Finding Allah in Unlikely Places
by Daniel Pipes
It is bad enough when Islamists insist that Islam win privileges that no other religion enjoys; worse is when they assert Islamic rights on the basis of imaginative insults.
That was the case back in 1997-98, when the Council on American-Islamic Relations pounded Nike into recalling 800,000 shoes because the English word "Air" in its logo allegedly resembled the Arabic lettering for "Allah."
Now, perhaps even more absurdly, British Muslims demanded that Burger King recall a line-drawing of an ice-cream cone, arguing that it resembles (what else?) the Arabic lettering for "Allah." A customer, Rashad Akhtar, branded the design "sacrilegious" and said he was "humiliated" by the design. He added: "This is my jihad. How can you say it is a spinning swirl? You are offending Muslims." [Mar. 1, 2006 update: This quote from Akhtar comes out more aggressively in a September 2005 Eastern Eye interview with him, reprinted now in Harper's magazine: "this is my jihad. I'm not going to rest until I find the person who is responsible. I'm going to bring this country down."]
Like Nike before it, Burger King did as bid and pulled thousands of ice-cream cones from sales. This won it the approbation of the Muslim Council of Britain, whose spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, commended "the sensitive and prompt action to prevent any hurt being caused to the religious sensibilities of others." (September 16, 2005)
Oct. 29, 2005 update: I was sitting in a franchised coffeehouse named Così and was idly aware that one of its advertisements was upside-down on the table. Eventually I realized that the Così logo turned on its head offers another potential candidate for finding Allah in an unlikely place. Here is the logo on its head – note the steam rising from the coffee cup:
It is my hope that in making this resemblance known here to preempt by getting the word out first, and in so doing, pour cold water on anyone who might think of shaking Così down. Oct. 29, 2011 update: Six years later, I went back in a Cosi coffeeshop and I could not find a single picture of that logo of steam rising over a cup. I guess someone decided to avoid any possibility of trouble.
Feb. 19, 2006 update: David G. Littman pointed out today at the "Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference on Islam 2006" that – of all things – the logo of the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights might look like "Allah" in Arabic. Below is a representation of it. Was this a purposeful subterfuge by an employee at the OUNCHR?
Mar. 2, 2006 update: Reader "Carl" points to a related fancy in a comment below, dated today, which he found at a website: take the Coca-Cola logo, mirror-image it, tweak it slightly (as pictured here), and the result sort-of reads La Muhammad, la Makka, or "There is no Muhammad, there is no Mecca."
Sep. 12, 2006 update: I review the first story above in some detail at "Nike and 9/11," drawing conclusions about changes in the five years since 9/11.
June 2, 2010 update: This is slightly – but not much – off topic, concerning not Allah but Medina: That's the name of a popular female singer in Denmark, a woman of Chilean origin where the name Median is common. But to local Muslims, it conjures up the sacred city in the Hijaz and they want her to change her name, as evidenced by their throwing eggs at her on stage recently. An anonymous 16-year-old Muslim explained to the newspaper Berlingske Tidende: "Medina is a holy city for Muslims, and therefore she should change her name. When she has a name that is so significant in Islam and does a video where she shows her ass to the public, she makes the religion look like crap."
July 26, 2011 update: If Islamic signs turn up most anywhere, why not Christian ones too? Al-Shabaab, the Islamists who rule parts of Somalia have banned somosas supplied by relief agencies to starving people. The reason? Apparently the shape of the fried snack resembles too much the symbol of the Christian Holy Trinity.
May 28, 2012 update: Saudi affiliates of McDonald's restaurants offered a Power Ranger-type finger in blue to children patronizing the fast-food eateries … until a squiggle at the base of the figure was deemed to spell the name "Muhammad" in Arabic. In response, the chain hastily withdrew the offending toy.
June 20, 2012 update: An Egyptian Salafist group, the Popular Egyptian Islamic Association, finds tomatoes offensive if they are cut in such a way that reveals the shape of ae Eastern cross and advises Muslims that "Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian."
Comment: Try as I might, I could not find that cross in the tomato I cut open.
July 26, 2012 update: The Department of Economic Development in Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven of the United Arab Emirates, confiscated 21 pairs of shoes because they allegedly have Allah imprinted on the soles. Omar Al Bayed, head of the department's complaints section, explained: "The shoes have been seized because they bore words deemed to offend the Islamic Religion. The shop owner has also been warned not to sell such items again as it's against the country's commercial laws."
Here is a picture of the offending sole:
And here is the sole flipped horizontally, spelling what appears to be, in Latin letters, Rre.
Mar. 31, 2013 update: Not Allah this time but the Hagia Sophia: Under pressure from Austrian Muslims, Lego has agreed to pull the "Jabba's Palace" set of its Star Wars series, available since 2012, on the grounds that it is anti-Muslim. The place itself is said to resemble Istanbul's historic mosque, it has minaret-like structures, and Jabba smokes a hookah.
May 8, 2014 update: The Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi, a netword of Sufi schools, is pressuring the designer Roberto Cavalli to change the logo of the Just Cavalli brand of clothing, perfume, accessories, and jewelry because it is the same as MTOS' logo, turned on the side. Here is the Sufi logo:
And here is the Just Cavalli logo:
June 11, 2014 update: "Lord Paper Clip" points out that the Saudi airline logo in Roman letters of the 1980s had to be scraped because of the inadvertent cross formed in the white space between the letters "S" and "A" of the airline's name.
July 6, 2014 update: According to Turkey's Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, "'Muhammed' in Arabic is used in the logo of our presidential candidate, Mr. Erdoğan." (Muhammad in Arabic looks like محمد).Hint: turn it 90 degreees clockwise.
To most people, however, the prime minister's symbol brings to mind Barack Obama's campaign logos of 2008 and 2012.
Reader comments (503) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes