Sunday, January 17, 2010

Should We Drop 'Allah'?

by Rev. James Wong

A number of government officials visited our church this week to find out the security situation and to ensure our safety. There were many questions asked including my view on the ‘Allah’ issue. I told them the burning of the churches is not a great loss to the church because we are taught to love our enemies but it is a great loss to the image of Malaysia. I received the following letter ...

Dear Dean,
Happy 2010 New Year. I wonder what is Dean's view from the theological point of view in respect of the "Allah" issue. Putting aside emotional factor, legal position et cetera, would it not be vice versa that we Malaysian Christians do look into the history and meaning of "Allah". We have been using Indonesian bahasa translated bibles all this while in total without questioning it. I believe it is a sensitive issue and yet it could clarify lots of things and we can be in better position. What say you in time as such ? God bless you.
Bro. in Christ.

Here are my thoughts …

I read the Quran 5:72-73 (the version in my palm phone) , the verses were in response to Christians claiming Allah has a son through Mary and their belief in the Trinity. The verses are as follows for your quick reference:

"Certainly they (the Christians) disbelieve who say: Surely Allah, He is the Messiah, son of Marium; and the Messiah said: O children of Israel! Serve Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Surely whoever associates others with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the garden, and his abode is the fire; and there shall be no helpers for the unjust. Certainly they (the Christians) disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve."

The Muslims denounced that Allah has a son or the third person of the Trinity. So, the word 'Allah' was used by the Christians even before the religion of Islam became an organized religion.

From the historical perspective, it is most unreasonable to demand that the word ‘Allah’ cannot be used by Christians. Yet I believe it is alright to drop the use of the word for the following reasons:

1. The word 'Allah' itself cannot fully express the God that we believe in. It is an 'insufficient' word to express his character and his nature. It is just a word that helps us to refer to the Creator God. No name or term is sufficient to describe HIM in totality.

2. For the sake of peace and social order we can drop the word. This does not mean we renounce our faith. The Old Testament uses many words for God. In the Hebrew language, the word 'YHWH' was used for the name of God (Ex 3:15) but it has no vowel in it. It was a name too sacred to be uttered. However, for convenience vowels were added to read "YaHWeh" to refer to LORD and being translated into Jehovah in English. (NIV translated the word Yahweh to ‘LORD’). However, in the 19th century onward, biblical scholars returned to the use of the word Yahweh. Jesus called God 'Father.' So, our Christian history shows us that at different times we translated the name of God and use it differently. Theologically, there is no ground that we must use the word 'Allah' to address the God we believe in.

3. For the sake of peace and harmony we have to look at the options although dropping the word 'Allah' is very unreasonable in the modern setting. If Jesus can ask God to forgive those who nailed him to the cross, it is a small price to pay to drop the word because a community feels ‘threatened and confused’.

4. Dropping the word 'Allah' can cause problem in our BM Bible translation but it doesn’t mean there is no alternative. The Bible uses words like 'God' and 'Lord'. God is translated 'Allah' and Lord is translated 'Tuhan'. We will have to find another word to refer to God. God and Lord cannot be translated using the same word. Perhaps, we can use capital 'TUHAN' for the Almighty God, and small letters 'Tuhan' for Lord. No big deal.

5. Going to the court shows that we respect the law of the country. To get redress is proper and I am not against it. Religious issue is not a 'logic' issue, it is an emotional issue. Therefore, laws could not fully address it. The burning of churches is an evidence to this fact.

6. 'Allah' is just one word they are talking about. There are other words … If you forgo 'Allah' ... what's next? We do not know the future. The government has shown that they are not against Christians but against the usage of the word ‘Allah’. They contributed RM500,000 to rebuild the Tabernacle church. So far, we have seen police and people from the special branch coming to our church to assure us of their protection.

7. When one community claims that they feel threatened, confused and wants the monopoly of the word... we have to consider the alternatives. It is now a political issue that turns religious. That is one of the easiest way to gain political mileage. Looking at the situation ... where reason will not reign, it is no harm to drop that word and put more effort in our mission work locally. It is not worthwhile to retain a word and lose the harvest field. But there are Christians who think differently and very passionate about that word.

8. God will remain as God unperturbed by man's perception of him or by the name he will be called or demanded to be called.

No comments:

Post a Comment