God and Allah: Different Gods or Different Beliefs

In the book Answering Islam, authors Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb wrote:

Allah is the personal name for God in Islam. We make no distinction in this book, as some do, between the word “Allah” and the English word “God.” As one well-known Muslim author puts it, “Al Lah means ‘the Divinity’ in Arabic: it is a single God, implying that a correct transcription can only render the exact meaning of the word with the help of the expression ‘God.’ For the Muslims, al lah is none other than the God of Moses and Jesus.”

In agreement with this warning, Kenneth Cragg, the noted Christian scholar of Islam, also claims that “since both Christians and Muslim faiths believe in One supreme sovereign Creator-God, they are obviously referring when they speak of Him, under whatever terms, to the same Being. To suppose otherwise would be confusing. It is important to keep in mind that though the apprehensions differ, their theme is the same. The differences, which undoubtedly exist, between the Muslim and the Christian understanding of God are far- reaching and must be patiently studied. But it would be fatal to all our mutual tasks to doubt that One and the same God over all was the reality in both.” Arab Christians use the term “Allah” for God. Of course, their understanding of what this term means differs from that of Muslims, but both have the same referent in mind.[1]

Campus Crusade’s Jesus Film in the Urdu language uses “Allah” for God throughout the movie. The New Urdu Bible also uses the term Allah for God. However, on 2 January 2014, Islamic authorities in Malaysia seized 321 Bibles from a Christian group because they used the word Allah to refer to God after a Malaysian court in October ruled that the Arabic word was exclusive to Muslims.[2] When the Catholic Church sought to overturn the ban, its challenge was rejected by Malaysia’s highest court. However, the government released a more moderate statement. Reuters reported:

…after the Federal Court announced its verdict on Monday, the government released a statement saying that the ruling would only apply to the Church’s newspaper, which has been at the center of the court battle since Malaysian authorities ordered the publication to cease using the Arabic word in 2007.

Malaysian Christians will still be able to use the word “Allah” in church, the government’s statement said.

Christian leaders argue that the word “Allah” predates Islam, and has long been used in Malay-language bibles and other texts to refer to God.[3]

Obviously, in Malaysia having a Muslim background, Christians unhesitatingly referred to God as Allah. However, the authorities were alarmed as they felt that this could influence Muslims to convert to Christianity.
On the contrary, Muslims in America continue to favor the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and Allah and God are one and the same. However, Christians have felt that this threatens Christianity. On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College placed Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave for making theological statements that implied that Muslims and Christians worshipped the same God. She had stated, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Of course, without addressing the question whether this “same God” means the one God above all interpreted differently or meant that the two varying interpretations were equally valid, it would be too early to judge a statement about the one God. However, the issue stirred a heat of controversy.
Nabeel Qureshi of RZIM responded saying, “for years after leaving Islam and accepting Jesus as Lord, I believed that Muslims worshiped the same God as Christians but that they are simply wrong about what He is like and what He has done…. but I no longer do. Now I believe that the phrase “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is only true in a fairly uncontroversial sense: There is one Creator whom Muslims and Christians both attempt to worship. Apart from this banal observation, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”[4]
Of course, Nabeel doesn’t narrow down the discussion into the controversy surrounding the use of the name “Allah”. But, Sham Shamoun,  in his article on answering-islam.org, “Is Allah the God of the Bible?” concludes after a brief examination of “Allah” as presented in the Quran that “he cannot possibly be the same God worshiped by Abraham and as described in the Holy Bible. The contradictions in attributes and nature between Yahweh and Allah are too numerous to pass over, and cannot be reconciled.” However, at the same time, he also notes:

We are well aware that the name Allah is used by Arab speaking Christians for the God of the Bible. In fact, the root from which the name is derived, ilah, stems from the ancient Semitic languages, corresponding to the Mesopotamian IL, as well as the Hebrew-Aramaic EL, as in Ishma-el, Immanu-el, Isra-el. These terms were often used to refer to any deity worshiped as a high god, especially the chief deity amongst a pantheon of lesser gods. As such, the Holy Bible uses the term as just one of the many titles for Yahweh, the only true God.

