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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

Malaysia’s top court has ruled that non-Muslims can no longer use the word “Allah” when referring to God. This despite the long-standing trend of Christians and other groups using the same name to refer to God in Scriptures, prayers, songs and normal conversation.

The word isn’t a local Malay one, but rather a borrowing from Arabic. However, some Malaysians have no other word in their current vocabulary to refer to the Supreme Being. But apparently the two-thirds of the Malaysian population that profess Islam are now going to have exclusive use. Authorities worry that failure to distinguish Allah as a unique understanding of Divinity could result in confusion and lead people to be converted away from their religion. So they’ve legislated away the confusion.

Sounds about right to me.

Now, you won’t often see me agree with Islamists. (There is, in fact, a good chance it will never happen again.) However, in this case I’m making an exception.

Because they’re right: Allah is not Yahweh.

Allah is not the Eternal God. He is not the Triune God. He is not the actual Creator God. Allah is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Allah is, in fact, a completely different idea about God. And it’s a wrong idea.

It’s time we sorted this mess out.

Now, I’m not going to point out that Allah is the name of a pre-Islamic polytheist god, or the moon god, or a word used by the ancient and reportedly monotheistic Hanifs. Those statements may be justified, but they are the sorts of arguments that can be advanced by those who care to expand on them. What I care about is only the plain fact that the Allah of modern Islamic belief is not the God of the Bible.

I want to say this not on the basis of arcane archaeological findings, but on the obvious facts of the present. If you read the Koran (as I have), you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Allah vs. God

Allah is personal only in the limited sense that he is said to have specific wishes and preferences for people; but he is not personal in the sense of being knowable or approachable. Allah is a distant and angry entity. In contrast, our God is both personal and knowable (not totally, of course, since we have limited minds; but progressively knowable and in principle open to being known in any dimension we wish), and the God of relationship and intimacy.

Allah has no son. This is a fundamental claim of Muslims, and is adamantly set down in the Koran. Allah is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and because he has no son he has no propitiation for sin, no intercessor for us, no Great High Priest, and thus no way to God.

Islam knows no way to Allah but legalistic submission. In fact, that is the root meaning of the word “Islam” itself. Their god is called “merciful”, but their conception of this word is contingent upon cringing servility and an ongoing practice of demanding ritual. There is no atonement with Allah, but rather an imposing regime of legalistic observance. This is not the mercy of grace, which frees the sinner and cleanses. This is bondage, not freedom in God’s marvelous light.

This is why Allah insists on submission (which is the meaning of the word “Islam”, by the way): their conception of god is so arbitrary, so fatalistic and so heavy-handed that the only position one can adopt in relation to it is one of cringing submission in perpetual fear. In contrast, the God of Christianity invites us into His Holy presence through the merits of His Son with reverence and no fear.

A Little Common Sense

I won’t bore you with a long list of the many, many ways in which the God of the Bible is not like Allah. I’ll just use a little common sense here to make the point.

Imagine you were speaking with a friend, and he said to you,

“Do you know that blogger who goes by the name Immanuel Can?”

“Yes,” you respond, “In fact, I’ve met him: he’s a fairly ordinary, tall, middle aged man.”

“Oh no,” your friend responds, “Immanuel Can is a she. She’s twenty-four and blonde. She has a wooden leg, an eye patch and is a single mother of six children.”

What would you conclude? Would you immediately decide that your own comprehension of me had to include femaleness, pirate-ness and fecundity, or would you be more likely to realize you were not talking about the same individual?

I think common sense pretty much opts for the latter, don’t you?

Well, why is this common sense any less obvious when we speak of God? If someone with multiple opposite traits implies a different person, why would we try to do the mental gymnastics required to make Allah out to be the same as the God of the Bible? If both of these conceptions of God have contradictory specific characteristics, wishes and purposes, why would we ever jump to the wild assumption that we were speaking of the same Entity? Of course, a reasonable person wouldn’t.

