Refutation of Muslim Scholars’ Arguments in the Allah Controversy. Part 3/3

Refutation of Muslim Scholars’Arguments in the Allah Controversy. Part 3/3

Translation Issues
To buttress their case, Mohd Sani and Mohd Aizam provide several examples which allege that Christians are inconsistent in their usage of the word Allâh and this results in confusion for both Christians and Muslims. However, their claim of inconsistency shows little understanding of the translation skills required in the translation enterprise that demands the ability to make distinctions when a particular word assumes different shades of meanings (semantic range) in different contexs. This is especially true of Semitic words. For example, the Hebrew word, ruach, can take the following meanings, depending on the context: wind, breath, vital powers, feelings or will. That Mohd Sani seems unaware of these dynamics of translation will be evident when we discuss the translation of élöhîm in Old Testament.

Perhaps considering a local example will help clarify the issue of translation. Take for example, the Shahadah, “There is no god but God.” It is often translated as “Tiada Tuhan selain daripada Allâh”. We note that Tuhan is not the literal equivalent of god; and a word with closer literal meaning in this context should be ‘dewa’. But nobody accuses the local authorities of inconsistency and confusion over the choice of Tuhan rather than dewa. Apparently, local Malay scholars allow for freedom despite normal expectation of literal substitution (assuming that a word can only bear one meaning regardless of the context).  Hopefully, this awareness will enable scholars like Mohd Sani to be fair when discussing issues of Bible translation.

Since words always convey a semantic range of meanings, the process of translation often entails contestable words. This provides a special challenge for translators working on Semitic languages whether it be Hebrew or Arabic.  A helpful exercise may be found by comparing three authoritative translations of Sura 79: 1-5.

A. J. Arberry King Fahd (Saudi Arabia) Corrected Version of Yusuf Ali Muhammad Assad
By those that pluck out vehementlyBy those that draw out violently

By those that swim serenely

And those that outstrip suddenly

By those that direct an affair

1. By the (angels)Who tear out

(The souls of the wicked)

With violence

2. By those who gently

Draw out (the souls of the blessed)

3. And those who glide along (on errands of mercy)

4. Then press forward as in a race

5. Then arrange to do (The Commands of their Lord)

Consider those [stars] that rise only to setAnd move[in their orbits] with steady motion

And flout[through space] with floating  serene

And yet overtake [one another] with swift overtaking

And thus fulfil the [Creator’s] behest

Arberry ‘s translation, considered by many to be the most elegant English translation of the Quran avoids any imaginative reading of the Arabic text, but it simply doesn’t make sense. Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Asad obviously rely on conjectural emendations. Yusuf Ali could be influenced by Iranian Gnostic ideas when he assumed the verses refer to the souls of the dying. Muhammad Asad is following earlier Quranic commentators when he takes the verses to be referring to celestial bodies. Still, the differences between these three translations are startling.

Whatever the final prevailing version above, it is obvious that Quranic translation (or interpretation) is not spared from contestations even among the experts.  It should be a good occasion to remind scholars like Mohd Sani that those who live in glass houses be careful before throwing stones. For the same reason, contestations in linguistics cannot be legislated. It can only be settled eventually by non-polemical and accurate scholarship. Perhaps scholars like Mohd Sani will still want to press ahead to legislate how words and language should be used in Islam, but any attempt to impose their contestable reading of religious texts, especially upon other religions is both a violation of decent scholarship and the freedom and integrity of other religions.

It is appropriate to stress at this juncture that the Islamic Departments in Malaysia are not only seeking to ban the use of the word Allâh. They have gazette orders to ban other crucial religious terms that include the following. They even have the arrogance to suggest that Christians use bizarre alternative words.

Words Banned for Christians// Alternative Words to be used

Al-Kitab // Baibel (Bible)
Allâh // Tuhan (God)
Firman // Berkata (Say)
Rasul // Utusan (Massanger)[sic.]
Iman // Percaya (believe)
Ibadah // Amalan (worship)
Injil // Baibel (Bible)
Wahyu // Revelasi
Nabi // Propet
Syukur // Terima Kasih
Solat // Sembahyang
Doa //Memohon

Banning the use of Allâh and other religious terms against Christians despite the essential contestable concepts of religion is even more grievously inappropriate since Christians are not pretending to be giving Islamic teaching. They are doing nothing more or and nothing less than teaching the Christian religion. Moreover, some of these terms have clear Biblical origins. Certainly, they are not from Islamic background. This includes words like Kitâb (Heb. Ketob), Iman (Heb. Emuna), Ibada (Heb. Avodah) and Injil (Greek: Euanggelion). The word Solat (Syriac: selota) is significant since the Qur’an refers to it as a Christian tradition where it is used in one line with Kitab and Zakat/Zekota (Qur’an Sura Maryam 19: 31). In this case it even maintains the Syriac spelling ( ﺻﻟﻮﺓ ,  ﺯﻛﻮﺓ, slwt, zkwt, “w” (wâw) instead of the later alif).

The commentary on Sura Maryan 19:31 in Yusuf Ali’s translation even says, “Devotion and Charity is a god description of the Church of Christ at its best, and pity, purity, and devotion in Yahya are a good description of the ways leading to Prayer and Charity, just as John led to Jesus.”

How ironic it is that Malaysian authorities seek to restrict the religious freedom to Christians when the Quran grants them freedom and recognition as People of the Book (ahl al-kitâb).

