It was shocking news for me to hear that the Court of Appeals in Malaysia has banned non-Muslims from using the word ‘Allah’ to talk about God.
As an Arabic-speaking Christian coming from Syria, I feel that this extremely awkward decision is even offensive because it shows the deep ignorance of the Malaysian Appeal Court regarding the roots of the word which does not belong to Islam alone at all. I would like to explain the linguistic history of this word so that Muslims and non-Muslims may know the background of the word ‘Allah’ and stop pretending that this word belongs to one religion or another.
Between 1400-1200 BC, the Ugaritian tablets (part of the Canaanite religion in the Levant region) tell us that El was the head of the gods, the supreme god in the whole area. He was also the father of humanity. El could also be a generic name for any god and this was the case for many centuries. El is also means in Arabic “إله”, “Elah”, which means “a god”. This meaning was common amongst most of the cultures and Semitic religions in the Levant region.
The definite article in Arabic is “ال”, “Al” and if we add this to the word “Elah”, we get “Al-Elah” which means “The God”. This word developed to be pronounced “الله”, “Allah”.
This is the origin of the word and it is definitely not a word which was only revealed in the Quran or was invented by Islam. I think no one has ever the right to ban anyone from using a word in a language as long as they are not using it to offend or attack or degrade anybody or any religion. We must remember that Christianity, and also Christian Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, existed for over six centuries before Islam even started – and Christian Arabs have always called God, ‘Allah’! I think we need proper education and awareness before rushing to such insensitive decisions which can be enormously unfair and insulting to other cultures and religions.