Yet the problem arises from the fact that Muslims insist that Allah is not a title, but the personal name of the God of Islam. This becomes problematic since according to the Holy Bible the name of the God of Abraham is Yahweh/Jehovah, not Allah…. Therefore, Christians can use Allah as a title or a generic noun for the true God, but not as the personal name for the God of the Holy Bible.”[5]

Albert Mohler, in his article “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” published in Decision Magazine by BGEA wrote in December 2013:

… in recent years… some Christians, including some serving with mission agencies, have argued that Christians can use the name “Allah” in talking about God. In some languages, especially those based on Arabic source, there is no generic word for god. In such a situation, it might be necessary to begin a conversation by using this word, but the Christian cannot continue to call God “Allah.” It is hard to imagine that anyone can hear the name “Allah” without thinking of him as claimed in the Quran…. Indeed, Muslims who speak languages other than Arabic use “Allah” as the name of god. But as soon as the Christian begins to explain that the true living God is the Father of the Jesus Christ the Son, the Christian is making clear that the true living God is not Allah, but our Heavenly Father.

Continuing to use the name “Allah” to refer to the God of the Bible in such situations invites deep confusion.[6]

However, I think Matthew Stone of Columbia International University has a more sagacious observation in this regard. He writes:

… if one says Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God because Muslims reject Jesus as God, as well as the doctrine and reality of the Trinity, then we must also say Jews and Christians do not worship the same God.

…In Acts 17, Paul at the Areopagus declares Athenians who are confused about the true attributes of God to be very religious. He beautifully states that the true God is very close to them and that they live, move, and have their being in Him.

I like Paul’s approach, which is loving, philosophically adequate and practical in terms of correcting confused individuals who believe in the shadow of God but need to know His fullness.[7]

We understand that the New Testament doesn’t use the name “Yahweh” for God. We also understand that by this time, the Jews had started referring to God mainly as Adonai. In recent times, however, there has been a lot of controversy over the name not only of God (even its pronunciation, whether Jehovah or Yahweh) but also the name of Jesus (some turning to the Hebrew Y’shua). Certainly, such trends have more to do with the flesh (language, culture, etc) and nothing to do with the spirit. Certainly, Biblical believers will agree that neither Hebrew nor Arabic nor Sanskrit is the language of heaven, exclusively speaking. In a polytheistic setting such as India, we can find generic words such as Parmeshwar in Hindi and Deva in Telugu (but, Hindi doesn’t use Deva for God as it may connote devatas, gods). We also can choose between the Arabic Allah or Rab and Persian Khoda (Iranian, Khuda) in Urdu. While Urdu speaking people would usually choose Khuda or Rab, they are also usually receptive of Quranic names for Jesus such as Kalimatullah (Word of God) and Ruhullah (Spirit from God), though some are cautious. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Christian holds to whatever various interpretations one makes of God (and there are varying views among Muslims as well). Paul thought that the Athenians were very religious, and he found that they also had an altar to the Unknown God. Using this as a Launchpad and also the writings of their own poets that talked about humans as being children of God, he proclaimed to them the nature of God as that which cannot be like gold or silver (Acts 17:29).
If there is a choice, of course, it is always better to use a generic term that would be more open for use by every community. As pointed out, most Urdu speaking Christians prefer Khuda or Rab over Allah. Yet, at the same time, it more looks like burning bridges than building them when we say “Christians worship a different God from Muslims”. It would be more proper to say that “The Christian view of God is different from the Muslim view of God.” This, at least, allows room for discussion and prevents caricaturing. How do you know that there was never an Epimenides among the Muslims? Also, is the Calvinist view of God the same as the Arminian? Isn’t it possible that an Arminian may go to the extremity of saying that the God of Calvinism is not the God of Bible or vice versa? Disagreeing views about Obama don’t prove that the views disagree because they are referring to two different persons. Also, if Allah predates Islam and is more personal to Christians in a particular region, because they now are convinced that they know Allah better and in a more accurate and personal way through the Bible, who are we to fix the rules for them? Certainly, when the Arabic Christian opens Genesis 1:1 in his language, he always reads “In the beginning Allah created the heavens and the earth.”

[1] Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 13-14
[2] “Malaysia’s Islamic authorities seize Bibles as Allah row deepens”, Reuters, Thu Jan 2, 2014. Reuters.com
[3] “Malaysian court to Christians: You can’t say ‘Allah’” CNN. June 24, 2014. Cnn.com
[4] Nabeel Qureshi, “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” December 27, 2015. Rzim.org.
[5] Sam Shamoun, “Is Allah the God of Bible?” answering-islam.org
[6] Albert Mohler, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” Decision Magazine, December 1, 2013, billygraham.org
[7] Matthew Stone, “A Messianic Jew and Former Muslim on the Allah vs God Debate”, Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, zwemercenter.com

Respect for All Religions

For peace and harmony to exist in any pluralistic society, it is important to have respect for all religions. Those who wish to be respected must also show the same respect for others. In the past, religion has acted as a great dividing line and has spurred and continues to provoke among some incidents of violence and hatred. We must learn to respect other religions, but what does this respect involve?

