The Allah-God controversy in Malaysia

Eric Winkel

Posted Jan 4, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Allah-God controversy in Malaysia

by Eric Winkel

We have had many insightful articles in TAM about the Allah-God controversy in Malaysia. As with many controversies, a good understanding of Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action in the courts and media would have clarified things dramatically. The “word is not the thing,” the signifier is not the signified. When people are not semantically aware, and confuse the word and the thing, they also seem to believe in the superiority of a particular language, religion, and cultural form. They also see “form” but miss “substance.” Ibn `Arabi’s term for intelligent people who make this mistake is ulama al-rasum, where “rasm” is the footprint or pockmark in the dirt. Rain, metaphorically regenerating knowledge in the Qur’an, falls on the dirt and makes pockmarks. There are people who study these pockmarks and think it is knowledge, unaware that the water, the knowledge, is no longer there. If we connect “culture” (as in agri-culture) with the ground upon which things grow (or don’t), the kind of soil the rain falls on is important. Some cultures get drenched in rain, but the knowledge flows into ditches and runs off, leaving its traces in the pockmarked dirt.

        In the following passage, Ibn `Arabi separates the signifier from the signified, and then goes on to say that all the signifying languages of the world are adequate and appropriate signifiers of the signified. If God had wanted, we would be all the same color and religion, speak the same language and think the same way. It is a short way to go to see how utterly rude, how impolite toward the divine it is to think that one form, culture, language is superior to another. Here is the passage.

God was able to bring about Adam in the beginning without fermentation,

or molding with his hands,

or balancing,

or proportioning for the in-breath of spirit.

Rather, he could have said, “Be! and it is” [16:40].

Yet despite this, he fermented the clay in his hands,

and balanced it,

and proportioned it,

then blew into it spirit,

and taught him the names,

and brought about things according to an order;

just as, had he wanted, he could have made us

to suffice with just knowledge of him instead of his names.

But he named himself such and such in every language established in the universe.

He is called Allah among the Arabs,

and Khuda among the Persians,

and Waqq among the Abyssians.

In every language he has names that go with knowledge of his being.

[Chapter 361, VI:12]