Voices from East Malaysia 4: Should Christians drop the use of the word “Allah”?


I won’t be surprised that even some Christians in West Malaysia would easily buy into the idea of dropping the use of the term “Allah”, but again perhaps that reflects more of our ignorance and prejudice than anything else.  It’s time for some soul searching again. Please hear Pastor Solomon’s voice once again.

Much has been said also about dropping the term “Allah.  When I first heard this, it stretched my mind, and warmed my heart. Please read a beautiful post Haris Ibrahim wrote  describing his experience here in Do unto others as you would have done unto you, where he highlights a dimension that perhaps many people have missed.

I want to share with you about an encounter I had with three Malay youths outside the hall when I stepped out for a dose of nicotene.

After confirming that I moderate this blog, they wanted my views on this ‘Allah’ issue.

I told them that when I was in Batang Ai last year in the run-up to the by-election there, I had the opportunity to chat with some Dayak Catholics on this very issue.

I was told by these Dayak that “Allah” was integral to their recitations during the baptismal ceremony, during Holy Communion and in the Lord’s Prayer.

I was told that if “Allah” was not mentioned, then their prayers were nullified.

I asked the three youth if they were aware of this.

They all said ‘No’.

I asked them if they were aware that in the Christian Arab world, God was referred to as “Allah”.

All three said ‘Yes’.

I asked them to now imagine a country where the majority of the inhabitants were Christian who spoke Arabic and for whom, reference to God was by the name “Allah”. Imagine, too, a small minority of Muslims in that country who also referred to God by the name “Allah”.

The Christians in that country now want to ban the minority Muslims from using the name “Allah” on the stated reason that they fear such use of that name will confuse many Christians. They insist that this may lead to many of their Christians converting to Islam. This may lead to a breakdown in public order, they say.

Would this be fair to the minority Muslims, I now asked the three youths.


Then one chap said ‘No’.

If it would not be fair to the minority Muslims in that make believe nation, are we being fair to our minority Christian brothers and sisters in this real country of ours, I asked.

Again, silence.

If you want others elsewhere to be kind to your minority Muslim brothers and sisters in their midst, should you not be kind to minorities in your own vicinity, I asked.

More silence.

I told them that was my view on this issue. Do unto others as you would want done unto you and your own.


About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids

3 thoughts on “Voices from East Malaysia 4: Should Christians drop the use of the word “Allah”?

  1. sacakon

    Thank you so much for your sharing. It has helped me to understand things better.

  2. Thanks sacakon for dropping a comment. I’m even happier that Pastor Solomon helped with your understanding as he did for mine 🙂

  3. michael sibinil

    Allah is a Name, not a Word

    Any professing Bible thumping Christians who promote the false doctrine that it does not matter what word or term we use to refer to the name of the God of the Bible is an antichrist, a liar and a deceiver.

    I am a baptised ‘Born Again’ Christian, yet I strongly disagree with the assertion that Christians can refer to the God of the Bible as ‘Allah’ or that the ‘Allah’ of the Qur’an is the same God as the God of the Bible just because the Middle-Eastern ‘Christianianized’ Arabs call their God as ‘Allah’.

    I concur fully with the stance taken by the Islamic government of Malaysia that the term ‘Allah’ is exclusively for Islam and no other faiths or religions must be allowed to use it. Absolutely ridiculous? I say “NO!” to the contrary.

    Let us start our short treatise with the Muslim’s prayer chant / recital that goes like this : “La ilaha illAllah”, “La ilaha illAllah”. What do you suppose they are talking about?

    A word for word translation into English would read: ‘La’ [‘no’] ‘ilaha’ [‘god’] ‘ill’ [‘except’ or ‘but’] ‘Allah’ [‘Allah’] and so forth. If ‘allah’ were the word for ‘god’, then the phrase would read, “there is no allah but Allah.” Does it make any sense? Clearly, it does not. The Qur’an itself claims that (i) ‘Allah’ is the personal name of their god, and (ii) there is no translation for ‘Allah’ to any other language.

