Still A Bad Idea
Via Pithlord, I see that Prof. Bainbridge has commented on this story about a Dutch bishop proposing that Dutch Catholic churches use the name Allah in their services “to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.” Pithlord is, of course, right that the concession, such as it is, is actually only a linguistic one. Allah does mean God, or literally “the God” in Arabic. As far as it goes, the change is fairly innocuous as a matter of literal meaning, but therefore all the more unnecessary and symbolically discouraging in that it is another example of Dutch natives accommodating and assimilating themselves to the immigrant communities rather than vice-versa. The Islamic understanding of God is obviously quite different and opposed to that of Christians, but the bishop was not proposing introductions of Qur’anic passages, such as Ma qataau-hu wa ma salabu-hu during Communion and La taqu thaalatha during the Sanctus. It is a trivial proposal in a way, but this makes it all the more foolish and pointless. It is the ultimate in condescending tokenism while also managing to introduce a pointless change into the liturgical life of the bishop’s flock. Should Anglicans begin saying Khuda Hafiz to make their Muslim neighbours feel more at home?
It is not exactly an embrace of relativism, as Prof. Bainbridge fears, but it is fairly stupid all the same. It is an example of the embrace of rather pointless symbolic gestures that are intended to foster ecumenical dialogue and such, but which routinely backfire and are viewed either as insults, attempts to muddy the waters or even aggressive attempts at appropriating someone else’s beliefs. Do you suppose that a Muslim in the Netherlands will have a better view of non-Arabic-speaking Christians if they begin using the name Allah? Would this not, in fact, inspire some resentment against those using this name to refer to the Trinity or to Christ Himself, when Muslims recognise neither the existence of the former nor the divinity of the latter? At best, it would not achieve the intended goal, but would become one more episode in European Christianity’s own self-marginalisation.
Update: On the other side of the world, there is apparently no small controversy over the changing usages from Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz, as this older article also relates. I had noticed that Allah Hafiz had been cropping up in more and more Bollywood movies over the past few years, but I suppose I had not realised that this reflected such significant changes in South Asian Islam.