Response to Dr. Mohd Sani Badron

“Nama Khas “Allah”: Persoalan dan Penyelesaian ” LINK

With these linguistic parameters clarified we can now critique Mohd Sani’s treatment of the few verses he cites from the Al Kitab Malay translation which are primarily taken from Psalm 82.  These few verses should be seen in proper perspective of the general reliability of the thousands of verses in the Alkitab. In any case, Christians are themselves aware of the ambiguities that inevitably accompany any translation enterprise.

I refer only to the most significant texts mentioned by Mohd Sani b. Badron (the numbering follows Mohd Sani’s article):

2a) Psalm 82, 1: The Hebrew text uses ‘elôhîm’ for both: God (Allâh) and the gods, according to the linguistic givens of the language. Note that no theological community invents its own language, whether it be Hebrew, Arabic or Malay. These communities use the language which exists in the surrounding culture and then give the necessary definition to the terms used.The context makes it clear which term is used with its specific meaning.

For example, Allâh, based on the rules of language where it is affixed with the “ta’rîf”, or article, becomes a determined noun: “the God”, pointing to (the) One who is special, and therefore, in this form, does not have a plural. This is implied in the rules (grammar) of the language and actually does not need any further explanation.  However, further explanations my give further details about the understanding of what “the One” should mean. That would be the task of theologians and not translators.

‘elôhîm sits judging over the ‘elôhîm’ makes it clear that the first word is Allâh (God), and the second word refers to the gods which in the Arabic Bible is rendered by the Arabic plural of ilah, âliha. The translation is correct. I would agree that translating the verse using Allâh in the first place (correct), and Allâh in the second place could lead to misunderstanding. The plural must be expressed, but this does not happen. “Allâh” with a small “a” is not appropriate in our Malaysian context, because, in Malay there is no usage of an article, “a deity” or “a god”. It could be be ilah, or dewa, plural: ilah-ilah or dewa-dewa.

Thus the Malaysian Bahasa Bible is different from the Indonesian Bible when it opts for the translation that is more nuanced and congruent with local (Malaysian) usage.

Psalm 82:1 Allâh mengetuai sidang di syurga; di hadapan makhluk-makhluk syurga Dia memberikan keputusan-Nya (BM).

2b) Likewise for Psalm 82:6: you are ‘élöhîm’, in Arabic âliha is translated in the local Bahasa Bible as, “Aku berkata bahawa kamu ilahi, bahawa kamu semua anak Yang Maha Tinggi.” (BM)

2c) 1 Chronic 16:26: The Hebrew text reads: Kol-´élöhê hä`ammîm (construct form of elohîm, in Arabic grammar Mudâf ilaihi), all gods, or deities of the nations. It is added that they are idols which makes it clear how in this context ‘élöhîm’ should be understood.  Again the Bahasa Bible carefully takes into account the linguistic usage and translates it as follows:

1 Chronicle 16:26: Dewa-dewa bangsa lain hanya patung berhala, tetapi TUHAN mencipta angkasa raya (BM).

3) Philippians 2:5
The Bahasa Malaysia Bible reads:

Sikap kamu hendaklah seperti sikap Kristus Yesus: Sebenarnya Dia ilahi, tetapi Dia tidak menganggap keadaan-Nya yang ilahi harus dipertahankan-Nya…(BM)

The Greek text reads: Hos (i.e. the Christ or Messiah, or Word, cf. John 1:1) en morphë theou hyoparchon…. who in the form of God exists. Bahasa: dalam rupa Allâh, in Arabic: fî sûrati ‘llâh.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the most profound verses in the Bible. Morphë itself displays a wide semantic range in ancient Greek and translators have to consider options whether to understand morphë as referring to the inner essence of a thing (in contrast to schema, its accidents). It can also refer to the pre-existent Christ or Logos, a notion similar to that of the eternal Kalamu ‘llâh in Arabic Kalam (even though it may be granted that the term morphë probably would not be used). It is undeniable however that the morphë is eternal and inseparable from God (Allâh).

The initial goal in translating a verse that contains subtle and profound truths is to ensure the best choice of word is “as literal as possible, as free (contextualized) as necessary.” Mohd Sani should be aware of the challenges facing all translators and the example of the same difficulties facing translators of the Quran is evident from our earlier discussion of Sura 19:1-5.  Even with the most appropriate word available, theologians will have to go beyond issues of linguistics to discuss and debate the fuller meaning of the text. Mohd Sani is applying the wrong category of criticism (whether it be textual, literary or theological) when he focuses on matters of ongoing theological discussion to cast doubt on the translation enterprise.

Mohd Sani cites these few contestable translations to claim the Christians are confused in how they use the word Allâh. The fact is Christians are themselves aware that the earlier translation in the Indonesian Bible could be misunderstood in Malaysia. The newer translations in Bahasa Malaysia show that they have taken remedial action. But these few occurrences should not be generalized to suggest that Christians are confused themselves and confusing others in their translation.

That there will always be contestations in any translation enterprise is a given which is aptly captured by the Malay proverb, “Tiada gading tanpa retak?” Christians have the most globally extensive and experienced translation enterprise and have translated the Bible into more languages than any other religion. But still for Christians the final authority to settle any theological interpretation and translation for Christians rests on the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. Referring to these Hebrew and Greek Texts would normally settle any initial confusion. All that critics like Mohd Sani need to do is bring the matter to Christian scholars and their doubts would have been easily clarified. That he neglects this simple option only emphasizes how trivial and needless his criticisms are.


