Sunday, May 24, 2009

Should Malaysian Christians be allowed to refer to God as “Allah”?

An ongoing debate, now before a court, has been raging in Malaysia over whether Christians should be allowed to refer to God as “Allah”. Christians argue that this is the usual word for God in their native language and so they should be allowed to use it. Muslim leaders, on the other hand, contend that that referring to God as “Allah” should be restricted to Islam, concerned its use in other religions could lead to confusion and possible conversions from Islam to Christianity.  As this BBC report rightly points, this is more than just a row about language, it is a matter of religious freedom.


David said...

If the word in Malay for God is Allah, what do other Christians refer to God as? If John 3:16 is translated as, "Karena begitu besar kasih ALLAH akan dunia ini, sehingga Ia telah mengaruniakan Anak-Nya yang tunggal, supaya setiap orang yang percaya kepada-Nya tidak binasa, melainkan beroleh hidup yang kekal", do they expect Christians to create another word? Then where is the common reference of language that translation allows?

Glenn Penner said...

An excellent and informative comment, David. Thank you very much

Unknown said...

An excellent article on the use of the Proper Noun Allah and Proper Noun Yaweh vs. the common nouns "God, god, Lord and lord" can be read here.

I think it is an article worth reading to have a clearer undrestanding why, as Christians we should not use the Proper Noun (a given name) Allah for the God of the Bible, when we are told the God of the Bible`s name is Yaweh. If your name is David, do you reply to a name other then your own given name, say Andrew? The Maylaysian language should then be translating it from Hebrew/Greek to the correct terms, Proper Noun (name Yaweh) or God, god, Lord, lord in their own tongue. This will eliminate any references to a false god as being the God (Yaweh) of the Bible. Christians must be educated to know the difference.

Anonymous said...

The Jews and later the Christians have had to deal with this issue from the beginning. "El" was the common term in that culture for any god or goddess while "Elohim" was more than one god. The Bible writers use those terms even though they would have been used for the pagan gods around. The Arabic variant of the word, "Allah" was used in the same sense -- first for pagan gods and later for the sole deity of Islam.

The English term "god" is used in a lot of ways today; most of them not related to the deity of Christianity. Should we therefore change terms, perhaps using YHWH instead? Or do we understand and help others understand that there are different definitions for the same combination of letters and sounds? I don't know the Malay language so I don't know if there is more than one term that could refer to deity in their language. But if, as is suggested, the only effective cultural and linguistic term is "Allah," then insisting that Malays use non-Malay terms to refer to deities of some religions makes those religions foreign to their culture and society. And yes, that would appear to be the point of the Malay authorities.

I abhor syncretism and would fight strongly against those who suggest that the Allah of Islam is the same as the YHWH of Judaism/Christianity. However, it is only a word. And it appears that word, "Allah" is the best term for deity available.