1. It means to respect fellow humans as humans, first of all, as our neighbors. It means to show ourselves as good neighbors to them.
2. It means to respect the religiosity in humans, their quest, their pursuit for spirituality, for purity, for a good life, for a transcendent ideal that lifts us above the world of mere brutes.
3. It means to respect the confessions of saints, of communities, regarding their longing to know the unknown, to be delivered from darkness to light.
4. It means to respect their literature of wisdom and deep meditation on serious life truths.
5. It means to respect their freedom of choice, their convictions, their freedom of conscience and not consider them inferior for their choice or for any changes they make in their convictions on the basis of proper reasons.
6. It means to respect their attempts to rationally (not disrespectfully or violently)  communicate their understanding of their beliefs to people.
7. It means to respect them as invaluable members of human society and consider each individual as precious.

But, it does not mean:
1. To think that all contradictory views are equally true. This is illogical.
2. To try to justify oppressive and discriminatory elements in religions.
3. To syncretize or try to blend religions into a new religion. It solves nothing.
4. To keep away from trying to understand faiths of people.
5. To stop sharing your faith with others, if you believe it is true and will help individuals, society, and the nation.

I don’t think religious tolerance is the main issue. The main issue is to learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of their religion.

Religion and Culture: Differences (Table)

NOTE: This is not a dogmatic stance, but only an hypothetical exploration attempting linguistic clarification.

Culture and Religion are not the same, though they are very close. There are various theories that suggest a model of relationship between them. One of them tries to see Religion as the soul of culture. This view doesn’t consider the fact that there could also be non-religious cultures. Perhaps, one may quote the Pirahas as an example of such a culture. (Wiki) Of course, this doesn’t rule out the fact that some kind of belief-system may be involved in a culture.

Another view looks at Religion as an organic part of Culture, but in such a manner that it affects the other parts.

We suggest here that the elements that can be altered through religious effect are religious elements, and the basic elements that religion may use (e.g. language, art, science) for its own purposes are cultural. Of course, there are cases where the usage takes on religious flavors; however, the basic “culture” is still distinguishable from the adoptions. Purely cultural elements are essentially different from the religious ones. Culture and Religion can be identified separately from each other if we keep this distinction clear. The cultural elements must not be confused with the religious elements. Thus, people having differing beliefs can still follow one culture and only disagree with regard to religious elements or belief-related elements (such heterogeneity is intense in metropolitan cities); however, there usually is a particular spirit of the age and world view in general. Also, certain cultural traits may be identified as grammatical directives of a particular culture providing the functional rules for interpreting the meaning of symbols within or from its context.


Let’s introduce the following two hypotheses as the formula for identifying and distinguishing elements of culture from elements of religion (in religion, also including anything of a religious nature, including ideological elements):

  • Any element that is grounded on a belief-system of a metaphysical nature is religious.
  • Any element that is grounded on nature and the natural, even if it were an imitation of it, is cultural.

On the basis of the above two hypotheses, let’s preliminarily suggest the following table of elements of culture and religion (noting also that some elements mentioned here may not necessarily be present in every religion or culture):

Table of Differences

Science/Reason Beliefs/Faith
Entertainment Worship
Taboo Sin
Society Community
Progress/Development Salvation
Shame Guilt
Aesthetics Ethics
Arts Morals
Relatives Absolutes
Language-Grammar Scriptures/Rites/Rituals
Communication Prayer
Life-style Life-values
Dynamics Fundamentals
Change or Transition Reformation
This-Worldliness (Secularity) Spirituality
Vocation/Profession Calling/Concern
Market/Shop Temple/Shrine 
Throne/Scepter Altar/Sacrifice

Principle1: If anything has the characteristics of culture and is relative, it falls under culture and not under religion.
Principle2: Changes in culture don’t necessarily imply change of religion; change of religion doesn’t necessarily imply change of culture.


Now, certainly objections are bound to arise against differentiating the cultural from the religious for the following reasons:

1. Traditional definitions of culture included religion as a part of culture. In fact, theologians such as Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) maintained that culture is the soil of religion and Paul Tillich (1896-1965) believed that religion is the soul of culture. To Troeltsch, transplanting a religion from its cultural soil to any other culture would mean fatal to it. However, for sure, the soil theory doesn’t stand the test of anthropological studies. For instance, Buddhism took root in India, but is more at home now in China, Sri Lanka, Korea, and Japan than in India. Similarly, Christianity took root in Palestine, but “is” (?) more at home now in the West. As far as the soul theory is concerned, identifying a religion with a culture can pose problems in modern pluralistic experiences; for instance, it is possible that people sharing the same Western culture may be having a variety of different religious beliefs.

