Allah is my God. Who is yours?
Endy M. Bayuni, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
What is the correct translation of the Islamic expression la ilaaha illallaah, a verse Muslims around the world recite over and over again every single day in their prayers, instilling in themselves the concept of tauhid, or the one-ness of God?
In English and I suspect in most other major languages, the verse translates to "There is no god but God". But the widely accepted Indonesian (and Malay) translation, for some reasons, becomes Tiada tuhan selain Allah (There is no god but Allah).
What's the difference? It's apparently much more than semantics as it goes deep into the understanding of tauhid among Muslims, or in the case of Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia, into their misunderstanding of the concept.
"There is no god but God" means that there is only one God. We all pray before the same Deity, but we pray differently. This is particularly true with the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, all followers of the Abrahamic scriptures.
"There is no god but Allah", on the other hand, could mean that there are many gods, and that they come in different names and shapes, but only Allah is the only right one. We pray before different deities, but Allah is the most supreme of all.
The real message of tauhid is apparently lost in the Indonesian and Malaysian translation.
This seems to be at the heart of the ongoing debate in Malaysia over the use of the word Allah. The Malaysian government, backed by the Supreme Court, recently ruled that non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah. Allah is exclusively Islamic, as if the word had been patented or copyrighted.
Other religions, when referring to their god, must use another word. But they'd better watch it because in Islam, Allah has 99 other names.
A Catholic publication in Malaysia has recently been banned because it used the word Allah. This is in spite of the fact that, for decades, many Christian Bibles in Malay and Indonesian have freely used the word Allah, who in Christianity also has different names, including the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but which are all still one and the same.
The move to ban the use of Allah in Malaysia is apparently founded upon fears among Muslim leaders that it is being used to proselytize, to convert Muslims. This fear is grossly unfounded since conversion from Islam is not permitted under the country's law anyway (though conversion into Islam is).
With the recent ban, Bibles in Malaysia will likely have to be revised with all references to Allah edited out. For Christians in Malaysia, this is a minor irritation that they can easily comply with. Christianity will not suffer as a result of the ban.
The biggest losers are Muslims in Malaysia, and Indonesia too if the Indonesian Ulema Council issues its own similar fatwa, as it usually does.
Muslims in this part of the world will continue to live with their own mistaken notion of tauhid. This latest claim of Allah's exclusivity only perpetuates that ignorance.
This is not the first incident in this part of the world where Muslims have exclusively claimed matters of faith, going against the grain of Islam, which preaches inclusion.
Some years ago, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) came out with a fatwa that said Muslims must not respond to the greeting assalamualaikum (peace be upon you) when expressed by non-Muslims. The MUI claimed that the expression is holy, sacred and specifically Islamic, and therefore could only be uttered by Muslims.
Although non-binding, many Muslims in Indonesia have heeded the fatwa.
At a recent neighborhood gathering where I live, the chief of the neighboring community, a Christian, opened his remarks with assalamualaikum in respect of the majority Muslim audience. Few people in the room responded. It was not a chorus that one would have heard if a Muslim had said it.
Strangely, many in the MUI and other religious leaders who have lived and studied in the Middle East should know better that non-Muslims in that part of the world freely use the word Allah and expressions like assalamualaikum and insya Allah (God willing) in their daily conversations. There are no objections made by Muslims there.
Indonesia's mostly secular founding fathers had a much better understanding of tauhid than today's contemporary Islamic leaders when they made "Believe in One God", monotheism, the first of the five principles in the state ideology, Pancasila.
Religious leaders in Indonesia and Malaysia should be held responsible for keeping Muslims in perpetual ignorance, knowingly or not, for generations. The first thing they have to do now is to go to the basics of tauhid and get the translation right to put the followers back on the right path.
(Kesasar's comment here? Simple, confusion between the concept of the word God in Arabic which is ALLAH , and GOD-ALLAH'S names as found in the Holy Quran . If your believes are mono-theistic (like in one God) than it realy matters not whether the word is in what-ever language, it is still one and the same God. The problem here lies with people wanting to be more Arab than the Arabs themselves, and in so doing setting themselves and Islam up to ridicule, Nowhere can it be found that a Muslim should not reply to a universal greeting of Assalamualaikum of Salaam Alaykum as we say it, but will they respond to the greeting "peace be upon you" in English or any other language for that matter? If the answer would be "yes" than figure it out for yourselves!)