Response to Prof. Madya Dr. Khadijah Mohd Hambali

Prof Madya Dr. Khadijah Mohd Hambali, Jabatan Akidah dan Pemikiran Islam, Akademi Pengajian Islam, University Malaya, “Perbezaan Penggunaan Kalima Allah Dalam Agama Islam Dan Agama Kristian.” LINK
What stands out in Dr. Khadijah’s article is also confusion that does not add to her case for banning the use of the word Allâh.

Section 1:What is the name of God for Christians?
Khadijah is evidently confused in her discussion of the word YHWH and Jehovah (1.2). Of course, the original word in Hebrew is YHWH. As the word was considered too sacred to be pronounced by Jews in Biblical times, they added the vowels e, o, a as extra markers to suggest that the word should be read as adonai (master) in the oral reading of the text. The King James Version translators simply transliterated and ‘anglicized’ the Hebrew word.

Khadijah should be rest assured that Greek and Hebrew scholars (from both Christianity and Judaism) are aware of the contingencies in the history of translation of the Bible and there is no difference between Christians and Jews on how to translate the word YHWH. All Khadijah needs to do is to compare the Tanakh Translation of the Jewish Publication Society with major Christian translations like the NRSV (New Revised Standard Translation) or the ESV (English Standard Translation) to know the basic agreement between Christians and Jews.

It would be sharing common ignorance to suggest that Christians are confused about how they should refer to God.  Harping on these historical contingents, by listing the different spellings like ‘yahweh’, ‘yehuwa’, ‘yahava’ or ‘Jehovah’ comes across as petty spirit more interested in mocking than becoming better informed. Prof. Khadijah herself knows how spellings and transliterations change over time in all languages. Again, she only needs to refer to scholarly Christian and Jewish scholars’ discussions based on the Hebrew text.

Section 2.1, 2.3 – Is the Eastern Church Unitarian?
Dr. Khadijah describes the Eastern Church as Unitarian in the following manner:

2. Analisis Perbandingan Konsep Tauhid dan Konsep Unitarian Aliran Eastern Church

2.1 Biarpun pelbagai penjelasan telah dikemukakan, pihak gereja begitu tegas dalam penggunaan kalimah Allâh. Antara yang telah lama menggunakan istilah Allâh adalah Gereja Timur yang sering dikaitkan sebagai gereja yang meyakini Unitarian (emphasis mine) iaitu Tuhan adalah satu.

These statements contain a grievous error. The Eastern Church is NOT Unitarian. It believes in the Trinity like the mainstream churches of the Western Church. Indeed, Khadijah contradicts herself when just a few paragraphs later she quotes a well-known theologian of the Eastern Church, John Meyendorff in section 2.6,

“Apabila ditelusuri dengan lebih mendalam, tiada satu pun Eastern Church yang mempunyai akidah yang sama atau selaras dengan Islam dalam konsep ketuhanan. John Meyendorff, seorang pakar modern Orthodox menjelaskan di dalam bukunya Christ in Eastern Christian Thought bahawa- “The true concept of God is Trinitarian…”

What is the source of Khadijah’s inaccurate description of the theology of the Eastern Churches?  It seems to originate from her conflation of the Trinitarian controversy with the Christological controversy in the early Church.

Khadijah’s discussion alludes to rejection of the heresy of Eutychianism/dyophysiticism by the Eastern Church (although she has not made clear the historical dynamics of these doctrinal controversies, given her confusion) when she writes,

Berasaskan penjelasan-penjelasan tersebut, umumnya, kesemua Eastern Church percaya kepada ketuhanan Jesus Christ dan hanya berbeza pendapat dalam beberapa perkara berkaitan dengan bentuk ketuhanan Jesus. Sebagai contoh dalam persoalan sama ada Jesus adalah sepenuhnya Tuhan sahaja atau sepenuhnya Tuhan pada masa yang sama sepenuhnya manusia (2.8).

…Pemahaman dan keyakinan ini dikenali sebagai miaphysitism, iaitu istilah yang berlawanan dengan dyophysitsm yang menjadi keputusan Council of Chalcedon. Walaupun menolak keputusan Council of Chalcedon, jelas di sini Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria telah menganggap Jesus Christ mempunyai sifat ketuhanan (2.10).

These texts suggest that Dr. Khatijah’s confusion arises when she elides the discussion of Unitarianism with miaphysitism. As a professor she should know that the term “unitarianism” originates in the recent European history of philosophy. In actual fact, none of the different Eastern church traditions ever thought of abandoning the Trinitarian dogma! She could read this historical fact in books written my medieval Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm or Shahrastani who gave ample information about the teachings of the Eastern Churches. It should not be missed that these Churches held on to the Trinitarian dogma while defending their faith in the One God.)

Her final conclusion that the Eastern Church’s doctrine of God is different from the Islamic doctrine of tawhid (2.11) and (2.11) is acceptable. Unfortunately, the imprecision, if not contradiction in her presentation when dealing with the usage of crucial technical terms like ‘unitarian’ alongside ‘miaphysitism’ only muddles her discussion. Indeed, she completely misses the central insight of Christian doctrine of God when she contrasts unity with trinity, given that Christianity never dichotomises unity with trinity in the doctrine of God. Christians believe in one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) who has revealed himself as triune (Matthew 28: 19-20).