2. One of the most influential definitions of culture was given in the book Primitive Culture (1871) by Edward Tylor who defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Of course, Tylor saw culture and civilization as synonymous in this opening definition of his book. However, later scholars have found such a definition to be too general and much inclusivist. In addition, there is also the debate about whether anthropology can be best studied as one of the humanities or as a science. Various responses to Tylor’s definition tend to either look at culture in terms of its external elements (e.g. artworks) or in terms of the internal mental states (psychological behavior) of individuals sharing a culture. But, again perhaps the width of Tylor’s definition can be narrowed down by not treating culture and civilization as fully synonymous.

Richard Niebuhr’s (1894-1962) five-fold classification of the relationship between Christ and Culture does certainly point to the fact that the religious can be distinguished from the cultural. Niebuhr’s classification saw the following ways in which Christ encountered Culture:

  • Christ against Culture (Antagonistic). In this model, Christ is seen as against human culture, especially the pagan one. This approach looks at culture as anti-Christian.
  • Christ of Culture (Accommodating/Agreeing). In this model, Christ is seen as not against culture but conformable and interpretable by its context.
  • Christ above Culture (Augmenting). This model doesn’t see culture as against Christ, but it also doesn’t see culture as being equal with Christ. It is based on Thomas Aquinas’ bifurcation of Grace and Nature; divine revelation is superior to human reason.
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox (Absurdity). This model was represented by Augustine (Two Cities), Martin Luther (Two Governments) and Soren Kierkegaard (Faith as Absurd) who saw in the relationship between Christ and culture a paradoxical tension between faith and reason. In essence, culture is this-worldly and impermanent, but Christ is from above and eternal.
  • Christ Transforming Culture (Altering). A more Calvinist and Reformed view sees culture as divinely instituted (God gave language and the first skin garments) and historically developed; at the same time culture is seen as tainted by human sinfulness and redeemable or transformable by the presence of Christ.

For anthropologists, however, taking the evolutionary and a-theistic approach to religion and culture, religion may be looked at as something that grows out of culture (evolving from animism on to more philosophical forms of religion). Such attempts tend increasingly towards religious relativism and the discouragement of absolutes. But, the evolutionary approach is not necessarily fool-proof. In fact, more recent studies point out that monotheism, not animism, explains several historical facts that are intractable on the evolution of religion hypothesis. Certainly, one can clearly notice that the elements of religion are distinguishable from the elements of culture.

Religion and Culture – Relationships

Case 1: Customs and Manners Knowledge of the culture within which a religion originated plays an important role in the cultural retention of certain aspects of a religion. However, in process of time as historical understanding develops, prior misunderstandings may be clarified. For instance, look at the paintings below:

Última Cena - Juan de Juanes

by Joan de Joanes, c. 1562
Manuel de Araújo Porto-Alegre - A última ceia

by Manuel de Araújo Porto-alegre, 1840

The artist, in the first painting, attempted to keep the original cultural elements like dress forms, vessels, etc intact within the painting; however, wherever knowledge of elements went missing (for instance, table customs and manners), he supplied it from his own cultural heritage. In the second painting, however, we find the Lord’s Table to more resemble the middle-eastern format (e.g. persons reclining on couches with a shorter table in the middle; also, it’s not the wafer but a middle-eastern bread that is shown).

Case 2: Dress Forms and Tools
But, in cases where such historical understanding of origins may be vague or none, the cultural form is retained. For instance, there have been historical attempts to trace the origins of Aryan religion in Europe. One attempt sees relationship between the Hindu Agni and Ignus (Latin, Fire), Mithra and Mithra (Persian, Friend), Varuna and Ouranos (Greek, Heaven). However, such historical tracings are absent in the Indian narratives; consequently, the cultural forms are very local. However, where historical knowledge is present (as in Hinduism that spread to South Eastern nations), the original forms remain intact. Thus, we see that the Indian Hindu deities are adorned in the cultural dress forms (saree, dhoti); similarly, the biblical angels appear in white dress with harps and trumpets. Also, the heavenly warriors appear with swords (not with machine guns and bayonets). In other words, while cultural forms may change, cultural elements historically fixed in religion don’t appear to change.

Goddess Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma
Guido Reni’s Michael

Case 3: Language
The Scriptures of Christianity were written in Hebrew and Greek. However, globally now, translated versions are the ones in use and language is not a dogmatic element of worship. In fact, the New Testament was written not in the Jewish tongue but in the more popular Greek tongue (embracing a form of cultural globalism of the day). But, in a few other religions, the original language plays vital role. For instance, in Islam, Arabic is considered as the heavenly language and in Vedic Hinduism, Sanskrit is considered as the language of the gods (See Wiki).