    There are scores of Qur’anic verses that either say that ‘Allah’ is the name of the god of the Qur’an or that ‘ilah’ is the Arabic word for ‘god’. Here are a few for your edification:
    Qur’an 3:62 “This is the true account, the true explanation: There is no ‘ila’ (god) except Allah.”
    Qur’an 52:43 “Have they an ‘ilah’ (god) other than Allah? ”
    Qur’an 5:4 “Pronounce the Name of Allah: and fear Allah; for Allah is swift in reckoning.”
    Qur’an 21:107 “Say: (Muhammad) ‘It is revealed to me that your ‘ilah’ (god) is only one ‘ilah’ (god). Will you submit to his will? But if they (disbelievers, Christians, and Jews) turn away (from Islam) say: ‘I give notice (of war) to be known to all. But I know not whether the (torment which you are) promised and threatened is nigh or far.”
    Qur’an 114:1 “Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of men and jinn [demons], the King of men and jinn, the ‘ilah’ (god) of men and jinn.”
    Qur’an 20:8 “Allah! There is no ‘ilah’ (god) save him. His are the most beautiful names. To him belong the most beautiful attributes.”
    Qur’an 20:14 “Verily, I am Allah. No ‘ilah’ (god) may be worshiped but I. So serve you me, and perform regular prostration prayer for my praise. Verily the hour is coming. I am almost hiding it from myself.”
    Qur’an 20:96 “Now look at your ‘ilah’ (god), of whom you have become devoted. We will (burn) it and scatter it in the sea! But your ‘ilah’ (god) is Allah: there is no ‘ilah’ (god) but He. Thus do We relate to you some stories of what happened before from Our own Remembrance.”
    Qur’an 2:132 “And this was the legacy that Abraham left to his sons by Yah’qub (Jacob); ‘Oh my sons! Allah has chosen the faith for you – the true religion; then die not except in the faith of Islam as Muslims. He said to his sons: ‘What will you worship after me?’ They said: ‘We shall worship your ‘ilah’ (god), the ‘ilah’ (god) of your fathers, of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, the one ‘ilah’ (god): To Him we submit in Islam.'”
    Ishaq:324 “He said, Fight them so that there is no more rebellion, and religion, all of it, is for Allah only. Allah must have no rivals.”
    Qur’an 8:45 “O believers! When you meet an army, be firm, and think of Allah’s name much; that you may prosper.”
    Qur’an 73:8 “But keep in remembrance the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him whole-heartedly. Lord of the East and West: there is no ‘ilah’ (god) but He.”
    Qur’an 87:1 “Glorify the name of your lord, the most high, who creates, then proportions, who has measured; and then guided.”
    Qur’an 87:14 “He indeed shall be successful who purifies himself, and magnifies the name of his lord and prays.” [Allahu Akbar!]
    Qur’an 59:22 “Allah is he, no other ‘ilah’ (god) may be worshiped; who knows both secret and o’ ‘ilah’ (god); the sovereign, the holy one, the source of security, the guardian of faith, the majestic, the irresistible, the superb, the compeller: glory to ‘Allah’! He is ‘Allah’, the creator, the evolver, the bestower of forms (or colors). To him belong the best names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth declares His praises and glory: and he is the mighty, the wise.”

    (Qur’an 17:110) “Say, Call Him Allah or call Him Ar-Rahman; whatever the name you call Him, all His names are beautiful.” (Qur’an 5:4) “Pronounce the Name of ‘Allah’: and fear ‘Allah’; for ‘Allah’ is swift in reckoning.”

    ‘God’, ‘Elohim’, ‘Eloi’/’Elah’/’Elohi’, ‘Ilah’ are all words to mean exactly the same in the English, Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic languages. But, ‘Allah’ is not a word just as ‘Yahweh’ is not a word. They are names. And names should never be translated.
    For example, we can and should translate the word for the profession of a “baker”, but we would be wrong to translate “Mr. Baker” into another word/name. As an analogy, does it imply that the mystical ‘Kinoringan’ deity concocted out of a folklore by the ‘bobohizans’ (pagan priestesses) must also be construed as the word for ‘God’ in the KadazanDususn language just because the KadazanDusun pagans refer to their god as ‘Kinoringan’,? Or, that the Chinese can refer to the Christian God as Shang Di (a.k.a pinyin or Shang Ti) which is believed to be the Supreme God (out of hundreds of other ancestral demon gods) in the original religious system of the Han Chinese people, a term used from the second millennium BC to the present day?

    Islamic scholar Montgomery Watt adds an interesting footnote. He says, “The name [not word] ‘Allah’ has throughout been [wrongly] translated as ‘god.’ It should be kept in mind, however, that in the pre-Islamic period it does not necessarily mean “god” in a monotheistic sense.” Going back to pre-Islamic times, ‘al-Ilah’ or ‘Ilah’ had appeared prominently or frequently attested to in pre-Islamic poetry. By frequency of usage, ‘al-ilah’ was contracted to ‘allah’. 18 (Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. B. Lewis, V.L. Menage, C. Pellat, J. Schacht, Vol. II, p. 1093).

    It is known from the Qur’an (29:61 and 39:38) that many pre-Islamic Arabs believed in ‘Allah’ as a god who was superior to the other gods whom they also recognized. From the above, we can deduce that ‘Allah’ is a name – not a word – much like the Judeo-Christian deity called ‘Yahweh.’

    Arabic, like Hebrew before it, is a Semitic language. In Hebrew, ‘el,’ was the word for god – lower case ‘g’ – as in idols. ‘Elohiym’ was used with the article to convey ‘God’ with a capital ‘G.’ In Arabic, ‘el’ became ‘il.’ Then, over time, Arabs derived a secondary word for god, ‘ilah.’ With ‘al’ being the Arabic word for ‘the,’ ‘Allah’ is not a contraction of ‘al’ and ‘ilah.’ The first pillar of Islam contradicts this claim when it says: “There is no ilah but Allah.”

    If “Allah” were the Arabic word for god it would have been written: “There is no Allah but Allah” Moreover, the Qur’an itself uses ‘Ilah’ when ‘Allah’ claims to be “the God of Abraham” (Qur’an 2:132). And that even at this point, the debate should end because the only way scholars can claim ‘Allah’, not ‘Ilah’, is the Arabic word for ‘God’ is for the Qur’an to be errant or for its author to be either ignorant or deceitful.

    Similarly, ‘il’ and ‘ilah’ are Arabic words for ‘god’, not the ‘names’ of ‘gods’. Words for things must always be translated, while the personal names of deities and people should never be. ‘Allah’ and ‘Yahweh’ are the personal names of very different gods. Anyone who replaces the name ‘Allah’ with the word ‘God’ is guilty of deceiving their audience and of contradicting the Qur’an.

