Why I use ‘Allah’ – a layman’s perspective

By Pastor Eu Hong Seng

In the current ongoing debate, some are of the opinion that Christians should just give in and forego the use of the word “Allah” so that the threats and attacks on churches will stop and Malaysia can continue to enjoy her peace and move on unhindered to developed nation status.

Now, more than ever the country needs clear-minded Malaysians and not “confused” citizens, Christians included.

There are ten salient facts and reasons and I would like to address these to the ordinary man in the street and lay people in the Church. (1)

1. The use of “Allah” predates Islam

“Allah” is the Arabic name for God, and it indeed pre-dates Islam and even Christianity. The pagan Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula called God “Allah,” even though they worshipped hundreds of idols in addition.

Christians all across the Arab World today use the word “Allah” for God, and if one were to read an Arabic Bible, he would find that God is indeed called “Allah.”

“Allah” is also the name that Jesus Christ called God. “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of “Elohim,” which is Hebrew for God. The “im” is a plural appendage of respect, and so the word is “Eloh,” which is very similar to “Allah.”

In addition, the Aramaic word for God is “Alaha,” and Aramaic was the language which Jesus himself spoke.

Moreover, the word “Allah” is found in the English version of the Bible which we read today.

In Matthew 27:46 we read: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” The word “Eloi” is the Aramaic form of the Arabic “Allah.” (2)

It is important to know the fact that Christians in Malaysia didn’t start using “Allah” only recently, as some contends.

2. It is used all over the world by Christians.

The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

So it is not just a Malaysian word, for the Malaysian context only. One cannot just decide to copyright an “international” word and hope to escape ridicule.

And anybody in Malaysia can tell you that it is more than just one word that can be involved. The focus now may be on one word, thereafter the contention will be expanded to include other words, and at a later stage any other word or words that the “authorities” may so decide.

3 “Allah” was used by East Malaysians before they joined Malaya

The SIB church was formed in Sarawak state in 1928, nearly 30 years before Malaysia’s independence, and were already using “Allah” in their worship and literature.

And some of them don’t even speak BM or English, only their own mother tongue and in their mother tongue, the word used is “Allah.” So it’s not only the Alkitab, the BM Bible. The other Scriptures which use “Allah” are the Kalibatand Lunbawang Bible.

Daniel Raut, a senior leader of SIB Church — the largest Malay-speaking congregation in the country – said it will not drop the use of the word “Allah,” even though Christians fear for their safety.

“Since our forefathers become Christians in the 1920s, we have been using Allah even in our mother tongue,” said Raut, who is from the Lunbawang tribe in eastern Sarawak state.

Furthermore, how does one propose that its use be restricted to East Malaysians only? What happens when they come to work in West Malaysia? What about the thousands who are already in West Malaysia? What about our existing West Malaysia Bahasa Malaysia churches? What happens when an East Malaysian crosses over to Labuan (a Federal Territory) for the weekend?

Some proponents of the “East Malaysia only” concept take it a step further and suggest (to those of us in West Malaysia), “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The Malay equivalent is “Masuk kandang lembu, menguak. Masuk kandang kambing mengembek” (When entering the cattle pen, moo. When entering the goat pen, bleat). [That] Perhaps it is time the new minority, moo and bleat with the majority.

Though debatable, the new political landscape has all the major political parties, including the key partners of the Barisan, not aligned with Caeser, on this issue.

4. The success of our National Language education policy

Since the introduction of the National Language policy, our emerging generation has become more proficient in Bahasa Malaysia. And with the continued emphasis, the next two generations can be expected to be not only proficient but dependent on the Bahasa Malaysia as the lingua franca in our nation.

Alongside the Allah contention, there are clear intentions to further impose restrictions on other words like “Injil”   (Gospel) and “firman” (faith). (3)

So the logical question we all are asking is “how would this pan out?”

Any strategists will tell you that in winning the generational war, ignore the “old diehards” and focus on the future generations.

Our grandchildren and great grand-children, will find themselves reluctant to read Scriptures in a language they are less proficient and also not be able to access the Alkitab, and also, perhaps be the first generation who have never heard of “firman” and “Injil?”

I can understand the zeal of the government to Islamize the nation, (4) but I pray that they can do so with honesty and integrity. “Bring all to the table” and aim for the hearts. Malaysians will respect you for that.

But no coercion, no bullying, no media misrepresentation, no scrambling the minds of our children and no re-writing of Scriptures!

