Last August the Washington Post Web site posed this question to readers: "Do you think that Muslims, Christians and Jews all pray to the same God?" One Muslim respondent wrote yes, each of the three major monotheistic faiths "pray to the God of Abraham."Through little things like the convention of refusing to translate "Allah" as "God," the English-speaking media make Muslims appear alien to their audience. I wonder whether the non-Anglo media in Europe also use different words for the same God to exoticize Muslims.
Christian respondents, however, were equivocal or hostile to the notion. "Jews pray to Yahweh," one Virginia woman wrote. "As a Christian, I pray to the same God." But she insisted that "Muslims pray to Allah. Allah is not the God of Abraham." This woman might be surprised that Christian Arabs use "Allah" for God, as do Arabic-speaking Jews. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus, God is "Allaha," just a syllable away from Allah.
Still, who can blame her? Earlier that month, NPR reported Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza City intoning, "there is no God but Allah." Last week, The Los Angeles Times mentioned mourners for a slain Baghdad professor reciting, "there is no God but Allah" at the university campus. In September, The New York Times reported an assassinated Palestinian uttering, "there is no God but Allah" before he died.
"There is no god but God" is the first of Islam's five pillars. It is Muhammad's refutation of polytheism. Yet to today's non-Muslims, the locution "there is no God but Allah" reads as an affront, a declaration that inflammatory Allah trumps the Biblical God. This journalistic rendition distorts the meaning of the Muslim confession of faith. ("My God Is Your God," January 28, 2004)
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
My God Is Your God
John Kearney, a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, makes a small but significant point in his New York Times op-ed piece: