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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Khuda Hafiz versus Allah Hafiz: a critique - ii
By Mahfuzur Rahman

There are numerous references in the Qur'ân to the pagan's use of the word "Allah". The following examples should suffice [The translations are from Abdullah Yusuf Ali's well-known Qur'ânic Translation and Commentary. The 'Allah' in the original Arabic has been substituted here for 'God' used by Yusuf Ali]. "They [the pagans] swear their strongest Oaths by Allah..." [VI(An'âm): 109.].Or, "If indeed thou ask them [the pagans] who has created the heavens and the earth...they will certainly reply, 'Allah'....". [ XXIX (Ankabut):61]. Or, "And if indeed thou ask them who it is that sends down rain from the sky,....they will certainly reply, 'Allah'..." [XXIX(Ankabut):63]. Very similar are the references to 'Allah' in verses XXXIX: 25, XXXIX: 38, and XLIII: 87.

The importance given to 'Allah' in earlier societies was also reflected in a major historical document: the Treaty of Hudaybiya. As is well known, in drawing up the treaty document the Prophet of Islam had instructed the scribe to begin with " In the name of Allah, the Compassionate [Rahman], the Merciful [Rahim]. But Suhayl b. Amr, representing the Quraysh, objected to Rahman and Rahim and insisted that only "In the name of Allah" be written instead. This was agreed to. (Ibn Ishaq, The life of Muhammad, Tr. A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press. 1967. P. 504.)

It should be evident by now that we are on track of a question of some importance: what is in a name? Let us pursue the matter a little further for more insight from the Qur'ân itself. But let us also note in passing that Christian Arabs still use 'Allah' for their western co-religionist's 'God'. That does not make them any more Muslim than a Muslim's use of God makes him Christian.

The Qur'ân strongly suggests that whatever name one might give the Supreme Being, it is proper, so long as it is one of asma-al-husna, or 'the beautiful names' of His. Thus: "The most beautiful names belong to God: so call on Him by them; but shun such men as use profanity in His names.... (VII( Al- A'raf): 180). Again, " Say: 'Call upon God [Allah] or call upon Rahman: by whatever name ye call Him, (it is well): for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names....'" [ XVII(Bani Isrâ-il): 110]

As one commentator explains: "Allah has not just two names ["Allah" and "Rahman"] but many more. By whatever name one calls Him, he is calling the same Being" [The Holy Qur'an al Karim. Bangla Translation and Brief Tafsir. Original: Hazrat Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi. Translation and edition: Maulana Muhiuddid Khan. The translation from Bengali is mine.] In his commentary on LIX: 24, in which the phrase "the beautiful names" again appears, the same commentator explains: "Allah has beautiful names. In the Holy Qur'ân there is no definite indication of the number of such names". Hadith is mentioned as the source of the ninety -nine names commonly associated with the Supreme Being. But the commentator emphasizes that there are other names of His and these are numbered in the hundreds.

It is useful to point out here that Rahman is not only one of the many "attributes" of Allah; there are places in the Qur'ân where "Rahman" is used in lieu of "Allah". The verse XVII: 110, quoted above, ["call upon Allah or call upon Rahman..."] is an important case. But there are other instances. Thus, sura LV ( Rahman ) starts with the name "Rahman", not "Allah". Again, in LXVII (Mulk): 3 one finds: " No want of proportion wilt thou see in the creation of Rahman....". Here too "Rahman" has been used in lieu of "Allah".

Having thus established that it is entirely permissible to call the Supreme Being by any of His names,( "Allah", "Rahman", or any other name), so long as it is not profane, and especially if it is beautiful, let us turn to the name which is the bone of contention here. As everyone knows, "Khuda" is a Persian word (actually Khuda in Persian, and slightly modified to Khuda in Bangla), not Arabic. With its root khud or khod, it simply means self-existing.

It is important in the present context to remember how intertwined has the word "Khuda" been with Bengali Muslim culture. In terms of its usage in everyday life, it is at least as common as "Allah", perhaps more so. The folklore of Bengal is strewn with it. One finds numerous invocations of Khuda in the lyrics of the region. Many Islamic Nazrul songs, for example, invoke Khuda and these songs are part of our cultural heritage, as are many devotional folk songs. I have seen Nazrul lyrics that contain both "Khuda" and "Allah" in the same composition.

It must also be appropriate to recall here briefly how prominent a place the word "Khuda" occupied in the culture of the land of its origin, Persia. I found it difficult to resist the quote: "O Jami, the road of guidance to Khuda is naught but love". This is a line from the Diwans of the great mystic poet and scholar Jami . Mulla Nurud-Din Jami, it is important to note, was an orthodox Muslim and was not enamoured of pre-Islamic Persian culture. [See Edward G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia, Cambridge. 1976. (Original publication:1902). I have introduced "Khuda" from the Persian text, in place of Browne's translation in which "God" was used.] His piety did not prevent him from using "Khuda". Or, look at a line from Rumi, another great mystic poet: "That Khuda who on Creation's Primal Day / The first foundation of thy soul did lay/..." [ibid. Here too I have substituted "Khuda" from the Persian text for "God" in the translation by Browne.]