But I also pray that by the same token and in the true spirit of religious freedom, the day will soon come, when others, if they so desire be allowed to share their respective faiths with our Muslim friends as is fully acceptable and permissible in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.

Surely, Indonesia is a great example to us on what freedom of religion is all about. Sharing one’s faith with another should not be narrowly interpreted as with ‘intent to convert’. Understanding one another’s faith is surely an excellent way of promoting goodwill, peace and harmony among the multi religious population in this lovely country of ours.

Under the present circumstances, the many proposed “inter faith dialogues” and formation of councils to facilitate such dialogues will be nothing but a monologue, as the other faiths are “gagged” in the name of the constitution.

5. Used by others as well

The Sikhs use “Allah” in their Scriptures. Do we stop them next?

What about Hindus, who also refer to one of their gods as “Allah?”

Rigveda is the most sacred scripture of the Hindus, and one of the attributes given to God Almighty in Book no 2 Hymn no I verse II, is Ila’ which if pronounced properly is the same as Allah. (5)

So it is not a Christian issue alone.

What the Christians are asked to do, the Sikhs and the Hindus will be asked to do, eventually.

6. Constitutional right to “manage” our own religion

This right must include how we address our God.

Over enthusiastic bureaucrats, consequentially are interfering with the worship & education of Christians – CDs have been confiscated, Sunday School materials are held up by customs, besides the confiscations of the Alkitab.

According to Prof. Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi (6), the Malaysian Constitution provides that Islam is the religion of the federation. But all other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony: Article 3(1).

In respect of religion, every person has the right to three things:

1. To profess

2. To practice

3. And, subject to Article 11(4), to propagate his religion: Article 11(1).

Every religious group has the right to:

1. Manage its own affairs

2. Establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes.

3. Acquire and own property and administer it: Article 11(3).

4. Establish and maintain institutions for religious education: Article 12(2). (7)

Our constitutional right, to manage our own affairs, to practice religion freely has been increasing under threat particularly over the past two decades.

7. Dictating what should be in the Scriptures of a major religion in the world

This suggestion that another word be used is perhaps “the biggest joke.”

Whether one agrees or not about the word is not the main issue.

The basic issue, lest we forget the obvious, is that each and every religious Scriptures is the sacred book – of Christians (including the Kalibat and Lunbawang), the Sikhs and the Hindus.

We are not talking about some supplementary textbooks or a “pseudo scripture” just written recently.

Are those who argue for a substitute word suggesting that all these Holy Books be re-written to accommodate a few?

If it is suggested by adherents of the respective faiths, this could perhaps be more acceptable. But when followers of one faith, suggest (and insist) that believers of another faith, re-write their Scriptures to pander to their“unsubstantiated convictions” then we are not too far from the “height of arrogance.”

I know Malaysia is “boleh-land” but this move to “force” the other religious groups to rewrite their Scriptures is preposterous.

8. Prominent scholars of Islam and Muslim organizations have supported the use of “Allah” by Christians

In Malaysiakini dated 13th Jan 2010, Constitutional Law expert Abdul Aziz Bari contends that it is pretty clear that the use of Allah by Christians has some basis in the Quran.

This is strengthened by the exposition of eminent scholars, including Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (Maal Hijrah award recipient 2009) who said that Christians, as part of the Abrahamic faiths together with the Jews and Muslims, can use the word ‘Allah’. (8)

Earlier on, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on 4th Jan 2010, also issued a statement viz –

“With regards to actual and historical practices, Christian Arabs have been using the word “Allah” to refer to God in their religious sources since the inception of Islam, and have never been challenged by private Muslims or Muslim governments on this ground. Islamic law is clear that followers of the Christian faith have the right to practice their religion according to their own religious teachings.

[Malaysia has long been a good example of Islamic tolerance and] We call on the Malaysian government to uphold the religious freedom of Christians and to let the court ruling stand. We also urge Muslim NGOs to respect Islamic teachings and long-held Islamic traditions, and to withdraw their opposition to the use of the word “Allah” by their Christian compatriots.” (9)

We would like to hear from our government a more coherent and intelligent response to these prominent voices than simply quote “this is Malaysia.”

9. Our State Anthems will take on a new meaning.

How does one sing the state anthems of Selangor, Perak, Kedah, Pahang, Johor, Kelantan and Trengganu now, since there are references to “Allah” in these songs, as it is now implied to refer to the Muslim God only?

In schools, about 30 years ago, we were told we were singing to “God.” Now are our children to sing only to one particular God?