In short, her discussion only addresses tangential issues and skirts around to central doctrines of Christian beliefs centred on the one true God (Allâh) who has revealed himself as LORD (TUHAN) exemplified in Exodus 3:14, 6:2-3. By the same token she fails to provide evidence that has any relevance to the Christian faith, much less provide cogent arguments why Christians cannot use the word Allâh.

Response to Mohd Aizam bin Ma’sod
“Hujan Menolak Penggunaan Kalimah ‘Allah’ Oleh Kristian.” LINK

The virtue of Mohd Aizam’s article is that it is forceful. The downside is that his views are simplistic and dogmatic that disregard other views that may equally be valid.

Hujah 1– Allâh : Name of God among Muslims
“Di peringkat antarabangsa, penggunaan kalimah  Allâh dari segi istilah  adalah amat sinonim dengan agama dan umat Islam. Ia diiktiraf oleh kamus- kamus serta eksiklopedia terkemuka di dunia. Antaranya:

i.  Kamus Oxford – Allâh : Name of God among Muslims
ii.  Eksiklopedia Britannica – Allâh : “God”, the one and only God in  the religion of Islam
Di peringkat antarabangsa, penggunaan kalimah  Allâh dari segi istilah adalah amat sinonim dengan agama dan umat Islam.”

First the discussion above has demonstrated that the claim that Allâh is a proper name is questionable. Second, Mohd Aizam needs to be aware that dictionaries are not necessarily prescriptive in matters of usage of language, much less  in deciding how technical terms may be used in dogmatics. Sometimes the complier of the definition in the dictionary is contented to remain descriptive. Thus, when Mohd Aizam appeals to the Advanced Learner Oxford Dictionary of Current English (and this dictionary is at best a middle level source of authority), he should notice that when the dictionary refers to Allâh as the God among Muslims; it is merely giving an empirical description, a generalization that is true as far as it goes. There is no normative ruling that only Muslims may call their God Allâh based on inviolable linguistic rules.  Likewise the Encyclopedia Britannica is merely describing the monotheistic belief of Muslims. There is no explicit denial of the fact or the right of millions of Middle Eastern and African Christians calling their God Allâh. Finally, merely to claim that the word Allâh is synonymous with Islam at the international stage is merely to repeat the common ignorance of the fact that millions of Christians from Egypt to Indonesia call their God ‘Allâh.’

Mohd Aizam vexed rhetorically that Christians in Malaysia do not have authority in Bahasa like the Dewan Bahasa to delineate the most appropriate usage of Allâh (p. 4). With all due respect to the scholars in the Dewan Bahasa, the fact is the Dewan Bahasa is not a neutral authority in matters related to Bahasa Malaysia. The Dewan Bahasa is a tool for engineering national language according to an ethnic (Malay) and religious (Islam) ideology. It is not too wrong to say that the Dewan Bahasa plays a prominent role in the Islamization of contemporary Malay language. It is no accident that the Dewan Bahasa never bothered to ask for experts who can provide input that would be more religiously neutral.  Mohd Aizam’s simply ignores these ideological currents and his remarks amount only to biased rhetoric with no objective judgment.

In any case, what authority is Mohd Aizam talking about? There is no standardized Malay and no single authority to decide how Malay should be used in the Nusantara. The reality is the Malay exists as a diversity of dialects all over the Nusantara. If we follow Mohd Aizam’s questionable approach, we end up merely privileging one Malay dialect over the others. That being the case do we simply opt for the official Malay (Malaysian and Indonesian)? Will not this choice be unjust to those using Bacanese Malay, Bengkulu, Berau Malay, Cocos Islands Malay, Jambi Malay, Kedah Malay, Kota Bangun Kutai Malay, Loncong, Pattani Malay, Kelantanese Malay, Sabah Malay, Terengganese Malay, Tenggarong Kutai Malay, and Kedayan/Bukit Malay Brunei Malay? Is it not the case that Malayness itself is never restricted to one social group (such as Peninsular Malaysia) and traditionally has been used collectively (a rumpun) for different ethnic groups in the Nusantara?

Necessity of Multiple Translations of the Malay Bible
The first translators of the Bible into Bahasa were aware that Christians who used Malay were of different backgrounds, a remarkable number of them “mardijkers” (cf. merdeka). They were obviously former slaves particularly from Melaka which  was ruled by the Dutch at that time. The problem for these translators in the 17th or 18th century was this: should they opt for the Malay language used in the learned circles, particularly around the kratons (‘high’ Malay), or the popular Malay as used by the ordinary people as their lingua franca. This conflict may be identified with two translators, Leijdekker and Valentijn, both Dutch working in the Molukkas. Leijdekker preferred the ‘high’ Malay, Valentijn the popular Malay.

The ordinary people who used popular Malay were not only Muslims but included adherents of other traditional religions known in the Nusantara world. The argument against the use of popular Malay was that it was influenced by local languages at different places. However, popular Malay was not uniform, and was a special stream of Malay that could not be understood everywhere. Literary Malay, on the other side, was very far above the understanding of ordinary people everywhere, and therefore of not much use for Bible readers from the lower classes living in different areas. That is why finally a kind of ‘literary Malay’ was chosen.

Christian translators remain sensitive to how language assumes different socio-linguistics at different strata of society. Hence, Christians have produced both formal translation and dynamic-equivalence translations of the Malay Bible. Perhaps, Mohd Aizam (and Mohd Sani) will be less agitated by different versions of the Al Kitab if he takes the trouble to understand the linguistic principles that inform Bible translations.

