right
We know historically and culturally that firstly, “Allah” predates Islam; and secondly that it is used by non-Muslims in other Muslim countries with no restriction. So, the government is responsible for this narrow-minded and bigoted interpretation of who can use “Allah” in Malaysia. And by continuing to defend its position through a court appeal, the government is the one responsible for perpetuating the notion that Muslim rights will always supersede non-Muslim rights no matter if it is illogical, irrational or unconstitutional.
Are we surprised then that some groups will resort to acts of terrorism in Malaysia in order to assert their superiority at all costs? With the kind of government we have today — one that consistently does little to delegitimise violence in the name of Malay and Muslim superiority — I’m not at all surprised that there are those who think they can get away with using fear and intimidation to strip others of their rights. After all, the government is already doing it.

And even in this particular issue, Najib and his Umno ministers continue to resist doing the right thing instead of kow-towing to and fanning the flames of ignorance and fear among the bigots in our midst.

Demonstrators at the National Mosque on 8 Jan, protesting against the "Allah" ruling
No more dialogue
In an attempt at damage control, the government and a couple of politicians including Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin have now called for an interfaith dialogue to resolve the issue.

But really, the time for dialogue is over. Meaningful dialogue can only happen when all parties to the dialogue are treated as equals. In the current scenario, I’ll wager that any “dialogue” will involve non-Muslims acceding to the perceived “sensitivities” and assumed rights of Muslims to own copyright to the word “Allah”.
And mind you, the use of the word “Allah” is not a “sensitive” issue, as top Umno leaders and the Umno-backed Utusan Malaysia are fond of restating repeatedly. It’s a copyright issue. And there is nothing at all that gives Muslims in Malaysia, or elsewhere, the copyright to use the word to refer to God and deny others the right to do so.

Indeed, there have been Muslims who demand that Christians should use the word “Tuhan” instead of “Allah” so that Muslims won’t be confused. But if Christians and Sikhs have not been confused thus far from the use of “Allah” in their worship, what makes Malaysian Muslims so special that the government should continue to perpetuate their ignorance about a word that pre-dates Islam?

Additionally, since copyright for the word does not belong to Muslims, what right do Muslim groups and politicians have to demand that non-Muslims can only use “Tuhan” and not “Allah”?

Instead of an interfaith dialogue where non-Muslims are likely to be asked to compromise on their rights to protect the false sensitivities of some Muslims, here’s what I would like to see happen. If Najib’s administration is really sincere about 1Malaysia, I would like to see the government host public forums and seminars for Muslims who may be confused about the word “Allah”.

Really, what’s stopping the Umno-led government from wanting to educate the ummah? Islam, after all, brought enlightenment to those who lived during zaman jahiliyah — the age of ignorance. If Umno is such a champion of Malay Muslims, why is it perpetuating this age of ignorance instead of educating Muslims while simultaneously respecting the rights of non-Muslims? Why is it enforcing the ban and appealing the High Court decision that nullified the ban when it is even stated in the Quran that “Allah” doesn’t just belong to Muslims?
Perchance the home minister, who was from Umno in 1986 when the ban was gazetted, and continues to be from Umno, is ignorant about historical fact and constitutional rights? Or perhaps Umno would rather Muslims remained ignorant? Or perhaps, Umno just doesn’t care about the legitimate rights of non-Muslims no matter the rhetoric about 1Malaysia?

BN-sponsored fascism
The West often likes to describe Malaysia as a “moderate Muslim state“. We are far from it. We have become a fascist state under BN rule. How so? Well, a state that actively and aggressively promotes racial and religious superiority is no different from the Nazi state that asserted that the Aryans were superior to the Jews. And the systematic use of violence, fear and draconian laws to diminish and suppress the legitimate rights of minority groups can only be described as fascist.

The BN will, of course, deny responsibility for the way the “Allah” issue is playing out. The government will provide financial aid to churches to prove to Christians that it does not condone these acts of violence. It will now be open to interfaith forums, where before it banned any such attempts by groups such as Article 11.
Too little too late, I’m afraid. Make no mistake: the BN government started this. And by denying culpability now and stubbornly refusing to do what is right despite the historical, cultural and religious evidence, the BN is responsible for the rising fascism in our midst.

Is this the kind of Malaysia we want to live in?
Is this the kind of government we want?

Jacqueline Ann Surin thinks peace-loving citizens should set the benchmarks for what constitutes 1Malaysia instead of letting the government spin its public relations exercise. What would you like to see happening for you to believe that Najib’s 1Malaysia is for real?