Note: This article was written some time ago in response to the issue and became a part of my book above. Perhaps it is appropriate to re-post it today. The article concluded that the real issue is about trust, not the technicality of the word Allah. I am of the viewpoint that both sides are unwilling to deal with this ‘trust’ aspect of the concern. Why?
I find it strange that in the discussions and debates about whether it is acceptable to use the term ‘Allah’ to refer to God in the Bible, neither the Malaysian Christians who are for using the term nor the Malaysian Muslims who are against it, considered checking the Quran’s position with regards to the issue.
While it is understandable that the Christians may miss this, for the Muslims not to do so is unacceptable. Instead of basing on the Quran, a few of our Muslim brethrens are busy trying to show that historically the Bible does not use the term Allah. They also use civil laws to present their case. Muslims must be careful not to fall into the category of people mentioned in this verse of the Quran,
“And the Messenger cried out: O my Lord! Surely my people have treated this Quran as a forsaken thing.” - Quran 25:30
Muslims and Non-Muslims who want to discuss matters of Islam must note that for a believing Muslim no evidence is greater than the Quran,
“Say: “What thing is most Weighty in evidence?” Say: “(Allah) is witness between me and you; This Qur’an hath been revealed to me by inspiration, that I may warn you and all whom it reaches. …” - Quran 6:19
For a Muslim, the Quran is the ultimate guide,
“And we sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou should make clear to them those things in which they differ, that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe.” - Quran 16:64
“Those who listen to the Word and follow the best meaning in it, those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endowed with understanding.” - Quran 39:18
A Muslim who claims to follow Prophet Muhammad must firstly and ultimately be guided by the Quran,
“So believe in Allah and His Apostle the unlettered Prophet, who believeth in Allah and His Words: Follow him that (so) ye may be guided.” - Quran 7:158
And those who fail to judge by the Quran is, at the end of the day no better than unbelievers,
“If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers.” - Quran 5: 44
The above Quranic verses should be enough to show that basing our discussion on the Quran is the logical Islamic approach. If a Muslim or Non-Muslim were to prove that the Quran suggests
that the term Allah can or cannot be used, all Muslims must follow the decree. Period!
History of religion - Islam
To put things in perspective, we must first understand the Quranic worldview about religion and Allah.
The Quran suggests that all religions came from Allah as He has sent messengers (Jesus included) everywhere in the course of history; a few are named in the Quran mainly those from the Abrahamic line while the rest are not mentioned at all. But definitely there were other messengers sent to other geographical areas like Asia, Europe and the Americas, etc. although the Quran strategically remains silent about the other geographicallocations so as to be all inclusive.
Here are clear examples. I will further elaborate this when dealing with the subject of the monopoly of Allah and the Heavens.
“Of some apostles We have already told thee the story; of others We have not;- and to Moses Allah spoke direct;” - Quran 4 : 164
“We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee, and some whose story We have not related to thee. It was not (possible) for any apostle to bring a sign except by the leave of Allah…” - Quran 40:78. Also refer to 21:25, 17:77, 43:6
In fact, the Quran is uncompromising about this all inclusive approach that it decrees that any Muslim, who does not accept even one of the messengers, named or unnamed, ceases to be a believer! Muslims also can’t make any distinction between any of them.
“Those who deny Allah and His apostles, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His apostles, saying: “We believe in some but reject others”: And (those who) wish to take a course midway They are in truth (equally) unbelievers; and we have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment, To those who believe in Allah and His apostles and make no distinction between any of the apostles, we shall soon give their (due) rewards: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful” - Quran 4:150-152. Also refer 2:136, 3:84
To stress this all inclusive approach deeper, the Quran makes it very clear that Islamic and Muslim history must not be seen as starting from Prophet Muhammad as the Prophet himself was made to declare that he follows the religion of Abraham.
“So We have taught thee the inspired (Message), “Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith, and he joined not gods with Allah.” - Quran 16:123. Also refer to 16:20, 2:135, 3:95, 4:125, and 6:61
From the Quranic standpoint Prophet Muhammad is not the founder of the religion. He was the seal, the final one, the prophet who came to conclude a long string of messengers from the very beginning of human history.
