Is ‘Oh my God’ going to become ‘Oh my Allah’ in Pakistan?

Published: July 6, 2015
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Seriously Mian Sahab? You had the time on your schedule for this? PHOTO: AFP

Recently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved a list proscribing English translations of various Islamic terms such as ‘Allah’, ‘Masjid’, ‘Salaat’, and ‘Rasool’. I find it ironic that this came to my knowledge on July 5th, which is the day Mian Nawaz Sharif’s ‘roohani daddy’ Ziaul Haq imposed martial law in 1977.

Zia also passed a similar instruction which, over the course of time, replaced Khuda Hafiz with Allah Hafiz in all of our literature, visual media and in our daily conversations. Given our prime minister’s well-known rightist tendencies, and now this, it is not very hard to see the exemplification of the old saying “like father, like son”.

Here, I am going to outline a few reasons why this is a bad move, if not merely unnecessary.

1. It makes Islam look like an Arab religion instead of a universal one

There are around 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, boasting a remarkable racial diversity in their population. Islam is practiced all across the globe and not all parts of the world are under the influence of the Arab cultural imperialism as we are.

Every day, Muslims are using their local words when they refer to ‘Allah (SWT)’ and ‘God’ is just one of them. Islam was assimilated by the local cultures wherever it spread to. The closest example would be Sufism, where the Arab religion took up a sub-continental flavour. It is for these mitigations and assimilations that Islam is widely accepted by a variety of cultures and is practiced all across the globe. To be universal, every religion has needed to, somewhat, lose the image of being local to where it emerged from.

2. It goes against inter-faith solidarity

Is it wise to live in the 21st century yet highlight a distinction between ‘Allah (SWT)’ and God and ‘salaat’ and prayer? It makes the word ‘God’ seem like it represents a completely different deity than the one Pakistanis believe in. It is a fundamental tenet of Islam to believe that the author of the Holy Quran is also the author of three other holy texts. However, the only message indicated by this law is that when someone talks about God, they are not talking about ‘Allah (SWT)’.

Proscribing the word ‘God’ and enforcing this unnecessary distinction would further alienate the non-Muslims of Pakistan; especially the Ahl-e-Kitaab, with whom we find middle ground on the fact that, despite some differences, we worship the same deity.

3. It restricts personal freedom

It is highly unbecoming of a democratic regime to impose a linguistic change upon its population and barring them from using certain words in daily speech. It makes us fight instincts, which we naturally developed through the course of life and would make us watchful of ourselves, when using common figures of speech like “Oh my God”.

Is ‘Oh my God’ going to become ‘Oh my Allah’ in Pakistan?

4. It makes no sense from a linguistic point of view

It is like forbidding all Pakistanis from calling the ‘Qaumi Tarana’ our ‘National Anthem’. You are merely forbidding translation which means the same thing in a different language. What’s next? You’re going to pass laws that replace ‘Ramazan Sharif’ with ‘Ramadan Qareem’?

Hey! You can’t call it ‘water’! It’s aab.

5. It is regressive

It is a bit too late in human history to be exclusive rather than inclusive. These are the times when tolerance needs to replace intolerance, if we are to keep pace with the rest of the world. To make God a matter of ‘theirs and ours’ is not the way to go about it. The state should not be defining religious terms for its population.

Come on! You’re supposed to know all this, without me having to tell you!

6. It is a waste of time and resources which may go into enforcing this

Seriously, Mian Sahab? You had the time on your schedule for this? Wow, it must be fun to be the prime minister of Pakistan! Can you please ban the vegetable baingan (aubergines) as well? I hate it when my mother – oh I mean waalida – makes those.

Also, how will this law be enforced? Usually, this isn’t the kind of thing I would spend the taxpayer’s money over, if I was the prime minister. Well, maybe that’s just me.

7. It creates misconceptions about Islam

With the rise of radical Islam, the image of Muslims has been greatly tarnished. People in the West have recently grown increasingly sceptical of Muslims and many perceive the religion negatively. Muslims all across the globe are engaged in efforts to reconcile differences, bridge gaps between the Islamic world and the rest of the world, and are making great efforts to better everyone’s understanding of Islam.