    Consider very carefully when the Muslim prays thus: “There is no ‘ilah’ but ‘Allah’, and Muhammad is His Messenger.” If ‘ilah’ and ‘Allah’ mean exactly the same, the prayer becomes irrational and even illogical. It would then sound like: “There is no ‘god’ but ‘God’, and Muhammad is his Messenger.” Do you not see the absurdity of the statement if ‘Allah’ is merely generic and not the specific name of the Islamic god? If the same argument is to be adduced for the Hebrew God, then the phrase: “There is no Elohim but Yahweh” would then sound like “There is no Elohim but Elohim” since both Yahweh and Elohim are construed as to mean “god”, i.e., both generic.
    Three millennia (3,000 years) before Christ, the Sumerians had a well-organised and highly developed pantheon of gods which they worshipped. Enlil’ (the principle god of the Sumerian pantheon). The name “Enlil” is The greatest of the Sumerian gods after the distant sky-god ‘Anu’ (who had little to do with human affairs) was the active and vigourous atmospheric god ‘a compounded Sumerian word meaning “lord of the storm/air” (‘en’ = lord, ‘lil’ = storm, air). It is from this deity – ‘enlil’ – that we find the beginnings of the philological track which leads us to al-Ilah, which was mentioned above as the title (“the god”).
    As stated before, the name “Enlil” is a compound of “en” and “lil”. This latter particle, “lil” is of interest in this discussion because it is the source of the word “il/ilu” which came to mean “god” in the branch of Semitic languages, starting with Akkadian, from which the Arabic word “ilah” ultimately derived. It is likely that the term later used to describe deity throughout Arabia originated from the Sumerian god ‘Enlil’.
    The god “il” [Western Semitic term “El” used by the Hebrews, Aramaeans, Canaanites, and others in the Syro-Palestine region], often lengthened to “ilah” in northern Arabian languages which penetrated even into southern Mesopotamia by this time, was spreading from his Mesopotamian origins. Indeed, scholars have recognised the origin of the Arabian use of god-names with “il/lil”, and hence the origin of “al-ilah”, as Mesopotamian.
    “Among the Northern Arabs of early times, particularly in the region of Safa, the word ‘El’ “God” was still very commonly used as a separate name of the Deity. The ‘Il’ and ‘Ilah’ formations come much later. This means that ‘El’ was used by the Arabs at one time as the name of God. This would be verified in the Bible, where the father of the Arabs, Ishmael, was given a name with the name of God, ‘El’, in it.”29 (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. J. Hastings, Vol. I, p. 664)
    There are many more inscriptions that show evidence of how the whole of Southern Arabia was saturated with the consciousness of the high god who was a Lil/Il derived deity.”30
    Many Muslim apologists will attempt to associate the God of the Bible with Allah upon the basis of an argument that ‘Allah’ is basically the same term as the ‘Eloah’ of Biblical Hebrew (an intensive form of El) and the ‘Alaha’ of Aramaic. Jamme, Sabaean Inscriptions From Mahram Bilqis, p. ix”
    Etymologically, ‘Allah’ itself comes directly from “al-ilah”, so the “al” in “Allah” comes from the article, and is not a part of the Arabic term for “god” itself. This is not the case with ‘Eloah’ and ‘Alaha’, neither of which contain the article, and which are self-contained terms meaning “god”. Further, as has been shown above, it is widely recognised by scholarship that the ‘El’ related terms for deity in the Western Semitic areas are not related to the Il/Ilah of Mesopotamia and Arabia. Hence, no direct connexion between ‘El’ and ‘Alaha’ can be made with ‘Il/Ilah’.
    Some of the Muslim scholars might come heralding a banner that says: “Let there be no doubt – Muslims worship the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus – peace be upon them all” but is that what the Muslim majority say? The argument that the Arabic and Malay speaking Christians in the Middle East and Indonesia refer to their Christian God as ‘Allah’ is absurd. Didn’t it come from the false premise that ‘Allah’ is an Arabic word for ‘God’ (in English)? There is enough evidence to suggest that the word ‘Allah’ is not Arabic in its origin. There is enough evidence to suggest that the word ‘Allah’ is not Arabic but a name claimed by Mohammed to have been revealed to him by his god through the angel named Jibriel (Gabriel).
    Seriously though, what’s severely wrong or shameful in using the word “TUHAN” to denote the Christian God in the Malay language?? What’s so glamorous about using the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay Bible? If the Muslims are adamantly reluctant to allow Bible believing Christians to use the word ‘Allah’, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for insisting that the word ‘Allah’ can be used by Christians to denote the Biblical God and that “Allah” is the same as the God of the Bible! Did you get a revelation from the Holy Spirit concerning this or from some ignorant individuals who sit in a secular organisation called the Bible Society of Malaysia and the Malaysia Council of Churches? I do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired them to adopt the name ‘Allah’ to mean ‘god’.

    If Islam tells you straight to your face: “I CLAIM EXCLUSIVITY TO THE USAGE OF THE NAME OF MY OWN GOD”, why do you insist that “‘ALLAH’ IS A DIRECT TRANSLITERATION OF THE ENGLISH WORD ‘GOD’ IN THE ARABIC LANGUAGE”? The plain fact is that the God of the Bible is NOT the same as the ‘Allah’ of the Quran and that’s the final nail to the coffin. If it is not divinely revealed, then the sensible advice is “Do not adopt something for which you are not absolutely sure of its origin…” What do you lose by calling the name of the God of the Bible as ‘TUHAN’?? Are you telling all of Islam that you have the “customary right” to the name ‘Allah’ because you believe that ‘Allah’ existed before the founding of Islam by Mohammed? Where is the Biblical proof to support your theory?