Hujah 2 – Word also used by Arabic Christians
First Mohd Aizam claims that the word is used only for polemical language but not positive doctrinal expression.

p. 5 “Kesemua fakta ini menunjukkan ada alasan yang nyata untuk kerajaan tidak  membenarkan pihak Kristian pada hari ini menggunakan kalimah Allâh di dalam Bible bahasa Melayu. Ini kerana terjemahan tersebut tidak melambangkan literature sebenar doktrin agama Kristian sebaliknya bahasa hanya dieksploitasi sebagai perantara untuk menyebarkan dakyah Kristian.”

Mohd Aizam adds,
Berkenaan penggunaan kalimah  Allâh oleh penganut Kristian di Asia Barat juga tidak boleh dijadikan  hujah.  Bangsa  Arab bukan Islam sememangnya telah lama menggunakan kalimah Allâh berdasarkan faktor teologi dan kebudayaan yang telah sedia wujud di Asia Barat. Perkara ini dijelaskan sendiri oleh al-Quran apabila al-Quran datang untuk menjernih dan menyucikan semula penyalahgunaan maksud kalimah  Allâh yang digunapakai oleh golongan Jahiliyyah  dan  ahli kitab yang terdiri daripada Yahudi dan Nasrani.

Khadijah shares the same sentiment,
Atas alasan ini, walaupun kalimah Allâh telah lazim digunapakai di sebelah Arab tetapi persekitarannya adalah berbeza dengan Tanah Melayu-Malaysia. Umat Muslim Malaysia telah ditanamkan dengan budaya dan pemikiran yang jelas dan murni bahawa kalimah Allâh adalah milik ajaran Islam dengan merujuk kepada Allâh yang Maha Esa dan bukannya Allâh triniti dan sebagainya (3.4)

Sehubungan itu, ‘penjenamaan semula’ kalimah Allâh yang cuba dibawa oleh pihak gereja dan Kristian adalah bukan lagi merujuk kepada kualiti konsep ketauhidan Allâh sebagai Yang Maha Esa. Tetapi ia turut merujuk kepada konsep triniti yang jauh berbeza dengan uniti dan apatah lagi tauhid. Kualiti tauhid telah tiada dalam penjenamaan kalimah Allâh dalam ajaran Kristian kini. Atas faktor ini telah menyebabkan kualiti kalimah Allâh terjejas dan tercalar(3.5).

Tegasnya penggunaan kalimah Allâh yang digunakan oleh pihak gereja dan Kristian tidak menggambarkan keaslian maksud kalimah Allâh tetapi telah berubah kepada maksud dan falsafah ajaran Kristian. Ini menjejaskan keaslian kalimah Allâh yang telah sedia difahami dan diyakini umat Muslim Malaysia (3.6).

This is a subjective reading of history. When beliefs (and in this case the reference Allâh) is adopted by a new religious movement, it is a matter of perspective when evaluating the desirability of the new doctrinal expression. Muslims (like Mohd Aizam) consider the new usage of Malay with the advent of Islam as a cleansing of the language (menjernih and menyucikan penyalahgunaan maksud kalimah Allâh yang digunapakai oleh golongan Jahiliyyah dan ahli kitab yang terdiri daripada Yahudi dand Nasrani). But the judgment could equally well be passed the other way round, that is, that Muslims have hijacked and corrupted the truth that was revealed earlier to Christians.

We can unpack the argument by Mohd Aizam as follows:
1) The Malay language gained its purest meaning when it is Islamicized with the coming of Islam.
2) Allâh (notwithstanding its non-Islamic pre-Arabic origin) has become an Islamic concept in the Malay language. Indeed, it has a specific reference, being a personal name (nama khas).
All usage and reference to the word Allâh must conform to Islamic theology.

3) Christian references to God as Allâh do not conform to Islamic theology. Indeed they distort the meaning of the word Allâh.
4) The distortion amounts to an abuse of the purified (Islamicized) Malay language.
5) Christians should not be allowed to use, that is, to distort and violate the dignity of Malay/Islam.

I. Historically, Malay never was a language exclusively used by Muslims, and that is the case until now. That is why it was accepted in Malaysia as the national language, even by non-Muslims – as long as the authorities do not place restricted use of the language. That being the case, it is ludicrous for Islam to claim sole authority over Bahasa. Mohd Aizam should realize that even Arab Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Iraq do not claim sole proprietorship and rights over the Arabic language. Why should only one small  regional Islamic group decide on subjective grounds that their form of Malay is purified or Islamicized and as such other ethnic groups and religions can only use the Malay language on their terms?

Is it not the case that historically language develops spontaneously in response to dynamic social cultural forces? Indeed, the Malay language itself is a dynamic language all through history. Malay was the lingua franca of the Buddhist kingdom of Sri Vijaya. When the Malay language spread throughout Nusantara it also accepted a lot of loan words from Sanskrit from dosa to dukha and syurga. These words now are used by Muslims without any hesitance. More importantly, no Hindu or Buddhist objects to Muslims using these words.