Further Notes from Discussion at Philpapers

Rationale for Differentiation:

1. When I put Science or Reason in Culture, I point out to the non-dogmatic nature of culture, which is open to change. This doesn’t mean that religion doesn’t embrace or is not born in cultures. It only tries to separate the one from the other. For instance, the gods and goddesses of Hinduism are still always portrayed as wearing Sarees and Dhotis (General Hindu Dress). It might be considered an offence to portray them in Western clothes. This talks about the stagnancy of “religion’s culture”. However, Hindus don’t necessarily wear only sarees and dhotis. They don’t find wearing jeans or western coats as offensive. But, in a ceremony where religion (its stagnancy) is dominant, for instance during a Hindu marriage, what one wears can be an ethical issue. Similarly, modern armies use guns and bombs, but the gods and goddesses of religion may still be only pictured with swords and arrows. That depicts the difference between what culture is by itself in historical development and how religion differs from it in its conservative holding to the “original culture” in which it originated. Another example would be the dynamics of linguistic development versus the language-culture of religion. For instance, in Islam Arabic is considered to be the divine language. However, modern Arabic has a dynamic history of development and modern Arabic is not totally the same as the Arabic of the 4th century. Similarly, in Vedic Hinduism, Sanskrit is considered the language of the gods; but, in modern times Sanskrit is no longer used for conversation. It is taught in the schools but never used. That talks about the dynamics of culture versus culturalism of religion and should highlight that their difference. Religion will have to use cultural elements for sure, because it is always born in some culture or the other. However, cultures don’t remain stagnant; they progress, inter-change, embrace new patterns. But, there is a kind of dogmatic stance, an absolutist aspect to religion in general. There are many such examples that can be cited in this regard. However, it also seems that certain cultural practices (e.g. Birthday Cakes and Candles) will remain unchanged and may even be absorbed by other cultures due to their simplicity and appeal. Yet, the difference between what is cultural and what is religion will be evident in that the cultural element, unlike the religious one, doesn’t have metaphysical issues attached to it.

2. When I put Altar/Sacrifice in Religion, I only indicate that wherever such ideas are found, these are not cultural symbols but religious symbols.

3. When I say culture is about aesthetics, but religion is about ethics, I mean that cultural context plays an important role in what is considered beautiful or valuable and what is not (for instance, in some cultures a long neck would be considered beautiful and in some cultures girls are fed to make them look stout because leanness is considered unattractive). However, religion/ideology is very prescriptive, more in the ethical sense because it gives the rationale about why an action is wrong and why it is right and describes the consequences, in religious/ideological/philosophical terms. For instance, one cannot say “In modern American culture, homosexuality is not wrong.” One can say that most Conservative Evangelicals believe homosexuality is sin; and, many liberals and atheists consider homosexuality to be okay. In this case, ethics is certainly not a cultural but an ideological/religious issue.

4. When I put entertainment in culture and worship in religion, I am using the terms only as exemplary symbolic representations. Culture contains entertaining elements like dance, arts, drama, and music. Religion will use these elements and give them a particular form (for instance, church music or Hindu bhakti bhajan). In some cultures, religion even becomes the patron of some form of arts. For instance, the god Shiva Hinduism is called the god of dance. But, those are religious attempts to claim cultural elements. Shiva has only a particular form of dance; and for sure, the orthodox dance-system doesn’t approve modern dance or non-traditional dance forms (even the Western). Yet, one sees as fact of matter that the common man (not the traditionalist) would be more attuned to modern and popular art-forms and appeals of entertainment than to the traditional.

See Also

Culture and Religion
29 Ways to Cultural Change According to Raimon Panikkar
Christianity and Culture
Religion and Culture: Problems in Definition
Discussion Page at Philpapers

Last updated on November 6, 2014

The Bible and Bhavishya Purana

The Bhavishya Purana is one of the eighteen major Hindu Puranas (histories of Hindu deities). But, the content of Bhavishya Purana is not just about history (past); it also includes prophecies about the future. In fact, the very title Bhavishya means “future”; the the title Bhavishya Purana should translate as “The History of the Future”. While Hindu scholars maintain the Purana dates back to 3000 B.C. modern scholars are skeptical and consider it to be more recent since it gives particular details of Mughal emperors and modern events as well (See Vijaya Ghosh (ed), Tirtha, New Delhi: CMC Ltd., 1992). Interestingly, this seems to be the only Hindu text that incorporates some of the Biblical information directly into it. It recounts the account of Genesis as the story of the mlecchas. The Purana’s narrative is a polemic against non-sanskritic languages and eulogizes Sanskrit as the purest and the mleccha (non-Vedic, barbarian, foreigner) language its corrupted form:

At that time the Kali purusha prayed to Lord Narayana along with his wife. After sometime the Lord apperared to him and said, “This age will be a good time for you. I will fulfil your desire having various kinds of forms. There is a couple named Adama and his wife Havyavati. They are born from Vishnu-kardama and will increase the generations of mlecchas. Saying this, the Lord disappeared. Having great joy the Kali purusha went to Nilacha

Vyasa said: “Now you hear the future story narrated by Suta Goswami. This is the full story of of Kali-yuga, hearing this you will become satisfied.”