    Did the Apostles of Jesus Christ after Pentecost taught and preached using the word ‘Allah’ when they spoke to their Arab audience who came to Jerusalem listen to the Gospels of Jesus Christ and to witness signs and wonders performed by the Apostles? Are we not told by priests, bishops and pastors that there is no such proof? If the word ‘ilah’ is really a direct transliteration from the Hebrew word ‘Elohim’ for God, then most probably the Apostles could have referred to ‘Elohim’ as ‘ilah’ in Arabic but does it sound any nearer to the ‘Allah’ of the Qur’an? The Qur’an tells us that the name ‘Allah’ was revealed to Mohammed and not copied from any written religious manuscript?

    I once questioned an Anglican priest whether there is an absolute proof that the exact word “Allah” (both in its spelling and pronunciation) was ever uttered by the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ at Pentecost when they were teaching and preaching to their mainly Arabic audience in Jerusalem since the Holy Bible tells us Christians that the Apostles were able to speak in different languages due to the anointing of the Holy Spirit and that includes Arabic….., to which he replied thus: “UNFORTUNATELY, THERE IS NONE THAT I KNOW OF…BUT WE STICK BY WHAT THE BIBLE SOCIETY OF MALAYSIA TELLS US WHAT TO ADOPT OVER THE MATTER.”

    Well, it speaks for itself, doesn’t it? And even if the Apostles uttered the word “AL-ILAH” or “ILAH”, which is the Arabic word for “God” (in English), it still does not sound exactly like ALLAH nor does it refer to the ALLAH of the Koran for the very reason that the Koran explicitly denies its associations with around 360 pantheon idols gods worshipped by the pagan Arabs of Saudi Arabia much less deriving the name Allah from the pagan deity called “Al-Ilah” or “Enlil” which was popularly worshipped before the advent of Islam in circa 632AD.
    “There is absolutely no reason whatsoever, therefore, to accept the idea that the word/name “Allah” passed to the Muslims from the Christians and Jews”. 95. (C. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, p.28). Or, that it was the Jews and Christians first who referred to Elohim as Allah in the Arabic language, for clearly, Allah is not entirely in itself an Arabic language but “Al-Ilah”or “Enlil” is to mean “God”.
    So, what then can we deduce from all the above arguments?
    We say: “’Elohim’, ‘Eloi’/’Elah’/’Elohi’, ‘Ilah’, ‘Minamangun’, ’Tuhan’, etc” refer to the generic terms for ‘god’ (in English), but “Yahweh”, “Allah”, “Kinoringan” and “Shangdi” which all possess different attributes, natures and characters, are the “specific” names of “different gods” exclusively for Judeo-Christians, Muslims, the animistic KadazanDusuns pagans and the ancestral worshiping Chinese.
    Scholars have debated the issue for more than a millennia. This short treatise did not attempt to usurp the intelligence of eminent religious scholars or apologists from both sides of the divide (Islam and Biblical Judeo-Christianity) over the 11 centuries. Volumes of periodicals and scholastic materials of great substance, both from the Christian perspectives as well as contributions from Islamic scholars to support my point above have been abundantly written over that period of time. As for me, it is my ‘non-rattle-able’ (unshakable) belief that Christians cannot use the name Allah to refer to Yahweh, the God of Judeo-Christianity.