Mohd Azam who lionizes the superiority of the Arabic language would have no hesitation about Bahasa adopting new Arabic words. It should be noted that there are many Arabic words in the Bahasa translation had Hebrew background, like bait(Allâh) (Bet El), nabi, imam, mazmur, umur (age), korban (qurban, sacrifice), milik (possession), roh (ruh, spirit), mezbah (altar), kitab (ketôb, tulisan), kubur (grave), taurat (tora, used even in the Arabic and not Hebrew spelling), kudus (kadosh, holy). lahir (Arabic: dhahir, open, visible; give birth), mati (mavet, dead), waktu (time), sebab (because), makmur(fertile), nasihat (advise), kemah (khema, tent), berkat (barakah, blessing), syafaat, pikiran (fikr, think), malaekat (mal’akh, angel), hukum, hikmat (hukm, hakham, hokhma; wise, law), hormat (honor), jawab (answer), iman (emet, amen, faith, believe), selamat, salam (shalom, shalem; peace), jemaat (community), saleh (pious), doa (du’a, prayer), jasmani (body), adil (just), tubuh (body), makhluk (makhluq, ciptaan), umat (people), takluk (dependent), sabar (patient), injil (euangelion, gospel), kisah(cerita), wahyu (revelation), maksud (intention), umum (general), zinah (adultry), haram (herem, dilarang), akhir zaman (last time),  the names of most persons follow also the Arabic form not the Hebrew, like Daud (David), Musa (Moshe), Harun (Aharon), particularly in the Old Testament). In addition to the Aramaic (Syriac) words like salat and zakat discussed above, we should mention the word Medîna (“province” in the Persian empire which is frequently mentioned in the Aramaic texts of the Old Testament).  More examples could be added although the sample above suggests that the call for regulation of usage of the Bahasa betrays the openness that keeps Bahasa Malaysia as a dynamic and progressive language. Mohd Aizam’s view is both linguistically dogmatic and totalitarian. It betrays a narrow and insular mind that can only hinder the progress of Bahasa Malaysia.

We reject the premise that the Malay language in principle should be defined by only one religion. Malay as the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago (Bahasa Nusantara) historically included Animists (Bataks, Sumatra), Buddhist (Borobudur, Java), Hindu (Bali) and Muslim speakers. Language does not comprise unchangeable (both unchanging and cannot be changed) essence. Language is dynamic and develops alongside the cultural and religious development of communities using the language which themselves defined the same word according to their respective understanding.

The reality is that the various ethnic and religious communities using the Malay language interact with one another through trade, social political interaction and social exchange means no community uses and defines the meaning of Malay words in isolation from one another as the Malay language is the lingua franca of this region. The ongoing adoption of loan words between the regional languages/dialects is evidence of the dynamic relationship between the various linguistic communities in the region.  It is unreasonable and a violation of the spirit of any lingua franca when one religion (Islam) arrogates itself the sole authority (monopoly)  to define, regulate and legislate how concepts and words may be used in the Malay language.

Historically, when a local community adopts a newly arrived religion, it also adopts the name(s) of the deity commended by the new religion. This is especially true in the case of monotheism. When Christianity arrived in South East Asia, its message included a historical tradition that originated from Arabic speaking Christians in North Africa and the Middle East who referred to God as Allâh. The South East Asian Malay Christians adopted the word Allâh in their translation of Scripture, liturgy and education materials as they share the same religious sentiments, beliefs and psychological harmony with their co-religionists in the Middle East and North Africa. The adoption of the word Allâh in the Malay Archipelago is consistent with this historical dynamic of religious expansion across geographical and cultural boundaries.

Of course, Mohd Aizam sees Christians who adopted Malay language (and its alleged Islamic-Arabic terms) as the Trojan horse of Colonialism. In the first place, this is merely an argumentum ad hominem that totally disregards how social-cultural forces actually flow through societies. More importantly, he should note that charges against Christianity for promoting a colonial agenda is totally irrelevant because it conflicts the real events of history.

Truth be told, colonial officials often obstructed missionaries from entering Muslim and animists areas because these colonialists were operating with a romantic view of local culture and a realistic view of cultural politics that led them to ensure that missionaries leave the local communities and culture alone. Given the colonial officials’ antipathy to mission work, it was often the case that often missionaries worked on their own as paid employees of the English/Dutch trading companies, holding secular jobs, so to say.

At best the Dutch East India Company, Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) only paid the salary of pastors/clerics who served their own people in Dutch speaking churches. There was controversy whether mardijkers and other natives who became members of these churches should be cared for spiritually or that money be set aside to print Bibles not in the Dutch language such as Malay or Portuguese. How much more problematic it would be for Dutch officials to consider paying missionaries to work among the natives outside Dutch enclaves! As the missionary translators did not receive material support from the colonial officials, the charge of collusion between Christianity and colonialism is only a convenient myth to stir up hostility towards Christianity.

In short, Christians in the Malay Archipelago have as much right as Muslim in the Archipelago  to use the word Allâh as Muslims since neither of them invented the word. They both adopted the word from earlier religious coreligionists.

The government attempt to ban Christians from using Allâh is premised on the demand that all usage of the word must conform to Islamic theology.

A survey of history would confirm that different religious communities were able to use the same word (in the case Allâh) to refer to the deity they owe allegiance to right from the beginning of Islam. Indeed, these various communities were never denied the right to refer to their God as Allâh even though there is evidence that these religious groups disagreed on the concept of God whether it be Zoroasterian Dualists, Sikh monotheists, Coptic and Chaldean Trinitarians. Perhaps Muslims historically have been mindful that Prophet Muhammad himself did not ban his opponents from using the word Allâh. This is evident in the Quran itself.