To go back to the question of propriety of the use of Khuda Hafiz, the word "Khuda" is certainly not profane; it does not disparage the Supreme Being; it in fact compares rather well with other accepted names of His in Arabic; and the idea conveyed by the word finds powerful support from the Qur'ân itself. That the word is not profane or even disparaging should be obvious. It is also an unambiguously beautiful name.

For its lack of ambiguity, compare it with a couple of Arabic words often used to describe a particular attribute of the Supreme Being but which have other meanings as well. Take, for example, "Jabbar". Its dictionary meaning includes "a tyrant", "a giant", "someone pitiless". But when applied to the Supreme Being, it is taken to mean "the Most Powerful". Or note that one dictionary meaning of "Mutakabbar" is "haughty", but is not used in this sense when applied to the Supreme Being, or that "Quahhar" also literally means "haughty" but not when applied to Him. By contrast, there is no double meaning to the word "Khuda". It unambiguously means "self-existing".

Perhaps even more significantly, the meaning attached to "Khuda" is also exactly the same as that conveyed by a combination of attributes of the Supreme Being described in one of the most important suras of the Qur'an (Sura CXII (Ikhlas)) The translation of the phrase "Allah -as- samad: lum yaled wa lum yulud" is : "God, the Eternal, the Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten" [ Translation, Yusuf Ali]. "Samad" and "Wa lum yulud" convey a sense that is identical with the meaning of "Khuda". To top it, note that the word "Quyyum", used as an attribute of the Supreme Being also means, in Arabic, "self-existing", or "self-subsisting", which is identical with the sense conveyed by "Khuda".

It has often been argued that the name "Allah" encompasses all conceivable attributes of His. The Islami Bishwakosh, referred to above, insists: " The name "Allah" cannot be translated into any other language. Besides, the nouns and adjectives used by Allah in the Qur'ân to describe His own being, attributes, and actions, are all implicit in the name Allah". But this is merely an assertion and has no logical foundation to it. It flies in the face of the quotations from the Qur'ân given above, suggesting that Allah can be called by any name, including "Rahman", for example. Moreover, on a different plane, if indeed all His attributes were subsumed in "Allah", there would be no need for the name "Allah" to be followed by the host of other names, as in the popular invocation of the names of Allah, prescribed in the hadith. If "Allah" is all encompassing, then, by definition, the other names are superfluous, which is evidently not the case in the Islamic tradition.

Why, then, is the rush to jettison Khuda Hafiz in favour of Allah Hafiz? Could this be because the word "Khuda" is Persian, that is, non- Arabic or ´Ajami, the term strictly meaning "Persian", but sometimes taken to mean, generally derogatorily, all non-Arabs? One suspects that this is indeed the case, and if so, the detractors of Khuda Hafiz are in considerable trouble.
The Qur'ân dwells, in a number of places, on the question of the revelation of its text in the Arabic language and explains why: so that people (Arabs) would understand it. Thus: [The Qur'ân is] A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail; -- a Qur'ân in Arabic, for people who understand;..." [XLI (Ha-Mim Sajda):3]. Similarly: "We have made it a Qur'ân in Arabic, that you may be able to understand." [XLIII(Zukhruf):3]

One could formulate a thesis, if only for the sake of argument that what is being suggested is that the Qur'ân is meant for speakers of Arabic alone. Those who would insist on saying only Allah Hafiz in all circumstances, and never Khuda Hafiz, simply because the former expression is Arabic while the latter is not, is in fact in danger of being too close for comfort to this thesis. On the other hand, to its proponents, as well to others, Islam is a universal religion, meant for all mankind. One cannot, at one and the same time, accept only what is Arabic and also see his religion as something universal, cutting across the huge number of linguistic barriers that separate the peoples of the world from one another. The Qur'ân itself can be quoted as having recognised this diversity: "If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people.." [V ( Mâida): 48 ]. The proponents of Allah Hafiz, while offering little substantive reason for their uncompromising abhorrence of Khuda Hafiz, are also blind to this diversity.

The above analysis is not to suggest that all those who switched to Allah Hafiz, and wanted others to follow them, have done so for motives of piety alone or that they are a bunch of ignoramuses. There is little doubt that a substantial body of the proponents of the new orthodoxy has a political agenda of its own, though not in the trivial sense in which my interlocutor mentioned above used it. That agenda is one of "Islamisation" of the society in their image of the religion, and is all too evident today.

Still, this essay has primarily been a defence of reason. It is essential to inquire, to probe, to see for ourselves rather than see things the way the establishment, religious or lay, wants us to. While writing this piece I was reminded of the well-known fable of the man who, having been told that a falcon had just flown away with his ears, pursues the peregrine without bothering to find out if his two precious organs were really missing. Nothing is lost by the use of the word "Khuda", and no sin committed. To the inquiring mind, --one that refuses to pursue the proverbial falcon -- I say: Khuda Hafiz! It is quite possible that by abandoning such pursuit he or she will have time for more productive ones. (CONCLUDED)

Mahfuzur Rahman is a former UN official. 

Khuda Hafiz versus Allah Hafiz: a critique - I  

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