[See appendix below for list of affected State Anthems]

Unless, of course, one is liberal and don’t mind singing to all gods or any god or just the Muslim god.

10. We need to keep in mind that there was “good harmony” in the first 30 years after Merdeka, with freedom to use “Allah.”

It never was an issue until enthusiastic politicians promulgated the infamous ISA gazette in 1982, referring to the Alkitab as a document “prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation.” The rest is history.

What an insult!

But the Christian community has always been a peace loving people. For the sake of harmony, Christians engaged in closed door meetings in the past, to negotiate “restricted use” of the word rather than to bring it to the courts. And we were always assured by the government that we could use our Alkitab.

But today, they are saying we cannot use the word and the various government agencies started confiscating various Christian materials, not just the Alkitab.

And the claim is we “used to accept it” – but that’s because we have been tricked into negotiating behind closed doors in the name of the Malaysian culture of “talk and resolve quietly.”

So because “nobody” heard from us, now they (even rulers) take advantage and say, we accepted it all these while.

This is absolutely not true.

Christians have been moaning, complaining, objecting and writing to the government for years.

Should we concede for the sake of peace alone?

Friends, perhaps the time of closed door meetings – where our views are deliberately misrepresented (10) and compromised – where the minority is always bullied and threatened into submission for the sake of harmony and in the name of sensitivity, is over?

It is indeed sad, that after 52 years of independence, the country is still not ready for mature dialogue, and is still struggling to hear the voice of reason.

We disagree with this view, as the leaders of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the component members being the Roman Catholic, the Council Churches of Malaysia and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia, have met on several occasions over the last few years and have repeatedly affirmed the wishes of the Christians, both in East and West Malaysia, ie we would not compromise on the use of the word “Allah.”

The dissenting voice is a very small minority and is obviously being used to portray a misleading view.

I would urge all Christians to refer to the “Kuching Declaration” dated Sept 1989, where the Roman Catholics, the CCM and the NECF came together to formally adopt a united stand to use the word “Allah.”

[See – http://www.necf.org.my/newsmaster.cfm?&action=view&menuid=154&retrieveid=976]

This is not a race issue, this is not a Malay supremacy issue, this is not even a religious issue. And this is definitely not an East-West Malaysia issue. (11)

Before us are simply constitutional and “human rights” issues, a call to respect the spiritual convictions and Scriptures of other faiths. This is simply a call to exercise common sense and to respect boundaries – i.e. no rewriting Scriptures!

I hope and pray that the above facts and reasons would help Christians understand that we are not insisting on using “Allah” to “irritate” the “easily confused people” of the land.

We continue to pray for peace and seek a reasoned solution, so that Malaysia can indeed shine as a land so affectionately known as “truly Asia.”

Appendix – State Anthems

Selangor

Duli Yang Maha Mulia

Selamat di atas takhta

Allah lanjutkan usia Tuanku

Rakyat mohon restu bawah Duli Tuanku

Bahagia selama-lamanya

Aman dan sentosa

Duli Yang Maha Mulia

Kedah

Allah selamatkan Sultan Mahkota

Berpanjangan usia diatas Takhta

Memelihara agama Nabi kita

Negeri Kedah serata-rata

Perak

Dilanjutkan Allah usianya Sultan

Adil dan murah memerintah watan

Ditaati rakyat kiri dan kanan

Iman yang soleh Allah kurniakan

Allah berkati Perak Ridzuan

Allah selamatkan Negeri dan Sultan.

Johor

Allah peliharakan Sultan

‘Nugrahkan dia segala kehormatan

Sihat dan ria, kekal dan makmur

Luaskan kuasa, menaungkan kami

Rakyat dipimpini berzaman lagi

Dengan Merdeka bersatu hati

Allah berkati Johor

Allah selamatkan Sultan

Pahang

Ya Allah Yang Masa Kuasa,

Lanjutkan Usia Duli Yang Maha Mulia,

Dirgahayu, Darul Makmur,

Aman dan Bahagia Sentiasa,

Ya Allah Selamatkan Duli Tuanku Raja Kami

Trengganu

Allah daulatkan Tuanku Sultan,

Terengganu Darul Iman,

Allah peliharakan Tuanku Sultan,

Sejahtera sepanjang zaman,

Allah rahmatkan Tuanku Sultan,

Memerintah rakyat aman.