To separate ‘Allah (SWT)’ and God and prayer and ‘salaat’ would only cause further confusion and hamper a better understanding. Such narrow mindedness would also repel potential converts, as this unwelcoming and virtually hostile gesture hints a lack of intellectual growth in Islamic thought.

8. It makes Pakistan look backward

When the prime minister of an Islamic country makes such an exaggerated gesture of over-religiosity, it makes him appear as a right-wing aficionado and his country will be perceived as backwardly conservative. As much as that may be true, there is absolutely no need to further highlight it. The whole world would point at us and say,

“Look! It’s 2015 and the Muslims of Pakistan are still not over the God versus Allah (SWT) debate!”

Are we?

Hashim Bukhari

Hashim Bukhari

The author is somewhat of a musician from Lahore with a deep interest in history, science, religion, and sociology. He is studying political science at UBC and trying to balance it with a law degree from University of London. He tweets as @hashNhisstories

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Omair

    Oh my science!Recommend

  • HZR

    Since Pakistan is in search of its Arabic roots,disowns or is uncomfortable with its South Asian origins, and is more and more looking towards Arabia is its source of culture and civilisation it makes sense to get more Arabic.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Allah is the name of God. Names do not change in any language. The Christians changed the name given in their books as “Ahmad(pbuh)” to “The praised one”. Look what it led to.

    Many Quranic words and terms have no equivalent in any other language. Such as Sabr, Shukr, Taqwa and numerous others. This shows the universality of these terms.Recommend

  • suresh

    It not new See the puppet OF Jeff Dunham’s show Ahemad, the dead terrorist.Recommend

  • Zeeshan Jora

    I believe this happened very late, should have preceded Al-Bakistan number plates.Recommend

  • chooza

    I don’t see anything wrong with what NS intentions are. The next step should be that his official speeches at international forum are in Urdu our national languageRecommend

  • singh

    Excellent blogRecommend

  • Shahid Ahmed

    You are making valid points. Keep it up with open mind, sorry (afsous), khula zahan, sorry I don’t know Arabic for khula zahan (open mindedness)…. am I going insane?Recommend

  • seismann

    What will poor Ahmadis do now?They can’t say “Oh!God” now,and yet they cant say “Ya Allah”The ones on whom pain is deliberately inflicted can’t even express it now.
    Next is Bakistan ,Bunjab, BBB party, BTI,TTB.
    People say religion enlightens,but Pakistan is being pushed into the Dark Ages in the name of religion.
    It is also ironic to note that Indonesia proscribed the use of “Allah” to non-Muslims.As if non-Muslims have a different God.Isn’t it Shirk on the part of mullahs,or shirk doesn’t apply to mullahs?Recommend

  • Malik Ahsan Noor Bhutta

    Their ancestor “Zia” (rightly said, author) used Islam as his long lasting shield and imposed many Islamic laws that helped him in prolonging his dominance. And, one must also recall the slogans and the tactics they used in the elections as well. So, it’s rather rightist to say the least, but something which is predictable and one should prepare to face more music.Recommend

  • Commemtator

    What about the English Translation of Quran????
    Will it be replaced with half Arabic words and half English words?
    There is so much confusion.Recommend

  • Rafay Rahman

    Very well written!Recommend

  • BlackHat

    You couldn’t use the word “aab” for water it’s Persian related to the Sanskrit word “aapah”. You would need to use the Arabic word “al ma’a” to be a good Muslim.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Pakistan was created by religion and it is being undone by it.Recommend

  • Parvez

    People like Zia-ul-Haq and now his protege Nawaz Sharif resort to such shenanigans simply to fool the people…..so that they can continue with their self motivated destructive agendas. In the end the country suffers.Recommend

  • Sajid

    Every subject have own terminology and its is good to be used that term in original language not the whole script—like Islamic Banks adobe Arabic terms; sounds quite good. Recommend

  • saj

    Well i think there is no issue adding new words..i have witness how english language was infested with foreign words..punjabi words are frequently inserted on live media n print media. So this will keep going on…so the best is not to give serious thoughts on Allah n God…Hindu say Bagwan n Sikh n Punjabi Hindus use Rub…take it easy..not ever think that peacfull era of our grand grand parents will come back.Recommend

