It was a pretty interesting chat and it would be something that I will discuss later.
Back home, a friend e-mailed me an opinion piece from Turkey about the fiery uproar in Malaysia following the High Court's decision to overturn the Government's directive banning the Catholic Church from using the word 'Allah' in its newsletter for its Malay-speaking congregation.
I read the article which I will post later and started googling around and found that several other people had commented on the issue including Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid of the New York Times.
His piece was most interesting and I thought I should share it with others.
ALLAH - THE WORD
By ANTHONY SHADID
It was 2006 when I sat with a friend, Hikmat Farha, at the foot of a snow-capped Mount Hermon. Our conversation was about politics, as it usually is in Lebanon, and to make a point, he cited Imam Ali, warrior, sage and seventh-century caliph whom Shiite Muslims consider the divinely sanctioned successor to the Prophet Muhammad.
“Don’t be afraid to walk in the path of righteousness, even if you must venture alone,” Hikmat said, his rendering of Imam Ali’s words from Nahj al-Balagha, the Way of Eloquence, a collection of sayings, sermons and speeches that has served for centuries as a model of Arabic, much the way Cicero’s speeches did for Latin.
Hikmat was a Greek Orthodox Christian. So was his town, which still prides itself on its Bedouin roots, a sense of honor and hospitality so pronounced that a relative there once threatened to beat guests if they refused to eat at his table. I thought of our conversation amid the news about an uproar in Malaysia over a court ruling that overturned a government ban on the Christian use of word Allah to denote God.
No one would hold up the Middle East as a beacon of acceptance. Indeed, tolerance in the region never quite matches its diversity, its truth apparent in the withering of Iraq’s proud Jewish and Christian communities and the sectarian strife that simmers and sometimes explodes in Egypt and Lebanon. A contest in much of the Middle East is under way to claim everything from history to power. At heart, that contest revolves around the axis of identity, now more than ever defined religiously.
But in the Middle East, colloquial Arabic, drawn from the millennia-old tongue in which Muslims believe God spoke to Muhammad, has yet to become a battleground.
Inshallah, God willing, everyone says about everything in the future tense, from an appointment the next day to the sun rising in the east. The same goes for In Allah rad, if God wills it. The word Allah infuses virtually every salutation, greeting and condolence, spoken upon departure and arrival, and at birth and death, a centuries-long refinement of mutual social exchanges that ensures almost no moment is awkward. Kater khair Allah, a Christian in Hikmat’s town would say to his Muslim neighbor.
To him, a shared God, the God of Abraham, has a shared name, Allah.
Not that there aren’t differences in emphasis. Arab Christians often use the words for Lord (rabb) and Father (abb) to denote God. No Muslim would swear on the cross or the Virgin, as Christians do. (Our Lady Mariam, Muslims would say.) Beyond language, fear, suspicion and resentment of other creeds remain a part of the culture, sometimes encapsulated in simple proverbs. To Muslims around Hikmat’s town, you should “eat dinner with a Druze, spend the night with a Christian.” Or, in another rendering,
“Spend the night with anyone except the Druze.” To Christians, you should “eat dinner with a Druze, spend the night with a Muslim.” Only the Druze knew what the Druze said.
But away from the tensions that roil so much of the Middle East, the chauvinism, and the political machinations that stoke religious hatred for tactical gain, the language is a vestige of a shared culture that is undeniably Islamic, but perhaps universal, too.
A few days later after the conversation with Hikmat, I sat with other friends in the town, Abu Jean, a Christian, and Abu Alaa, a Muslim. There was the talk of a village – about landscapes, people, things that seem remarkable when all else tends toward the mundane. They marveled at the intricacy of honeycomb. Qudrit Allah kbeereh, Abu Jean said. “What God can do.” Abu Alaa lamented his relative’s misfortune. Allah karim, he said. “God is generous.” Abu Jean boasted. “I’m only scared of God. Look, trust me,” he said to Abu Alaa, pointing his index finger to the sky, “God will leave the jerks behind.” Abu Alaa nodded his head. Allah fawq, he told Abu Jean. “God is above.”
The conversation was a cliché I had heard countless times, but they seemed to enjoy repeating it, Muslim and Christian, appreciating a vocabulary they both understood.
Anthony Shadid, 41, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his coverage of Iraq. He is the author of two books, ‘Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and the New Politics of Islam’, and ‘Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War’. He is currently at work on a third book about his family’s ancestral village in Lebanon