Last month Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, warned that anyone who yelled Allahu Akbar (‘God is the greatest’) in his city was liable to be shot dead by a police sniper. A bit harsh you might think, but it’s weird how tricky it’s become to use the world’s fifth most spoken language in Europe, let alone invoke the Arabic name for God.
Three days after the London Bridge attacks, a trio of Muslim women attacked a female nursery worker on Wanstead High Street in north-east London. One of her colleagues told the Daily Mail they were ‘chanting the Quran, and invoking Allah’.
I doubt — though I may well be wrong — that the victim’s co-worker spoke Arabic, let alone was familiar with the verses, or ayat, of the Quran (if she did, surely she’d be more specific about the content of the alleged rant), and I would wager her testimony was based on the knee-jerk assumption that any excitable activity with an Arabic commentary must be religious and bloodthirsty.
But what people forget amid the mistrust is that Allah is not, as many believe, the Muslim god. Allah is Arabic for the monotheist God and is used by all Arabs; Muslim, Christian and Jew. If Jacob Rees-Mogg were a Lebanese Catholic, he would offer his devotions to Allah.
And while Arabic may be the language of Islam, the fact remains that Arabs regularly invoke ‘Allah’ for reasons other than the spreading of mayhem and death.
I’m a Lebanese Maronite, a kind of Eastern Catholic if you like, and we say ‘Allah’ or ‘Rubb’ when we speak of God, as do Lebanon’s other half-dozen or so other Christian sects. Arabic-speaking Jews, especially the Mizrahis, do the same.
We will say Wahyet Allah when we want you to believe that we are being serious or telling the truth, and we might exclaim ‘Allah!’ when we see someone trip or lose their balance.