  • Waqar Ali

    I think it is a very good decision. Words play a big role. Lets take “God”, it is a very common word, used by every one. So its meaning can be changed. But “Allah” is specific. For one, who created this world. There is no one like Allah. So it just point to a specific entity. I can say, that Tendulkar is God of Batting(Cricket), but I cannot say someone that he is “Allah.” I hope you guys understand me.Recommend

  • ZKhan

    It depends upon the thinking of each individuals what words they want use..If they and its is their Personal Choice..However Imposing is Completely a different thingRecommend

  • Jayman

    Obviously, you have met Him and come back to tell us that everything is true.Recommend

  • http://www.defence.pk/ Agnostic Muslim

    There is nothing in the Quran that requires us to use certain words over others. If you really feel strongly about it, then feel free to use whichever word you want to, but don’t force your personal views on others like Nawaz and the Mullahs supporting him are trying to do.Recommend

  • Adnan

    Just what we need. More religion.Recommend

  • Pakistan

    We need a counter cultural revolution in Pakistan.If all these right wingers and fanatics can do it than so can more liberal people.Recommend

  • Hussain Saqib

    The first reason is big enough to throw the proposal out of the window. Recommend

  • Asif Hussain

    Not agree at all, there is over thousands God’s but Allah’s swt is only one.Recommend

  • seismann

    Why not Arabic?Recommend

  • seismann

    THE TRUTH is tearing the world apart.Recommend

  • abhi

    you mean to say Allah only understand Arabic?Recommend

  • abhi

    so can you call him by another name or not?Recommend

  • Gensys

    God understands only Arabic and not any other language and moreover being monotheistic only one language is acceptable.Recommend

  • Anjum Hameed

    Tell me, is it Pakistans perpetual CURSE to be ruled by idiot savants??..has the entire nation lost its mind..yes it has, I’ve answered my own question..this volatile religiosity floating around is a more dangerous poison than cyanide itself…Recommend

  • SpeakThetruth

    When people will get down from the shoulders of Saudis and Gulf Arabs things will go to the right direction. I don’t have to prove it, our history and history of middle east is enough to understand.Recommend

  • https://savemeifyouseethis.wordpress.com/ Aether Skyle

    Mr. Bukhari, indeed you are entitled to your own opinion and the contents of your blog are at your own disposal. However, it must be noted that when an article/piece is published on a public forum, the writer must pay special heed to the aptness, judiciousness and accuracy of the words he uses. Your arguments are based on strong premises, but suggesting that the backwardness and ‘religious promotion’ of a country run hand in hand is a little extreme. Furthermore, try not to let your personal dislikes and prejudices leak into your work, because God knows we are surrounded with enough negativity and do not need to see it in what we read. If you disagree with the policies and preferences of your Prime Minister, kindly construct arguments which bow to logic. We Pakistanis have a pet habit of blaming, and I would call it a disease. You can blame the government for poor education, health, electricity management, corruption, but really, is the coining of a word really something to rant about? Because the last time I checked the news there was no mention of ‘Prime Minister orders incarceration of three men who said ‘Oh God’ instead of ‘Oh Allah’Recommend

  • Khan

    @Hashim Bukhari
    “God” and word like “TUHAN” – first one commonly used in Christianity which directed to a “Human” Jesus. TUHAN is used in most far eastern countries again it mainly addresses “Human”. Word “ALLAH” is not only Arabic word BUT most importantly relates to unique power, light, maker of this universe and its uniqueness was, is and will remain unquestioned. So kindly try not to be carried away.Recommend

  • DSK

    it does not matter which words have been invented in other parts of the world, but Name is “Allah”, and it must be addressed as Allah. How would you like it if they called you Bashir in Sri Lanka and Jahil in Amreeka? I think everyone holds the rights to their names, and prefer being called by it.Recommend

  • Abrar

    Nice feminine of God is Goddess, but the word Allah is singular and no feminine.