In the eastern side of Pradan city where there is a a big God-given forest, which is 16 square yojanas in size. The man named Adama was staying there under a Papa-Vriksha or a sinful tree and was eager to see his wife Havyavati. The Kali purusha quickly came there assuming the form of a serpent. He cheated them and they disobeyed Lord Vishnu. The husband ate the forbidden fruit of the sinful tree. They lived by eating air with the leaves called udumbara. After they had sons and all of them became mlecchas. Adama’s duration of life was nine-hundred and thirty years. He offered oblations with fruits and went to heaven with his wife. His son was named Sveta-nama, and he lived nine-hundred and twelve years. Sveta-nama’s son was Anuta, who rulled one-hundred years less than his father. His son Kinasa rulled as much as his grandfather. His son Malahalla ruled eight-hundred ninety five years. His son Virada rulled 160 years. His son Hamuka was devoted to Lord Vishnu, and offering oblations of fruits he achieved salvation. He ruled 365 years and went to heaven with the same body being engaged in mleccha-dharma.

Having good behavior, wisdom, qualities like a brahmana and worship of God, these things are called mleccha-dharma. The great souls have declared that the dharma of the mleccha is devotion to God, worship of fire, nonviolence, austerity and control of the senses. The son of Hamuka was Matocchila. He ruled for 970 years. His son Lomaka ruled 777 years and went to heaven. His son Nyuha (Noah) ruled for 500 years. He had three sons named Sima, Sama and Bhava. Nyuha was a devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Once the Lord appeared in his dream and said: “My dear Nyuha, please listen, there will be devastation on the seventh day. Therefore, you have to be very quick that you make a big boat and ride in it. O chief of the devotees, you will be celebrated as a great king”.

Then he made a strong boat which was 300 feet long, 50 feet wide and 30 feet high. It was beautiful and all the living entities could take shelter in it. He then himself rode in it, engaged in meditating on Lord Vishnu.

Lord Indra called the devastating cloud named Sambartaka and poured heavy rain continuously for 40 days. The whole earth, Bharat-varsa, had merged in the water and four oceans came up together. Only Visala or Badarikasrama was not submerged. There were 80,000 great transcendentalists in Visala who joined with king Nyuha and his family. All of them were saved and everything else was destroyed.

At that time all the sages praised the eternal energy of Lord Vishnu. Being pleased by the prayers of the sages, the Vishnu-maya reduced the waters of devastation. After one year gradually the earth become visible. Under the hill there is a place named Sisina and the king was situated in that place with his other people. When the water completely dried up, king Nyuha came back to his place.

Suta Goswami continued: The mleccha, king Nyuha became attached to Lord Vishnu and as a result Lord Vishnu increased his generation. Then he created a language fit for the mlecchas, unfavorable to the Vedas. He named it as brahmi-bhasha, or brahmi language, full of bad words, for increasing the degradation of Kali-yuga. The Lord who is Himself the master of intelligence gave this language to Nyuha. Nyuha named his tree sons opposite. They were known as Sima, Hama, Yakuta and also Yakuta, Sapta putra, Jumara and Majuya. The name of their countries were known as Madi, Yunana, Stuvaloma, Tasa and Tirasa.

Hama who was the second son of his father, had four sons know as Kusa, Misra, Kuja and Kanaam. Kusa had six sons – Havila, Sarva, Toragama, Savatika, NimaruhaI and Mahavala. Their sons were known as Kamala, Sinara and Uraka. And their countries names are Akvada, Bavuna and Rasana.

