What are you on about? You might ask. Okay, let me start with a story.
St. Augustine, the famous Christian thinker, theologian, and philosopher was walking by the seaside one day, meditating on the difficult problem of how God could be three Persons at once.
He was contemplating writing about the Catholic concept of the Trinity. He came upon a little child. The child had dug a little hole in the sand, and with a small spoon was scooping water from the sea into the small hole. Augustine watched him for a while and finally asked the child what he was doing. The child answered that he wanted to scoop all the water from the sea and pour it into the little hole in the sand.
“What?” Augustine said. “That is impossible. Obviously, the sea is too large and the hole too small.”
“Indeed,’ said the child, ‘but I will sooner draw all the water from the sea and empty it into this hole than you will succeed in penetrating the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your limited understanding.”
Augustine turned away in amazement and when he looked back the child had disappeared. It was a dream.
Let me give a different take on this story, a more contemporary one. St. Augustine was told that it is not possible for him to fathom the mystery of the Infinite with his limited human faculty. Now, in a country, not a million miles away, there are some parties trying to reduce the Infinite, the Divine, into the narrow pigeonhole of a linguistic confine of a single word. On top of that, they want to make it a law that no one in that country is allowed to use that word except them.
The notion that ‘He that cannot be confined’ was mentioned thousands of years ago. In the Book of Exodus 3:14, it was written that God states His own name for the first time when he said to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM.’”
I take this to be the description of the infiniteness of God. It is the acknowledgement of his omnipresence, that he has manifested in the past. He is manifesting in the present. He will manifest in the future. In short, all our mental concepts of God are inadequate. He cannot be defined and cannot be confined to a single word of a particular culture. The amazing thing is that there are people in Malaysia who not only attempt to diminish the Infinite by confining Him to a linguistic box but also demand that box must only be exclusively used by them.
One source maintains that the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims offends the sensitivity of the Muslims and secondly it sullies the name of the Almighty.
Let us take the sensitivity issue. It seems only the Malaysian Muslims are of such strawberry fragility. As far as I know, ninety-nine per cent of Muslims in the world is quite unfazed by the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims. I know of no Muslim majority country prohibiting their non-Muslim citizens from using the word.
This assertion of your God is different from my Allah is flying in the face of the teaching of the Holy Book. In Surah Ankabut, the 29th chapter of the Quran, verse 46 reads, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one, and we are Muslims [in submission]to Him”.
The word ‘Allah’ is derived from the Arabic ‘al-ilah’. Its usage predates the emergence of Islam. It found its way across the world and entered Malay from Arabic, a language which is a vehicle for the faith of the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All three faiths in the Arabic-speaking world and beyond refer to God as ‘Allah’.
To say that the Divine Infinite can be contained into a single word and that word can only be used by the Malaysian Muslims is to defy logic, theology, and etymology.
As the little child on the beach demonstrated to St. Augustine. You cannot fit the infinite (the sea) into the little hole in the sand. The Holy Book says, ‘your God and my God is the same God’. In a more general sense, all who submit to this same God are Muslims.
The word ‘Allah’ existed and was of common use in the Arabic world before the advent of Islam.
Finally, the proponents of their exclusive use of the term Allah assert that the use of that word by non-Muslims is offensive. Surely the use of the word Allah deferentially cannot be an affront.
This case of denying people not of your faith from using a word is political bullying. And these vociferous people are using the name of their faith as the cudgel to beat others to assert their dominance. The use of the name of God in vain is not just an affront. It is a sin. It is written in Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain”.