    Recommend

  • Union Jack

    Are you serious ?
    Sabr = patience
    Shukr = grateful
    taqwa = piety.
    This kind of questions your knowledge in English and Arabic.Recommend

  • GulSher

    Just an advice to the writer of this article…, please avoid making comments on matters of religious jurisprudence, without having gained enough knowledge to do so. God is translation of Khuda which can be any deity in linguistic terms but Allah is alone in his majesty without any partners. Instead of saying “Oh My God”, use “اےالله” or “یا الله”.Recommend

  • Daddy

    If US is still there despite its racist creation then Pakistan is also staying. Go and jaywalk.Recommend

  • Sara

    o my god…oo my god..oooo my god its so nice…oooooh my god…ooooooaaaaaahRecommend

  • jiyala

    What it led to? Hmm let me think. It led them to become thousands of years more advanced than us. Good for them, right?Recommend

  • observer

    Pakistan being a constitutionally Islamic country is bound to conform all its practices as per the Quran, Hadiths and the Sunnah. Pakistanis are obligated to follow exactly how the Prophet lived in Arabia. Once you are a Muslim, you can’t commit blasphemy by questioning and challenging religion.Recommend

  • observer

    If you are a true Muslim, the only option is more but true Islam.Recommend

  • Voice

    We can’t force our believes on others at the same time others need to stay in their boundaries and look at their own believes before commenting on others..Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    The problem is with being constitutionally Islamic, and not with Islam itself. Muslims are suppose to follow the Quran, sunnah and hadith, not Saudi Arabia. People think everything coming out of Saudi suppose to be Islam, which is an absurd analogy in itself. Quran, sunnah and hadith nowhere prescribes Muslims to use only Allah for God or other arabic terminology for different things other than while praying of course. Don’t make clear statement without any evidence from the source. And Saudi Arabia is a country, First Quran then sunnah and then the ahadith are the sources.Recommend

  • Rasul Baksh Tarkani.

    Nawaz is a two bit thug. The former portege of Zia ul Haq, plundered
    and looted the Land of the Pure to the tune of $2,7 billion dollars and
    counting. The whole Sharif Group, can be called the millionaires club
    of Punjab. Each and every single one in the inner group is a millionaire
    [in US dollars] Did you know that Finance Minister Dollar Dar is a billionaire [US] ?!! Same man who sent $ 4 million to his son in Dubai.
    Just to ‘help him out’ That was pocket change for him, very likely.
    The failed ‘ameerul momineen’, also known as the King of Nawazistan
    is simply pandering to the mullahs and religious bigots.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Gulsher sahab, your explanation is linguistically and grammatically correct. But when Muslim people says God they really mean Allah (i really hope so :), and not some other deity, Allah is indeed singular and THE undisputed name of God. Just by calling Allah God doesn’t brings Allah’s majesty in question. Allah knows who is calling Him and who is calling some other deity besides Him. Let God be the Judge.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Only a Jahil will translate Bashir in Amreeka.Recommend

  • https://savemeifyouseethis.wordpress.com/ Aether Skyle

    Erm.. It was not the ‘christians’ who became more advanced, rather the West whom you are associating with Christianity.. The Nazis were not scrupulously religious at all, yet are the pioneers of many technological advancements.. It is rather useless to compare the successes of different religions as a whole due to religious diversity.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    There is factually nothing wrong in your comment, However, languages EVOLVE and do not get INVENTED.

    But if you have an objection towards human linguistic evolution, and only want to stick to Quranic linguistic standards, then Change Pakistan to Bakistan, because there is no letter P in Quran.

    Islam is not outdated, it is a progressive and universal religion no doubt. please stop dragging it back to the dark ages.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Why you making things more difficult for the PM then they already are. Why not punjabi!Recommend

  • Ram

    OMG I can’t believe thisRecommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    No, he means to say, Its Bakistan, and Bebsi is their sponsor lol. i mean sbonsor, ;)Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Pakistan was created to ensure the basic civil rights of the Muslims of the sub-continent and other minorities. What happened afterwards is the mutilation of Pakistan’s ideology by the religious clergy. Pakistan was not created by religion, but it is certainly being undone by it.Recommend

  • guest

    Some catholics finds “Oh my God” very offensive!Recommend

  • Open Mind

    Allah is just short form of AL ILAH which means The God. The term Allah was prevalent before the advent of Islam as is evident from the name of Muhammad’s father Abdullah. I really don’t understand why people are so sensitive about this issue. Recommend

  • Open Mind

    What is true for you may not be true for the others. That is why the State should not indulge in religion and leave it to the individuals.Recommend

