THE ALLAH CONTROVERSY series...
(in chronological descending order)
1. Be Strong and Courageous
2. The Allah Issue: Round 2
3. The Allah Debate: Moderating Principles
4. The Debate: Allah or Are There Alternatives?
5. Names of God in the Bible
6. A Brief Survey of Views Expressed in the Allah Controversy
7. Testing Times
THE ALLAH ISSUE: ROUND 2
The Court of Appeal has ruled that The Herald, a publication of the Catholic Church, cannot use the word Allah in its Bahasa Malaysia edition. The ruling, though disappointing to the Christian community and interested parties of other faiths, is not completely unexpected. In their judgement, the panel of three judges found, amongst others, that the name Allah is not an integral part of the faith and practise of Christianity, that its usage would cause confusion within the Islamic community and that the welfare of an individual or group, must yield to the community (as reported in The Star, 15 October 2013, p. 4).
The ruling itself has given rise to fresh uncertainties with various groups interpreting it in accordance with their own vested interests. One end of the interpretation says that it is merely restricted to The Herald and that churches can continue to use Allah in their worship, liturgy, prayers and educational materials (as per Rev. Dr. Eu Hong Seng, president of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, ibid.). The other end says that the word and 31 others cannot be used in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible since they are prohibited to non-Muslims by Islamic enactments in some states (attributed to Datuk Zulkifli Noordin, vice-president of Perkasa, The Star, 19 October 2013, p. 10). But since then, the Prime Minister, in his speech to the 28th Congress of the Parti Bersatu Sabah on 21 October 2013, has reiterated that the 10-point agreement which he and his cabinet offered to the Christian community in April 2011 in the aftermath of the 2009 Allah controversy is still valid and will be honoured. However, this open reassurance from the highest executive officer of the country was marred somewhat with the seizure of some 2,000 copies of The Herald at the Kota Kinabalu Airport on 24 October. That edition of The Herald was slated for circulation within the Catholic churches in Sabah on the Sunday that was to follow.
Going back to the Court of Appeals judgement, there are grounds of concern: particularly, the one about Allah as not being an integral part of the faith and practise of Christianity. This opens the door ajar for those who want to completely prohibit the use of the word in any form, written or spoken, against all non-Islamic religions. As put in the form of the phrase, the judges have ignored the role of words in the expression of ones religious faith. One cannot express or practise ones faith without acts and words. Acts and words are integral to the practise of religion or any human endeavour for that matter.
Allah as a word in itself may not seem integral to Christianity at first sight. The English or Mandarin speaking Christians will not normally use the word, unless in very specific circumstances. But as a vernacular, it is integral to its indigenous people to call out, or express, or relate to their God on whom they have believed and have come to depend for their daily and spiritual sustenance. It will be very difficult, for instance, for an Iban or an Arab Christian not to have use of the word in their litany or even ordinary conversations. For these people who have always known Allah as the vocal expression of the Divine or the Supreme One of the universe on whom they worship, it will be a huge hole for them if the word is voided from their vocabulary.
The debate on the use of Allah will continue, perhaps even a Round 3. While we await for more definitive directions, let us continue to lift up our hands to the Lord for our kings and all who are in authority so that we may lead a quiet life in all godliness and reverence (1 Tim. 2:1-2).