    Fundamental Muslims, since the early 7th century AD, had claimed total exclusivity to ‘Allah’ as the name of their deity/god. Therefore, the right thing for Christians to do now instead of suing the Malaysian government in response to its exclusive claim to the name of ‘Allah’ is to simply say: “AMEN” or “SO BE IT”.
    Hence, I strongly advocate the immediate removal of the name ‘Allah’ from the Malay translation of the English Bible and replace the same with the word “Tuhan” instead. It is a proven fact that the ‘Allah’ of the Quran is not the same as the ‘Yahweh’ of Judeo-Christianity. By so doing, Christians will not be seen as unashamedly robbing Islam of its glory by claiming that Judeo-Christianity lays ‘first claim’ to ‘Allah’ on the sheer premise that pre-Islamic Christian Arabs in the Middle East used the name ‘Allah’ first to denote ‘Elohim’, ‘Elah’, ‘Eloi’ or ‘Ilah’ which are different words for “god” expressed in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic.
    There is enough evidence to suggest that the word ‘Allah’ is not Arabic in its origin. And that the freedom to use the name ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims has nothing to do with national integration. But, on the contrary, it does more harm than good.

    The Pilgrim (Mar-08)

    LATEST on the “ALLAH” issue….. as contended by the Malaysian government and the Roman Catholic religion in Malaysia :

    The statement (in box above) says thus:
    Quote : “…… the word ALLAH was exclusive to the religion of Islam as it was a special name of the Muslim god, therefore, its sanctity must be protected” : Unquote

    However, the Roman Catholics, under its head named Murphy Pakiam does NOT seem to understand that, despite ALL the evidences adduced from Scripture and their own style of ‘philosophical argumentation’, he still insist that the word “Allah” is NOT exclusive to the religion of Islam and that long before Islam came into the world, the Christian Arabs have been referring to “Elohim” as “Allah” in their native Arabic language. But where are the OBJECTIVE EVIDENCES for this most ridiculous claims? There is absolutely NONE and Pakiam knows it!!

    What is your own verdict? Where do you stand on this VITALLY important “Life & Death” issue? You do not agree with me that it is a “Life & Death” issue? How so?
    I call it as such because, if Allah is truly the name of the Muslim god (and I testify to this truth), then “YOU” who profess to be Christians are NOT Christians at all. What it implies is that you have two (2) gods!! Your first god is one which you are currently worshiping (the false Jesus of the papists OR the Jesus of the Bible of the Born Again Baptists/Evangelicals/Pentecostals/Charismatics) and “ALLAH” who is the god of Muhammad!
    What does the FIRST Commandment say?
    It says:
    (Exodus 20:1)
    Have you NO fear of God? For God has declared in Exodus 20:5 thus: “…..for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God….”
    Do you want to gamble your ETERNITY for a foreign god? What can you gain by referring to YAHWEH as ALLAH?
    Don’t you know that during the time of Abraham, YAHWEH and ALLAH are TWO separate ‘gods’. The Jews worshipped YAHWEH, whilst the pagan Arabs (who existed 2000 years before the advent of Muhammad and Islam) worshipped a deity named ALLAH?
    There is ABSOLUTELY no proof(s) whatsoever that the word (or more precisely a proper noun (name) “Allah” was ever referred to by the Jewish Arabs who converted to Judaism OR the Arabs who converted to Christianity during the time of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They never referred to “Elohim” as “Allah”. In fact, the Arabs referred to the true God named YAHWEH as “ILAH” which is the word for “god” in the Arabic language.
    Ask any priests, bishops, cardinals, archbishops and even the Roman pontiff and they will tell you that there is NO proof but since the Arab Christians have been calling on the name of Allah when they pray to the Christian God, therefore, such a “practice” should be continued unhindered because by introducing another edict now to prohibit them to refer to the Christian God as “Allah” might “destroy” the unity of Christendom in the Arab worlds and that would negate the pursuits of the Ecumenical movements that aim to unite the whole religions of the world under the auspices of the Roman pontiff – the pope OR the “god” of the papists who is labelled the “VICAR” or the “REPLACEMENT” of Christ. By calling himself the “vicar of Christ”, he has therefore become “God the Holy Spirit” since the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “vicar” of Jesus Christ on earth.
    Again, I ask you: “WHERE EXACTLY DO YOU STAND…??” Are you for YAHWEH or for ALLAH or for BOTH? It’s your choice. My absolute stance is that ALLAH is exclusively for Muslims whilst JESUS CHRIST is exclusively for the genuinely BORN AGAIN followers of JESUS CHRIST.



    The Pilgrim (Dec-09)

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