So I suggest that we don’t need the word “Allah” in our vocabulary. The word does not refer to God, and Christians in Malaysia are well rid of it — the sooner the better. The Muslims are welcome to their exclusivity, and they’re quite right to want a distinction made between the Christian God and their putative deity.

The downside, of course, is likely to prove considerable. Islam is not notoriously tolerant, and if history is any indicator, the purpose of pointing out the difference between Allah and other conceptions is likely to be greater ease of persecution. That is very ominous for Christians in Malaysia, and we really ought to get praying for them.

But is that a price worth paying? I guess it comes down to this question: how important is it that God be known as God, rather than confused with the cruel, arbitrary and distant diety of the Muslim world? I think it’s pretty important.

A Little Logic

Let me introduce to you one of my favourite principles of logic: it’s called “Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction”. In layman’s language, what it simply says is this, “Two genuinely equal and opposite statements cannot be true at the same time and in the same way”. He has a more complicated way of putting it, but we needn't worry about that ... all it means is that certain kinds of statements are logically contradictory, and contradictory in such a way that there is zero chance of both being true. One can be true and the other false; or the one can be false and the other true; or it’s even possible for both to be false, in some cases. But one thing’s for sure and for certain: both cannot be true.

Now, heads up: for Aristotle’s Law to be applicable, the statements in hand must be genuinely equivalent, genuinely opposite, and refer to the same time period. So the statements, “Bob is a bachelor” and “Bob is a male” are not contradictory: Bob can be both (a male bachelor) because the statements are not opposite. Likewise, the statement “Bob is a bachelor” and “Bob is married” would not necessarily be contradictory if Bob were single at age twenty-four and married at age twenty-five: but they would be contradictory if they were both claimed of Bob at 2:45 on April 5th of his twenty-fourth year. You’ve got to be sure it’s a real contradiction you're looking at, or Aristotle’s Law doesn't apply there.

But Aristotle’s Law works particularly well for statements of being, like “Bob exists”, and “Bob does not exist”. This is because “existing” is an all-or-nothing property: you can’t both “exist” and “not-exist” at the same time. In such cases, Aristotle’s Law is absolute: it rules out any mistaken half-measures. Things is, or they ain’t.

Now consider the following three statements:

·        There is no God (atheism)
·        There is one God (theism)
·        There are many gods (polytheism)

Each is an absolute contradiction of the others. If one is right, then the other two absolutely have to be wrong — and not because I say so, but because the basic principles of logic insist it must be so. Anyone who does not believe it simply does not understand logic.

Aristotle’s Law is very interesting to Christians, because it conclusively shows a couple of very important Christian claims, and does so on a completely impartial, non-partisan and rational basis. Firstly, it shows that not all conceptions of God can be simultaneously true; there are true and false statements that one can make about God. And secondly, without going so far as to specify which view of the above three is true, it absolutely shows this …

Most of the world is wrong about God.

Any way you slice it, two of the three above statements have to be false. If there is no God, there is not one God, nor are there many gods. If there is only one God, there is not none, nor are there many. If there are many, then there is not none, nor is there one. Two out of three are always, always wrong.

And Now, Islam

Now consider the following pairs of statements:

·        Allah is one (i.e. a singularity).
·        God is trinity.

·        Allah is not a Father.
·        God is our Father.

·        Allah has no son.
·        God has a Son.

Is there a possibility of logically reconciling any of these pairs of statements as referring to the same Entity? The basic laws of logic say “No”. So does common sense.


The Muslim conception of God does not refer to the true God. For it to do that, they would have to extend their conception to mean an entity that also has the characteristics of the Christian God, including the characteristic of being the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would have to be recognized as the Son of God. Thus the Muslim conception of God is not the Christian conception, and the name “Allah” legitimately refers only to the false conception of a god held by Muslims.

Linguistically and conceptually, then, the Christians of Malaysia have not lost anything if they have lost the use of the word “Allah”. In fact, they have gained a lot in clarity.

But whether in the bargain many of them lose their lives is a matter we must wait to see.

Meanwhile, I think I’m going to start praying for the Christians in Malaysia specifically. And I think we all should. I’m afraid they're going to need it.

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