It is highly significantly that even in the Malaysian context that not every Muslim scholar or institution agrees with officials like Mohd Aizam. I have in mind the view of
Tuan Guru Haji Abdul Hadi Awang, Presiden PAS. Hadi Awang was reported by Bernama (22 March, 2010) to have called on the government during a debate in the Dewan Rakyat, to amend the first Rukun Negara from belief in God to belief in Allâh since the Quran did not bar followers of other religions from using the word Allâh. LINK (; see also the official website of  President Hadi Awang at LINKâh&catid=20:bicara-presiden&Itemid=107

In his discussion “Penggunaan Kalimah Allâh” Hadi Awang cites a few Quranic verses to demonstrate that even the Quran assumes that both Muslims and non-Muslims use the same reference to Allâh even though there was obvious theological disputes.

Firman Allâh bermaksud:

Dan sesungguhnya jika engkau (wahai Muhammad) bertanya kepada mereka (yang musyrik) itu: “Siapakah yang menciptakan langit dan bumi, dan yang memudahkan matahari dan bulan (untuk faedah makhluk-makhlukNya), sudah tentu mereka akan menjawab: “Allâh”. Maka bagaimana mereka tergamak dipalingkan (oleh hawa nafsunya daripada mengakui keesaan Allâh dan mematuhi perintahNya)?. (Surah al-Ankabut: 61)

Firman Allâh bermaksud:

Dan sesungguhnya jika engkau (wahai Muhammad) bertanya kepada mereka (yang musyrik) itu: “Siapakah yang menurunkan hujan dari langit, lalu ia hidupkan dengannya tumbuh-tumbuhan di bumi sesudah matinya? sudah tentu mereka akan menjawab: “Allâh”. Ucapkanlah (wahai Muhammad): “Alhamdulillah” (sebagai bersyukur disebabkan pengakuan mereka yang demikian), bahkan kebanyakan mereka tidak memahami (hakikat tauhid dan pengertian syirik). (Surah al-Ankabut: 63)

Surah  29 Al-Ankabut (The Spider)
61. If you were to ask them: “Who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon?” They will surely reply: “Allâh.” How then are they deviating (as polytheists and disbelievers)?
63. If you were to ask them: “Who sends down water (rain) from the sky, and gives life therewith to the earth after its death?” They will surely reply: “Allâh.” Say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allâh!” Nay! Most of them have no sense.

Firman Allâh bermaksud:

Dan sesungguhnya jika engkau (wahai Muhammad) bertanya kepada mereka (yang musyrik) itu: “Siapakah yang menciptakan langit dan bumi?” sudah tentu mereka akan menjawab: “Allâh”. Ucapkanlah (wahai Muhammad): “Alhamdulillah” (sebagai bersyukur disebabkan pengakuan mereka yang demikian – tidak mengingkari Allâh), bahkan kebanyakan mereka tidak mengetahui (hakikat tauhid dan pengertian syirik). (Surah Luqman: 25)

Surah 31. Surah Luqman
25. And if you (O Muhammad ) ask them: “Who has created the heavens and the earth,” they will certainly say: “Allâh.” Say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allâh!” But most of them know not.
26. To Allâh belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth. Verily, Allâh, He is Al-Ghani (Rich, Free of all wants), Worthy of all praise.

Firman Allâh bermaksud:

Dan demi sesungguhnya! jika engkau (Wahai Muhammad) bertanya kepada mereka (yang musyrik) itu: “Siapakah yang mencipta langit dan bumi?” sudah tentu mereka akan menjawab: “Allâh”. Katakanlah (kepada mereka): “Kalau demikian, bagaimana fikiran kamu tentang yang kamu sembah yang lain dari Allâh itu? jika Allâh hendak menimpakan daku dengan sesuatu bahaya, dapatkah mereka mengelakkan atau menghapuskan bahayanya itu; atau jika Allâh hendak memberi rahmat kepadaku, dapatkah mereka menahan rahmatNya itu?” Katakanlah lagi: “Cukuplah bagiku: Allâh (yang menolong dan memeliharaku); kepadaNyalah hendaknya berserah orang-orang yang mahu berserah diri”. (Surah az-Zumar: 38)

Surah 39 Az-Zumar (The Groups)
38. And verily, if you ask them: “Who created the heavens and the earth?” Surely, they will say: “Allâh (has created them).” Say: “Tell me then, the things that you invoke besides Allâh, if Allâh intended some harm for me, could they remove His harm, or if He (Allâh) intended some mercy for me, could they withhold His Mercy?” Say : “Sufficient for me is Allâh; in Him those who trust (i.e. believers) must put their trust.”

Firman Allâh bermaksud:

Dan demi sesungguhnya! jika engkau (wahai Muhammad) bertanya kepada mereka (yang musyrik) itu: “Siapakah yang menciptakan langit dan bumi?” sudah tentu mereka akan menjawab: “yang menciptakannya ialah Allâh Yang Maha Kuasa, lagi Maha Mengetahui”. (Surah az-Zukhruf: 9)

43. Surah Az-Zukhruf (The Gold Adornments)

9. And indeed if you ask them, “Who has created the heavens and the earth?” They will surely say: “The All-Mighty, the All-Knower created them.”
Firman Allâh bermaksud:

Dan demi sesungguhnya! jika engkau (wahai Muhammad) bertanya kepada mereka: “Siapakah yang menciptakan mereka?” sudah tentu mereka akan menjawab: “Allâh!”. (jika demikian) maka bagaimana mereka rela dipesongkan (dari menyembah dan mengesakanNya)? (Surah az-Zukhruf: 87)

43. Surah Az-Zukhruf (The Gold Adornments)
87. And if you ask them who created them, they will surely say: “Allâh”. How then are they turned away (from the worship of Allâh, Who created them)?