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things.” – Quran 33:40
To make it final that Islam must be inclusive, the Quran stressed that it is Allah – not Prophet Muhammad – who named Muslims, Muslim; long before the birth of the Prophet.
“And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before (and in this Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer, give regular Charity, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protector - the Best to protect and the Best to help!” - Quran 22:78
If we use the Quran as its own witness, almost all of the history books on Islam, whether written by Muslims or Non-Muslims, that usually record Islam with the coming of Prophet Muhammad and make the Prophet as the founder of Islam run contrary to the Quranic stance. At best they are relating the history of the Arab people and how the Arabs impacted the world and built an empire based on their ‘new faith’, Islam. (Here is where the historian Albert Habib Hourani got it right by calling his book “A History of the Arab Peoples”.)
The Quran’s version of the history of mankind started with Adam, the first civilized homosapien, one who is endowed with the power of conceptual thoughts and language: our ability to talk (Quran 2:31). As such Islam’s history is world history, not the history of the Arabs.
“When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful” - Quran 7:172. Also refer to 7:31, 7:70, 2:33, 2:37, 7:27
“O ye Children of Adam! Whenever there come to you apostles from amongst you, rehearsing My signs unto you, - those who are righteous and mend (their lives), - on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” - Quran 7:35
It is this myopic view and basic assumption of Islam’s history as beginning from the time of Prophet Muhammad, that over the years has steered Muslims to deviate from having a universal approach towards Islam and hence have grown to be more and more exclusive rather than inclusive of all the other communities and spiritual traditions. This in turn makes Muslim society monopolistic towards Allah and the Heavens, creating a clear dichotomy and an ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach negating the Quranic position that all who worship in the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques are in essence venerating Allah. (Refer Quran 22:40 below).
On the other hand, the Quran suggests the following:
“And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me!” - Quran 23:52
Places of Worship
Since all the messengers were Allah sent; the Quran equates all calls in every place of worship must only be for Him.
And that all places of worship whether they are mosques, monasteries or churches honor Him,
“They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, ‘our Lord is Allah..’ Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).” - Quran 22:40
And those who do not allow the name of Allah to be mentioned in places of worship are considered unjust.
“And who is more unjust than he who forbids that in places for the worship of Allah, Allah’s name should be celebrated? - whose zeal is (in fact) to ruin them? ….” - Quran 2:114
And the only deity worth praising is Allah alone,
“All praise is due to Allah alone the Sustainer of all the Worlds.” - Quran 1:2
Is there a Monopoly to Allah, Religion and Paradise?
Contrary to popular understanding, Prophet Muhammad did not seek to destroy the other ways of life/religions like Christianity, Judaism, etc., but he constantly called on the Jews and Christians to agree that we are praying to the same God, Allah.
Ironically the Quran’s main argument against the Jews and Christians during the time of the Prophet is their monopolistic claim to Allah and paradise.
“Verily Allah is my lord and your lord: Him therefore serve ye: this is a Way that is straight.” - Quran 19:36
“Say: Will ye dispute with us about Allah, seeing that He is our lord and your lord; that we are responsible for our doings and ye for yours; and that We are sincere (in our faith) in Him?” - Quran 2:139
“And they say: “None shall enter paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say “Produce your proof if ye are truthful.” - Quran 2:111
The Quran suggests the Unity of religions and the Quran was sent to confirm all the previous scriptures.
“Those who believe, and those who follow the Jewish, and the Christians and the Sabians, - any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” - Quran 2:62. Also refer to 5:69
“And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter.” - Quran 2:4
“It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus)...” - Quran 3:3. Also refer to 5:48
It is part of Allah’s plan to provide mankind with multiple platforms to achieve the ultimate goal that is to reach Him. How to reach Him, of rites and ceremonies, it is open.
“To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way? If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute.” - Quran 5:48
“To every People have We appointed rites and ceremonies which they must follow: let them not then dispute with thee on the matter, but do thou invite (them) to thy Lord: for thou art assuredly on the Right Way.” - Quran 22:67
The objective of the Quran is to make faith and deed as the criteria for salvation, not religious affiliation to any particular community. This criterion is not just for those who were born since the coming of Prophet Muhammad but also inclusive of those from the very beginning of the history of man and till the end of time.
