Saturday, June 01, 2013

Allah:The Noun and the Name – The Root of Confusion

Excerpt from KrisisPraxis: In the Arabic language the definite article is quite clearly denoted as “ta’rîf”, the one which makes known or which defines, and a word standing in an undefined position (in English either “a” or nothing at all) is “nakira”, the “unknown”.

Allâh, coming from al-ilâh, clearly is defined by the article, the “ta’rîf” “al-” (English: the) which has to go whenever the word is determined by another word. The presence of the determiner also confirms that Allah is not a name as every name is determined by itself, e.g., we have “Muhammad” and not al-Muhammad.
Note – Similarly, Quirk and Greenbaum authoritative Grammar points out that in English, “We may therefore draw a distinction between a proper noun, which is a single word, and a name, which may or may not consist of more than one word. A name normally functions as a single unit with respect to grammar. This means that, even if a composite name has an internal structure that is grammatically analysable (eg as King’s College is analysable as genitive noun + head noun), that structure cannot normally be varied by the insertion of words, by change of inflection, etc.” (p. 288).

The word that can be determined (and consequently morphologically inflected in the case of Semitic languages) is not a name. For example, the al- disappears when Allah is determined by another word, e.g., The God of Abraham (Ibrahim) becomes ‘ilah Ibrahim’ and not ‘Allah Ibrahim.’ Conversely, names are not inflected or modified as a result of their syntactical relations in the sentence. In short, the modification of the words ilah and Allah confirms that Allah is not a personal name.

Summary: Proper nouns are pointers to individuals without themselves defining the semantic content (qualities etc). The word Allah has no rigid designation. It is not a personal name. The semantics of the word Allah as a proper noun (properly nuanced) shows that there is no justification that the word be used exclusively for the supreme deity of Islam.

To repeat:
Confusion continues to reign over some (otherwise intelligent) Malay Muslim scholars evident from their fumbled handling of the semantics of Allah because there is no definite article in the Malay language. It would be helpful for them to reconsider the significance of definite article in the Arabic and other Semitic languages.

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