In a statement issued on 21 August 2013, the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur expressed fear that “the controversy over the use of the name ‘Allah’ by Christians could trigger possible violence, fed by vitriolic statements from Islamist movements”. Catholic leaders have accused that the statements “are fomenting racial clashes and creating religious tensions in the country”.
A recent interfaith meeting in Arizona made it even clearer that Western Christianity is indeed ultimately a cultural product, with white Christians all sitting on one side of the room and Muslim darker skins on the other, that Christians consider religion an aspect of culture or skin color. A challenge to this seating division was answered by the white panelists that Christianity is the religion of whites, while Islam is for the “people of color”. Therefore, this seating arrangement became a pretext for inferring that Islam is a color or racial-based religion.
While Islam denies this racial stereotyping, Christians themselves almost universally support it. Therefore, when Christians use the word “Allah” to denote the meaning of “God” in the Malay language section of the Church’s weekly publication, The Herald, they are trying to make white Christianity appeal to Muslims, especially in a Muslim-majority country such as Malaysia. There are, however, many cultures which descend from religious revelation, such as Muslim cultures in many countries. For these people, the use of the name “Allah” for the divinity is a cherished aspect of the difference between Islam and preceding religions. It is the Christians themselves, not Muslims, who are fomenting tension when they insist on using the term “Allah”, when they have absolutely no need to do so.
In reality, western anthropologists consider that religion is one of many expressions of culture. Islam distinguishes itself from such an understanding. In the worldview of Islam, language, as a part of culture, conveys meanings of reality guided by religion.
There would be no need for Christians among themselves to deviate from use of the word “God” for their divinity, unless they were trying to proselytize among neighboring Muslims. Early Islam saw many attempts on the part of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him) to help Muslims differentiate themselves from earlier religious cultures, as many aspects of other religious groups tried to infiltrate the establishment of Islam as a major and distinct religious community in itself. Some aspects of Islam that fulfill this function are the Azan (call-to-prayer), the men’s beards and mustaches, women’s clothing styles, and so on.
Muslims are not required to imitate Arab cultural styles, yet there are some irreducible minimums of cultural expression that Muslims must not avoid, and which Christians certainly have no need to imitate. The Patriarch of Jerusalem was showing Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during which the time for prayer occurred. The Patriarch offered a place for him to pray in the church but Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) refused, explaining to the Patriarch, “Had I prayed inside the church, the Muslims coming after me would take possession of it, saying that I had prayed in it.” This was done not out of disrespect for the Christians, rather because he did not want to cause confusion among future Muslims.
Certainly, use of the word “Allah” for the Divinity is also a distinguishing reason of Muslim cultures. Why would the Christians need to adopt this name, or any other of the distinguishing features of Muslim religious life, except to endear themselves to Muslims whom they are trying to convert to their polytheist belief system? They would certainly have no such need were they to sincerely desist from their missionary mentality.
Even psycholinguistics suggest a significant difference in the two terms “Allah” and “God”. This difference is also to be found in typical Christian names such as “Joe”, “Bill”, or “Sam”, as compared to “Muhammad”, “Sulaiman”, “Abdul Rahman”, and so on. Enunciating the term “Allah” causes a slight movement from lower to upper angles in the human head, while the term “God” does not. Thus, we infer a difference in the psychological effects of using these two names for the Divinity. Even a famous Hollywood quiz show, “The Price is Right”, disallowed any contestants with names of more than short monotones, in the Christian style.
The Prophet of Islam (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him) specifically directed his early followers NOT to follow the customs of the surrounding preceding religious culture groups. It is not neighborly for Christians to start yelling “Hallelujah!” or “Praise the Lord!” among Muslims, just as Muslims do not use such idioms as “Praise the Lord” or “God is Love” among themselves, out of acute embarrassment and a valid sensitivity to the incursion of Christian mentality and worship style among themselves.
The whole world is NOT Protestant or Catholic, and it is no small matter for these Christians to admit this reality, and to stop imitating Muslims in matters that are simply not pertinent or germane to their own religion.