The Washington Post

Translating Islamic belief

Regarding the Sept. 16 op-ed “Help us resist the extremists” by Ahmed Salah:

This piece reported, as did many published accounts of recent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, that a U.S. flag was torn down and replaced by a black flag bearing the words “There is no god but Allah.” This translation from Arabic is incorrect, unfortunate and harmful. It should have been quoted as “There is no god but God.”

By leaving only the second instance of the word in Arabic, the “translated” text implies that Allah is a Muslim God, which is incorrect. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. As adherents of the Abrahamic tradition, Muslims revere the same God as Christians and Jews. Whether inadvertent or not, this incorrect rendering suggests that Muslims denigrate or deny the existence of all gods but their own, which is absolutely untrue.

Unfortunately, such reporting and editing needlessly reinforces antagonism and division among adherents of different religious, just at a time when greater understanding is needed. The phrase “There is no god but God” is a straightforward declaration of monotheistic belief, and nothing else. It is the Islamic equivalent of “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” the first of the Ten Commandments.

Steve York, Takoma Park

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