After telling this story Suta Goswami influenced by Yoga-nidra entered mystic slumber. He woke up after two thousand years and thereupon he said: “Now I’m going to say about the generation of Sima. Because he was the first son of his father he became the king. This mleccha king ruled over the country for 500 years. His son Arkansoda ruled for 434 years. His son Sihla ruled for 460 years. His son Iratasya ruled the same length as his father. His son Phataja ruled for 240 years. His son Rau ruled for 237 years. His son Juja ruled the same length as his father. His son Nahura ruled for 160 years, and he destroyed his many inimical kings. His son Tahara ruled the same length as his father. He had three sons: Avirama, Nahura and Harana. Thus I have explained the generation of mlecchas with the indication of their names only. The mleccha language is considered the lowest language because it bears the curse of goddess Sarasvati. Thus I have summarily narrated the rise of the mlecchas in Kali-yuga. (Bhavishya Purana at Hinduonline)

Note the names Hamuka (Enoch), Matocchila (Methuselah), Nyuha (Noah), Sima (Shem), Sama (Ham), Bhava (Japheth), parallel with Noah’s geneology in the book of Genesis.

The Purana has also been quoted as citing a vision of Jesus Christ, an issue that has sparked much controversy in the modern textual criticism of the Purana.

Once upon a time the subduer of the Sakas went towards Himatunga and in the middle of the Huna country (Hunadesh – the area near Manasa Sarovara or Kailash mountain in Western Tibet), the powerful king saw an auspicious man who was living on a mountain. The man’s complexion was golden and his clothes were white. The king asked, ‘Who are you sir?’

‘You should know that I am Isha Putra, the Son of God’, he replied blissfully, and ‘am born of a virgin. I am the expounder of the religion of the mlecchas and I strictly adhere to the Absolute Truth.’

Hearing this the king enquired, ‘What are the religious principles according to your opinion?’

Hearing this questions of Shalivahana, Isha putra said, ‘O king, when the destruction of the truth occurred, I, Masiha the prophet, came to this country of degraded people where there are no rules and regulations. Finding that fearful irreligious condition of the barbarians spreading from Mleccha-Desha, I have taken to prophethood. Please hear, Oh king, which religious principles I have established among the mlecchas. The living entity is subject to good and bad contaminations. The mind should be purified by taking recourse of proper conduct and performance of japa [meditation on the chanting of the holy names of God]. By chanting the holy names one attains the highest purity. Just as the immovable sun attracts, from all directions, the elements of all living beings, the Lord of the Surya Mandala [solar planet], who is fixed and all-attractive, and attracts the hearts of all living creatures. Thus by following rules, speaking truthful words, by mental harmony and by meditation, Oh descendant of Manu, one should worship that immovable Lord. Having placed the eternally pure and auspicious form of the Supreme Lord in my heart, O protector of the earth planet, I preached these principles through the mlecchas’ own faith and thus my name became ‘isha-masiha’.

After hearing these words and paying obeisances to that person who is worshiped by the wicked, the king humbly requested him to stay there in the dreadful land of mlecchas.” (Verses 22-31 in the 19th chapter of the Chaturyuga Khanda Dvitiyadhyayah of the Bhavishya Purana as cited by Stephen Knapp)

Obviously, there are crucial discontinuities between the New Testament account of Jesus and the above cited account. Perhaps, it is also a polemic that attempts to position the Sanskrit religion above that of the mlecchas. The presence of Christianity was already in India from the 1st Century; so, one can’t ignore that it could have bearing on the development of religious polemics.

Do Race and Religion Define Nationality? Semantic Analyses

To define nationality in terms of race and religion will immediately lead to confusion.

For instance, if we define the term “Indian” (a nationality identifier) as “a person who belongs to the ancient races of the mainland of Hindustan and follows one of the ancient religions of the land, e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, etc”, then we immediately land into the following problems:

1. A Japanese Buddhist will not be considered an “Indian” because though he follows an ancient religion of the land, Buddhism, he doesn’t belong to one of the ancient races of India.
2. Suppose, the same definition is accepted by the Japanese, i.e. they define “Japanese” as “a person who belongs to the ancient races of the mainland of Japan and follows one of the ancient religions of the land, e.g. Shintoism”, then because he doesn’t follow the religion of Shintoism but follows Buddhism, he will be no longer considered “Japanese” anymore.
3. However, if he is neither Japanese nor Indian, then what is he?

But, let’s define “Indian” as “a person who is a citizen of India”, then the confusion disappears.

Yet, it doesn’t mean that “Indian” loses its meaning as an ethnic identifier. For instance, in the term “Indian American“, the ethnic identity (Indian) is retained within the national identity (American)1. Similarly so with “African-American” and “Chinese American”.

As such, it is important to distinguish between political nationality and ethnic identity. They both can go together, but must not be confused with each other. However, a political nation that serves the interests of a particular ethnic group will soon fall to unrest and tyranny. Similarly, a political nation that serves the interests of a particular religious group will also fall to unrest and tyranny.