Kelantan

Lanjutka usia Al-Sultan kami

Sultan Kelantan raja ikrami

Aman sentosa Tuhan sirami

Kekal memerintah kami

Kasih dan taat setia disembahkan

Keriangan diucapkan

Segala kebesaran Allah cucurkan

Bertambah kemuliaan

Footnotes:

(1)

This article is in response to the many requests for clarification from

lay people in churches.

(2)

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a physician and writer living in Chicago.

He is co-author of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam (Doubleday).

http://www.middle-east-online.com/English/?id=36608

(3)

See the Pahang enactment

(4)

I believe every true and faithful follower will want to share their faith,

and Muslims are no exception.

(5)

Other references to use of Allah :

BOOK 2 – HYMN 1 Verse 11 – Thou, God, art Aditi to him who offers gifts:

thou, Hotrā, Bhāratī, art strengthened by the song.

Thou art the hundred-wintered Iḷā to give strength, Lord of Wealth!

Vṛtra-slayer and Sarasvatī.

BOOK 3 – HYMN XXIII Verse 4 He set thee in the earth’s most lovely

station, in Iā’s place, in days of fair bright weather.

On man, on Āpayā, Agni! on the rivers Dṛṣadvati, Sarasvatī, shine richly.

(6)

Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi is a Malaysian Senior

Professor of law who has served Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam,

Selangor in various capacities from 1971 onwards. He served as the Head of

the Diploma in Law

program (1979 – 1984), as Assistant Rector (1996-1999), Assistant Vice Chancellor

(1999 – 2001) and Legal Advisor (1996 – 2006).

He has also served on the faculties of law at the International Islamic University

Malaysia, part time at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and a visiting professor

at Universiti Sains Malaysia

(7)

The Federal Constitution and the Social Contract by Prof. Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi –

http://74.125.153.132/search?q=cache:VoCPy4Nb85sJ:cpps.org.my/resource_centre/Prof.%2520

Dr.%2520Shad%2520Saleem%2520Faruqi.ppt+Malaysia+constitutional+Article+11&cd=7&hl=en

&ct=clnk&gl=my&client=firefox-a

(8)

http://national-express-malaysia.blogspot.com/2010/01/allah-decree-does-sultan-have-

power.html

(9)

http://www.isna.net/articles/News/ISNA-Commends-Malaysian-Court-Ruling-

that-Affirms-Religious-Freedom-of-Christians.aspx

(10)

Muhyiddin said he had been receiving quite a number of messages from

non-Muslim friends in Sabah and Sarawak who said there were Christians

who felt that things would not have happened in the first place – if we,

the Christians, would just not use the word ‘Allah’ – Bernama 14th

Jan 2010

(11)

Just because a few Christians in West or East Malaysia, don’t understand

the issue and voice their ignorance, this does not mean the whole of West

or the whole of the East Malaysian communities are against the use of the

word. We need to be aware of the sinister aims to make both the West and

East Malaysian Christians misunderstand each other. By all means, “share”

and educate each other. But beware of answering and correcting in the cyber

space and give the impression, that the West or the East Malaysian Christians

are ignorant, naïve or disunited – we would not want to fall prey to the schemes

of the “dark side.” The “Kuching Declaration” clearly shows the Christians

in both West and East Malaysia are united. And today, we remain resolute and

unyielding in our stand.

—00000—

HartalMSM: Please note the Prime Minister attended and officiated

the opening of an UPKO convention on 8th November 2009 during which a

speech by the UPKO president clearly outlined the concerns of the christian

bumiputras in East Malaysia.

Read the news report by Herald Malaysia Online (here).


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Comments
11 Responses to “Why I use ‘Allah’ – a layman’s perspective”
  1. Billy says:

    Besides the 6 state anthems, you forgot to include the “Negara Ku” which will have an impact on the Muslims as well as non-Muslims in the country.

    1. In the national anthem, the word “Tuhan” [Tuhan kurniakan] is used. Now this word is not “God” from the Muslim perspective, because it means “God” in general definition. Only “Allah” is the one true God. That would put the Muslim population in a fix.
    2. However, if UMNO decide to change it from “Tuhan” to “Allah”, that would put the non-Muslims in a fix, because this word is sacrosanct only to the Muslims and not the non-Muslims.

    So, now will someone tell me how are we going to sing the “Negara Ku” as one nation, 1Malaysia?

    • shar101 says:

      Billy,

      Considering the mountain we’re about to climb, let’s stick to the ‘what is’ and not the ‘what if’ situations.

      If it’s any consolation, the view usually gets better as we climb and clarity may present itself, metaphorically speaking.