Ayat-ayat tersebut di atas mendedahkan bahawa orang-orang bukan Islam yang menganut berbagai agama itu mengaku wujudnya Tuhan yang bernama Allâh mengikut naluri dalam Tauhid Rububiyyah (adanya Tuhan Pencipta Alam) dan ianya hanya sekadar itu. Namun kepercayaan mereka sebegini tidak menepati hakikat dari makna perkataan Allâh mengikut maknanya yang sebenar, iaitu supaya mengesakan Allâh dalam ibadah dan cara hidup seluruhnya.

Hadi Awang concludes,
Kesimpulannya, kita tidak boleh melarang mereka menggunakan perkataan Allâh di kalangan mereka sendiri, dalam ibadat mereka dan amalan mereka, walau pun salah maksud dan maknanya yang asal mengikut bahasa kita.

Al-Quran juga memerintah penganutnya supaya tidak menghina dan mencaci penganut agama lain sehingga menyebabkan mereka mencaci Allâh.

Firman Allâh yang bermaksud:

Dan janganlah kamu cerca benda-benda yang mereka sembah yang lain dari Allâh, kerana mereka kelak, akan mencerca Allâh secara melampaui batas dengan ketiadaan pengetahuan. Demikianlah Kami memperelokkan pada pandangan tiap-tiap umat akan amal perbuatan mereka, kemudian kepada Tuhan merekalah tempat kembali mereka, lalu ia menerangkan kepada mereka apa yang mereka telah lakukan. (Surah al-An’am: 108)

Demikianlah keterbukaan Islam terhadap kebebasan beragama dengan batas sempadan yang tidak menegangkan hubungan dalam masyarakat berbagai agama.

The view of officials like Mohd Aizam and Prof. Khadijah that Christians be banned from using Allâh does not represent the view of the majority of Islamic scholars in the world. Viewed globally, it is only Malaysian officials who find problems with Christians using the word Allâh. The right of people of different faiths to use the word Allâh is a problem only in Malaysia. It is a ploy by the ruling authorities seeking to gain political mileage by stirring up controversy over the Allâh issue. The political motive should not be lost to any objective observer.

There can be no usurpation of a religious term that was already used by earlier existing cultures  (from Syria to the Nabatean desert and the Arabian Peninsula itself) for the purpose of declaring sole ownership and sole propriety to use the religious term, including Allâh.

The Islamic Department has no ground, whatsoever, to regulate Christians in how they use Bahasa Malaysia. It should concentrate on matters related to the Islamic community and their welfare. It has neither the authority nor competence to interfere with the internal matters of other communities.

Malaysian Christians are not pretending to be another Islamic sect. They have no desire and have no obligation to conform to Islamic teaching. By the same token, there is no justification to demand Christian usage of Malay words conform to Islamic theology. Christians have full rights to profess and practice their faith in accordance to their beliefs. In particular, Christians are merely expressing their religious liberty enshrined in the Federal Constitution when they use Malay words of Arabic origin like Allâh, Wahyu, Injil, Nabi, Iman, Al-kitab etc., words which were used by Christian monotheists centuries before the Malays turned to Islam.


  1. Rev. Dr. Tan Kim Sai says:

    Dear Bro. Kam Weng, Warmest regards:

    TQ and Praise God for your excellent refutation of the shallow and biased contestations of Muslim scholars, as well as your enhanced scholarly advocacy for Christian right to use the term Allah for God. My anxiety is how to present to judges concerned vis-a-vis our position so that they will make the right and just verdict to redeem our national honour, also the honour of Islam, as banning of the term has made Malaysia/Malaysian Islam a laughing stock among the nations, especially in the intellectual/academic world.

    Theologically Surah 29:46 alone should inform knowledgable Muslims that they should respect our right to use the word, because the Prophet of Islam himself, despite some knowledge of the different concepts of Allah as existing between Christians and Muslims then, was still able to say, ‘Our God and your God is one”. Christians and Muslims will continue to argue on the concept of the Trinity, but denying our fundamental faith in One God is wrong and unfair, and forbiding our right to use the term Allah is utterly stupid and tyranical. May the Lord continue to use you for the cause of justice.

    Sincerely: Kim-Sai.

  2. hidayah says:

    excuse me sai theres no ryte for all the christian to use the name of allah for ur god ur god is ur god our god is our god . christian n islam is different christian have no ryte to use our god(allah) for ur god!!!!!

  3. Dr. Tan Kim Sai says:

    Dear Dr. Kam Weng, Warmest regards:

    TQ and praise God for your great contribution in dealing with the ‘Allah’ issue. Is it possible to make a compilation of all your related writings to the authorities concerned, including the judges involved, and even up to the PM and his Deputy? Keep up the excellent work for His glory. God abides.

    Sincerely: Dr. Tan Kim Sai

  4. Muhammad Umer says:

    Dear Dr Weng,
    Accept my apologies for what you and your community has to go through for this non sense. No one owns Allah. He is The Creator the Almighty.
    There is no sense to even think of posing such prepsoterous bans on use of a word.
    May Allah watch over you and your family and grant you success in your pursuit of truth.

  5. […] Refutation of Muslim Scholars’ Arguments in the Allah Controversy. Part 3/3 LINK […]