The ethnic distinguisher should only be functional. For instance, though we may speak of, say, “Indian Americans” in the form of Ethnic-Identity+Political-Nationality, we don’t speak of “Indian Indians” and “American Americans” in the same form. However, we can still speak of “Indian Tamils” (or “Tamil Indians”) or “Sri Lankan Tamils” or “Pakistani Punjabis” or “Indian Punjabis”. Of course, terminology identifying Americans who accept Indian citizenship or Germans who accept Indian citizenship hasn’t developed much. It is not yet popular to speak of “German Indians”, for instance, as Germans who have accepted Indian citizenship. The phenomena may not be large enough to warrant the development of such a terminology, perhaps.

But, with regard to religious identity, given either the political identity or the ethnic identity, it is not impossible to talk of say “Indian Christians” or “Thai Hindus” or “Tibetan Buddhists”, and similarly of “Indian Christians in America” and “Gujarati Jains in Dubai”. However, where race and religion are made defining components of nationhood, no meaningful talk can become possible. The result is chaos and unrest. Consistency demands that these identifiers be kept separate and not made definitive of something altogether different from any of them.


1American Indian” refers to the native Americans.


Ernst Renan (1823-92), What is a Nation?

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial.

Yet the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common; and also that they have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew,’ or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century. There are not ten families in France that can supply proof of their Frankish origin, and any such proof would anyway be essentially flawed, as a consequence of countless unknown alliances which are liable to disrupt any genealogical system.

But what is a nation? Why is Holland a nation, when Hanover, or the Grand Duchy of Parma, are not? How is it that France continues to be a nation, when the principle which created it has disappeared? How is it that Switzerland, which has three languages, two religions, and three or four races, is a nation, when Tuscany, which is so homogeneous, is not one? Why is Austria a state and not a nation? In what ways does the principle of nationality differ from that of races?

Ethnographic considerations have therefore played no part in the constitution of modern nations. France is [at once] Celtic, Iberic, and Germanic. Germany is Germanic, Celtic and Slav. Italy is the country where the ethnographic argument is most confounded. Gauls, Etruscans, Pelasgians, and Greeks, not to mention many other elements, intersect in an indecipherable mixture. The British isles, considered as a whole, present a mixture of Celtic and Germanic blood, the proportions of which are singularly difficult to define.

The truth is that there is no pure race and that to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera. The noblest countries, England, France, and Italy, are those where the blood is the most mixed. Is Germany an exception in this respect? Is it a purely Germanic country? This is a complete illusion.

What we have just said of race applies to language too. Language invites people to unite, but it does not force them to do so. The United States and England, Latin America and Spain, speak the same languages yet do not form single nations. Conversely, Switzerland, so well made, since site was made with the consent of her different parts, numbers three or four languages. There is something in man which is superior to language, namely, the will. The will of Switzerland to be united, in spite of the diversity of her dialects, is a fact of far greater importance than a similitude often obtained by various vexatious measures.

Religion cannot supply an adequate basis for the constitution of a modern nationality either. Originally, religion had to do with the very existence of the social group, which was itself an extension of the family. Religion and the rites were family rites. The religion of Athens was the cult of Athens itself, of its mythical founders, of its laws and its customs; it implied no theological dogma. This religion was, in the strongest sense of the term, a state religion. One was not an Athenian if one refused to practise it. This religion was, fundamentally, the cult of the Acropolis personified. To swear on the altar of Aglauros” was to swear that one would die for the patrie. This religion was the equivalent of what the act of drawing lots [for military service], or the cult of the flag, is for us. Refusing to take part in such a cult would be the equivalent, in our modern societies, of refusing military service. It would be like declaring that one was not Athenian. From another angle, it is clear that such a cult had do meaning for someone who was not from Athens; there was also no attempt made to proselytize foreigners and to force them to accept it; the slaves of Athens did not practise it. Things were much the same in a number of small medieval republics. One was not considered a good Venetian if one did not swear by Saint Mark; nor a good Amalfitan if one did not set Saint Andrew higher than all the other saints in paradise.

A nation is a spiritual principle, the outcome of the profound complications of history; it is a spiritual family not a group determined by the shape of the earth. We have now seen what things are not adequate for the creation of such a spiritual principle, namely, race, language, material interest, religious affinities, geography, and military necessity. What more then is required? …..
A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate, for the ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea. To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more – these are the essential conditions for being a people. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices to which one has consented, and in proportion to the ills that one has suffered. One loves the house that one has built and that one has handed down. The Spartan song -‘We are what you were; we, will be what you are” – is, in its simplicity, the abridged hymn of every patrie.

A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. That, I know full well, is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so-called historical right.