The Quran specifically identified righteousness as the best platform.
“O ye Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness, - that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition!” - Quran 7:26
And what is righteousness in the Quran?
“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness-
1. to believe in Allah
2. and the Last Day,
3. and the Angels,
4. and the Revelation,
5. and the Messengers;
6. to spend of your substance, out of love for Him,
a. for your kin,
b. for orphans,
c. for the needy,
d. for the wayfarer,
e. for those who ask,
f. and for the ransom of slaves;
7. to be steadfast in prayer,
8. and practice regular charity;
9. to fulfill the contracts which ye have made;
10. and to be firm and patient,
a. in pain (or suffering)
b. and adversity,
c. and throughout all periods of panic.
Such are the people of truth, the Allah fearing.” - Quran 2:177
The Quran and the Christians
The Quran does not reject nor accept Christianity wholesale. The Quran disagrees with Christianity’s interpretation of history mainly about who Jesus was. In the Quran, Jesus was a prophet and he is not the son of Allah and as such the Quran disagrees with the concept of Trinity (refer Quran 4:171).
In the Quran, Jesus did not die on the cross nor was he Resurrected. The Quran suggests that Jesus survived the crucifixion and later died just as all the other prophets before him (refer Quran 5:75, 4:157). Jesus is similar to Prophet Muhammad and all the previous Messengers (refer Quran 3:144, 21:7-8, 25:20) who came, did their job and died (refer Quran 3:185).
The Quran is also opposed to any religion be it Judaism, Christianity or any other Tradition, who suggest that followers other than theirs are doomed; that is, if Christianity seeks to monopolize Allah and Salvation (refer earlier Quranic quotes).
As for Christians, again there is no wholesale acceptance or rejection. There are bad Christians who are unjust and selfish (refer Quran 5:51-52) and good ones who fight for what is right.
“Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are portions that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration.” - Quran 3:113
And among the good Christians are those similar to good Muslims, men of understanding, who care about the hereafter and are not arrogant.
“Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, “We are Christians”: because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.” - Quran 5:82
It is clear that it is not only permissible to use the term Allah to refer to God in the Bible, it is exactly what the Quran wants us to do. What an irony.
I would like to thank my Christian brothers and sisters in their effort to make Allah the universal name of God and wanting the name to be the preferred reference of God in the Bible.
But, you must not stop there.
You must also strive hard to ensure that not just the Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia Bibles use the term Allah but all the other translations in the world regardless if they are in Mandarin, Tamil, Japanese, English, Russian or Hindi uses the same term. Malaysian Christians can lead the world of Christianity to make Allah the universal name of God with the solid support of their Muslim brothers and sisters. Anything that can bring us closer together must be supported. A shared universal name to call our God Allah seems a most appropriate place to start.
Failing to do so will create mistrust because the correct term for God in Malay is Tuhan. The Muslims will question your consistency and sincerity. Because the real issue here is Trust. Not the technicality of the term Allah, Tuhan, Elohim, Elah etc. This is where we need to focus. This is what we need to pay attention to.
There are three levels of trust missing
Firstly we do not trust each other. The Muslims perceive the inconsistency of Christians wanting to use the term Allah in the Malay Bible and not the other translations as a plot to convert Malay Muslims to Christianity. And, the Christians perceive the Muslims rejection of the usage of the term as another strategy to block the spread of the Christian faith to Muslims in Malaysia. This feeling is deep in the Christian psyche as they find the lopsided law on conversion in Malaysia to be unfair (check what the Quran says about this at 83:1-3 and 5:8).
Secondly, we do not trust ourselves. The Muslims lack confidence of fellow Muslims and feel that just by using the term Allah, their faith towards Islam can be shaken. The Christians lack confidence that being Christ-like is enough to attract others to the faith. That when you turn the other cheek, you win.
Yet the deepest rot is the lack of trust in Allah or God or Tuhan or any other name with which you want to call upon Him! Both Muslims and Christians fail to trust that Allah will be with those who are true and love those who trust Him. If we do so, we have nothing to fear and nothing to grieve. Failing to trust Him, we become weak, insecure and misguided.
“Nay, God is your protector, and He is the best of helpers.” - Quran 3:150