  • C M Naim

    Can we begin with something simple? When the Quranic verses were presented to the people of Mecca — Jews, Christians, and Others — they understood their words. Allah was as known to them as Rahman or Rahim. The word Allah existed before Islam, and Muslims have no monopoly over it.Recommend

  • rationalist

    Tell us what is it that Saudi Arabia is practicing not supported by the scriptures. The prophet spoke and used Arabic. That itself, per Sunnah, makes it a holy language for the Muslims to follow and emulate. Saudi Arabia follows Islam very strictly as per the Quran, Hadiths and the Sunnah. What is it that is wrong in Pakistan’s constitutional Islamic edicts? If a constitution is Islamic, Islam and the founding/governing principles are intertwined together. Questioning it, as you do, is blasphemy.Recommend

  • Ricky

    Kya majak hai yaar ??
    There is no God no Allah no bhagwan. It’s 2015 yar.
    How long are we gonna believe all these made up stories??
    Please wake up before it’s too late. :(
    @Et please publishRecommend

  • Hameedullah

    Yeah like the honorable prime minister has nothing better to do than dictate how we speak. I wish those good intentions went into solving the country’s problems.Recommend

  • Hameedullah

    Arabic is a human language and as such a human construct.Recommend

  • sridhar

    You want to do every thing in Arabic but ask the Arabs what they think about Pakistanis. You will be surprised.Recommend

  • Hammurabi

    So should we abolish all local languages and only talk in arabic?None of the holy books invented any new words.Recommend

  • Amani

    Ricky, I understand that every human is entitled to their own opinion, and everyone has the freedom to express their views. But a line must be drawn between freedom of expression and offence. No one is stopping you from believing what you do, but please do not try to dictate what others think and believe. Many people are firm and strong in their religious beliefs and you openly saying that they are just illusions comes across as insulting. Be careful what you say; it can result in trouble.Recommend

  • Rama2012

    The average Pakistani must first realize that she/he is not of Arabic stock but of Indian sub-continent. Take the example of naming of Pakistani children – almost all names are Arabic not local. How many girl children in Pakistan take the name ‘Sindhu’ (The mighty Indus river). In India, there must be least 1 million girls named Sindhu, though for most part, the river Sindhu (Indus) flows through Pakistan.
    Take the case of Indonesia (Most populous Muslim country) – their names reflect the local culture and flavour and are derivatives from Sankrit words.Recommend

  • Ricky

    Man, I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s sentiments and I am not urging anyone to believe in what I believe.
    I only think humans are different because we have a complex and evolved brain, which we should use to think logically. That’s it.

    Hopefully I didn’t hurt anyone’s sentiments.
    Good day sir.
    And Thanks for your advice.
    @et please publishRecommend

  • Ricky

    Man, this is the best comment I read here.:)

    Kudos to your guts.
    :)
    Recommend

  • Ricky

    vedas, gospels or hadiths written thousands of years ago or scientifically proven facts.
    At times religions were required to keep societies united but in today’s world it is only dividing us.

    Recommend

  • http://www.thetrueperspective.com/ Hamza

    You mean OMA.Recommend

  • Dhdususu

    No one who doesn’t suffer from the “colonial mentality” would object to this decision of Nawaz. Whoever objects to reviving our precolonial heritage, suffers from severe inferiority complex. The British forcefully imposed their ‘liberalism’ on us,

    The British governor of British occupied Egypt, Lord Cromer said: ‘It is absurd to suppose Europe will look on as a passive spectator whilst the retrograde government based on purely Muhammadan principles and oriental ideas [i.e Islam], is established in Egypt. The material interests at stake are too important …THE new generation of Egyptians has to be persuaded or FORCED into imbibing the true spirit of Western civilisation’ 

    Recommend

  • abeer

    It’s like human is to Sana .God is to AllahRecommend

  • Muhammad Safeer Abbas Abid Bal

    I never said that. Indeed ALLAH Knows what is in every heart. Recommend

  • abhi

    then whats wrong in Saying oh my God?Recommend

  • http://shajar.edu.pk/ Shajar School

    Arabic is a human language and we should teach 3 language first urdu english and Arabic….
    Recommend