A well-known American Muslim theologian has joined a long list of critics over the recent Court of Appeal ruling on the use of the word Allah, saying it was a "political decision more than anything else".
"This notion that Malaysian Muslims need to be protected by the court because you can't think for yourself, you can't make decisions on your own. We are laughing at you," said Reza Aslan, speaking on BFM Radio's Evening Edition programme yesterday.
"That you can control people's ideas, their behaviour, their faith and their minds simply by trying to control the words that they use, is absurd. It is an embarassment to a modern, constitutional, democratic and deeply Muslim state like Malaysia," he added.
Aslan insisted that Christians using the word Allah - which means God in Arabic - were not a threat to Islam.
"A Taliban put a bomb in the Quran and took it to a mosque in Pakistan, where Muslims were slaughtered on one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar. You want to talk about threats to Islam? That's a threat to Islam," he said, in dismissing the argument that allowing Christians to use the word in their worship was a threat to Malaysian Muslims.
He was referring to an incident during the Aidiladha holidays, in which Afghan governor Arsala Jamal was killed while scores were injured after a bomb placed in a copy of the Quran went off in a mosque during the Eid sermon.
Aslan, who wrote the international bestseller No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, said he was mystified by the court ruling on October 14, stressing that the word Allah was merely an Arabic term for God, "any God".
"Allah is constuction of the the word al-Ilah. That's what the word is," he explained.
"Al-Ilah means 'The God'. Allah is not the name of God. Frankly, anyone who thinks that Allah is the name of God, is not just incorrect, but is going against the Quran itself. It is almost a blasphemous thought to think that Allah has a name.
"And this is not an interpretation. It is a historical fact," Reza added.
In its judgment, the Court of Appeal's three-man panel ruled that the word Allah "was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice and that such usage if allowed, will inevitably cause confusion within the community".
The decision sparked a debate among local clerics and scholars, while several editorials in Muslim countries expressed their surprise over the issue.
Pakistan's Daily Times questioned the ruling, asking why Malaysia would deny people of other faiths to "own God in all His attributes". The United Arab Emirates's The National called the court ruling "wrong", and said the word Allah was never exclusive to Islam but used by both Christians and Jews to refer to God even before the advent of Islam.
Aslan poured scorn on the court verdict, asking, "How can you read that and not laugh?"
Soon after the court ruling last week, he had taken to Twitter and remarked, "How stupid has Malaysia just become? In honor of Malaysia banning the word Allah by non-Muslims I suggest US ban the word 'twerking' by anyone over age of 17," he said, referring to a type of sexually provocative dance.
Much of Aslan's interview yesterday was made available on Podcast.
In it, he slammed those who argue that the faith of Malaysian Muslims can be undermined if Christians use the word Allah.
"This idea that not only should Christians not be able to use this word, but that using the word is somehow a threat to Islam... that Malaysian (Muslims) are so stupid if they hear a Christian use the word Allah, they will accidentally become Christians. I mean, the idiocy of that statement speaks for itself," he said.
Echoing many other Muslim scholars and writers, Aslan said Christians and Jews in the Arabian peninsula since before the time of the Prophet Muhammad had been referring to God as Allah.
"Why? Because they spoke Arabic... that's why. Not because Allah meant a specific God but because that it is nothing more than the Arabic word for God. It is not an opinion. It is a fact," he pointed out.
"Any Imam that tells you God has a name, is blasphemous. It is as simple as that. Allah is not God's name. Muslims do not own the word itself," said the 41-year-old Iranian-American, who is Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Iowa. - October 22, 2013.