  2. Pastor James says:

    Lets be intellectually honest and historically correct when we say Arab Christians use Allah. They may use it in their conversations, not in their religious texts! Read this article for more:
    http://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/122269

  3. Paul Warren says:

    I started writing a response..but it started getting a little too long. So I have posted it on my blog.

  4. hedonese says:

    Great stuffs thanks!

  5. NKK says:

    Pastor James, check this out:

    http://www.usislam.org/allah/allahgod.htm

    The English Old Testament Starts:

    “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.”

    The Arabic Old Testament Starts:

    “In the beginning, Allah created the heaven and earth.”

  6. Talhah72 says:

    With all the due respect Sir.

    From a layman point of view Islam begins in Peninsular Arab with founder known as Muhammad… even to a layman Muslims sometimes. This is not entirely true.

    Lets us not be a layman here. Let us be say.. a reasonable man here with at least year Four primary school education on Islamic studies. The very basic we can say.

    Islam did not begin with Muhamamad. Even Moses even Jesus even Adam. Islam begins with the very first creation. To a Muslim child Adam was a Muslim. Jesus was a muslim. David. Solomon. Ezekiel even John. and so forth. They were all in Islam.

    So therefore to say that the word ‘Allah” predates Islam with the understanding that Muhamamad was the founder of Islam is not correct entirely.

    Thank You

  7. BY WHAT BOOK TO COOK?

    Do we actually need to bring to book
    Those who don’t respect people of the book
    Failing to implement what they can look
    When they use the wrong recipes to cook

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng -200110
    http://MotivationInMotion.blogspot.com
    Wed. 20th Jan. 2010.

  8. M.Khalid says:

    Dear Pastor, we agree that Allah is an Arabic word, thus Arabic bible use Allah and the Arabic speaking Christians use Allah in their conversation. No issue. Nobody is objecting.

    The issue in Malaysia is wrt MALAY bible translation. Why use Arabic word? If there is no appropriate word for Christian “God” in Malay language, why not use the original Aramaic word for God “Alaha” since Aramaic was the language which Jesus himself spoke?. I assure you nobody will object even if it sounded the same.. coz Alaha = Trinity, Allah = One.

    As for the National Anthem. Tuhan is a general Malay word for God.. so if you’re Christian, Tuhan could be translated as Trinity, if Muslim.. Tuhan is Allah.. Those that don’t believe in God, Tuhan can also be translated to $$. Very 1Malaysia spirit, don’t you think?

    As for State Anthem, since the rulers are Muslims…. and many2 years ago the subjects were mostly Muslims…naturally when they came up with State Anthem, they use “Allah”. But you do know right that some pious non-Muslims when they sang the song… they kept quiet when others sang “Allah”? But of course.. some just bantai coz it is not important to them.

    Anyways, we can argue until cow comes home. But personally I don’t think we (the Muslims & Christians) can reach any agreement. Despite whatever the court ruled, the ulamaks said, the politicians harped, the Sultan bertitah……the majority Muslims will forever oppose the use of Allah for Trinity and the majority (?) Christians will forever think that it is their right to use Allah in Malay bible / publications..

    I hope in time this issue will die and for Malaysia sake I hope it will die and not lie-in-wait like a volcano waiting to erupt in the future.

    As a Muslim, I believe whatever happened is for a reason.. only Allah knows best. Wallahualam..

  9. NO WRONG FIRE TO EXPRESS DESIRE

    Those who play with fire
    Are most likely to get burnt
    When they wrongly express their desire
    Due to deviant lessons they have learnt

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 210110
    http://MotivationInMotion.blogspot.com
    Thur. 21st Jan. 2010.

  10. Vincent says:

    What a country is constituted wrongly from the start-“Not all citizens are equal”, then problems begin and will fester. If only Malays can use a particular word in the National Language, then they want to segregate themselves. Evry right thinking country wants to bring different races and communities together.

    In Malaysia, the government has been in power by a policy of segregation, racial discrimination, purports to fight for Malay supremacy and now after 50 years cannot live without such policies.The malays themselves see the destruction of Malaysia by the elite and royalty in control and want change themselves-there is a class war amongst malays ( which is a good thing for all Malaysians) because it will bring unity for malaysia and be ridof the vampires bleeding this country dry.
    I say let them have their ALLH ( the Government wants it -give it to them-for the burning of churches-Vengence is Mine said the Lord-stay still and remain silent.) Psalms 103

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