"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Monday, January 22, 2007

Naming God

Brian Whitaker in CiF argues that news translators, by leaving 'Allah' untranslated, rather than simply rendering it 'God' are reinforcing the 'Otherness' of Islam in the mind of the news consumer:
"Some readers may think this is a minor, nit-picking point, but it is not. The English-language media's use of "Allah", rather than "God", when talking about Islam falsely implies that there is some theological distinction. Also, more importantly, it provides yet another example of the subtle ways that news organisations can influence people's attitudes, perhaps unintentionally and probably without realising they are doing it."
He's got half a point, I think - but there's a couple of problems with it. One is the notion that the concept of God in the "Abrahamic faiths" is either indistinguishable or theologically insignificant:
""The fact that Allah and the Biblical God are identical is evident from Biblical etymology," Dr Umar Abd-Allah of the Chicago-based Nawawi Foundation writes. "From the standpoint of Islamic theology and salvation history, it is simply unacceptable to deem the Biblical God and that of the Qur'an to be anything but the same ...

"Muslims, Christians and Jews should have no difficulty agreeing that they all turn to the God of Abraham, despite their theological and ritual differences. Historical arguments between their faiths have never been over what name to call Abraham's God.""
I don't really think this is the case. God did not become flesh and dwell amongst us, looking from the "standpoint of Islamic theology and salvation history", whereas for the Christian he did - spoke his final words through his Son, thereby dispensing with the need for prophets.

In this sense, Mohammed is for orthodox Christians a false prophet. Hardly an insignificant theological quibble. And this brings us to another point. I can't say I've noticed the MSM rendering 'God' as 'Allah' any more than they used to. What I have noticed, however, is the routine way in which Mohammed is referred to as 'the Prophet Mohammed'. Why is this? After all, references to Yeshua Ben-Joseph as the 'Lord Jesus Christ' don't pepper the columns of religious affairs journalists with quite the same frequency.

14 comments:

dearieme said...

"reinforcing the 'Otherness' of Islam": that's nowt - try reading the Koran. Very other indeed.

Ken Waldron said...

'In the beginning God created...':

'breshit bara Elohim...'

Here'God' i.e.:'Elohim' is a plural form...
-Room for all here!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree about "the Prophet Mohammed" - it really grates whenever I hear it said on the news.

james higham said...

Yes but the yeas and nays over Mohammed [peace be upon him] have little to do with the concept of Allah Himself.

hellblazer said...

Perhaps this is to avoid confusion with any Mohammads) which the reader might be thinking of?

Then again, I guess Jesus the Christ is not usually confused with Jesus the bowler...

SnoopyTheGoon said...

The life of Brian is full of expressions of his over-tuned sensitivity for certain nuances. The trouble is that this sensitivity is so selective.

And you are right about that "half a point". Half is his middle name, it seems some times. Brian Half Whitaker...

But I am oversensitive to that name for some reason.

Oh, congrats with your decision to go black on white!

Mr Eugenides said...

If our media habitually referred to Allah as "God", there would be pieces on Comment is Free complaining that refusing to use the proper nomenclature was disrespectful and culturally imperialist.

Shmuel said...

The shahadah:

"[ I testify that ] there is no god (ilah) but God (Allah), and [ I testify that ] Muhammad is the messenger of God."

My question:

What would the difference between "ilah" and "Ilah" be? In the context of Islam (and Arabic) I'm assuming "Ilah with a capital "I" makes no sense?

The the original Jewish conception of "God" allows for the existence of other "gods" whereas the Muslim and Christian conceptions do not. But then again, Jews have never really been about forcing others to accept their own beliefs, have they.

Renegade Eye said...

Muhammed has been getting more media than Jesus, and we still know little about either. Why be involved in a theological argument?

dearieme said...

"Islam" emphasises otherness. We used to call it "Mohameddanism" which, by analogy with "Christianity", seemed less "other". "Buddhism" seems less "other" too.

Learson said...

Jews are a goddam plague and if every White country expelled them along with Muslims, we would be much better off.

http://www.jewishtribalreview.org

Callan said...

Having a non-Muslim refer to 'the prophet Mohammed' is no wronger than a non-Christian referring to 'Jesus Christ' or a non-Buddhist refer to 'the Buddha' which happens, I think , fairly routinely. Neither Christ nor Buddha are given names. It's quite possible to talk about a religious figure in a way which accepts his or her significance in the religious scheme of things without conceding the religious claim which is at issue.

Anonymous said...

Why not refer to him as the 'Muslim prophet Mohammed'

The Editor said...

It's all like arguing that AC/DC was never the same band after the death of Bon Scott. That the AC/DC with Bon Scott was the one true AC/DC that the replacement guy from Newcastle doesn't count because it's not really AC/DC anymore and so these violently opposed beliefs lead to fragmentation within the church of AC/DC.

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