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
ALLAH or ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES?
Much energy, positive and negative, has been expanded in the brouhaha surrounding the Allah controversy. Certainly, the violence and sacrilegious acts against the places of worship (be they Christian, Muslim or otherwise) in the Herald aftermath is regrettable. Things could have been worse and credit must be given to all parties who had made every effort for calm and peace to prevail since. But more needs be done to keep this calm and peace as the true core content of the countrys social fabric instead of it being just an exterior shell, fragile and brittle, covering simmering tensions underneath.
The Allah controversy, to Christians, has afforded them pause to reflect on God, particularly on his names, and what he means to them through those names. If anything, the controversy has given Christians a sharper opportunity to know their God, their faith and their Scripture. And because of this, they have been drawn closer to God and to one another.
Yet the debate - Should Christians continue (and insist to continue) on using the word Allah in Bahasa Malaysia Bibles and literature, and in their preaching and teaching in the Malay language, or, should they capitulate and give in on the word? - remains an open-ended and unresolved issue. A corollary to the debate is: Should or could Tuhan be a substitute for Allah? Looking further, could there be other substitutes if Tuhan is found to be unsuitable per se or in certain contexts of scripture?
The word Allah is Arabic for God; a conjugation of two words: al - the and ilah - deity, god, and contracted to form al-lah - the deity or the God. It has cognates in other Semitic languages, e.g., Hebrew and Aramaic. Prior to the advent of Islam, the word was used by pagan Arabs to refer to a creator god as well as to other gods (associates or lesser gods to the creator god). Arab Christians had used the word (and still do so today) to address the God of their faith in his trinitarian nature - Allah al-ab (God the Father), Allah al-ibn (God the Son) and Allah al-ruh al-quds (God the Holy Spirit).1 With the advent of Islam, Allah was (and is) considered the revealed and proper name of God, a name most holy and reverent and not to be blasphemed or abused in any manner.
Prior to the Malaysian instance, there had been no legal or administrative proscription against the use of the word by anyone; the word was open and had been freely used by all religious groups who had need of it.
The Malaysian governments banning of the word had left the religious groups in this country in a bind, especially those that had long employed the word in their scripture, literature and speech. The move had been seen as an obstruction to freedom of religion and of speech: both rights being universal and rightly enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Emotive feelings aside, the fight for the use of the word Allah is a fight to preserve these two rights. This much must be underscored. Having thus said, let us turn our attention to the debate.
There have been voices heard (pertinently, Christian) that it (Allah) is just a word - why fight over a mere word? Of course, the fight is over a word; but it is a fight for more than just a word. It is a fight for the rights of our freedom - freedom to believe and freedom to express that belief in a form that is appropriate to our faith system. But let us say it is a word: now, suppose we have a newfangled law that says we cannot use the word god or God in our vocabulary. What happens? There will then be this gaping hole in our vocabulary, both written and spoken. We will be at a loss. What shall we replace the word with? With what shall we address this [ ] whom we have always called [ ] but now we cant? Shall we call him the supreme being or the Divine or the Almighty, all of which will be technically and linguistically correct, but not quite the same as [ ]. You do get the picture, dont you?
One senior leader of the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church, Daniel Raut, said this: Since our forefathers become Christians in the 1920s, we have been using Allah even in our mother tongue.2 Raut is from the Lunbawang tribe in Sarawak. He and others like him will feel a big vacuum in their religious expression of their faith if the right to use Allah is eventually taken away from them.
Still, some have said we could use the word Tuhan instead. Yes, but not quite yes. Dr. Ng Kam Weng of the Kairos Research Centre has argued that the word switch is unreasonable since it renders many Biblical references to God and Jesus incoherent on the grounds that the meaning [sic] of Allah and Tuhan are different, that it creates an absurd situation...to translate the paired words Tuhan Allah (LORD God)...Tuhan Tuhan (a linguistic redundancy) and that to do so is amounting to causing Malay readers to think that Christians believe in a plurality of Lords. Dr. Ng Kam Weng offers one more reason why Allah cannot be simply substituted with Tuhan:
Christians are unable to express the Lordship of Jesus Christ as one who
is distinct from the Father and yet shares with the God of the Old
Testament...In other words, Christians are rendered unable to affirm the
deity of Jesus Christ and teach the doctrine of Trinity without the
foundational words that maintain the semantic relationship between the
words Allah and Tuhan as they are applied distinctively in the
Dr. Ng Kam Wengs contribution in this regard is laudable. But there are other alternatives besides the Malay Tuhan. For example, we can consider using the Hebrew or Aramaic transliterated equivalents of Allah, like elohim or eloah or elah.
In a posting on Malaysia Today,4 a pastor by the name of Eu Hong Seng had written what he called a laymans perspective on the issue. In his posting he offered ten reasons why Christians in this country should continue to use the word Allah. Most of his reasons are common knowledge and I have no quarrel with them save for one. Pastor Eu is of the opinion that the suggestion to substitute the word Allah with another is tantamount to rewriting the scriptures. With all due respect to Pastor Eu, I humbly beg to differ. Replacing the word Allah with another equivalent word in the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Bible is not a rewriting of the scriptures. To rewrite the scriptures is to put in place a meaning or a nuance which is not supported by the manuscripts. Simply replacing Allah with an equivalent does not do this.