General Question

JLeslie's avatar

Does anyone else find it odd that the media will translate an Arabic phrase into English, but if God is mentioned the word is left in Arabic--Allah.

Asked by JLeslie (55922points) June 28th, 2009

I think there are bunches of Americans who don’t even realize that Allah is the same God as the Christian God. We don’t do this when translating Hebrew. Or, if the Pope is speaking in German. I think this is another thing that encourages Americans to be afraid of Muslims and their beliefs.

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26 Answers

juwhite1's avatar

That way, we can keep reminding America that Muslims are “others.” We wouldn’t want to make it seem like they believe in the same God as Christians, even though they are all part of the same Judea-Christian-Muslim religious evolution. My apologies for the use of the word evolution when discussing the religion of many creationists! Couldn’t think of a better word to describe this

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I suspect they’re trying to be respectful to their Muslim viewers.

JLeslie's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic that is an interesting way to think about it. I think it accomplishes the very opposite. I wonder what Muslims really do think about it?

Harp's avatar

There are some Muslim scholars who insist that “Allah” should not be translated as “God”, because they feel that the word embodies the uniqueness of their God (it has no plural form, for instance) in a way that the more generic term God does not. In other words, it leaves no doubt about whom is being referred to. Other Muslims are fine with translating “Allah” as “God”, but since “Allah” is accepted by all Muslims, it would be the least controversial choice.

JLeslie's avatar

@Harp interesting, I was not aware. But, I think when speaking you have to consider your audience. Since the audience is predominantly American Christian’s who know little about the Moslem religion and currently many are fearful of Allah, I think it does a disservice to Moslems not to translate it.

Harp's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, but while Muslims see Allah as the same God that Christians and Jews worship, the inverse is not necessarily true. Muslims would say that it was Allah who spoke to Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but most Christians would not accept that it was their God who dictated the Koran.

Jayne's avatar

To add to what @Harp said, the Arabic language is central to Islam. It is thought to be the language of God. For instance, the Qu’ran cannot, supposedly, be translated; not only its meaning but its sanctity and holiness are dependent on the fact that it remains, uncorrupted, in the language through which it was communicated to Muhammad. Any translation, while useful, is not The Qu’ran, and the respect it should be shown is purely symbolic. In the same fashion, to call Allah by the name “God” would be to strip the word of its meaning; Muslims believe that the entities referred by both words are one and the same, but only the first name is an appropriate name for Him. Obviously, most Muslims aren’t going to be offended by the translation, but Allah is still preferred. So, at least in theory, the usage by the media is a mark of respect, although depending on the context there are certainly many instances where it is used to make Islam seem more foreign, threatening, etc.
Disclaimer: I am not Muslim, so all of the above is just a rough understanding, probably subject to error.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

What I think is odd is the Scottish guy that lives in Canada taught me how to say a very naughty Arabic phrase in Arabic. Then I found out he used to drive a truck in every possible Arab and European country, and he is also taught me how to say ‘kiss my ass’ is Gaelic.

Some friends are worth their weight in fluther points.

JLeslie's avatar

@Harp but do most Christians even know or think about Ismael and Isaac being brothers, sons of Abraham? Seems like Ishmael, or many of his followers really were scarred badly by Sarah and Abraham casting him out at the birth of their child.

Thanks so much for all of the great responses, I learned things I did not know.

chyna's avatar

I have a very good friend that is muslim and it annoys her that Allah is portrayed as a different God than the God christians believe in. (Of course, she puts up with my sand camel jockey jokes.)

filmfann's avatar

They do not translate names. In Arabic speaking countries, they don’t refer to Bush as President فرج

jackfright's avatar

@filmfann is “God” a name or a term?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I know a lot of Christians in America would be very upset if their god was referred to as “Allah” along with a quip of “it’s all the same”.

For Muslims, if their god was referred to as God, that would be very offensive.

As an aside, I always thought it was very presumptuous for Christians to call their god, “God”.

JLeslie's avatar

Yet Jews are fine using God when citing a prayer in English and use the Hebrew word for God (there are many) when praying in Hebrew.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@JLeslie This isn’t about Judaism. It’s about respecting the religion of Islam in public media.

filmfann's avatar

At the end of the movie Gandhi, as he is shot, Gandhi says: “Oh, God”
In truth, when he was shot, he called “Hē Ram”, a call to his God. It was proof that Gandhi was still Hindu.

filmfann's avatar

@jackfright It is a name and a term.
Just like Bush is a name and a part of female anatomy.

JLeslie's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic I know…I wrote the original question. I am all for respecting what the Muslims would want. I had originally felt that the media was doing a diservice to the Muslims by not translating to God, but after reading the responses I have a better understanding of how this actually might be respectful of Muslims. BUT, one person did write that her muslim friend might think differently, which is interesting…that would matter most…what the Muslims want…I think we all agree on that out of respect for them.
My point about the Jews only was that since I am Jewish, and we are fine with the translation of God from Hebrew; well, I think I am just explaining the original perspective I was coming from when I wrote the question in the first place.

fireside's avatar

Certainly it would be better for the media to take it upon themselves to open the discussion by educating their viewing audience about the similarities between religions. There are some interfaith discussions, I think Peter Jennings hosted something along those lines, but not in a continuous manner.

Unfortunately, this is a market driven culture that is more interested in maintaining their base and is hesitant to do anything that might cause their viewers to change the channel.

Sadly, instead of the media being a uniting force it is now becoming segmented to such an extent that people just go to channels that confirm their points of view.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I was going to say the same thing as Harp, and I also wanted to point out that when Jews talk about God or pray in English, we often refer to Adonai, even though you could translate that to English as “God” or “Our Lord”, we don’t. So, saying that we always translate the Hebrew word for God wouldn’t be completely accurate.

JLeslie's avatar

@La_chica_gomela Or, if you disagree about the Hebrew consider an Ecuadorian Catholic who says “Gracias a dios nadie sufro” We would translate it to “thank God nobody suffered.” Not, “thank Dios nobody suffered.”

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@JLeslie: I don’t understand what you’re getting at.

JLeslie's avatar

@La_chica_gomela I’m just saying we translate every other language fully in the media, including the word God, but not Arabic. I should not have used an example with Jewish prayer, because I am not even really talking about prayer, I am talking about fully translating a sentence into another language. As I am explaining this it makes me think…What word do Christians use for God who live in Arab countries?

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@JLeslie: And I’m saying that that’s not true. I agree with Harp. Allah is the Arabic word for God, but it’s also an English word that specifically refers to the God of the Muslim faith, just as Adonai refers to God in the Jewish faith, and yes, in some ways, they’re “the same God” and “the same” as Christians’ God, but in other ways, they’re very very different. Jews believe their God has a certain set of laws, teachings, and precepts, Muslims a different set, and Christians a different set. That’s why they’re different religions.

I understand from your previous postings that you think not translating it does a disservice to Muslims, and that’s a valid argument. There are reasons to just substitute the word “God” and there are also reasons to leave it as is.

And your quote from the hypothetical Ecuadorian should read ‘sufrió’, not ‘sufro’—that would be ‘I suffer’, just btw.

juwhite1's avatar

If you ask a Muslim if all three are the same God, they will tell you they are. They believe in Jesus, just not that he was the Savior, in the way that Christians do.

JLeslie's avatar

@La_chica_gomela I agree with you and Harp. I did not really understand previously that the Muslims might prefer to keep it Allah for the reasons you stated…hadn’t thought of it. I do think it works against them with many American’s, but like I said I would want to do whatever the Muslim’s prefer.

Thanks for the correction on the Spanish :).

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