There will be those who find Tan Sri Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak’s piece Inconsistent, insensitive translations of ‘Allah’ logically compelling and intellectually persuasive. I can try to understand why they do. I am not one of them.
Of course, I admit my bias upfront. I’m not a professional academic. But I consider myself willing to learn and engaged with differing opinions. I am a Christian. I am also a pastor. Which to some might mean I’m not neutral. But then who is?
I do believe I try my best to be respectfully reflective. I believe some of my Muslim friends have witnessed how a Christian has used the word Allah which in no way falls under his “inconsistencies, inaccuracies and insensitivities” categorization. But in actual fact, is genuinely worshipful, prayerful and respectful consistent with one’s conviction and belief.
One more random thought, I do wonder how in Prof. Dzulkifli’s words – “the public order implications under section 298 of the Malaysian Penal Code which forbids the wounding of religious feelings.” would apply to Christians in relation his particular article? I’m referring specifically to what if the religious feelings of Christians who use the word “Allah” in Bahasa Malaysia is wounded.(I can imagine hearing my Sikh friend saying, “Don’t forget about me!”)
It’s a little bit too late at night for me to enter into a more in depth reflection. I prefer to direct our attention to at least one response. My friend Bob Teoh and fellow co-founder of Micah Mandate has a little bit more to say. Perhaps more will come. Will this piece be logically compelling and intellectually persuasive? Maybe, maybe not. But perhaps, we can have some space to share what we think and how we feel. It’s hard when there’s “a gazette” factor thrown in. Okay, before I get carried away with my own views. I should let Bob speak for himself below.
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Posted on 12 March 2009 by Bob Teoh
Of late, increasing efforts are underway to prevent or force Bahasa-speaking bumiputra Christians from using the word Allah for God in the Al Kitab and Christian publications. The injustice of it all is that two-thirds of Christians in Malaysia are bumiputras. Should such efforts to prohibit them from using the Allah word, it is not only a gross violation of their human rights but also of their constitutional rights.
More significantly, more and more of the younger generation Chinese and Indian Christians are also relying on the Bahasa Malaysia Al-Kitab simply because they are educated mainly in Bahasa Malaysia. Demographics tell us that Christians who speak English, Chinese or Tamil are increasingly becoming the minority. Therein lies the urgency for the church in Malaysia to publish Christian resources in Bahasa Malaysia. See in this light, the hidden agenda behind onslaught against Christians using the Allah word becomes crystal-clear. There must come a time when we must stand up to such bigotry and stand on our God-given right to practice our faith in peace and security.
I must be quick to point out that we must also not take all Muslims to task for the ongoing attack against Christians in Malaysia. The problem seems to be orchestrated by politicians belonging to Umno, the dominant Malay political party, their ulamas, and their supporters.
It was only yesterday that another attack appeared. This time it was an article in The Sun with the headline: Inconsistent, insensitive translations of ‘Allah’ By: Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Vice Chancellor of USM (Wed, 11 Mar 2009).
My comment is that Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is mischievous in suggesting there is a hidden agenda by Christians to confuse Muslims by translating the word God as Allah in the Al-Kitab or Bahasa Malaysia Bible. He is even more ludicrous to suggest that this “may have public order implications under section 298 of the Malaysian Penal Code which forbids the wounding of religious feelings“. Is he suggesting that the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims should now be criminalised?
The question surely is, why after all these years, some Muslims like Dzukifli are confused and hurt? Others like PAS leader Nik Aziz do not share the same sentiments. In fact, he says it’s alright for Christians to use the word Allah.
An Islamic scholar, Hasim Kamali, founding chairman and CEO of the newly set up International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies, Malaysia, writing a commentary in the names of Allah in a newspaper says: “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of “God”, and the two words have been used synonymously by all people throughout the history of religion.
Let’s look at the facts in the usage of the Allah word. Malaysia is the only country in the whole world that has a hang-up over this. The fact is also that the word was already in use long before the arrival of Islam. So how can Dzulkifli claim that its usage is tied to the idea of Islamic tauhid or oneness of God and anything else smacks of ” vulgarism of sort, and an affront to Muslims?”
The fact is also that the Malay language translation of portions of the Bible was the first non-European language Bible translation in the world and this was done in 1612. The King James Version, or the official English translation, was completed only one year earlier. The fact remains that the Malay language translation of the Bible was done even before the Qur’an was translated into Bahasa Indonesia or Malaysia. The Al-Kitab has a glorious heritage of some 400 years.
If at all there is any confusion, the likes of Dzukifli have only themselves to blame for being ignorant or dismissive of the history and etymology of the usage of the Allah word. Or maybe Dzukifli himself has a hidden agenda of trying to confuse the matter at hand so that Christians will be denied their constitutional and human rights to use this word in the practice of their faith.
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.] Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!
(1 Peter 3:13-17 Holy Scripture, New Living Translation)
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