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(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



A resolution to the ‘Allah’ controversy needs be found. Ideally, it ought to be one that is amicable to all parties concerned. But we do not live in an ideal world; it is the real world that we have to face and reality is less kind and harsher than the ideal if only because, too often, winners take all and losers none at all.

The judicial settlement to the controversy lies in the Court of Appeal and probably, subsequently, the Federal Court; though it must be recognized that there is the possibility of an executive solution too. That the controversy happened is due, in large part, to the hands of the Executive, which unprecedentedly banned the word ‘Allah’ from being used by non-Muslims. The ban can be overturned in the courts (as had happened in the High Court); or, the Executive can gracefully withdraw it on its own accord. And if either (or, better, both) happens then hallelujah. But if neither, then, we Christians, especially the Malay-speaking Christians, have to learn to live with reality, harsh as it may be.

So what if and when the worst case scenario (vis-à-vis Christians) happens: that after all the argumentation and protestation, we do not get to use the word ‘Allah’ altogether? Well, we simply have to grit our teeth and move forward and make the best out of a bad situation. And if we cannot have the Arabic ‘Allah’ and if ‘Tuhan’ is linguistically and theologically a poor substitute for ‘Allah’ then we need to look elsewhere. And elsewhere may not be too far away from us because we have the Hebrew and Aramaic and Syriac cognates to fall upon. And if none of them is suitable or agreeable, then we have the Greek words or other language words to choose from. The transition in the switch may feel and taste raw and difficult; but language is living and is constantly evolving with the times and circumstances. If the Hebrews could take el and elohim from their heathen neighbours and the New Testament writers theos from the Greeks and made these words into singular terms for the one God of their faiths, why is it not possible for us to do something similar? If ‘Allah’ is not for us, then we can switch to ‘El’, ‘Elohim’, ‘Eloah’, ‘Ilah’ or ‘Elah’; or even sweep the linguistic map to come up with a more suitable and proper word to stand for ‘God’ in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible. Given time and usage this ‘new’ word will fit into our Christian-Malay locution as good as its predecessor had done.

There has been, in fact, a move made by a Bible translation group in Indonesia to discard the word ‘Allah’.1 The group’s rationale for this is that ‘Allah’ in its original usage refers to the pagan god of the Arabs (i.e., prior to Islam’s advent). Thus, instead of ‘Allah’, the group in their Kitab Suci: Torat dan Injil, employ the transliterated ‘Eloim’ (from the Hebrew elohim) for ‘God’ in both the Old and New Testaments. It must be mentioned though that this group’s revision of the term for God in their translation is resisted by the main body, the Indonesian Bible Society (Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia), which was responsible for the Alkitab (1978) and the Alkitab Kabar Baik, Good News Bible (2004), a biglot in English and Bahasa Indonesia.

There is a moderating principle in Scripture which can prove useful in our struggle in the ‘Allah’ controversy. It is the ‘no-worse-if-we-do-not-and-no-better-if-we-do’ principle which the apostle Paul offers in the ‘food-offered-to-idols’ controversy in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 8). This controversy involves the freedom to eat food offered to idols. A Christian who knows that an idol is nothing, that is, it is not a god at all (vv. 4-6), has the conscience and freedom to eat food that has been offered to idols. But another Christian who has no such knowledge will be troubled by the eating of such food. The first Christian’s freedom to eat food offered to idols is then circumscribed by consideration for the second Christian’s weaker conscience (vv. 9-13). He may have need to give up his freedom if the exercise of the freedom may cause his fellow brother/sister to waver in his/her faith. It is then that the ‘no-worse-if-we-do-not-and-no-better-if-we-do’ principle kicks in. It is ‘no-worse-and-no-better’ because food per se does not ‘bring us near to God’ (v. 8). In other words, a thing or a practice that does not have any bearing (neither promotes nor derogates) in the believer-to-God relationship can be given up if such a giving-up goes towards a noble cause (e.g., saving a weaker brother’s conscience).

It may be argued that the use or non-use of the word ‘Allah’ falls into the ‘no-worse-if-we-do-not-and-no-better-if-we-do’ category. I know that many will strongly object to this suggestion, especially the native Malay-speaking Christians. But let us be objective about this: ‘Allah’ is not the revealed and proper name of God in the Christian Scripture. It is one among many used in the course of translating the Bible into the vernacular. We love it because it has been long in our Malay vernacular but if we are forcefully prevented from using it, then let us move on and find some other word to replace it.

Another moderating principle is that found in Romans 12:18 - ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ This is comparable to our Lord’s teaching in his Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you (see Mt. 5:38-48). The response of the various Christian groups whose worship premises were fire-bombed after the High Court’s decision in the Herald case is admirable and exemplary. There should be no repaying of evil for evil (Rom. 12:17). However, we may be called upon to move one step further. Should the Catholic Church win its case in the court of final arbitration it is conceivable that history will repeat itself: violence erupts, perhaps on a larger scale. What are we to do then? The answer is simple: ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’. And mitigated by the ‘no-worse-if-we-do-not-and-no-better-if-we-do’ principle, we can voluntarily agree to withdraw from using the ‘Allah’ word. You might say this is capitulation and it will only embolden the other side to further violence to get its way in future conflicts. Well, let us believe in the word of God. Let us ‘not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ (Rom. 12:21).

Let us also remember this, that by whatever name we are compelled or allowed to designate God in the Malay vernacular, there is a ‘name above every name’, and that at this name ‘every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ and that ‘every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Phil. 2:9-11).

In the meantime, let us keep offering up our prayers to our God, especially for the authorities: believing they will ‘hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong’ (Rom. 13:3; 1 Tim. 2:1-2).

1D. Soesilo, “Translating the Names of God”, posted in, 01.05.10.


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